I went through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and am now a completely different woman
In honor of World Mental Health Day, we’re highlighting stories from voices that deserve to be heard. These voices remind us that we are not alone. Never alone. #WorldMentalHealthDay
I went to my first therapist when I was seven years old. At the time, my parents had begun the process of an extremely bitter, volatile divorce (only after enduring a similarly bitter, volatile marriage), I’d been exposed to sexual traumas that left me physically and metaphorically broken, and I developed a severe phobia of the apocalypse. I hadn’t yet discovered Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – though if I had, things might have turned out differently.
One particular night, as the moon rose high, my focus turned to how my view of this cosmic body had been seemingly magnified. The surface, shaded scarlet, reminded me of bible school imagery I’d tucked away in the back of my mind. This lunar incident, along with the previously aforementioned circumstances, triggered my first official panic attack. In the days to follow, that moon was all I could think about until my Gram (a woman who’d prove to be my greatest ally) confided that she, too, had the same fears.
Soon after, she took me to my first therapist as she aimed to show me that I wasn’t abnormal, or alone in my fears. Help was available.
Through the years, my anxiety morphed in various ways. It didn’t spawn new roots, but rather, watched helplessly while my mental limbs took on new directions of their own. I would eventually be diagnosed with a laundry list of disorders (PPD/GAD/PTSD/OCD) and would see dozens of different therapists well into my late 20s. It’s not that each of them didn’t serve a purpose in helping people – they were simply never able to pinpoint how to help me.
The search to feel better felt endless, and at times, utterly hopeless. Could I ever feel better? If you’d asked me then, the answer would’ve baffled me into a further depression.
For the longest time, the cycle would repeat itself. I’d find a new therapist, begin my sessions full of hope that I would someday feel better, and after a few visits, I’d realize something was missing. Sometimes it was the therapist who didn’t get me. And as for the others I visited in the name of mental healthcare? I didn’t feel they were right for me.
I tried all the medications, all the recommendations ever prescribed, yet I still felt like the same lost, little girl looking for that one thing to wrangle all the chaos in my brain. But where was it? Was there really so much wrong with me that nothing could ever work? All this combined only added to my feelings of failure and inadequacy – and all the emotions I’d been fighting for decades.
Being the kind of person I am, I became quite good at putting on a mask and pretending everything was fine, all while dying a little more each day.
Then, one sunny September day in 2014, my brain decided it’d had enough. Through a series of outbursts I can only describe as “inevitable,” I had a meltdown similar to that very first one when I was a 7-year-old girl. Only this time, I experienced a chemical malfunction; a wire shortage. Because of all the pretending, I let myself get to a place of extreme mental distress and I could no longer control how I reacted to any situation. I’d actually spun out of control.
However, this fateful September day will forever be known as “the breakdown and the re-build.” Why both? Well, I wouldn’t be where I am today, in the re-building phase, without first having had that breakdown. All those times before, when I thought I’d hit rock bottom, I was wrong. This day, this September day, was the rock bottom I needed to begin fixing all that is broken. For good this time.
Honestly, a lot of what happened immediately thereafter came in the form of exhaustion and acceptance. I cried a lot more than I ever had in my life, but mostly, realized it was time I buckled down if I wanted the chance to feel whole. I needed to heal for my family, and for that 7-year-old girl, forever stuck in time.
This time around, during my re-building, my search for the right therapist felt like a huge task and, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy. It felt as though there was much more to lose. Whoever I chose to be in my corner had to have tools I’d never used before, something groundbreaking with proven results that didn’t involve the medications I tried before.
I immediately began extensive therapy with two different therapists, as well as in group sessions, because I wanted to be accountable in more ways than one – and I needed different things from each. Luckily, one of the two individuals specialized in something called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which focuses on changing a history of behaviors and patterns through cognitive training.
It’s more than medicine – it’s like rewiring your brain.
Through the DBT sessions, combined with other therapies and tools, I learned things I never had before, such as how to break vicious cycles; how to focus on being present in each moment; and when overwhelmed with panic, how to ground myself through visualization and realistic questions, which pull me out of my hyper-internal paranoia. The sessions themselves were grueling; not for the faint of heart and even in my downtime, would require a consistent amount of practice unlike anything I’d ever tried before. Much like with schoolwork, I had to put in the effort to see the results and now, two years later, have seen the fruit of that labor.
It’s not always easy and sometimes I still fail. That’s just part of my journey. However, the difference in the me now compared to the me then is, I know I don’t have to go the rest of my life living in such emotional torment. I can live — really live — as all the damage in my brain is repairing itself with each challenge I’m presented with, with each challenge I overcome, thus boosting my self-esteem and confidence.
It’s a new cycle; a better way of living.
I am more than the sum of my disorders. If you find yourself suffering in silence with some of the same things I have, please know, there is hope. It may take trial and error to find what works for you – but as someone who fought all the battles and survived, I believe with all my might that you can get there, too.