June Converse

Thriving After Trauma - Author and Writing Coach

My Goal for Myself and This Blog

Over the last month, I’ve been considering what I want to accomplish with this blog. Over the last two years, I’ve tried to show what life is like inside a bi-polar mind – the good and the bad. When I embarked on that writing plan, I had several goals in mind: a) show people they are not alone in their internal pain and struggles, b) help people put words to their struggle, c) share new insights into coping strategies, d) help people better understand the struggles of those they love. Based on feedback, I’ve at least partially achieved these goals.

But – and this is a big but – if I can share not only my struggle AND my process for working through the pain AND how I use my ‘problems’ to meet my life goals then so much the better. I still struggle – daily – with excess emotional energy (my term) and when I let this energy take over, I lose sight of myself and often make bad, painful, hurtful choices for myself and others. My goal for myself is to continue to intentionally seek balance between ACCEPTANCE and TRANSFORMATION. My goal for this blog is to help anyone who also needs or wants this balance.

A Few Technical Things

The next few paragraphs may be boring … but I think they are necessary as an explanation for how this blog will change and hopefully become more useful to all of us.

Do you know what the DSM-5 is? It’s the manual of “mental disorders” physicians use to designate the proper diagnoses for you and me. Can you guess how many pages are in the DSM-5? Seriously, jot down a guess.

The copy I most recently held has 525 pages … and the print was so small I had to find my strongest reading glasses. That’s 525 pages of labels. Just the eating disorder section has 10 different codes and a myriad of subcodes.

The table of contents is 9 pages. Take a look at the table of contents – it’s fascinating: https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/.../DSM/APA_DSM-5-Contents.pdf.

Once the proper (hopefully) diagnoses are assigned, the provider moves to the ICD-10 code book. This huge book assigns each diagnosis an alpha-numeric code. It is primarily used for insurance reimbursement.1

For example, I have two DSM-5 labels and these have associated ICD-10 alpha-numerical codes:

  • Bipolar II is F.31.81
  • Eating Disorder, unspecified is F50.9

If there are 525 pages of diagnosis options, then how many treatment options must exist? I suppose it’s unlimited. So far, in my various treatment settings, I have been exposed to: ACT, DBT, CBT, EMDR, RAIN, EFT. That’s just the treatment modalities that use an acronym. Alphabet Soup. I’ve also learned about schema theory, Jungian theory – etc. etc. etc.

No Treatment Plan is Perfect

What I’ve discovered is that NO MODEL is the answer to all problems. YET EVERY MODEL has something of value to offer. Thankfully, I have been able to pull nuggets from each treatment modality to put in my toolbox. But, over the last year or so, I’ve forgotten about these tools, these techniques, these helpful nuggets. It’s not that I’m not using any skills – I have to actively use skills in order to have quality relationships with myself and with others.

But, I have gotten into a rut and therefore my coping mechanisms have become less effective, less interesting. In a word: boring! Therefore, I’m going to revisit all the wonderful – helpful – healing techniques my great therapists have taught me. I’m going to crack open the pages and pages of notes. I’m going to re-read the books on my suggested reading lists.

Read or Transform?

Reading about a strategy is educational – but not transformational. My life goal – and one of my most important values – is to attempt to see myself honestly and ACCEPT all that I am. It doesn’t stop there. I also seek to improve my life and my relationships. I strive to TRANSFORM.

The Upcoming Journey

I’m hoping you’ll come along with me on this re-discovery journey to healthy strategies. Each week, I’ll continue to write about a specific painful struggle I’m facing. But I’ll also present a strategy to implement. It is my hope that these strategies will help me reduce suffering and direct me to a positive outcome. Maybe the strategy will work – maybe it won’t. Either way, I’m meeting my goal to hold all that I am with tenderness.

Suggested Reading

I have so many books that therapists have recommended. Some of these are now sitting in front of me and I am committed to re-reading them and using the author’s expertise. I’ve included that list below2. My shelves are full but I’ve selected these to get started:

These resources were not chosen at random. They are on my shelf only because a professional recommended it to me.

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions! J).

NOTES

1 The DSM-5 and the ICD-10 system are used for insurance reimbursement. This, of course, assumes you have insurance coverage. We all know that insurance coverage for mental health issues in the US is either wholly inadequate or non-existent. That is a topic for another day. Whether you have insurance or not, your provider will use the DSM-5 and ICD-10 system for your records.

2 There is also a tab on my website. I will keep this tab updated with any resource I utilize.

Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.

Brene Brown

Recently, I received a message from a someone that ….

  • PISSED me off
  • HURT my feelings
  • Made me feel GUILTY
  • Stirred up RESENTMENT

My emotions swirled in that muck all evening. I showed my husband the message. What I WANTED him to do was jump to my defense. What HE DID was give me this line: “I’m sure she was just trying to be helpful. She didn’t mean to be critical.” What did that accomplish? My PISSED OFF meter rose higher and higher.

I knew if I responded, I’d make matters worse. I had to calm down first. I went to bed, tossed and turned. I woke up less angry but more hurt. Then, I went to lunch with a friend and I whined and whined and whined. (I probably should have paid for her lunch).

She didn’t jump to my defense either. Instead, she said exactly what I needed to hear. She asked me if this person was on MY LIST OF SIX.

My List of Six

Many months ago I watched a video with Brene Brown. In this video she pulled out her wallet and showed the interviewer a tiny piece of paper. On this piece of paper, she had the names of six people. Just SIX! She explained that when she began to get worked up by something someone said or did, she pulled out this list.

