DBT with Jamie

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DBT Coaching with Jamie Schmidt

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 All Things Mental Health & Neurodivergence

Neurodivergent Vulnerability Factors of the Holiday Season

November 29, 2022

As a neurodivergent individual, I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. I enjoy what I refer to as the *shiny factor* of this time of year - lights, decorations, presents & holiday music can all bring a smile to my face. However, without fail, by January 1st I tend to be over-socialized and on the verge of burnout.

For neurodivergent individuals the holiday season can be a minefield of different vulnerabilities. We're out of our usual routines & schedules, we may have lots of extra exposure to family (and their beliefs and/or patterns of invalidation), there's potential for all sorts of sensory overload, and the demands of December can feel completely overwhelming.

In DBT we identify vulnerability factors as anything that decreases our ability to regulate emotions in the moment. I realized this week, that we could break those vulnerability factors down into three specific categories when it pertains to the holidays:

Family Triggers

Seasonal Factors

Potential for Overindulgence

Family Triggers

1) Increased exposure to family. As neurodivergent individuals many of us have experienced years of invalidation from members of our families. From the "You shouldn't feel that way" to "You're too sensitive" these messages (especially when present in early childhood) have an extra level of sting when coming from the mouth of a parent. If your holiday plans include lots of extra time with family, this may mean those events include more invalidation than your typical day. One helpful tip if this is the case - try to bookend interactions with family with some solid validation. I recommend using self validation techniques or a loving kindness meditation before and a quick chat with someone who understands you and your beautiful brain afterwards.

2) Advertising and societal messaging. The holidays bring a specific type of messaging to the forefront of advertising. Happy family gatherings are the norm & everybody has a partner that loves them are two themes repeated over and over from perfume commercials, to car ads and oh those lovely Hallmark specials. The scenes portrayed in these represent reality for such a small portion of the population; however, the consistency of these messages across brands can make it hard to remember that life doesn't look like that for most people.

3) Trauma & Grief. Tying in with advertising, messages about loving families and happy couples can be especially triggering to those with CPTSD, complex family dynamics & those who have chosen to go no contact with loved ones. Grief just tends to hit extra hard this time of year. If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, finding a grief share group can be especially helpful this time of year to have a designated container for your sadness.

Seasonal Factors

1) Scheduling & Overcommitment. Tis the season of activities! The last 6 week of the year is a time filled with commitments (both pleasurable and obligatory) that aren't part of our regular schedules. As neurodivergent individuals we may find it really discomfortable when our routine is thrown off. It easy to find yourself overwhelmed and slipping into a state of anxiety. Keeping a written or digital calendar (even if you don't the rest of the year) can be really helpful to avoid overcommitment and scheduling multiple events at the same time (I have been guilty of this more than once!)

2) Expectations vs reality. When I think of Christmas as a child the word that best describes it is excitement. When you get down to it though, excitement is a pretty un-mindful emotion. Excitement is the anticipation of future joy, it is not grounded in the present moment. Excitement can fire some pleasure hormones off in the present, but it is based on events that have yet to occur. Excitement can set us up for really big let downs - when for whatever reason, life doesn't meet the expectations we have built up in our heads, we pay for that hit of joy earlier with more disappointment and sadness in the present.

3) Sensory Overload & SAD factors. The seasonal weather aspects tend to be twofold. First cold. If you have any of often cooccurring autoimmune or connective tissues disorders associated with neurodivergence, then winter is probably more discomfortable in your body than other seasons. They're also the sensory overload of layering clothes and having to deal with multiple textures on your skin all day. And there is the Seasonal Affective Disorder realm of depression that comes from less daytime and exposure to sunlight.

Overindulgence / Impulse Control

1) Spending. I love to gift. I like to buy things for the people I care about that I know they will enjoy. As with many self employed individuals the holiday season tends to be leaner for me financially than others. So pair the most expensive part of the year with the least income and the fact that I can be totally swayed by a "good deal." I go ahead and budget in November for gifting per person and cost of any extra events I plan to attend over the holidays. I also try to keep all my Christmas expenses grouped together on one card so they are trackable at the end of season. The goal is not to create financial hole over the last two months that we spend the entire next year digging out of.

