Building a life worth living is a big part of DBT and it’s something I haven’t worked on much or even thought about until recently. I’ve been unwell for well over a decade and have been in hospital for a year and a half. I’ve never been a mentally well adult and have not been able to function at a normal level since school. For these reasons I have always found it very difficult to think of a life outside of my illness and in some ways that can hold me back in recovery. However just weeks before I’m due to go to a specialist unit which can help me I have an idea of how life will look when I come out of hospital.
I know I won’t come home fully recovered and jumping with the joys of spring but I imagine I’ll be able to function. I want to attend outpatient appointments with my mental health team but alongside that I want to work in a bakery, go to ballet classes, help out with the younger ballet classes and prepare and cook my own meals and snacks from scratch. I could then channel my obsession with food down a productive and enjoyable route whilst still enjoying dance and exercise at a sensible level.
If I can maintain that lifestyle for a while then the next step will be learning to drive and getting a place of my own even if that’s renting a studio flat. Then the next step, and the one I’m most excited about will be becoming a mother. I’ve already decided for very personal reasons that I want to be single so I will go to a clinic and use a sperm donor to conceive.
I think it is good to go to this new unit with an image of what I want my life to look like when I come home. So this is me thinking of building a life worth living.
Getting better terrifies me. I have struggled with eating since I was 5 but officially anorexia was diagnosed a decade ago. I’ve spent the past 6 years in and out of hospital. I’ve only lived in Wales for 3 years and I have spent nearly all of that time in one hospital or another.
I am the girl who brings her own food to people’s dinner parties. As my extended family tuck into an Indian takeaway, I shiver over a bowl of soya porridge. As my grandparents enjoy their Sunday roast, I nibble on raw peppers, carrots and cherry tomatoes. That is what has become expected of me. I don’t just have anorexia, I am anorexia.
Hospital has become my home. Everyone knows I’m in hospital and I am used to being here. I’m used to living in this little bubble away from the real world. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to go to the supermarket, or the cinema, or anywhere for that matter. I’m used to spending all my time with nurses and support workers instead of friends and family. I think nothing of having two people watching me whilst I go to the toilet or shower or sleep or do anything. This has become my life. Whilst other people my age go out on a Friday night, I lay in bed with a member of staff on each arm. This is the norm for me. This is my life.
I have become my mental illness. It has become my identity. People follow me on twitter and instagram because I’m ill and my whole accounts centre around my illness. My blog and it’s successes are because of my mental illness. My media work, my speeches…they have all been about my mental illness and that is what I have become known for, for being mentally ill.
So how am I supposed to get better? I don’t know who I am without all of this. I don’t even know if it’s possible to be without all of this. Will I ever wake up and be glad I’m alive? Will I ever tuck in to an Indian takeaway with my extended family and not want to kill myself with guilt afterwards? Will I ever go out with friends on a Friday night? Or have conversations that aren’t about illness or recovery? Who will I be if I get better and this is no longer who I am? I’m scared I’ll become a nobody but I’m even more scared that it isn’t possible. That I am a mental illness and I will always be a mental illness.
Being non-judgemental involves seeing but not evaluating and it can be beneficial to our mental health. If we think about things in a non-judgemental way then we see the facts of a situation rather the looking at the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘should’ and ‘should not’ of situations.
If we use words such as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘worthless’, ‘stupid’ or describe how things should or shouldn’t be then we are thinking in a judgemental way. Judgemental thinking often involves describing by comparing and contrasting. The problems with judgemental thinking are that they often replace facts and can distract from reality. Judgemental thinking often feeds negative emotions and the way we are feeling can have an impact on the way we see things. Judgemental thinking leaves positive judgements in a fragile place because anything judged as good can also be judged as bad.
An example of judgemental thinking could be when someone with an eating disorder looks at food. As someone who has anorexia I may look at a biscuit and think the following thoughts:
“That biscuit looks good, it looks so delicious”
“That biscuit will make me fat”
“It looks unhealthy”
These are judgement thoughts. Instead I could look at the biscuit and say:
“The biscuit is brown”
“The biscuit is round”
“The biscuit has chocolate chips in it”
Many of us judge our emotions. If someone is feeling anger then they may feel that it is a bad and negative emotion and by feeling angry it makes that person feel like they are a bad person or like something is wrong with them. If we take a non-judgemental stance we can see that anger is an emotion, it is not good or bad and experiencing anger does not make someone a bad person, it simply means that they are experiencing anger. By not judging our emotions it means that we are more like to experience the emotion, accept it and let it pass rather than reacting negatively to it.
The first step to non-judgemental thinking is being aware of your judgements, notice when you are thinking judgementally and how often these thoughts happen. It is very likely that you will have so many judgement thoughts that it will be almost impossible to count them all. Practice hard at changing judgement thoughts to non-judgement thoughts by focusing on the facts of the situation at hand. Change your body language to fit a non-judgemental stance., take a deep breath and relax your shoulders. Notice the positive changes after replacing a judgement thought with non-judgemental thinking. Most importantly don’t judge your judging, it is human nature to judge, the importance is on turning these judgements to non-judgements.