Her list contained the six people who mattered – who earned her trust, her confidence – the six people who would be honest with her in a spirit of love.

I’m not on her list of six. Therefore, she doesn’t really care what I think!

I have a list of six. It hangs on a board just inside my door. I see this list every day.

The person that offended me is NOT ON THE LIST. Therefore, I was able to quit fretting.

The List of Six is powerful. Create one. There’s no magic in the number six – maybe you have ten or four. But be careful – only put people who DESERVE your emotional energy. Carry it with you. Memorize it.

When you are upset about the way someone treated you, whip out the list. Has this person earned your energy? Has this person earned any rights in your life? If yes, then consider what they had to say. If not, then MOVE THE HECK ON.

I really should buy this friend lunch – she is, after all, on my list of six.

I think I might take the time to thank my List of Six this week.

Suggested Resource:

Brene Brown has some amazing resources. Check her out on YouTube or Ted.com. This is the link to her site: https://brenebrown.com

Are you expecting a blog about food?  Sorry to disappoint you but I do think this is an important topic – owning the entire complement (pie) of our emotions.  Let’s get started …

Imagine the last time you felt a strong (negative) emotion.  Maybe you were angry with your partner or your kids or your boss or the idiot driver in front of you.  Maybe you were anxious about a meeting, a confrontation, an important decision.  Maybe you were afraid of rejection, a failure, a confrontation.  Maybe your feelings were hurt.  Got that event in mind? 

Let’s build your pie:

Step One: 

Here’s my example:  yesterday I was having lunch with a past friend – someone I haven’t seen in a long time for reasons I really didn’t understand – someone from my ‘past’ life – someone who has a faith that I no longer understand.

Step Two:

From this list, choose the primary emotion you experience:   Anger – Disgust – Envy – Fear – Jealousy – Sadness – Shame – Guilt

My example:  Since right this minute, I’m limited to these 8 words, I’ll choose Fear (anxiety is fear)

(note:  if you want to make this more nuanced, print this and find the best words to describe your emotions:  https://www.cnvc.org/sites/default/files/feelings_inventory_0.pdf) -- this is a GREAT organization!

Step Three:

Now we start to divide the pie.  Ask yourself, what else did I feel?  Rarely are our emotions encapsulated in one simple word.  As I tried to “sit with” my anxiety, I also tried to understand what other emotions were stirring and possibly feeding the anxiety. 

My example:  First, because this person is from my past life, I started to feel the usual shame over how the school closed.  In other words, all of my history got brought into the present.   There is also some guilt here. 

Second, I was envious that she still had her faith. 

Third – and this one is hard to admit and therefore may be the most important – I was angry that she still had her faith and mine is gone.  Not angry at her.  I need to try to understand who/what about that makes me angry.  I suppose, if I’m honest, I’m angry at God.  Which makes me revisit what I really believe about God … a whole new pie.

Fourth, sadness because she was one of the few people from that life that I wanted to keep.  And, I thought I would keep.  I thought I was important enough to her that she would try.   I think this makes me a bit angry too J.

Step Four:

Create the slices.  Basically, all you’re doing is deciding how big each piece is.  I’m going to create an actual pie.

pie chart

Do you see how much more complex our emotions are?  As I did this analysis (and it only took me a few minutes), I was able to identify something that needs to be addressed more seriously so it doesn’t grow roots:  my anger with God feels very raw.  I would not have identified this if I hadn’t taken the time to own the entire pie.

Step Five:

Now you get to own the whole pie.  Take a few seconds (and that’s all it takes) to jot dot a sentence for each emotion – giving yourself permission to feel this way!  It’s easy, it’s releasing and it’s even relaxing:

  • I am feeling anxiety about my lunch and it’s okay that I feel anxiety.
  • I am feeling sadness about a lost friendship and it’s okay that I feel sadness.
  • I am feeling anger at God and it’s okay that I feel anger.  It’s also okay that I go back to this emotion and create a whole new pie.
  • I am feeling shame and guilt about the way the school closed and it’s okay that I feel that way.
  • I am feeling envious of this person’s faith and that’s okay.

How Was This Helpful?

I sat in a group yesterday and one of the participants talked about her disappointment in a decision her son made.  Within her explanation, she made two seemingly innocuous statements:  “It’s not about him.  It’s about me.”  And “It’s not about the money, it was only $100.”

It dawned on me then that at least part of her upset was about him and it was about the money.  AND THAT’S OKAY!  It’s okay for our emotions to be about a lot of things.  When I pointed this out, it was a revelation to her and to me.  As soon as she said, “You’re right, at least part of my problem is that I’m angry we’re losing that money.  I feel like I was manipulated and taken advantage of.”  I asked her was it okay to feel angry about that?  Her eyes lit up when she agreed that it was okay. 

That’s the point of the pie. 

  • IT’S OKAY TO FEEL WHATEVER WE FEEL. 
  • EVERY PIE HAS LOTS OF PIECES (and some pieces need extra attention)
  • WE DON’T HAVE TO JUSTIFY OUR EMOTIONS. 
  • NO ONE ELSE HAS TO AGREE. 
  • IT’S A RELIEF TO JUST OWN WHAT WE FEEL
  • WE CAN EAT THE WHOLE PIE and feel lighter! (if only that was true with coconut crème)


Disclaimer – it’s okay to feel what we feel – it’s not necessarily okay to act in any way we want!

Another Huge Benefit

If you took the time to do this, can you feel that the strong emotion has diffused?  You’ve made it manageable and acceptable!  

June Converse with purple hair
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....
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