Ungraduation

Two months ago I was planning for my Upcoming DBT Graduation.  I needed to make it to the end of the year without any negative actions, although I actually left group a little earlier due to being scheduled to work on the last Tuesday of December.  I did make it, although as soon as I considered myself “graduated” I slipped up a little.  I skipped my meds for two days until forced to take them in inpatient, and while I was in inpatient I got really upset one day and bit myself.  Although the social worker, upon seeing the bite marks, asked “Have you self-harmed while you’ve been here?”  So maybe biting doesn’t count?

At any rate, I did graduate and I was super happy to be done with DBT.  Why, then, did I attend the group this morning?  Well, I had lamented the fact that there weren’t inpatient-style groups that I could attend as an outpatient, and asked Sadie to try to find me some groups to attend.  It dawned on me that it was kind of silly to be looking for other groups while skipping out on the one that was definitely available to me.  So, after a little over a month off, I returned to group.

In the past two days, I’ve attended two groups: the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class last night, and DBT this morning.  As it happens, I’d been doing an activity for therapy that involved noting how I felt during each thing I did, and I had noted “exasperated” for one of the groups.  Sadie said, “You have trouble with groups, don’t you?”  I do.  I mean, I love having activities to fill my time, but I get very frustrated with other group members when they keep talking interminably about things that are completely not appropriate to the group.  Sadie and I agreed that I could make the best of this situation by learning to be more patient and attentive even when the conversation goes off-topic.

So what has taken place in these groups?  In Peer-to-Peer we created a list of ground rules for the group, and a list of difficulties that mental illness has caused for us.  Then we rated how traumatic (on a scale of 0-10) our mental illness has been.  I was surprised by some of the answers.  Many people said 10, and that seemed a bit extreme to me…have their lives really been utterly ruined by mental illness?  I think the fact that they are capable of attending and participating in such a class says otherwise.  Another person said 3, which seemed a little on the low side.  My own answer?  7.  Yes, my life has been really screwed up compared to what it could have been, but I also feel like I got lucky in that my problems started in childhood.  It would be much more devastating to get used to a “normal” life and have it ripped away.

We went over three stages: recuperation, rebuilding, and recovery.  Recuperation was about having other people meet your basic needs during and immediately after a crisis.  The kind of thing that happens in inpatient, where you don’t have to cook or remember to take your meds or even make decisions about when you will sleep.  Rebuilding was about getting those basic needs met for yourself, and recovery was about finding your purpose and making a difference in other people’s lives.  I felt like I was between rebuilding and recovery.  I still struggle with some of the basic needs, but I’m also working to help others.  I mentioned my book-in-progress and about half the class applauded.

There were two exercises we participated in.  First we were broken up into pairs and told to find things we had in common that had nothing to do with mental illness.  I was paired with a man who was a bit older than me, and it was a struggle to find commonalities, but we did come up with three: we are both cat-lovers, we both express ourselves through writing, and we both love to try foreign foods.  We also discussed some things that were different for us.  He is fluent in French, Mandarin, and Indonesian.  My only foreign language is Spanish and it’s a bit rusty, although I have used the “test out” feature on Duolingo to get up to 30% fluency so far.

Our final exercise was the weekly mindfulness exercise, something I have to do in both groups.  For this exercise we were each given a raisin and told to spend 60 seconds looking at it, then share what we observed.  I noticed the little spot on the end where the stem was when it used to be a grape.  Then we placed the raisins in our mouths for 60 seconds.  This time I observed that I didn’t like the texture of the wrinkles rubbing against my tongue.

The mindfulness exercise in DBT group today was imagery.  We spent five minutes visiting the place of our choice in our minds, observing the five senses.  I took myself back to an amusement park I visited last year.  It was fine for about four minutes, but that last minute was an eternity and I could not stay focused any longer.

Also in DBT group I learned some exciting news.  I had been frustrated with the repetitive nature of the group last year, going over and over Marsha Linehan’s original material from 1993.  Starting this week, they are updating to the 2015 edition of her book, which has more skills and many more worksheets.  I’m looking forward to this new material, although I suspect that the numerous worksheets will make it take longer to get through it all.

When Sadie and I reviewed my treatment plan this afternoon in preparation for updating it in two weeks, she commented on me accomplishing the “graduate from DBT group” goal.  I said I didn’t, as I’ve now “ungraduated”, but she insisted that having done it still counts even though I chose to go back.

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