Posts Tagged ‘healing’

Perspectives on being a beginner

I wrote this a few weeks ago. It’s still relevant to my process, and a great reminder.

My Tai Chi and Aikido instructor said this to one of my classmates recently (paraphrased): “I’m kind of envious of the beginner space you’re in. I love being new at something. When I realized, at age 50, that I was basically good at everything I had been striving for, I decided to learn an instrument. I chose bagpipes. After four years, I still suck at it. And I still love it.”

Perhaps there is – or can be – a certain joy in beginning, in being new at something. Yes, it’s raw and vulnerable and full of mistakes. It’s also, for someone who loves learning, a chance to gain new knowledge, experiment, do something in a new way. My instructor practically beams when someone asks him about an inconsistency in his own form; it becomes a learning moment for him and also helps him be a better teacher.

As a recovering perfectionist, there is still part of me that wants to “get it right” in my recent pursuits, from Nia to Tai Chi and Aikido to proofreading legal transcripts. But perhaps the way to get there is through not getting it right, through stumbling, correcting, modifying. Maybe someday my form and movements will be more precise and closer to the original. But the only way to get there is to be new, to practice, to feel how repetition makes my muscles remember. To throw out concepts of good or bad, and learn so I can improve. And most of all, to enjoy how it feels when I begin to feel more at ease, and take that into my practice.

Recognizing my experience of depression in the pages of the DSM-V

A few weeks ago, my assignment for my Abnormal Psychology class – choosing a disorder and writing about it from a specific therapeutic perspective – gave me a reason to look through the DSM-V, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I went to the local library, sat down with their reference copy, and flipped through the pages. I skimmed the criteria of different disorders, searching for one that might seem intriguing, but not too triggering or something that I have directly experienced.

Major Depressive Disorder did not meet my second requirement; nonetheless, I stopped skimming and read through the criteria. And as I read, I recognized that two and a half to three years ago, I met nearly every point of the criteria, line by line. Part of me suspected this, but I hadn’t looked it up, not even in my old copy of the DSM-IV that I’ve had for years. If the page had been a checklist, it would have been full of check marks.

On one hand, the realization was sobering: I was severely depressed. That’s scary and serious.

On the other hand, I can also say that it’s factual, it’s true, and that reading the criteria simply confirmed what I already knew. I had a depressive episode, the worst I’d ever had. I acknowledge that before I experienced that episode, I likely struggled with mild depression, or dysthymia, on and off for years, perhaps since I was a teenager.

Alternately, I can also look at it like this: I was severely depressed. I went back to my hometown. There, I got the help and support I needed. I don’t know if I can say that I am necessarily better off because of my depression, but the support I got helped me get to where I am today. I like and appreciate my life now.

There is also something validating in seeing what I experienced written in words on a page. It tells me that other people have experienced this, that people have researched it, that treatment continues to be looked at and further developed.

I do recognize that a diagnosis is primarily a measurement used for medical, prescriptive, and insurance reasons. It isn’t consistently a defining factor in my life; at this point, the main thing is that I take two pills each morning. I also keep better track of my moods and I regularly use skills to deal with challenging situations and emotions.

I remind myself that I don’t have to make too much meaning out of the pages of the DSM; it’s a reference manual used in certain contexts. I know that if I experience and recognize the symptoms of depression again, I am more equipped to deal with it. I am therefore less likely to experience another major depressive episode. And that’s what really matters to me.

What’s my story? It’s mine.

 Owning our story

Picture of card with text:  “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Dr. Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.

For quite a while, when I saw a quote about owning my story, I would cringe. While I knew that Brené Brown and others meant well by this concept and phrase, it would remind me of a time when people asked me, “What can you own in this situation?” or “What’s your story?” (and story as in “what is the story you’re telling yourself about this situation?”)

I realize now that in some ways, these questions and statements from others may have been more about their perspective and their narrative of me, as in “I think you’re not taking ownership” or “I don’t think that’s what really happening,” etc. It wasn’t my narrative, it wasn’t my story.

