…come in threes.
I’ve mentioned skills chains before. They are sets of three different things one can do in case of emergency – to get rid of extreme tension and, typically, keep from self-harming. As this concept works really well for me, I started to develop different sets of skills for different situations. Not all skills work for all problems, not all skills work for everyone and not all skills can be used at all times. But it helps me to have a plan in difficult situations – if I can’t think clearly it is to useful to have an specific procedure I can stick to. It’s kind of automatic by now: I want to self-harm – I do this. I dissociate – I do that. And as I always like to point out useful things I thought I’d share all my “emergency trios” with you.
Skills chain to prevent self-harm:
- Smell something. Either a strong scent like menthol or just a comforting one like oranges – anything I can concentrate on so strongly that I just have to be present for a moment.
- Heat cream. The most helpful thing I’ve discovered – the strongest one I have burns so much that I can pretend that there is a wound that I can feel.
- Motivational tattoos. I buy those online and they help a great deal – the most important thing is that I can see something on my skin that I don’t want to destroy by cutting. But the messages on these temporary tattoos are quite helpful as well.
Skills chain in case of dissociation:
- Ammonia. There is nothing like that pungent smell to help me get back into reality. One can buy ampoules filled with ammonia and lavender oil. They are made specifically for this purpose so that your mucous membranes won’t be damaged.
- Chewing gum. My newest discovery. Chewing a gum with menthol or similar things in it has three effects: It makes breathing easier, it keeps my from biting the inside of my cheeks and the burning sensation on my tounge enables me to stay inside my body. Also, it’s great for situations like going to the mall – chewing a gum isn’t as obvious as many other things.
- Porcupine balls. I have one made of metal but they also exist in softer versions. Squeezing such a ball and concentrating on the sensation can help a lot in overwhelming situations.
Skills in case of a panic attack:
- Breathing exercises. Learning ways to calm my breathing has helped me a great deal. If I start breathing when I can feel an attack coming in time that can make all the difference.
- Knowing the triggers. This doesn’t mean that I try to avoid certain situations but rather that I am cautious when I get into them. I survey my heartbeat, my breathing etc. and can therefore react more quickly if I can feel an attack coming.
- Herbal medicine. I am not a huge fan of meds but by now I do feel comfortable taking herbal stuff. Some things are just easier with this little help, there are no side effects and there is no danger of becoming addicted. I’m very glad passion flowers exist.
Skills to ensure proper self-care mentally:
- Autogenic Training. Or other relaxation methods. Practicing this several times a week has changed so much for me.
- Planning the week around fixed breaks. By now I have realized that I can’t function without enough breaks. Breaks from work. Breaks from people. Breaks from everything. Enough sleep. Very important.
- Safe place. An exercise where you imagine a completely safe place. Luckily I am good at imagining things so I “go there” any time I feel overwhelmed.
Skills to ensure proper self-care physically:
- Moving. Although I go running twice a week by now I wouldn’t say I love exercising. By moving I also mean stuff like rolling my shoulders each time I get up from my workstation. Or walking home on a sunny day. Or leaving the house at least once a day even when I’m depressed.
- Eating and sleeping. I’m aware that those are two things that must sound cynical for everyone with an eating- or sleep disorder. But for me personally it is so important to eat good things – the term “hangry” describes perfectly what I am like if I don’t get enough good food. Also all my symptoms get worse when I don’t sleep enough which is why I’m often leaving parties early.
- Showering. Even if a day sucks a hot shower can make things better. Especially when I’m depressed I find it difficult to take care of my body so I actually do have to force myself. There is a minimum requirement and it’s showering each day, brushing my teeth twice a day etc. Not necessarily because I like it but because I decided that it’s what I do – no matter what.
Now, not all of the things above are classic emergeny skills but I find it helpful to have these lists. For everything that is difficult about living with a mental illness there is a three-step-plan I can stick to. These plans ensure that I can function and since I’ve been sticking to all of them the good days have increased.
I’m interested – do you have three-step-plans like this? Are you only using skills in the classic self-harm-prevention way or for other things as well? Which things I might not have thought about yet work for you? Let me know 🙂