Join me in learning DBT Skills!

When I get right down to it, if I had not of learned Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) skills I would not have my son. I feared that if I did not get my emotions under control I would not be able to properly cope with the trials of parenthood and not give my child the best version of myself. Before DBT, I felt stuck and worried that I would never have the family I knew I deserved.

Very quickly, I saw that the DBT skills were changing me. Emotion regulation skills taught me about my emotions (to listen to them, not hate them) and how I can influence them. Interpersonal effectiveness skills taught me how to better communicate my needs and that I am not responsible for people’s responses. Distress tolerance skills taught me how to cope in times of stress and how meeting my physical needs helps tolerate emotional distress. Mindfulness skills taught me how to slow down and notice the moment so I do not become overwhelmed in this fast paced world.

Maybe you can relate to my experience. Maybe your emotions and ability to cope with them are holding you back from having a life worth living. I would like to encourage you to consider joining me in learning DBT. I work for an organization, based out of Toronto, Ontario called Dialectical Living. We have spots currently open for our 2017 DBT skills classes. The great thing about our classes is that you do not have to live in Toronto to attend! In February 2017 we are launching our Intro to DBT course ONLINE! Learn DBT with me and my co-facilitator wherever you are in the world!

In the Intro to DBT course you will learn all of the core DBT skills over a 12 week period. The course is cost-effective and one of the most affordable DBT courses out there. It is very important to myself and the staff at Dialectical Living that we are as affordable as possible so everyone who needs DBT can access it.

To learn more about our courses please visit our website: http://www.dialecticalliving.ca/online-skills-group/

 

A Mental Health Win or Fail?

Navi Dhanota, a York University student won a precedent-setting human rights complaint against the school. She pictured near her home on a cold January day.

Image: A young woman (Navi) with black/brown hair that falls just below her shoulders, standing outside on a sidewalk, wearing a black jacket. She is looking directly at the camera.

Recently, a young women named Navi Dhanota (Phd student) got York University to change its policy around academic accommodations for students with a mental illness diagnosis. Presently, many Ontario universities and colleges require a letter from a psychiatrist stating that the student has a mental illness, the SPECIFIC illness(es) and that because of this they require academic accommodations. Navi did not want to provide a specific mental illness diagnosis and when the University demanded one she filed a human rights complaint against the school with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Her hard work paid off!  York University has changed their policy and now,

“…students seeking supports at York won’t have to label their illness to get help. The school still requires an assessment from a licensed doctor to confirm the student has a legitimate condition that may require faculty flexibility or other supports, but the focus is now on determining how the disability affects their learning. For example, some students may need to take tests at a particular time of day because medication makes them drowsy.” ( Diana Zlomislic, Toronto Star, Jan 12 2016)

As with anything, there are critics. Heather Mallick (columnist, author and lecturer) is very much against this policy change stating:

“The legal requirement that a stigmatizing diagnosis be a secret from helpful universities smells of mould and asylums.” (Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, Jan 15 2016)

Mallick may have a point if her article wasn’t written from a place of what I can only interpret as ignorance and privilege (she lectures on human rights so that’s a little scary). Why keep mental disability a secret she asks? There are many reasons, all of them valid and worthy of respect.

In an open letter to Mallick, Rosalind Robertson makes many great points that I support such as the stigma people face when they disclose their diagnosis, that it is not being our job to educate everyone by being “out”, and a person’s right to privacy.

Those who support and oppose are separated by a line etched in stone. Some that I know stand behind Mallick  and others stand behind Navi. I personally, if you haven’t already guessed, stand behind Navi. Many of us with mental health concerns and have gone on to post-secondary education probably have experience with their academic accommodations department. Please read about my experience with academic accommodations here.

I strongly support York’s policy change because the specific diagnosis shouldn’t matter. What matters is that a doctors identifies there is a need, a “mental disability”, and that support will be needed in certain areas. There is stigma when people find out your diagnosis. Keeping that information to yourself is NOT stigmatizing or taking a step backwards. It is respecting yourself. It is respecting where your story is told and who knows your story. IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO KNOW MY STORY! A specific diagnosis doesn’t tell a person about your learning needs. I gave my specific diagnosis, as required, and they still did not meet my learning needs. Our privacy needs to be respect and our exact learning needs have to become a priority.

