I've been visiting my parents in Chicago for a week now. I have to leave on Tuesday morning.
I have been enjoying every minute of this visit... from the extra fun things like going to the aquarium and going out to dinner, to the routine things like going to the store or watching a movie in the basement with my mom.
But in the back of my mind, it is always looming, that I have to leave again! And you know how hard that is for me!
I even talked about it in DBT. In DBT we learned that if you are feeling an emotion and you don't quite know how to name it, you can think about what action you feel like doing. For instance, if you feel like attacking someone, verbally or physically, that action urge usually comes from anger.
I talked about the fact that, whenever I am in Chicago, when the time gets closer for me to leave, I start to get really clingy. I don't want to be in a separate room from my parents, I want to be able to see them, and I do not want to talk or think about Washington or leaving, don't want to pack my stuff, etc. In the past, I always connected these feelings with depression and sadness. But my therapist pointed out that the action urge for depression is to withdraw from everyone and everything, which is the opposite of what I do.
The action urge to avoid or escape... not wanting to talk or think about Washington...comes from anxiety and fear. I was surprised to learn that what I've thought of as depression settling in is really anxiety... the fear of being separated again from my parents and my home, and the fear of being homesick soon.
Then there is the action urge I have to cling to my parents and keep them in my sight. This is actually an urge that is usually connected to jealousy. This one sounds weird, because I usually think of jealousy as wanting something someone else has. That is actually envy. Jealousy is actually another type of anxiety, sort of... you're afraid of losing what you have, or having it taken away, so you try to control it or protect it. For instance, we've all heard about jealous boyfriends or girlfriend. If someone looks at their friend's significant other and wishes they could have that person for themselves, that is envy. But if the person already has a significant other and is afraid their significant other might get interested in someone else and leave them... when, actually, there is no other person involved... that is jealousy. Envy = "I want that." Jealousy = "I want to keep what I have."
So weird... now I can actually define what I am feeling. DBT makes emotions almost into a mathematical equation. (Jealousy + Anxiety) = (Wanting to keep my parents + Being afraid to leave them). (Wanting to keep my parents + Being afraid to leave them) = Wanting to keep my parents in my sight and cling to them, and wanting to avoid thinking about going back to Washington. It is a perfect equation.
But what do I do with it? Making my feelings into an equation doesn't make them disappear.
In DBT once you define your feelings, you then have to decide if they are "justified." That doesn't mean deciding if your feelings are okay or not... whatever you are feeling is okay... but is more about figuring out if something you're emotional about is actually happening. A common example is, your friend isn't returning your phone calls, so you start to think she's mad at you, and then you start feeling mad yourself, or hurt. But if you were to find out, in reality, that your friend has been extremely busy with a new job and hasn't had the time or energy to return any non-work-related phone calls, your madness and hurt might go away. If you found out your friend wasn't returning your calls because she was in a car accident and was in a coma, your emotions would probably change.
For me this part is tricky because I pretty much know the facts about what is happening... I am going back to Washington in a few days, and won't see my parents, dog Trixie, grandparents, etc, for many months. In DBT, anxiety and fear are "justified" when there is a threat to your life, health, or well being. Being far away from my family doesn't threaten my life or health, but it somewhat threatens my well-being. Jealousy is justified when something or someone that is very important to you is in danger of being taken away from you. My going to Washington does take my parents back away from me, in some ways... they'll still be my parents but they will be so far away.
Then it occurred to me that, actually, yes, I am somewhat in a position where others are taking my parents away from me... including my parents. From the first time that I decided to move out to the Pacific Northwest, I was adamant that I wanted to visit as much as possible. And from the beginning, my parents, brother, etc were like, "No, you'll only get to visit once or twice a year." Each time that I've wanted to come back to visit, I've had to put up a fight and try to convince multiple people of how badly I wanted/needed to go. I hear arguments like, "Plenty of adults go years without seeing their parents," (I am not them) and "What will you do when your parents are dead,"(That one was from my brother, he actually suggested that what if a meteor crashed into our house and killed our parents. I found that somewhat unlikely to happen.) and "You can't afford it," (I'll save up... I'd rather have a plane ticket home than a new Kindle anyways) and "You can't take time off of work" (One of the few fringe benefits of working in schools is that I do get at least a week long break for spring, winter and Thanksgiving, plus there is summer break and I do have a few weeks free between my school job and my summer job). The first time I was going back to visit, my brother actually called me up the day before I left to try convince me to cancel my plane ticket and come visit him instead so I could babysit my nephew for him. And before that, when I first moved out there I was planning to take my usual summer teaching job in Illinois and go back for 5 weeks for that, because, teaching, which everyone said was fine at first, but then when it got time to make plans, my parents argued to me not to come, and I had to call and un-accept that teaching job, which sort of sucked, but I ended up getting my summer camp job, which was cool, but definitely didn't pay as much as the teaching job would, but I guess it all worked out in the end, but, still...
