Self Care as Bowling Bumpers

The other day in therapy I came across a metaphor.

Doing self care (like eating regularly, staying hydrated, taking your meds on time, and resting) is like having the bumpers up when you’re bowling. If you go off course and bounce a little, it’s not a big deal.

I used to wait so long to eat that I was incapable of preparing something, so I would sit on the kitchen floor and cry until someone came across me and rescued me by making me a sandwich.

Now, if I wait a little too long to eat, the rest of my self care shores me up and I am capable of making myself something (or asking for help).

Doing the absolute most to take care of yourself will pay off in the moments that you falter.

Thoughts on Psychodynamic Therapy

I started therapy again recently.

Therapy has never done much for me, to be completely honest. I have made a lot of progress in my seven years of recovery, but it has mainly been from a combination of medication, the support and insight of other mentally ill people, and my own damned hard work. Breakthroughs, which have always been pretty rare, seemed to happen at the kitchen table or alone in my room, not with a therapist. In fact, many of my therapists have been outright disappointing and incompetent, and I spent a lot of time teaching them about their own area of expertise. I had, for a long while, accepted that therapy was not for me.

This therapist, on the other hand, is BUILT DIFFERENT. Every single week I come away with new insight that improves my life. It’s not easy going— and I spend the majority of the sessions choked up or outright crying— but it’s finally effective.

My new therapist does psychodynamic therapy, which is not a popular type of therapy. It’s based heavily on the ideas of Freud, who until recently I considered a quack. I cannot provide a thorough definition of psychodynamic therapy as I have only just begun it, but here are some bullet points from my research:

  • Psychodynamic therapy comes from Freudian psychoanalysis, but it has been continually updated and evolved since his lifetime.
  • Psychoanalysis was super intense and often involved five days a week of therapy. Psychodynamic therapy involves much less of a weekly time commitment.
  • Unlike psychoanalysis, which necessitated the stereotypical couch, psychodynamic therapy just needs two chairs for the participants. This change reflects the newer therapy’s more equal balance of power.
  • Much of the focus is on the relationship between the client and the therapist, which is seen as a reflection of other relationships.
  • It deals with repressed emotions and the subconscious, as well as psychological defenses that help us avoid unpleasant feelings and experiences.
  • Rather than focusing on quick skills that target symptoms (like CBT or DBT), this form of therapy tries to make deep, lasting changes.
  • Like many therapies, an emphasis is placed on childhood experiences and how they have shaped the client’s life.
  • Dream analysis may be used.

I don’t know if my therapist is so great because of the psychodynamic framework, or if he’s just really good at his profession. It’s probably a combination of both. He goes above and beyond when it comes to learning and perfecting his craft, and it has paid off in improvements to MY life.

If you have done psychodynamic therapy and you want to let me know how it went for you, you can comment or email me at !

Motivation Hack

Last week I decided to discuss motivation issues with my therapist again, which had previously gone poorly after he said that nobody does anything they don’t want to do, which confused and irritated me. Then I figured out he was re-framing things and also telling the truth.

Even when I have mixed feelings on something and would RATHER rot in bed, I’m doing it because there is some reason I WANT to do it.

For example, I do dishes because I WANT to help out the other people in my house. I go to work because I WANT to live independently.

This re-framing helped me hugely. Whenever I felt that internal resistance that says “lay in bed forever and starve,” I would say to myself “I WANT to take a shower because I want to be clean. I would even include fun stuff like “I WANT to make tea because it’s warm.”

I was really happy with this for like three days, but unfortunately the magic has started to wear off, so I have now switched to “I’m CHOOSING to do … because …” and it feels almost as good and is maybe a little more validating of my ambivalence.

I hope this helps someone else!

Exposing Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy has become completely misunderstood as it has entered the mainstream, even by some involved in mental health.

Many would expose a person to their trigger, with or without consent, and just hope that they eventually stop freaking out and realize it “isn’t so bad.” This approach often involves a loss of trust and feelings of control over the situation, and usually ends in dissociation and pretending that the trigger is no longer activating.