2) Food. My absolute favorite food in the world is Fantasy Fudge. Martha Washington Bon Bons are a close second. I could eat both until I was sick. The holidays are filled with sugar, butter & cream based dishes. It is a time of year where indulgence is even encouraged. Our brains can take things to the max. The goal is with moderation. Just like with spending, you want to avoid making choices during this time of year, that you will pay for months into the next year.

3) Alcohol & Substances. Tie in all the other factors, short days, family triggers, stressful schedules, it is an easy time to turn to substances for comfort. Again there may even be environmental factors that support this more than other times of year - everyone gets drunk at the corporate Christmas party right? If you have historically struggled with substance use/abuse, it's helpful to have a plan in place. Do you need a little extra support in the form of meetings, therapy/coaching or even just having an accountability talk with a friend? Know your limits before you find yourself in situations that test them. Are you in a place of total abstinence - cope ahead your scripting for how you would like to reply if someone asks why you aren't drinking.

Chances are, if you're neurodivergent you're dealing with at least one (if not all) from every single category. That's a lot of vulnerability factors interacting to create a nice web of chaos in your brain. The goal is to avoid that meltdown, hide in your bed for two weeks place. Having mindfulness of our vulnerabilities is half the puzzle. Being aware and able to label what is going on definitely helps.

The second half is intentionality. Mindfulness in what you commit to. Mindfulness in how you consume. It's totally ok to prioritize your own sanity over attending to the desires of everyone around you. Pay attention to your emotional battery. Just like your phone, once you get to the red - it goes down way faster. If you're bordering on overload find a way to carve out some time for yourself to do whatever replenishes your soul.

For more DBT based tips on handling these holiday vulnerability factors, head on over to YouTube to check out my DBT Skills for the Holidays video series.

How About a Side of Self-Compassion for the Holidays? 

November 29, 2022

This time of year can be especially overwhelming for neurodivergent individuals.  Take the demands of normal every day life, add in the million extra holiday based activities and compound that with family expectations/guilt.   By January 1, my ND crew tends to be teetering on burnout (which is so not the mood that we want to enter into the New Year).  

In the past few years, one of the major shifts I've had in my own life is learning to take a beat before I commit to anything.   While I love joining in the festivities,  I've also realized that the easiest way to circumvent  burnout is to be proactive in my scheduling.  

Some questions I ask myself: 

Is this activity at the end of an already draining day?

Will I be super anxious and regret saying yes when it's time to do the activity?

Do I have adequate down time slotted for the week?

Am I saying yes out of obligation or to make someone else happy?

There is a dialectic present here:

Accommodating my needs (in the interest of mental wellness) can be perceived as selfish - in fact it sometimes results in push back from the environment.  


It is the most protective action I can take. 

As a woman who grew up in the Evangelical south, we are socialized to put our own comfort below the wants (not even needs) of others.  We're given faulty programming and then spend our lives fighting against the critical voice in our heads that grows out of it.  The more I learn about my own neurospiciness, I have been able to let go of many of the judgments I placed on myself for not being able to "do life" in the way everyone else around me seemingly does so easy.  

The self-compassion guru, Kristin Neff, says that we can activate more compassion by moving from a place of self-judgment to that of self-kindness. This aligns with the dialectical mindfulness skill of Non-judgmental Stance.  

When we use negative self-talk, we may think we are motivating ourselves to do better.  However, most often judgmental stance just keeps us frozen in loops of old behavior.  Critical voice wants us to believe it exists to help us improve, but that is far from the truth.  Self judgments tend to be all encompassing - I'm  a bad person, I can't get it together like everyone else, I'll never be able to _______.  When you truly believe those statements at core, you tend to embody them in your actions. 

It's also important to remember that most of our harshest self-judgments are not  our "original thoughts."  Someone in our developmental years observed us to be that way, and then taught us we should feel shame for it.  In fact many times the things we judge ourselves about the most, are not even things that go against our personal value system.  

For example - I would definitely never fault a friend for choosing not to engage in something that they feel would be detrimental to their mental health.  It makes sense to show that same level of grace with myself.  But that old critical voice would want me to believe that I am a bad person for choosing not to spend the holidays with family.   What it comes down to: their value system places obligations over wellness - mine does not.  

So as we swing full speed ahead into December, be mindful of where you invest your energy.  Find a little time daily to assess your emotional battery, adjust proactively when possible.  When you observe guilt, shame, self judgment  or critical voice creeping in - check in with your value set.   And remember that you are your most value resources, you're worth taking care of properly.  

