Radical acceptance has had a profound effect in helping me to achieve emotional health
The dedication and compassion of my psychotherapist helped to save my life. She taught me to have compassion for myself and to extend to myself the same kindness I would extend to a friend.
Although Shirley has been dealing with mental illness for most of her life, she is still learning about self-compassion. She credits her therapist with helping her learn to treat herself as someone worthy of care and understanding.
My therapist told me to treat myself as I would treat someone else—the reverse of the Golden Rule.
It took years for Shirley to learn to genuinely care for herself and effectively address her mental illness. Her journey began as a teenager.
I first experienced the symptoms of my illness when I was 14 years old. I confided in my mother, but she had no idea what to do. Bear in mind, this was 40 years ago. About three years later, I experienced a severe episode of what I later realized was OCD and major depression. I had been working extremely hard to be accepted into an elite college and experienced a high level of stress.
A family tragedy compounded Shirley’s issues.
During that time, my father’s sister died from ingesting a bottle of vodka and pills, causing the family much turmoil. Again, I shared with my family the symptoms I was experiencing, but they had no health insurance and again did not understand the seriousness of what I was going through.
Six years later, between her junior and senior years of college, Shirley experienced another breakdown. She admitted herself to the hospital and was diagnosed with OCD and secondary depression. A few years later, while working a stressful job as a paralegal in a high-pressure law firm, Shirley had another breakdown and was admitted to the hospital. This time, she was diagnosed with major depression with obsessive and psychotic features. She started treatment, but her struggles with mental illness would continue.
After the birth of my son, when I was age 40, my mental health steadily started to decline. I noticed that I had times in the midst of my down periods in which I felt elation, high energy levels, and grandiose thoughts. I realized that there was a strong likelihood that I had bipolar type II, which manifests mostly as severe depression with brief periods of hypomania. I discussed this with my psychiatrist, and my medication regimen was changed.
A few years ago, Shirley had a serious relapse. She feared she would never get better and not be able to care for her son. However, she has recovered sufficiently. And, although her conditions continue to present challenges, she is making progress.
I believe the medication regimen I am taking, as well as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) I received in the hospital, and CBT with some DBT principles included, have helped to keep me stable and to enjoy life much more than I previously did.
Along with treatment and therapy, Shirley believes that radical acceptance—the ability to keep pain from becoming suffering—has played a large role in her recovery.
Learning about the concept of radical acceptance, which is taught in DBT, has had a profound effect in helping me to achieve emotional health.
Now, Shirley wants others to embrace the concepts of acceptance and self-compassion and to fight the stigma that may prevent them from getting treatment.
Stigma is real, but it is getting old real fast. If we do not disclose this aspect of ourselves, people will continue to see us as ‘other.’ People need to see us as persons with gifts, humor, strength, patience, and often open-mindedness because we know we are all unique creatures.