Image: a hand partially covering the word “privacy”.

Some are arguing that by keeping the diagnosis a “secret” that they are stigmatizing themselves and contributing to stigma. No. I can see how that can be an argument and I truly do not accept it as a decent argument. People should NEVER be forced to disclose. People should NEVER ben shamed for not disclosing. My health is none of your business unless I chose to let you in. If you can provide a service without specific knowledge then provide me with that service. My borderline personality isn’t the important part. The important part is that I have trouble with my memory, especially when under stress, so I would like to write essays instead of tests. Writing essays allows me time to sit down and go through my knowledge and write it all down so it makes sense. A test makes me think on the spot and tests me on what I can remember, not what I know or how I can apply what I have learned (this is also a critique of testing in general). Knowing I am borderline will not tell you that.

Some may argue that many people are blogging about their mental health issues so why should it matter if they have to disclose to their school. It’s about choice. Blogging about my mental health is something I chose to do. I control what I put out, I get to speak for myself. I don’t need or want to disclose to everyone. If I don’t disclose to someone and they find my blog it goes back to knowing that I have control over how I represent myself. I should be given that same control when seeking academic accommodations.

I am big on choice. I believe we should have more choices in treatment, more choices in ways of being and more choice in who we disclose too. If a student wants to tell accommodations faculty their exact diagnosis then that is fantastic. Schools should not force students to share something about themselves that they may not wish to share. Forcing someone to disclose should not be the only way to receive support! You don’t need to know I am borderline. You need to know what I need. 

 

 

 

Trans is not a mental illness

For almost 40 years, the Cantre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has treated children in their Child, Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). Children and youth who expressed that they are a different gender than what they were assigned at birth went to this clinic to stop this thinking and feeling and accept their assigned gender. This clinic tells children, youth, their families, and society that being trans is not ok, that being trans is an illness and that being trans can be and should be medically treated. This month, CAMH announced that the program will be shutting down. This is amazing news!

I am a cis woman and some of my friends and colleagues are trans. I am extremely happy to know that the closure of the GIC at CAMH is another step in the direction of trans acceptance. The very existence of this clinic went against provincial and international human rights guidelines that said it is misconduct for health professionals to attempt to alter the gender identity or expression of a minor. Trans people are protected in Canada under the Charter of Human Rights. Closing the clinic helps protect trans people’s rights.

Closing the Gender Identity Clinic, I believe, is also further proof that as societal views change, our views of what a mental illness is, also changes. Homosexuality was in the DSM from the beginning (DSM I, 1952), was removed in the DSM II and was given different names within the same revision. The alternative names for homosexuality, such as “sexual orientation disturbance”, were not completely removed from the DSM until the 80s. It took awhile and it was removed. This demonstrates the instability of psychiatric illness and the power of society. We know that your sexual orientation is not an illness and at one point it was seen to be until people spoke out against it being an illness.

Trans people appear to be going through the same thing with psychiatry. When the DSM 5 came out I was very disappointed to see that a gender identity disorder was still included, just as gender dysphoria. This change in language allows psychiatry to say, “Look, expressing a different gender identity than the one assigned to you at birth is only an illness when it causes you stress instead of being an illness merely because it exists.” I am cis and could not even imagine the stress that may follow knowing your expressed gender identity does not match your assigned gender. I may go out on a limb and say that the toxic culture that trans people live in will create all types of stress regardless (those who know, correct me if I am wrong). I am hoping that soon, gender dysphoria will be removed from the DSM completely. (If you are a trans person, I would be very interested to know what you think about the gender dysphoria diagnosis)

Sexual orientation and gender identity are great examples of how psychiatry severely screws up in defining and treating “illness”. As society accepts people as they are, we do research that supports this acceptance, we can clearly shape psychiatry in a way that we could not shape physical medicine. I will always stand by the fact that a large portion of psychiatry depends on social constructs of normality. If we believe being straight is normal then being gay is an illness. If we believe those born male should always be male then trans becomes an illness. If we believe that people should not hear voices then hearing voices because an illness. When we have not limited normal we have seen psychiatry change for the better.

