DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It was originally developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Subsequently, DBT has been adapted to work with other illnesses including Bipolar Disorder. The book I use was written by Sheri Van Dijk, who is extremely well versed in the practice of DBT.
DBT is hard. I’m only a chapter in and so many things have come to the surface. Often, DBT is taught in groups, however I am fortunate enough to have a therapist familiar with the teachings and understanding enough to know that I would not do well in a group.
The first few sections in the workbook are questionnaires regarding symptoms. General Bipolar symptoms and then specific questionnaires about mania and depression. As I’m sitting at home, reading these questionnaires and checking off all of the symptoms except one or two, I became agitated and upset. Then angry. 11 out of 13 general symptoms. 32 out of 33 depression symptoms, and 27 out of 34 mania symptoms. A lot of symptoms. A lot. An amount that I was very uncomfortable with.
But, as I discussed this list with my therapist (got it, got it, got it…) I slowly started to come to terms with something.
I have Bipolar Disorder.
Of course, I’ve known that for awhile. But, mostly because doctors told me that I had Bipolar Disorder. I think that this was probably one of the first times someone ever sat a list of symptoms in front of me and I had to face the reality of what was going on. And, while it was extremely difficult, I think that in the end it’s been extremely useful. I have developed a level of acceptance that I didn’t have before. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way, shape or form happy about having Bipolar Disorder, but acceptance doesn’t always have to mean happiness.
The next hurdle was a series of questions about when symptoms started. The first question was: How old were you when you first recall feeling really sad or extremely down and these feelings didn’t seem connected to a specific situation?
Um, does the suicide attempt at age 14 count? I don’t remember why. At all. I remember picking out the pills, I remember falling asleep and I remember waking up. I remember I was unhappy waking up. I remember my mother calling me for dinner. I remember nothing else.
Yes, childhood was hard. There was emotional abuse. But, I’m in good company on that count. So I never, ever, counted this attempt as anything. In fact I have reported that I have never attempted suicide to many doctors, glossing over this one important fact.
But now, faced with this book, I had to be honest. And in our discussions, my therapist and I uncovered many more issues from my young adult years. Was my hyperactivity at school and out with friends mania, hypomania, or just joy at being free? Obviously there was a Major Depressive Episode.
So, was I bipolar even then? Or was it the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (which I still have thank you very much) which was going undiagnosed?
What I’ve come to realize (and again after a LOT of talking to my therapist) is that I don’t think it matters. Yes, something was going on, but that suicide attempt was 32 years ago. Does it matter what illness caused it?
No. It does not. It’s a tool to help me understand my life. And now I do understand a lot better than I did a couple weeks ago.
The next chapter is about mindfulness. I will start learning some skills. I have no doubt that it’s going to be hard. I’m a future thinker. Always worried about what’s coming up, what might happen, planning for the worst. Trying to keep myself present in a moment is going to challenge me.
But, I’ve gained a lot of insight from the Introduction and Chapter One, so I’m eager to at least try Chapter Two.