Following on from yesterday’s post, Grounding Techniques, developing a grounding kit is the next step where you pull together all the information you’re learning. What’s important about this? One of the big issues with dissociation is being able to retain information. The point at which you’ll really need your grounding techniques is also the point at which you’re least likely to be able to remember any of them, or even the concept. So, the idea of a grounding kit is to find a way to pull together all your effective grounding techniques and have some way of being able to remember them. Some people literally put together a box of things, a bit like the example kit I took into the TheMHS to explain this idea:
I probably wouldn’t recommend keeping the plant in there though…
People dealing with other issues use a kit like this too, I’ve heard of people who experience depression keeping a kit that has a good book, a block of chocolate, birthday cards with uplifting messages in them, that kind of thing.
But, it doesn’t have to be a literal kit, a list of ideas that you keep somewhere safe can be just as helpful. Many voice hearers who come to Sound Minds love this list of strategies and carry them with them so they can refer to it during stressful times. It’s easy to have a bit of a play about with grounding techniques while you’re not feeling so bad, forget about them, and not have anything to draw upon during a difficult episode. So, a grounding kit is the stage 2 of this process that actually makes sure you have something helpful you can do for yourself the next time your dissociation is bad. This is where self awareness becomes self care – learning what you need, and then actually doing it!
There are two key concepts that help make your grounding kit really effective. The first one is that it must be individualised! That means, specially tailored to you. I tried various techniques for years, like the breathing exercises, really frustrated that other people seemed to find them helpful but they didn’t work at all for me! But, I get given them by doctors, recommended them by ACIS, they’re all around. Now, I think a lot more broadly than that, and I’ve been able to share techniques that do work for me with the people who support me. This means that when they’re trying to be helpful at least now they’re recommending things that have a chance of helping me. The more your kit has been specially tailored to you, the better it will work.
No single technique always works every time. This is kind of frustrating, but it’s important to be aware of. The whole point of working out a bunch of techniques is so that you have lots of helpful options to pick from. Don’t give up on a technique the first time it doesn’t work for you. I find, for example, that some techniques work for me with mild to moderate dissociation, but aren’t strong enough to help with severe dissociation. Many of my techniques aren’t something I only do during the bad weeks, they’re things I do regularly because they prevent chronic dissociation from happening in the first place.
Which brings me to the second key concept that makes grounding kits effective. In order to set up a grounding kit, you have to overcome the denial that you have a problem with dissociation in the first place. The middle of an acute dissociative episode is not the ideal time to be reading up on strategies and trying things out. Ideally, you use the times when you are well to set yourself up for the best care possible when you are struggling. Of course, some of us are dealing with chronic issues and don’t really get weeks or months free of symptoms, but the basic premise still applies. