This latest-- and incredibly moving and hopeful-- guest post is by the wonderful creator of DBT Nerd. DBT Nerd is a semi-anonymous blog and Twitter persona run by a genderqueer lady in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. She completed her year-long DBT program in November of 2014, just two months after losing her dad to suicide, and is now in recovery from traits of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Thank you wholeheartedly to DBT Nerd for so generously sharing so much of herself and her story here. It has been a joy to learn more about her and her life through this guest post and I know her work is helping so many people going through very difficult times.
In your bio you state that ‘DBT and a rescue dog saved your life’ which is amazing! Can you say a little bit more about that?
I started my year-long DBT program in November of 2013. I was two months away from graduating from the program when my dad died by suicide. The following two years were extremely difficult, but I am confident that the DBT skills I learned got me through the roughest, most suicidal days of my life.
About 8 months after my dad died, I used some skills to realize the best thing I could do to make my life worth living again is rescue a dog.
Her unconditional love has helped heal many wounds and her personality brings so much joy into every day! I also realized that I needed to direct all the love stuck inside of me for my dad on to someone new and was also in the middle of getting out of an emotionally abusive relationship.
How does your rescue dog help you?
After my dad died, I learned that a lot of the pain of grief is that you are still fiercely loving someone who is no longer physically here. So, most importantly, she gives me someone to love fiercely who is physically present with me to give it to! My dog won’t let me sleep in too late and she barks if I am on my phone scrolling too long. She demands walks! She’s too cute for people to ignore at the park, so she forces me to engage with pleasant small talk with strangers.
What do you like most about DBT?
That it tricked me into changing my thinking and my behavior while also validating my emotional experiences in life. Learning the biosocial model of Borderline Personality Disorder really helped me see that my deepest wound was emotional invalidation in my childhood and believe that these DBT tools would help me re-parent myself and heal.
Is there anything you don’t like about DBT?
DBT alone may not help with past trauma. I was fortunate to be in a DBT program where they made an exception to the “no other therapists” rule and allowed me to keep seeing my trauma therapist.
My trauma therapist had actually recommended the DBT program to me because I said something like “I just don’t feel like I have any distress tolerance skills to cope with the stuff we talk about here.”
Separating my therapy into “dealing with the past” (trauma therapy) and “managing the present” (DBT) was a little hard on my brain sometimes, but it helped me a lot to do both. I cannot imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t been able to see her during that year!
Do you have a favourite DBT skill?
This is constantly in flux for me, but lately it has been Mindfulness of Current Emotion. I remember when I first learned this skill being absolutely blown away by the realization that even the absolute WORST feeling I thought imaginable could only really sustain itself for two hours of crying or freaking out or whatever… and then my mind would move on.
Before practising sitting with an emotion I am trying to escape, I honestly thought they would last forever and kill me if I didn’t do everything in my power to avoid feeling it.
Turns out that’s exactly how you sustain an undesired emotion! Now, when I feel overwhelmed, I will stop pacing, stop substances, stop distractions, and give myself a half hour to just feel whatever I am feeling. It’s amazing how much easier it is for me to move on with my day when I take some time to honor and validate what I am feeling.
Do you have a ‘go to’ DBT skill?
Check the Facts! I have a lot of distorted thinking when it comes to imagining how others are thinking, feeling, and talking about me. I regularly do little quick “check the facts” exercises in my head to calm my anxiety. If I can’t know for sure the person is thinking or saying those things, I stop and remind myself of the facts that I DO know, and I can often figure out that what I am experiencing is anxious thoughts, not actual rejection. Sounds simple, but it does a ton to stop me from spiralling out.
What do you think makes a great DBT therapist?
Fun fact: I actually kind of hated my DBT therapist for a long time! (Haha, maybe that’s why you shouldn’t be allowed to keep your regular therapist, because it was definitely me picking a favorite). Honestly, I think I disliked her because she truly challenged my bullshit. She didn’t let me take up all of my therapy session talking about what a jerk my boyfriend is, because we were here to talk about my behavior and mine alone. Once, I yelled at my DBT therapist until I cried! I’d never yell at my regular therapist in therapy!