Stay safe & sane this holiday season guys! 

The Big Holiday Sads  

November 21, 2022

The final six weeks of the year, are an emotionally charged period for many of my clients and myself. The amped up messages in advertising and media about family, connection, shared memories - can all be triggering for cycle breakers - those of us who have chosen to break against unhealthy familial patterns in the name of our own sanity.

The time of year was magical in my early childhood. My favorite time of year.  I was the first and only grandchild on both sides - so you can imagine the abundance of presents and general attention I received. Holidays were predictable: gatherings of the same people, with the same food, stories, laughter and cheer.   The weeks of anticipation and excitement always came to fruition.

It has been four years since I cut contact with my father's family.  Initially, I thought with each passing year the pain would become less intense.  In actuality, it's been the other way around: with each passing year, the knife wound to my heart feels a little deeper.  That these people, my family, are so attached to their shit and their lies, they will forever choose that over my presence.  It hits on my big core wound of I will never be worth truly loving.  The dialectic - just because it's painful, doesn't mean it's not 100% the right choice for my mental health.  I will choose grief over lies and cognitive dissonance any day of the week.  I know how to move through grief.  What they have chosen is inertia - the safety and comfort of the toxic known.  

As a child, I always assumed these multigenerational gatherings would continue throughout my adulthood.  Now that there is no longer a default (this is just what our family does on thanksgiving)  it requires me to live with more intentionality and alignment. I have chosen not to participate in that which does me harm.  And (another dialectic) I also still need to participate in connection, trust, shared memories because that is the benefit we are intended to reap from these days.

If you're struggling with the sadness of letting go in the name of self preservation, I encourage you to begin the process of creating your own holiday traditions.   Observing those cues of the holidays that still bring a spark to your inner child and creating new customs around them.   Returning the sense of wonder and anticipation to this time of year, on your own terms.  

I also encourage you to honor your grief.  Find a way to carve out some space for it - whether thats journaling, meditation, therapy/coaching, a restorative yoga class or just taking a few minutes for a good old fashioned cry in the closet.   I think a lot of us buy into the conditioning that this is a time of year only for positive emotions.  Grief gains power when we stuff it down and try to pretend like it's not there.   Giving it space allows us to move through it, to release it and open ourselves up for new possibilities.  

Happy Thanksgiving Y'all! 

Wishing everyone a week of peace, connection and health.  

DBT with Jamie - version 3.0

November 16, 2022

The first week in December marks the nine year anniversary since I began my journey as a DBT provider.  As I look into the new year, I've begun focusing on my rebrand which has been in the works since August.  I'm simplifying my marketing, and transitioning my blog back to my main site.  

In beginning this process, I realized that I did not want to migrate all the articles I had written over the past 5 years.   These posts offer examples and discussions of many of the DBT Skills and concepts of complex trauma; however, I no longer feel connected to the version of me, that woman in the past, who wrote them.

This journey for me has been a decade of unravelling.  Reaching the position of licensed therapist and quickly realizing it didn't offer me the life of fulfillment I had envisioned (and worked consistently for) since I was 14 was a real bummer.   Don't get me wrong,  I owe so much to the years I spent at the DBT Center - the training I received built the conceptual foundation for all my work today. And to be honest, there's a part of my soul that still grieves for the life I thought I'd have when I entered private practice after graduation - it was what I truly desired at the time.

Truth is though, working in mental health very quickly opened my eyes to the level at which my own shit had not been addressed.  Being employed in group practice also illustrated that many in my chosen field had not addressed their shit - the career can be a great distraction to keep you too busy to engage in your own shadow work.  

The realities of working as a therapist were also always extremely anxiety inducing for me.  While I enjoyed the one on one sessions with clients - I dreaded the notes, the mandatory meetings, the insurance calls, the overall CYA vibe of healthcare.  The demands of professionalism (lack of authenticity and genuineness) and the power dynamics also always made me incredibly uneasy.   I now can contribute this to my neurodivergence, which was still improperly diagnosed at the time. 

It's been 6 years this month since I left the Center.  Personally it's been a crazy ride.  Lots of unlearning, releasing, surrendering, letting go attachments that did me harm, facing my shadow full on.  This period in my life has not been easy, but it was necessary.  Cleansing by fire, allowing that which no longer serves me to be burned away.  I've traversed through it.  I am on the other side.