Instead, exposure therapy must involve a mental and emotional reframing of the trigger, and also must be completely consensual. For example, dead/dying or abused animals were a huge trigger of mine. I’ve been working through that by voluntarily joining a Facebook group that focuses on death and “vulture culture,” including animal bones and preserved wet specimens. By reframing the trigger as fascinating instead of horrifying, I have empowered myself, and I am capable of remaining calm when faced with it.

On Creativity and Healing

As I have said before, freewriting doesn’t work for my mental health. Instead, I decided a few months ago that I wanted a structured journal to keep track of my moods and symptoms. (I have a separate Bullet Journal, which I use for planning, habit-tracking, and tasks, and then I have my more-recently-started “symptom” journal in a different notebook.)

I highly recommend symptom journaling so that you know where your headspace is at. Tracking your symptoms and/or moods can help you find patterns that you may otherwise miss. Our emotions (especially when we struggle with mental health) can feel gigantic and like they last forever, when in reality they change like the tides and can often be very different from day to day. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t downward or upward trends! Seeing those trends can help us do damage control (in the form of self care) or even just enjoy good moods while they last. I feel much more in control of my life when I journal briefly about my symptoms.

To do a daily symptom journal, I split two adjacent pages into three sections. Each of the six daily sections in my symptom journal has about five lines devoted to it, which allows me to elaborate a little while still keeping the entry brief enough to be useful at a glance. (I almost never run out of room.)

Things I write about daily:

  1. How I felt that day. Obviously not all my emotions are symptoms, but I write about them all in my symptom journal anyway. Giving myself a little bit of room to be descriptive allows me to record causes of my mood (“had nightmares and woke up very dissociated”) or complexities (“had some anxiety in the afternoon but felt okay for most of the day”).
  2. Any physical symptoms or problems I had. Maybe my knees hurt, I had a stomachache because I ate too much curry, or I slept badly. (Often I write that I forgot to eat. Oops!)
  3. What I did to solve/help any symptoms/problems (physical or mental) and how well my strategy worked. Maybe I took ibuprofen for my knee pain, but it didn’t really do anything. Or maybe I was depressed but I felt a little more energetic after a nap. I don’t always have anything to write in this section, but I think it’s really important to track how your experiments go!
  4. What I thought about that day. This is one of my favorite sections. It’s my chance to write about what was going on in my mind, which (to me) is always interesting! It also gives me a sense that I’m moving forward in my life. For example, maybe I thought about what to write on my blog and came to the conclusion that I should write about journaling, or maybe I thought about what to build with a certain material in Minecraft. Often, I’m thinking about recovery strategies I want to integrate into my life, and when I journal about them, I don’t lose any potentially brilliant ideas!
  5. My happiest or best moment of the day. (It doesn’t have to break through the depression barrier to be the happiest moment of the day, since it’s all relative.) Often, this will be spending time with my boyfriend.
  6. Any information my alters have told me that day. Since it’s hard to keep track of multiple people in the same brain, I have a section devoted to that. For example, [LITTLE] told me the other day he doesn’t like green beans, so as a system we’ve decided to not force ourselves to eat the green beans languishing in the freezer.

Every Sunday, I do a weekly summary for each of the sections. I draw an extra page with my usual six sections, and write about how the week went and my happiest moment!

Some other ideas you may want to try if you pick up a similar journaling habit:

-Gratitude journaling. This was not helpful for me, but many people swear by it.

-Therapy summaries. If you go to therapy, you can write quick summaries of what you talked about at your appointments. You might also record your homework for next session, if that’s something that you and your therapist have decided on.

-Rate your mood out of 10. I really struggle to rate my mood, because it feels so much more complex than a number. Maybe I had a good morning but got depressed in the evening, or I was anxious but hopeful. However, this works for a lot of people, and having quantitative data on your mood can be really helpful when dealing with mental health professionals. (You may want to use color-coding instead!)