Validation and Empathy Vs. Sympathy

I recently talked with someone about validation, and we both agreed how important it is. One of the ways to define validation is by defining what it’s not. Validation is not “but”s. That’s right. Not buttbut. Anytime we use the word “but” we are actually invalidating, rather than validating.

I’m sorry, but . . .

I get what you’re saying, but . . .

I know how you feel, but . . .

I understand you’re point of view, but . . .

Validation is not trying to make someone understand our point of view. It is not about getting them to see what they did wrong, either. It is about seeing things from their perspective, understanding it as their truth and simply being there for them even if we have a different perspective.

Another thing validation is not is trying to fix things. Again, it’s about letting someone know we understand where they are coming from and that we have their back, rather than pointing out what they did wrong or what they can change in order to fix the situation.

I think validation goes hand in hand with empathy. Someone shared this video with me about empathy versus sympathy from Brene Brown, and I loved it so much. Check it out here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZBTYViDPlQ

Validation doesn’t mean condoning or encouraging bad behavior, but none of us are perfect. Even if we can figure out in our heads how we might handle a situation or how we would feel if we were in their shoes, it doesn’t necessarily mean our own response is the right response or is what would work for someone else. And we are not gods, so we can’t judge. Emotions are real, and need to be felt. There are difficult things we all go through in life and having someone who can validate and empathize with us is so important. This conversation I had and watching Brene Brown’s video inspired me to do better with this. I hope it can inspire others as well.

PTSD and EMDR

Back in March I went through an incredibly traumatic experience that gave me Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had never experienced this before. Living with PTSD the last several months has been hellish, heavy and dark. I didn’t completely understand what was going on until I started going to counseling. My amazing therapist was the one who recognized the signs and symptoms and why certain things were triggering such horrible and immediate panic attacks.

You know that saying, Time heals all wounds? It’s not true. Time can help, but it doesn’t just end the suffering. I hoped time would help with the PTSD, but it didn’t. I needed something more. Enter EMDR. After even the first session, it started to help. Now, after three sessions and a couple of months of counseling the things triggering my PTSD are no longer affecting me—at all! Sometimes the EMDR can be really heavy, as you dive into those difficult, traumatic events and the feelings associated with them. But it also gave me the tools I needed to recover. It may sound too good to be true, but it is true. It has worked, and I feel so much more light, hope and happiness in my life.

As I have often stated in my posts, everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for someone else. But you’ll never know unless you try. My therapist has said it takes courage to admit you need help and courage to actually get help. I’m glad I had the courage because it has changed my life already. For anyone out there who is suffering from PTSD, there is hope. You have the courage inside of you. I know you do. Give EMDR a try. If it doesn’t work, keep looking. Time probably won’t just heal it, but there are things out there that can.

My Experience With EMDR So Far

I want to talk about my experience with EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I started it with my therapist a few weeks ago and so far the results have been amazing! If you’ve never heard of EMDR before it is a type of therapy used to help people heal and recover from traumatic events or things such as PTSD, anxiety, depression and panic disorders. It involves a lot of visualization and the therapist using side-to-side eye movements, sounds, taps or some sort of stimulation (my therapist uses buzzers I hold onto in each hand).

I’ve only had a couple of sessions working on EMDR with my PTSD and a little on my anxiety, but I’m already seeing the difference. Not only has it helped me get over panic attacks that have been triggered by PTSD faster, it has also helped diminish the severity and the feeling of panic had at all. I went months being severely affected by my triggers to almost not being affected at all anymore. I know I’m not completely out of the woods yet, but I have so much hope as I feel my quality of life improving.

If you are someone suffering from a traumatic event, PTSD, anxiety or depression or are struggling to heal wounds from your past, I suggest looking for a therapist trained in EMDR. Everyone is different and all therapies, medications, etc. work or don’t work for every individual, but I highly recommend this form of therapy. I am a skeptical person, but I also believe in giving things a try. If it works it is absolutely worth it. If not, you move on to find something else.

I will give updates on EMDR as I continue to work with my therapist on it.

Crisis Response Plan

I started going to therapy again. It has been many years since I’ve gone, but I really like my therapist and think she’ll be able to help me. It feels wonderful having this kind of hope again!

One of the first things she had me do was make a “Crisis Response Plan” card. It’s for times when things get really bad, when I might want to hurt myself or think of taking my own life. It has been awhile since I have thought of that, but I think it’s a good idea to have this just in case.

The purpose of the card is to help me identify warning signs that I’m getting to that bad, low place, what I can do to help myself out of it, who I can go to (who I really, deeply trust) if I need external help and professional help (hospitals, crisis lines and apps, etc.) if it comes to that point.

One reason why I love this idea and am grateful my therapist had me do it is because it’s hard to always remember those things in times of crisis. There are people who have told me I could reach out to them if I get to that point, but when I’m at that point I can barely, if at all, think straight. Remembering this one simple thing–go grab your card–is easier. I also told my husband about it so that if he sees those warning signs he can ask me if I’ve looked at my card.

Another reason I like the card and the idea is because some of the things I can do for myself in a time of crisis are the same as helping me out of a panic attack. I had one at work recently when my PTSD was triggered. Just sitting at my desk, telling myself to power through it wasn’t working. I thought of my card and something on it that I could do even here at work. I went into the bathroom, sat on the floor and played a game on my phone for awhile. Did that fix the trauma or PTSD I have as a result of it? No. That will take more time. But it did help me focus, which got my breathing under control and my heart-rate down enough that I could go back to my desk and keep working.

