The Deep Diver In You
What a week! I’m telling ya, PTSD has a way of making you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster and sometimes, you just want to get the heck off! I’ve had some really sad moments this week, and some really happy ones, and then some moments where I have been so angry I can barely think straight.
I acknowledge that I have so many good things going on in my life right now. The support I have received from the podcast and the connections I have been making lately are more valuable to me than I can put into words. When I think about it all, I want to dance and sing and celebrate. And then other moments, like this past weekend, when I finally got to see my newly remodeled office, I started to cry….and then the awful thoughts crept in:
Do I deserve this?
What if I fail?
Will I be taken seriously?
It has been hard to shut these thoughts off lately. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at using “coping skills”. In fact, I hate the term “coping skills”. When my mind is racing a mile a minute and when I’m filled with anxiety and doubt, I don’t want to meditate. I don’t want to do deep breathing. I don’t want send thoughts of gratitude out into the universe. Yes, all of these things are wonderful and helpful, but when myself or anyone else is feeling off-the-charts types of emotions, it can be very difficult to get grounded by using the skills listed above. Sometimes, I need something fast and powerful to snap me out of my panic, anger, and shame. I’ve been utilizing a specific DBT-based technique lately that has been helping me tremendously, and I wanted to share it with you.
Yep, I said it. Cold showers. Or if you cannot shower, place ice packs or bags full of cold water on your face, or you can fill up a sink with cold water and dunk your head in!
So let me just back track a little bit. I first learned about taking cold showers as a way to deal with stress, panic, rage, self harm, etc. in 2014. And I immediately rejected it because I am notorious for taking showers so hot that it’s a wonder my flesh has not melted off yet. But a few months back, I rediscovered the effectiveness of temperature change in the body when helping to ground yourself and regulate your nervous system.
I get what you’re probably thinking: “If I’m going to be told that freezing my ass off will help with distress tolerance, I want to know who, what, when, were, why, and how it works. “
So here’s what we know: Humans have something called the “mamalian diving response.” This is an automatic physiological response that occurs in our bodies when we come into contact with cold water. What we know about the mamalian diving response comes from an experiment in 1962 that was done on free divers, which showed that as people dive into colder waters, their heartrates slow down, no matter how vigorous their activity. Some divers were swimming as fast as they could and their heart rate still remained lower in the colder, deeper water. In addition to this, it has been learned that when in colder, deeper water, blood circulation tends to flow away from the limbs and moves instead toward vital organs in the body to protect them and keep them functioning at full capacity.
But here’s the thing, simply dipping your toes in cold water won’t be enough. You need to be all in, well, at least your face. You have trigeminal nerves in your face, which, when in contact with cold water, will send signals to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve allows for communication between the body and the brain and will cause your heart rate to slow down.
As someone who hates cold showers, I have to say, this technique works!
So when you feel like you can’t turn the intensity level down on your emotions or if you feel like your thoughts won’t stop racing, go try out a cold shower and discover the deep diver in you!
To read more about the mammalian diving response, please click below:
Sometimes We Get It Wrong (and we’re still worthy!)
One of the many reasons I love working with kids so much is how blunt they can be. Don’t get me wrong, I also love working with adults, but adults have learned over time to sugar-coat some of what they say, or say things in ways that are not as direct. Kids, on the other hand, just let it out. And I love it. They make me a better therapist, a better human being, and I know they are going to make me a better mom to my own children one day when I start a family…
Yet, as much as I love it, there are some days when my teenagers say something that hits a nerve, as teens are often prone to do!
One of my kiddos really struck a nerve this week (not his fault at all and this is NOT a bad thing). Let’s call him Frankie. Frankie has struggled for years to put words to his feelings. For the first year of therapy, Frankie sat in my office and said very little. He did not appear to have any words to label his feelings, nor did he seem to believe in therapy. Despite giving me only shrugs and nods in response to my questions, he continued to show up week after week, voluntarily. It was a test in my patience to say the least, and let it be known that when it comes to patience, I have very little of it (I’m working on this one)!
But now, two years into therapy, Frankie talks the entire session. He is very aware and observant of the therapist sitting across the room from him, a concept which might easily be taken for granted, but when it comes to developmental trauma, some people have a hard time truly acknowledging another caring, supportive person in the room with them. He has made incredible strides in counseling, and he and I have an awesome therapeutic alliance, which I really cherish.
This week, while talking to Frankie during his session, I attempted to provide some feedback on what he was saying, to which he flatly replied “Umm, nope. No. You’re wrong.” He wasn’t trying to be offensive. He wasn’t trying to do anything except communicate exactly what he verbalized –that I had misinterpreted what he was trying to tell me and I had gotten it all wrong.
This happens in therapy – sometimes we do get it wrong. Most adult patients might have phrased it differently and said something a little less direct, such as “Well, no I don’t think that’s exactly right…” But not Frankie. Frankie was to-the-point, something I know I can always expect from him, and something I truly appreciate about him and most other kids who I see for therapy. But for whatever reason, on this particular day, his response about me being wrong sent me into feelings of shame. I started saying to myself:
“How did I get that wrong? How could I have misinterpreted what he said?”
“What is wrong with me? I’m such a moron.”
“Get your sh** together, Alyssa.”
Figuratively speaking, I beat the crap out of myself. Even as I drove home that night, I felt horrible for being “wrong”, as if being wrong is the equivalent to being “bad”.
This is the shame talking. Shame exacerbates even the most harmless situations until suddenly we feel like crawling in a hole and dying for making a simple, common mistake. Shame makes us feel like we have to be perfectionists, and that anything less than perfection is unacceptable. In believing this, we set ourselves up for failure because we are all human beings, each and every one of us fallible.
Thankfully, I have wrestled with shame and perfectionism long enough in this life to be able to (mostly) push it away when it comes up. I’m much better at talking back to the part of me that feels like making a mistake is the equivalent to being a horrible human being. When I was in the moment with Frankie, I was able to kick the shame and other defenses (i.e. the urge to defend what I was saying) out of my office so I could hold space for him to further explain his point to me. And guess what?
He was correct, and I was indeed wrong!
And that is OKAY! Sometimes we just get it wrong (yes, even therapists!). What’s important is to be able to hold space (whether you’re a therapist or not) to listen to others and acknowledge when you’re wrong without being defensive or letting shame get in the way. We’re all human, and no amount of chastising yourself is going to make you infallible in the future. We do not have the power to be perfect, but we have the power to acknowledge our imperfections, accept them, have compassion for ourselves, and move forward.
Besides, how mundane would life be if we were all perfect?
Thankfully, we’ll never know.