A Binder full of Homework & a Life Full of Mistakes

How do I overcome a panic attack?

How did I get through any of it, really?

That’s a very good question.

I must have done something right ’cause here I am.

I wish I could tell you my sure-fire strategy that works for me.

It would be nice to smack a neat DBT label on it and show my therapist my homework.

But sometimes learning is messy.

Sometimes you just have to throw everything you’ve got at it and hope for the best.

Yes, hope. That’s an important piece.

Sometimes it’s gritting your teeth and doing everything you can just not to make it worse.

Sometimes “overcoming it” looks like letting it bowl you over.

Surrendering yourself to the emotions that have been building in pressure.

Letting the dam break.

It’s not pretty.

But it doesn’t have to be.

You don’t always get a chance to pull out your worksheets of coping skills.

There might not be a catchy name or an acronym

but if you’re lucky, a piece of last time sticks with you –

a foothold or a familiar pattern

maybe a suggestion you heard in group last week – something that tells you “we’ve walked this road before”.

Over time you learn to recognize what helps

And what doesn’t.

and often the errors are just as important as triumphs.

Just because it’s messy doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

You can’t lose if you try,

because all we can hope is that we learn.

Call it “wise-mind”,

Call it self-preservation,

Call it survival.


My first time participating in the weekly prompts by Beckie’s Mental Mess, hopefully I’m not too late to join in!

This week’s prompt was to “write a narrative of what works for you when in the midst of a crisis, such as, anxiety/panic attack or a manic episode. Please give an example of what happened, and how you broke free from it.

Ex: Coping skills, talking to a family member or a friend, and/or therapy, mediations… (Just to name a few)”.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t pick just one thing to discuss. I’ve tried lots of different things – medication, meditation, private counselling, group therapy, reading, writing, reaching out, etc and all of them have worked in their own way. But while what I need in any given situation changes, the only way I can allow myself to find what that is has been by letting go of the feeling that I need to get it “right”.

So I (kind of) wrote about that.

I’m good at doing my homework and figuring out what’s expected of me. Where it gets tough, is when it’s not exactly clear what that is – when things don’t fit in neat little boxes.

I’d much prefer it to be something I could “logic-out”.

Give me a magic formula and let me do my thing.

But that’s not how life works.

As much as I’m incredibly grateful to have access to the resources I do, there’s only so far a binder full of worksheets and a conscientious attitude can take you. The skills I’ve learned have undoubtedly been helpful, but the environment in which I learned them almost more so. There’s something so powerful about an atmosphere where people are willing to change and being surrounded by people who are working to get there. Not because we were all getting it right, but because we were trying. We were showing up, lost, confused, and overwhelmed, but showing up nonetheless.

For the longest time I felt like I was doing it wrong because I didn’t have any inspirational stories to bring to the table, no huge triumphs, or even any devastating set-backs. But my only mistake was thinking I had some kind of agenda to keep.

I couldn’t appreciate it until now, but the whole time I was still learning. In my own, incomparable way I was piecing together what I’m only still beginning to put into words now.

It was never about who was doing better or who had it worse. Instead, it was always about the bravery of each and every person who took a step forward no matter how uncertain they were of the journey. Each trepidatious move, and every toe-test of the waters paved the way for all of us who were equally as terrified to do it too. Every time you show up you grow a little braver and demonstrate not only to yourself that you can do it, but to others too. Like baby birds afraid to leave the nest, our brothers, sisters, and ancestors before us proved that the only way to learn to fly is to fall sometimes along the way.

I would love to be able to paint the whole experience with simple brushstrokes but any attempt to do so would drastically undercut the complexity of the nature of healing. Not only my experience of it, but those of the others who sat around that table with me every Tuesday evening as well. Those who were brave enough to be vulnerable and open with each other and to share their mess of a journey with us all. Those who made me feel like it was okay to have no idea what was going on but to still wish I did.

Each week we built up battlements of checkmarks and sharpened our swords with group resolve. We stockpiled provisions of paper and bolstered our battle plans with vaguely-defined goals. But of course, even the most well-prepared of us can’t know what to expect until it arrives.

Without warning, devastating battles can and will wipe your feet out from under you. Not much can prepare you for the moments you find yourself blinded by their wrath but sometimes it’s enough to know that you’ve held your ground before and that the only way out is through.

9 thoughts on “A Binder full of Homework & a Life Full of Mistakes

  1. Hello, Jill!
    I am so pleased that I read your post, as you brought up some pretty valid things regarding how to cope, and all the group therapy, coping skill paperwork, etc… We can read all of it, (And trust me, I have), but sometimes just by reading what’s suppose to help quite doesn’t cure an anxiety/panic attack.
    Each of us is different, and each of us finds different methods of dealing with our anxiety/panic in several ways.
    I’m so pleased you participated in “Working on Us”, a pleasure to meet you and I hope we get to learn more about one another as time moves ahead.
    God Bless YOU!!! 💚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hopefully this didn’t come across too negatively… I still do have a voracious appetite for “paperwork” and research 😊 Although reading about it can’t quite compare to lived experience, I’m sure we open more and more doors as we connect the dots to things we couldn’t previously see, even by doing worksheets or talking about it.

      I’m so looking forward to reading what everyone else has to say and hearing the future prompts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jill, you didn’t come up negative at all. When I was first diagnosed and was going to my mental health facilty 3 x’s a week, I gained so much knowledge to better understand what I was going through, by reading all the worksheets. This was back in 2015. I still to this day refer to them in my life and my blog.
        I am very proud of all the participants (Friends) that have joined in “Working on Us” – We all come from different backrounds, different age groups, etc… We have one major thing in common, and that is… Support. Our mental health is taken seriously and we are all there for one another.
        By sharing our stories, experiences, and whatever challenges we face… We are at least able to hopefully assist so many more people out there.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is beautiful Jill, you’re so right.. our journeys aren’t mean to be compared or seeing who’s struggling the most. It’s seeing the courage and strength from each other for speaking up about our struggles ♥️♥️

    Liked by 1 person

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