For anyone who may be at risk for a crisis or who just needs a reminder of warning signs and things they can do to help, I highly recommend having a Crisis Response Plan. It is helpful and hopeful.

There is Good. There is Hope.

Recently, in a conversation with someone I love, I realized that I write a lot more of the depressing than the happy or uplifting. It’s not necessarily because there is more depressing than good, but because of my need to write when I’m depressed. I guess you could say it’s a way to “purge” my soul. 

When I was in high school I wrote a lot of poetry. Most of the time I wrote when I was depressed, and the poetry was depressing. But it was like therapy to me. It was something I needed to do. I think there is something about writing what I’m feeling, getting my thoughts on paper (or computer, these days) that help me understand or begin to sort what I’m going through. And that is important for me. It is needed.

Sometimes when I write about the struggles I go through, I try to do so with a question in mind. I hope that it will open a discussion with others who have felt the same way. I hope we can help each other by discussing different perspectives and things that have worked for or helped us. And it really, truly does help to know that we’re not alone, that we’re not the only one feeling a certain way or struggling with a certain thing.

I never want anyone to read my blog and go away feeling totally depressed and discouraged. I will try to write more about the good. I will try to write more about progress and hope. Because there is good, I do make progress–we all make progress–and there is hope.

A Million Steps Back

Do you ever feel like you’re taking one step forward, two steps back? Lately I’ve felt like I take one step forward and a million steps back. Sometimes I wish I could go back and have a do-over, do things right this time. But it’s not that kind of “back” that I’m going to.

Every time I feel like I’m making progress I slide back through a tunnel of sludge and sharp thorns, ending in a heap of darkness and pain. Becky Craven, a leader in my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) spoke about this from a spiritual perspective. (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/32craven?lang=eng) She said when she was younger she visualized herself walking along an “upward, vertical” path toward her goal. Every time she felt herself sliding down she thought she had to start all over again, but in time she discovered that with each failed attempt she didn’t have to start over. She could keep the progress and change she had made as she continued to progress.

I understand this from the spiritual perspective, but can it really be this way in life and in our relationships? Can we keep the progress we’ve made even as we fall backwards? Can things ever truly be good again if we don’t make up what we’ve lost? I’m struggling to find or live the answer. And is that struggle what is actually holding me back?

I didn’t start, nor do I continue, this blog because I have all the answers. It’s about opening and having a discussion about  mental illness and things many of us struggle with. I hope that through this discussion we can all help each other, even if it’s just to know we’re not alone.

To Balance or Not to Balance

Balance. I’m not sure I believe in it. People try to say you need to have balance in your life, but how are you supposed to balance your mental and physical health along with home life, work life, church life, being a wife and being a mother when you literally don’t have enough time?

I’ve been feeling my identity slipping away again. I don’t have time to be me anymore. I don’t have the confidence. It seems like in order to have “balance” you have to give something up. And then you’re not balanced anymore.

How does everyone do it? How do you do everything you have to do and still make sure your mental health is good? How do you maintain your sense of self, who you are, with everything else? I’ve been the victim of identity theft—real identity theft–my first time suffering through severe postpartum depression. I lost it again in a bad marriage. When I found myself after my divorce it was the most glorious thing in the world! I was so happy again. I had confidence again. And now I feel empty again. How is it done? How?

The Bottomless Pit

Things can change day to day or week to week. I may not feel this way tomorrow. It’s not how I felt a couple of weeks ago. But it is how I feel right now.

The Bottomless Pit

I fall through the bottomless pit.
Down . . . 
Down . . . 
Down . . . 
Deeper I go,
darker it gets.

Sometimes I hit a sharp, rocky bottom
and think it’s finally over,
only to find a false bottom that pulls out.
And I start falling again.

Down . . . 
Down . . . 
Down . . . 
Into darkness I go,
the deeper it gets.
The bottomless pit.

Rainbows and Stars

My coworker has this cute daily calendar. This is what was on it the other day:

When the rain is pounding us and the darkness, thick, envelops us it’s hard to always see the rainbow or the stars. But they are there. Sometimes it takes great effort. Sometimes it takes someone else reminding us. Sometimes it takes time—after the storm is gone and the light has come back—to realize we saw them.

I try to look for the lessons (the rainbow and stars) I can learn from the difficult times (the rain and darkness) I go through. Sometimes I can see tidbits as I’m going through it, but more often I don’t see it until after, when I have time to reflect. That’s okay. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to feel only rain and darkness. But it’s also important to remember the light is there. It won’t always be dark. It won’t always be stormy. We can have light and lessons and growth with time.

Take the Time to Help Yourself

Life has been so crazy lately. I feel like I’ve barely had time to breathe. Everything is GOGOGO! all the time, and I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed. I haven’t exercised much at all the past couple of months and have gotten so out of shape. But exercising is something that helps my depression. It helps me feel good, so I decided I have to do it. I have to make the time—for my own sanity and happiness.

I also started light/heat therapy again recently. My goal was to go at least twice a week, but lately it has been hard making it even once. My husband, however, has done a good job of helping me find time that I can go because he knows I need it.

It truly is important to take care of ourselves. It’s like the oxygen mask on the airplane. They tell you to put yours on first before you help someone else. You can’t help others if you’re passed out from lack of oxygen. I really do believe that if we are helping ourselves—doing the things that bring strength to our minds and happiness to our hearts—we will live better lives, not just for us, but also for those around us.