The past 2+ years: what I’ve gained

I came back to my hometown in June 2014. Now, October 2016, I am preparing to move to a new city and state to join my love. I wanted to take some time to acknowledge what I’ve gained over the past two years.

DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy)

Then: When I came back to my hometown, I was convinced that I had no options and my life was over. I had heard of DBT because a close friend had gone through a program, but I had never considered it for myself. As my mom and I were packing for me to leave San Diego, she put in a call to a DBT program, and I got put on a waiting list. I was extremely nervous about starting with a new therapist, hesitant to trust, and felt like my connection to life and wanting to live was shaky. I started therapy in August, and group in October.

Now:  I had my final session with my therapist last Thursday. I felt a sense of completion, of accomplishment. I don’t think I need therapy, at least for the time being. I have skills, resources, and a strong support system. I have faith in my life and myself and hope for the future. I went through fourteen months of skills group, and two years of individual therapy. I also gained friends from group, women who I connect with and love. We’re different in many ways, and we’ve bonded over our shared experiences. Sometimes, I find myself using DBT skills automatically. The skills help me navigate every day, through interpersonal situations, regulating my emotions, with self-acceptance, and more. I am so grateful that I landed here and did the program – it was a huge commitment, and I worked hard and have come so far.

Nia

Then:  One of my dad’s friends told him about Nia and thought I might enjoy classes. I’d heard of it, and was curious. I took my first class while I was visiting my dad in June of 2014, and absolutely loved it. When I decided to return, I knew that Nia classes would become an essential part of my weekly routine. In a time where my depression made it challenging to get up and go in the morning, I got up three times a week and took myself there. There, I found laughter and joy and freedom of movement. The sense of heaviness that pervaded so much of my life lifted for a few hours afterward. That thread of joy and relief from anxiety helped me slowly tap into those experiences in other areas of my life.

Now:  My Nia practice has extended beyond my three times a week at the local studio, and I now practice routines at home. I have a White Belt, and have been teaching Nia for roughly six months (subbing, then consistently for two months). I’ve met some wonderful people through Nia and have gained a community. I truly love dancing, and teaching is a joy. And I will continue – on my own, and with other teachers. My hope is to start teaching a regular class by the new year. Nia has challenged me to grow, to become more in touch with my body, to integrate music and memory and movement to create an incredible whole. It’s also a great tool for sensory integration and emotional regulation. When I do Nia, I feel like I’m at home – with myself, in my body, and with those around me.

Occupational Therapy

Then: My DBT therapist suspected I had sensory issues, and referred me to an occupational therapist. At first, I was stubborn and didn’t take up her suggestion – I was concerned that doing sensory integration work would make me less sensitive overall.  Finally, I agreed to at least go for an assessment. I filled out the intake/assessment form with trepidation, wondering what my answers might mean. The woman who would become my regular OT looked over my answers and explained: I was, at the very least, tactile defensive. As we talked, more details came out, how exhausted I could get, how overwhelmed I got in busy and crowded situations. “Do you think you could help me?” I asked. “I think I can,” she replied. Through my first months of occupational therapy, I was amazed – and a bit horrified – as I became more and more aware of how strongly sensory stimuli affected me. It explained so much, from my energy crashes to times when I would shut or melt down. And slowly, the regular exercises – from the sensory diet to the regular brushing – she gave me to do began to help.

Now:  I have learned so much in the past year and a half. I have found a sensory adult community online, and I know I am not alone in being an adult with a delayed diagnosis of sensory processing disorder. I am generally less tactile defensive, except when I’m under a lot of stress – and then it’s good for me to resume brushing regularly. I’ve completed two rounds of the sensory motor iLS listening program. While I’m still sensitive to loud sounds/noises, I’m a little less so, I can filter better when there are multiple conversations going on around me.  I’ve learned about neonatal reflexes and am doing regular movement exercises to help integrate them; as a result, I startle less easily. I have so much more knowledge and awareness of my sensory issues, and I approach my life differently and respect my limits much more. I am much more understanding and accommodating with myself, and I have much more self-acceptance. Regarding my sensitivity: While I am less reactive overall, I believe that doing sensory integration work has actually enhanced my sensitivity. Things are less overwhelming overall, and I’m able to better focus on one thing at a time and sense in. Initially, I was afraid that doing sensory integration work would numb my senses, but instead I would say that it has made how I perceive things more accurate and more nuanced.

Vision Therapy

Then:  Around September of last year, after several months of occupational therapy, I was describing my visual experiences with driving at night, how the lights seemed overpoweringly bright. My OT, who also does vision therapy, decided to try a visual exercise with me, one that left me disoriented and dizzy. She referred me to the developmental optometrist for an evaluation for binocular vision – how well my eyes work together. It turned out that not only did my eyes not work together well, but I also had poor depth perception. The news unhinged me a bit, and it explained so much – why learning to drive and driving in general had been so challenging and overwhelming for me, why crowded situations and fluorescent lights bothered me so much, and much more. I got on the waitlist for vision therapy with my occupational therapist, and started in January 2016.

Now:  I completed my vision therapy last week, and had another evaluation with the developmental optometrist on Monday. I now have greatly improved depth perception, and it’s now almost relaxing to see things around me in so much detail and dimension. Driving at night is so much easier; the lights no longer seem so bright and everything seems so much clearer and well-defined. I have a greater sense of how my eyes are moving, and my eyes generally feel more relaxed and less strained. I’m still having difficulty with divergence – comfortably bringing both eyes out to see at a distance – and I maintenence exercises that I’ll do several times a week for the next while. My OT and optometrist say that vision generally keeps improving post-program as everything continues to integrate. I’ll have another followup appointment during my next visit (likely in the spring or late winter) to see where I’m at.

Community

Then: I felt betrayed by the community that I had been part of, the community I left when I decided to leave San Diego. It was a community where I had once felt such great love and belonging, and now felt out of place and didn’t think anyone understood what was going on with me. When I came back to my hometown, I was distrustful, and I was hesitant to get involved in community-oriented activities, especially ones that resembled ones in my past. But I started to realize: I felt so welcome in my Nia classes, and I started to connect with the other people there. I looked forward to my weekly DBT group and seeing everyone there. It may not have looked like it had in the past, but I was making new friends and being in community. When I took my Nia White Belt in July of last year, I had a moment where I started to laugh and cry at the same time, “I am self-healing from an acutely painful experience in community,” I told the group that morning. “And I feel so welcome here.”

Now:  I’m going to miss all the people I’ve grown to know and love, and miss seeing them regularly. I will keep in touch as best as I can and know that I have community here. I still am connected to a few people in the community I left. I am connected to the local and greater Nia community. I love and value the people in my life. I am open to creating and building community elsewhere, too – in my own way, and in my own time.

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