I strongly suggest you learn about the experiences of trans people. This group is unbelievably marginalized and oppressed. The hate these people experience is often violent and sometimes has fatal consequences. This all becomes especially true for trans people of colour. Trans people are people deserving of respect and have the same rights as everyone else.

 

Check it out!

Discredited treatment of Trans kids at CAMH shouldn’t shock us

Why the closing of Toronto’s CAMH Gender clinic matters

Kat Blaque Youtube page

Laverne Cox at Creating Change 2014

Janet Mock- Google Talks

DBT Skills: Wise Mind

I have begun a new DBT Group through a local, peer-led organization call Dialectical Living!  This organization specifically provides DBT Groups to individuals with BPD/Emotion Regulation Disorder (ERD) for a fairly affordable rate. This organization helps fill the huge DBT and BPD services gap that is in Toronto. Dialectical Living is also going to be offering individual DBT counselling soon! I am also very pleased to add that I am being trained by Dialectical Living to become a teacher in the DBT Groups and as an individual counsellor 🙂

So, I had my first Group on Tuesday and we talked about Wise Mind. Briefly, here is Wise Mind…

Our home practice was to notice when we enter each of these mind sets. I would like to share with you when I have used Wise Mind within the last few days.

Situation: A car alarm was going off in the distance for almost 30 minutes at 11pm.

My initial feelings: I found myself getting very aggravated and passing judgments such as, “What kind of person lets their car alarm go for that long?” and “What kind of people live in this neighborhood that car alarms are constantly going off?”

How I used Wise Mind: I noticed these thoughts and decided to radically accept that the alarm was going off and felt grateful that the alarm was in the distance and not right outside my building because there are people who are closer to the sound who must be bothered by it more. I noticed the sound and then refocused on watching Bones. This made me feel calm and satisfied.

In this situation, I also used the DBT skills ACCEPTS, Mindfulness, Radical Acceptance, and Distraction.

I think it is a great exercise to notice when you are in Rational/Reasonable Mind, Emotion Mind, and Wise Mind. Already, in the 3 days that I have been tracking this I am noticing that I spend a lot of time in Emotion Mind than in Rational/Reasonable Mind. I seem to alternate between Emotion Mind and Wise Mind throughout the day. When I enter Emotion Mind I do feel myself trying to pull myself away from it and shift into Wise Mind which I didn’t feel myself doing a year ago before I began learning DBT.

If you live in Toronto or the GTA, have BPD/ERD and would like to attend the next Intro to DBT Group with Dialectical Living please contact Julie at julie@dialecticalliving.ca. The next 10-week course will begin early next year! Who knows, maybe I’ll be teaching it?!

New Resources Added to BPD Resources Page!

I have added new resources to my BPD Resources page, found above or through the hyperlink!

Recent additions…

Professional Services: Dialectical Living, Davenport-Perth and My Dialectical Life.

Self-Help Books/Books: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Wellness Planner

The goal of the BPD resources page is to share Toronto and GTA resources for BPD support. Many resources are books or websites and fairly accessible for many. If you have resources you think I should add please leave them in the comments and I will check them out! This can include resources that address issues some individuals with BPD may experience (ie: boundaries, abuse, self-esteem etc.).

Sponsor Me and Support Youth with Mental Health and Addiction Issues!

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On October 18, 2015, I will be participating in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront 5k Walk while raising funds for Young Ones.

I have been volunteering with Young Ones since the organization began 4 years ago. I have seen how important the services Young Ones provides are to the youth of Toronto who experience mental health and addiction issues. Aside from running a few of the organization’s programs I have also used their services. As someone with a mental health issue, I can not express the importance of having therapists who are truly dedicated, having no wait list and being surround by peers who know first-hand what it is like to experience the lows and still work towards recovery!

My goal of $1000 sends one youth to treatment FOR FREE! $1000 can also support our Mentorship program by providing TTC tokens and access to workshops and events for youth and their Mentor! And, $1000 can help our “End the Stigma” Education Team travel to community engagements, hire speaking trainers and provide honorariums to our youth speakers!

Every little bit counts! Start at $10 or $25 and if you can donate more please consider doing so! You can donate by clicking here.  If you are unable to donate please share this post!

