“I don’t pay attention to the world ending. It has ended many times for me and began again in the morning.” Nayyirah Waheed
I don’t believe in fate or destiny, I believe in time and circumstance. This summer was tumultuous for me. I felt more grief and loss than I ever have before. In the span of a week I was diagnosed with a serious mental disorder (Borderline Personality) and also had my heart broken for the first time. I’m not here to talk about my break up because I think we’ve all read enough think pieces on “How To Get Over Him.” I’m done dedicating energy to that. I’m here to put that energy back into falling in love with myself and surviving the grief and loss that comes with a break up while healing.
Losing your best friend or lover can feel like the ultimate loss, and that’s because it is. Nothing hurts quite like losing your person, the one who provides comfort and love in a way that seems unique and perfect for your heart. I’m here to tell you though, it happened to me and I survived. I am still surviving. Time has passed and I am still here. I have relied so heavily on the skills I am learning in therapy and I want to share them with every person I meet. I find myself having moments of resentment – why weren’t we taught these skills as children? They have helped me tolerate pain and loss when I feel ready to give up and give in to bad habits.
Intense moments of panic sometimes trigger a really scary response in me called dissociation. It’s described as a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality (as in psychosis). I am always aware of what is real and what isn’t, but sometimes I have trouble figuring out how I relate to reality. A traumatic event like a loss can cause intense panic, especially for a person with BPD. I’ve found these skills to be life changing when I’m having a panic attack.
“TIP skills” comprise three parts:
Temperature. Often during panic our heart rate and temperature will increase, which can feel really terrifying. We have something called a diving reflex, which is what would happen if you actually were in freezing cold water and your body needed to conserve its energy to survive. Splashing cold water on your temples (or, if you’re able, a cold shower or two minutes outside without a jacket during winter) can pull your back into the moment and cool you down. All we need to do is survive the moment. Ten minutes, thirty seconds. However long we’re at risk of not being okay for. (Please consult with a doctor before trying this if you have any medical conditions, such as heart issues.)
Intense exercise. As a fat girl, I got sick of hearing this as a solution to all of my problems years ago, though I will say that once I found the right type of intense exercise I was sold on the benefits. For me, it is spinning. It definitely isn’t for everyone and also isn’t something I can do in the moment. Usually running up and down some stairs or doing squats for two minutes can really snap me back to into reality.
Paired muscle relaxation. This skill involves mindfulness and breath work. I like to sit with my feet flat on the floor and slowly starting at my toes, tense my muscles and release them in tandem with my breath. Deep breath in, tense my toes, and release, exhale. I follow this routine up my body until I reach my face. Getting distracted is a natural part of the process so usually I’ll count my breaths as well.
Once you survive a particularly painful moment you’ll still need to survive the other less painful but still hard moments. Time really is the only thing that heals and I’ve only recently learned the skills to get me through.
Marsha M. Linehan created the Dialectical Behavioural Therapy curriculum that I’m learning from and she absolutely loves acronyms, for example: ACCEPTS. After I survive the initial panic, which can only really last a short amount of time, I devote my attention to Activities, Contributions, Comparisons, Emotions, Pushing Away, Thoughts and Sensations. I’ve made a list of suggestions for each word and how I can use it to improve the moment. Immersing yourself in an activity, contributing in a positive way to something external, comparing your emotions to an even harder time that you’ve survived, focusing on the good times you’ve had and remembering that you’re capable of happiness, pushing away the ruminating negative thoughts, and indulging in sensations you enjoy like smell or touch will get you from point A to point B.
While I wait for time to heal me I will continue to add to my little toolbox of coping skills. I encourage anyone living with anxiety to try it. You have nothing to lose, only calmness to gain.