November 23, 2019

My personal CBT Toolkit

When Inkling died suddenly in March of this year, it made me realize how much of a load I had been carrying throughout the year, and how much I was leaning on my dog to provide a framework for balance and strength.

Inkling was gone, and during a week of bad news about The Huz's cancer, and the death of my father-in-law, it really destabilized me. There was a mix of guilt and shame. I felt lost, invisible and unable to cope. The edge of the cliff rushed up to me and beckoned.

At my husband's urging, I signed up for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Really it was like going to a class where I was the only student. My therapist was wonderful; she recognized the way I learned visually, and guided me at my own pace. She also told me I was already using some CBT in my thinking, which was super encouraging.

I'm not really qualified to explain in depth as to what CBT is, but I can share that it provided me with ways of thinking that I could practice whenever I encountered a trigger: to recognize it, analyse it and deal with it. And let's face it, life is full of triggers, right?

My personal CBT Trigger Island.

At the end of the therapy, which lasted about four months, my final assignment was to create a "tool kit". I drew a map of Trigger Island, a danger-scape with all the pitfalls and traps I might encounter in myself or others: you'll see the Quicksands of Grief, a flaming Passive Aggressive Snowman (hot and cold!), Fear of the Unknown Haunted House, a Forest of Depression and Isolation, and the Howling Winds of Change, to name a few. The edges of the map are possibly the most dangerous of all.

My personal Mindfulness Cards.

There's also a set of  Mindfulness Cards, and Power Cards. I use the mindfulness skills to help give me a chance to recognize, unpack and analyse things that happen or that I do. Power cards are things that I can actively do to move myself forward, and put things in perspective, either with my thoughts or my actions.

My personal Power Cards.

I created Green Flags and Red Flags, so that I could recognize when I'm doing well, and when I'm getting into trouble. Funnily, the Green Flags were harder to nail down, perhaps because we tend to take them for granted when life is humming along as it should.

My personal Green Flags and Red Flags - they have little pictograms on the backs but no way to show them here.

If CBT was offered in schools, I think more people would have the skills to cope better when life throws them a curve ball. More of us would understand why we feel what we feel, what others are going through, why they behave the ways they do, and how to counter or protect ourselves with assertiveness and respect.

Inkling is gone, and even though I have another dog now, I still miss him so much. Grief is interesting; it seems to steal your joy but it also gives you an opportunity to grow, and I'm grateful for that.

Love you guys,