I believe this contributes A LOT to my anxiety and "jealousy" about leaving here when I am visiting... because I do feel like I've had to fight so much just to get out here, and once it slides out of my hands again I have no idea how or when I'll be able to come back. I feel like I have no control over it, no power of decision, so that is why I hang on tighter. It is also hard for me to stop being homesick when I am so worried about whether I can go home again. It is like (yay here comes one of my metaphors) if someone goes on a diet where they cannot have any sugar or sweets, and then they are just craving sugar and sweets all the time because they cannot have it. But if they go on a different plan where they learn about healthy choices and learn that they can have sugar and sweets when they want but they know how to balance it with healthier foods and exercise and stuff... then they don't crave it as much because they know that they can have it whenever they want. They are given control over their own diet plan, so they can say, "That is my very favorite chocolate cake in all the world and I really want a slice," or "That cupcake looks good but I can live without it."
So in DBT, after you've figured out whether your emotion is justified or not, the next step tells you what to do. If your emotion is not justified, you're supposed to do the opposite of what your action urge is. For example, if you think your friend has stopped talking to you and your action urge is to confront them or just accept that they are out of your life, if you find out that your anger and hurt are unjustified you should do the opposite of your urge... be patient with your friend, let them know you want to talk to them when they have time, etc. If you find out that your anger and hurt are justified and your friend is avoiding you (which you could only find out for sure if the person actually told you) then you have to move onto problem solving, which means brainstorming some different ways you could deal with your problem, and then choosing one or two to try.
Okay. So I've found out that my emotions are justified, so now to solve the problem. I've been doing some brainstorming and here is what I have come up with so far...
1. Make a plan to save money so that I can travel home when I want, while STILL being sure to save money for necessities and emergencies. I could even make a second savings account.. whenever I get enough money in it, then it will be my choice on whether, and when, to go home for a visit.
2. Explain to others what I need. There is even a method for that in DBT! It is called DEAR MAN. It goes like this.
Describe the situation - I've been living in the Pacific Northwest for a year now. Each time I want to go home for a visit, multiple people want to convince me, or even make the decision for me, that I should not go or that I should go for a shorter amount of time.
Express your feelings - When this happens, I start feeling really anxious. I have a hard time enjoying my time when I do get to visit home, because I am so worried about not getting to come back again for a long time. I have a hard time making the most of the Pacific Northwest, where I used to want so bad to live, because I'm so anxious about home.
Assert your wishes - I would like for you all to let me make the decision about when, and for how long, I can visit home.
Reinforce - If you all leave that decision up to me, then I think my anxiety and homesickness will really ease up. I will feel in control enough to plan things out and make wise decisions. I won't be so anxious that I feel desperate to get home at all costs.
The MAN part is sort of hard to do here in a blog, because it involves how you respond to the person you are asking. It stands for staying Mindful (focusing on the matter at hand and not getting distracted or pulled into an argument vortex), Appearing confident (you can't see me, so just imagine I look pretty confident) and Negotiating.
So now, you have just witnessed me using my DBT skills to process my thoughts and come up with a possible solution. How do you feel? I feel pretty good, myself!
If you want, you can help me with the Brainstorming part. I want to brainstorm some specific ways that I can start making Portland feel more like home. Right now, it still feels like a really long vacation, except I have to work, so that makes it actually a sort of crappy vacation. I want find ways to feel like I actually belong here... I think that would help me with my homesickness as well.