Full Catastrophe Living–DBT in Practice

I had grand plans for my day today- I had to attend an orientation for my daughter’s upcoming PreK program, and then was planning to spend the rest of the day in blissful (and elusive) alone time, which I had purposely scheduled for myself after a very busy and overwhelming past month. Over the last month, I’ve moved into a new house, had my toddler undergo surgery, and increased my hours at work, among other things. Today was finally going to be my day to just slow down and catch my breath. I anticipated catching up on some emails, getting some unpacking done at home, maybe even going for a run and/or even sitting on the couch watching some Bravo. I knew I only had till 3:30 when my oldest got off the bus, so I was planning to take full advantage of every minute. Things I hadn’t planned on included taking care of a sick 6 year old home from school, writing checks for hundreds of dollars for emergency repair work on the sewer line of the home I’ve owned for five weeks, or bandaging my nose from a plate falling out of the cabinet onto it, and yet that’s exactly what ended up happening. Let’s just say that my blissful day of “me time” was anything but. When my husband came home from work and told me that the “check engine” light had gone on in his car, I pretty much wanted to cry.

I found myself fighting really hard against reality this evening, and instead found myself starting down the path of catastrophic thinking. I may not be completely off that path just yet, but I’m aware that I can choose to either stay (and become more) miserable, or find a way to acknowledge that today wasn’t anywhere close to the day I was hoping for, and move on from it. That’s the thing with DBT skills; they all sound great in theory but can be a lot harder to put into practice. I’m fully aware that my bad day still pales in comparison to the bad days that many of our clients face, but it’s still a reminder to me that life on life’s terms isn’t always the easiest thing to deal with, and so the commitment we’re asking for from clients is a pretty big one.

Perhaps in some ways my imperfect day was exactly what I needed; honestly I’ve been feeling somewhat frustrated lately in my work with some people, struggling to remember that “people are doing the best they can” and instead getting stuck in “and they need to do better.” As a clinician, it’s often painful and frustrating when it feels like people aren’t getting better or making progress as quickly as we’d like them to. Today was a good reminder of how hard it is sometimes to not get stuck in Emotion Mind, and to be able to be skillful all the time. The reality is that I’m a person with pretty solid emotion regulation skills, a great support system, and overall low emotional vulnerability, and I still struggled. It was just a really stressful day after a long month, and it was hard to not fall into the trap of staying miserable and feeding into emotions that would make it even more uncomfortable- and I know it’s not a reflection on my not having skills, but rather a reflection on how hard it is to use them sometimes. When I think about that, it helps me to keep in mind exactly what a big ask we’re making of our clients, whose bad days are often infinitely more painful and complicated than mine was today, with way bigger stakes on the line. I’m certainly not going to go so far to say that I’m happy that my day played out as it did (I still want a re-do of my perfectly envisioned “me time”), but I can say that I am grateful for the ability to get through it without making it worse, and for the reminder that we’re asking a lot of our clients when we ask them to get through each day skillfully. When they struggle, it’s not necessarily for lack of commitment, but simply because sometimes getting through a hard day is just really hard.