THANK YOU! All pledges will receive an official tax receipt (either electronic or in the mail.)

Sloppy Psychiatric Diagnosis

Many of you know that I am not a fan of psychiatry and struggle very much to see the benefit the profession brings as it currently is. I was pleased to come across an article today in the Toronto Star that spoke to something I noticed as a teenager and recently, again, as an adult and demonstrates how far psychiatry still has to go in order to serve us better. The article, “Be wary of sloppy psychiatric diagnoses” by Jowita Bydlowska, speaks to the countless diagnostic errors given to people by psychiatrists. There are multiple reasons for this, but I feel it simply comes down to the fact that there is very little science in the diagnostic process.

But, let me organize myself a little bit to explain my thoughts on this article.

Since being diagnosed with Dysthymia (chronic depression) at age 16, I also had psychiatrists toss around Bipolar and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My Borderline Personality has been labeled as a disorder and then as traits. While only two of these diagnoses stuck with me I am bothered at how different psychiatrists can come up with different diagnoses (as seen in the research paper, Being Sane in Insane Places) based off of what I feel is nothing. While I greatly value anecdotal evidence and a person’s unique narrative, when it comes to providing myself with a label that can greatly alter the course of my life I would like more to be done than an hour long chat.

I often find myself becoming upset when I read research on Borderline Personality Disorder that says when the brain scans of someone with BPD and someone without BPD are compared it can be seen that the BPD brain is more Brain imagery helped Assistant Professor Anthony Ruocco untangle the neural circuitry underlying bordeline personality disorderemotionally on and has difficulty shutting off than the non-BPD brain (as seen, in research done by the Univrsity of Toronto). If we have seen this then why is brain imagery don’t a part of the diagnostic process?! I know this probably has something to do with “needing more research” but psychiatrists have already made so many diagnoses not based on these scans that I think adding it to the process wouldn’t hurt much. I’m sure cost comes into play as well, if not being one of the largest motivating factors for not providing it as an option. I WANT THE SCAN! I trust that.

The other part that I found interesting in the article is that the author talks about how certain diagnoses seem to be “in”. I noticed this when I was newly diagnosed. Many of my classmates seem to be getting diagnosed with some for of depression or bipolar disorder. I have a distinct memory of thinking, “How can everyone have depression?” Then, as the author mentioned, I noticed a few years ago that a lot of my friends were being diagnosed with PTSD or trauma language was being used a lot to describe their experiences. This past year, in the house that I live in, various occupants wondering, “Do I have ADHD?” and asking me for resources to receive a diagnosis (child and adult). As for 2015, I have noticed a great surge in BPD diagnoses. “BPD is so hot right now,” as I commonly say. It baffles me that these trends can exist. What is going on?

My final point is based off a comment in the article made by Dr. Andrew Lustig from the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH, Toronto). He says, “the clinical picture of diagnosis can change over time as person develops in their illness, so sometimes a diagnosis that a person gets at one point (early) isn’t accurate at another point as the condition progresses.” This is cited as a reason for misdiagnosis and it is valid, but, I feel it is a tad weak. Aside from still coming from a patient-blaming perspective that ceases to acknowledge the systemic flaws of psychiatric, it ignores the fact that some diagnoses are not given out for certain reasons (age, gender, potential stigma etc.) or that a diagnosis is usually made after a 1 time visit that usually lasts an hour. Let me use myself as an example.

By the time I was 14 years old, I believed I had BPD. I displayed 8 or the 9 criteria (5 criteria are required at the minimum) but because I was still a teenager I could not receive the diagnosis and was given dysthymia instead. This meant that I was treated for depression which as I see now as an adult was very ineffective. If psychiatrists had looked at BPD as a potential option, seen that I had the traits, regardless of my age, then maybe I could have received treatment that actually helped me. My diagnosis of depression and BPD traits were made after a 1, 1-hour session with a psychiatrist. I was also prescribed medication during this session. I would think there is a lot of room for error if you are going off of your very first (and sometimes only) meeting with someone.

As always, my message is to be your own advocate. If you do not feel like you can step into that role yet or your doctor/psychiatrist will not listen to you, then find someone you trust to support you in having a conversation with your professional. You have to live your life and be comfortable in it.