We are makers of meaning, and sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about a situation or others are narratives based on something else entirely – belief, a past event, a judgment, etc. These kind of stories are informative in their own way. For me, I think the question, “Why do you think that?” provokes more thought, more discussion than a “what’s your story?” I remember reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong, and she has a chapter where she gets angry at her husband, and realizes that it relates to a dream she had the previous night. She tells her husband, “the story I’m telling myself is…” And in doing so, she opens up, she opens up another level of honesty, part of how she thinks and how it causes her to react. And I recognize that she is the one claiming this, just as much as she claims her vulnerability and her truth in other circumstances that may appear more tangible.

Going back to the time about 3 years ago, when someone asked me the question, “What’s your story?” I felt volatile, vulnerable. I wanted support; I often got invalidating comments back. I was headed towards rock bottom, and it wasn’t a helpful question for me. It wasn’t a “where are you, how are you feeling, what’s happening for you when you say that?” I often grabbed onto sense and it feel through my fingers; communication was challenging, figuring out where I was and where I stood and how to make a coherent decision felt next to impossible. If my self had a narrative it had been wrapped around a goal, and now that I know longer wanted that, I felt like I was unraveling, as though I didn’t have a story.

My narrative of myself then was different: I felt like I had a number of successes, a number of times where I would rise to the occasion, and then I would crash: my energy, self-esteem, sense of self. I often blamed myself. I didn’t fully know what was going on, but every time I fell I got up again and tried harder. Several years ago, I wrote a lot about my personal growth; when I read it now, it doesn’t ring true to me. Nevertheless, I believed that narrative, and there are pieces of it that certainly held value for me.

When sensory processing disorder became part of my narrative, my perspective on the past changed. It wasn’t a story about trying and failing in the same sense anymore, or about my behavior – it was about the underlying cause that I once had no words for. It was about trying to voice what was going on and people labeling it as something else, a narrative based on misunderstanding. I’ve been working my way, on my own terms, towards understanding, and having compassion for the years of not knowing.

I think owning one’s story is about claiming what resonates personally. It’s about telling my story from my own perspective and allowing the details, as nitty gritty as they may be, to come to the surface.

And, of course, other people can say things to me or about me, and give perspective or feedback that can help me tell my own story. But there are ways to do that without wrenching the narrative away.

In the end, perhaps owning my story is taking the reigns of my narrative for myself; shedding the assumptions and projections; finding what is true for me in the moment, deciphering what is not.

What’s my story?
It’s mine. And I’m still in the process of telling it.

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.


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.


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.

Conversation with my inner critic

I hear the voice, intruding in on my thoughts:

I am the one who minimizes your art
and tells you
I am the one that doubts your
dreams and drives you too hard in their pursuit.
I am what you do not claim.
I am the one who steals your glory
Keeps you small when you rise
Who convinces you
you are no one.

My reply:
Your voice can be so loud
I want to raise my own
so I can hear

– Spring 2014


Swirls of color in the sky
Light playing over the landscape
People dancing around the fire
Night sky full of stars
Pine trees, drinking from the stream
Trust and warmth flooding through

Sweetness and relief flowing over me
Thoughts wandering but not resting in between
In the sacredness of this, I feel my body, connected.

– February 2013

Visualization: creating presence.

Continuing to clear out my drafts folder. This was in the papers I sorted through earlier this summer.

From a wise woman visualization in a class on transformation:

She hands me a woven shawl that she tenderly drapes across my shoulders, a round stone with a spiral carved into it, and a map with a compass so I can always have a guide. The temple itself is made of tree boughs and logs, with stain glass windows that attract the light.

She smiles, such warmth and beauty. She wears long sleeves and a long, flowing skirt. She is so present and that is the main gift she gives to me, the vividness, the sharpness of what it means to be present.

– November 2012