But you know what it [yelling at my therapist] taught me? I could disagree with someone and the world wouldn’t end. I could yell at someone and we could repair our relationship.
I yelled at her, and then she’d do a chain analysis with me about it. She’d calmly walk through my reactions with me and sort out what was going on with my mind and body. And she was the first person I texted when my dad died because I trusted that she could help me in a crisis.
Have you experienced any mental health related stigma?
Fortunately for me, I have not experienced much stigma outside of close personal relationships. My DBT therapist confirmed that I met the criteria for BPD when we started the program, but told me she didn’t want to put it on my record because she wanted to see if DBT would relieve the symptoms for me first. She didn’t think it was worth the potential stigma to have that diagnosis ever on my record. I had been told for years by therapists before this that I have “complex-PTSD,” so she opted to put PTSD on my record instead.
My trauma therapist for nearly a decade now actually uses a code for an “adjustment disorder” for insurance purposes, so I have come to understand that official diagnoses are kind of a crapshoot [an uncertain matter].
Interestingly enough, this refusal for therapists to acknowledge that I have suffered from BPD has been kind of invalidating and stigmatizing in its own way!
It has made me feel like therapists don’t really understand how much I have suffered and has also made me afraid to tell people that I have had symptoms of BPD since I was a teenager.
Do you have any books, websites, blogs or YouTube channels about DBT or BPD that you can recommend?
I cannot recommend NowMattersNow.org enough (fun fact: I know the founder and I volunteer my graphic design skills for their social media sometimes)! I also really enjoy the Borderliner Notes on YouTube. Especially the Marsha Linehan ones! Debbie [Corso] from DBT Path was also one of my crucial resources early on with her website. Shari Manning’s book, Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is one I recommend to loved ones, but pro-tip: I actually read it to learn how to love myself better!
What tips would you give to someone who is about to start DBT therapy?
If you are in a year-long program where you go through the skills TWICE, do not beat yourself up if you don’t understand some of the skills the first time around. I was trying SO HARD to be a good little student and it was SO MUCH information to take in sometimes, I was overwhelmed. I found during my second round through the skills, things made a lot more sense after practising some of the other skills, and it all kind of started to fall into place for me.
What advice would you give for loved ones who want to support someone who is doing DBT therapy?
People who need DBT are often described as manipulative by those who claim to love them. I encourage anyone who loves an emotionally sensitive person who is struggling to consider approaching their loved ones with validation first before asking for a change in behavior. It’s not that we don’t want to change, it’s often an unmet need for some validation that drives our most frustrating behaviors. And read Shari Manning’s book! She has great tips on how to do this!
Do you have any advice for someone on a long waiting list for DBT?
NowMattersNow.org and YouTube have some very awesome videos for learning the skills. And honestly, the #DBT twitter folks are freaking a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Finding other people on the internet with similar struggles to mine has been so validating and healing!
What would you say to someone who is feeling hopeless and like things will never get better?
For about 15 years, I was pretty sure I would eventually die by suicide. But somewhere in there I also knew that it wasn’t my fault that I felt the way I did. BPD traits arise from our brains' maladapting to copious amounts of emotional invalidation, often mixed with a bunch of trauma. So, the bummer news is: it’s NOT your fault. The kind of awesome (but frustrating at times) news is that these skills CAN help you form new neural pathways that will change your reactions to things, slowly but surely, over time.
Do you have anything else you would like to say?
Thank you so much to you DBT Nerd! It has been an absolute joy to hear more about how you navigated to a place where you know it's not your fault for the pain you have felt and feel. I am so happy for you that you have had some really positive experiences of therapy and that you take so much comfort from having a wonderful dog. I wish you all the very best with your blog and Twitter and urge everyone to check our DBT Nerd's work using the links below.