In tandem with doing my own work, I've also picked up a few new skill sets along the way.  I am now certified in Reiki, a 200 Hr Yoga Teacher and a LENS Neurofeedback provider.  All of these services help fill in the gap of mind/body that I knew traditional Western psychological medicine had ignored from my own mental health journey. 

The path was not near as straight as I had anticipated it to be (turns out neither am I lol).  And yet, everything is as it is supposed to be.  I love my coaching work with clients.  My people are some of the most amazing, talented, creative, beautiful spirits I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, and I get the joy of spending an hour a week helping them to strategize showing up as their best self.   Like me, they often possess spirits of unending potential that somehow along the way, they were taught to self extinguish. 

While DBT has stayed at the heart of my work with clients, over the years my clinical understanding of the crux of my clients difficulties has evolved.  I initially focused on working with clients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  With the publication of Bessel Van Der Kolk's The Body Keeps the Score in 2014, the conceptualization of C-PTSD began to enter the general therapeutic lexicon.  I immediately felt trauma to be a much more compassionate lens for examining the struggles of my clients, especially with the lingering cultural bias (and misunderstanding) towards personality disorders. 

In 2021, the algorithm gods of TikTok introduced me to the #actuallyautistic and #latediagnosed communities.    Neurodivergence has always been part of my conceputal understanding of BPD.  Marsha Linehan states that BPD evolves over time from the interaction of an invalidating social environment AND a biological predisposition to high sensitivity.  I was trained to understand this along the lines of HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) or even those who identify as empaths. Occasionally we did discuss the intersection of ADHD and the biological aspect.   

The characteristics of biological sensitivity include:

-impulse control


-larger breadth of emotional experiencing

-sensitivity to stimuli (sound, touch, taste, texture)

All traits associated with neurodivergence.  Huge gender bias exists in the diagnoses of BPD.  Huge gender bias also exists in the psychiatric misdiagnosis of women who are on the spectrum.   I think there's something there.

From my current level of understanding it is the intersection of neurodivergence and the chronic invalidation of a world that wants you to be one way, when you're fundamentally wired another, that leads to a life of chronic emotion dysregulation.  DBT offers an algorithm of behaviors to help navigate the world more effectively.  It's a valid tool that most neurodivergent individuals can adapt to use successfully - it's straight forward, it makes sense, it offers visual decision trees.  

What I've realized though, the most effective aspect of my work in the past few years, is guiding clients to create a life that is effective for their true neurodivergent needs.   Identifying specific vulnerability spots and accommodating for themselves in ways that optimize ability to perform.  Figuring out how to make life decisions based on what will have the highest impact on quality of life instead of choosing what you believe you're "supposed to do."  It's these shifts that can be truly life changing.  

It was my true acceptance of that in my own life, that allowed me to see it was time to drop my license when it was up for renewal this August.  I had spent years, trying to fit into that mold, but it didn't fit my heart/soul.  I always felt uncomfortable in the title of therapist.  Inauthentic.  Not to mention, these last few years as the politics of my home state have radicalized, I've also seen the potential of how mental health licenses can be weaponized against women and trans individuals.  I want no part in that. 

Not going to lie - it took some shadow work to let go of the prestige of the title  AND it was the right decision for me.  I've always had a little bias about the title of coach even though it is what I have branded myself as for almost four years now.  I can acknowledge that, and am also aware of where it was deliberately introduced in my career.   

Titles don't really matter though do they, they're just made up concepts to maintain our hierarchal societal existence.  What I do know - I'm living a career of alignment.  My work with my clients allows me to be one who walks beside, to help navigate your path and get to places you actually desire.  I get to be a part of clients uncovering their greatest self that resides within.  That's a pretty fucking cool gig if you ask me!  And it's exactly the one I was put on this earth for.  

If you're looking for someone to play this role in your life & my style resonates, please don't hesitate to reach out.  I offer a free 30 minute video chat to see how we vibe.  Getting to connect with amazing souls, is one of the great payouts of this job.

As we go into 2023, I am looking at what the physical progression of my practice will look like.  While I have enjoyed the benefits of virtual practice for the past few years - I am ready to resume face to face services and hope to be in a place to offer that by Summer '23! 

📷Enjoy the picture of baby therapist Jamie on her way to DBT Intensive Training in Middletown CT circa 2014.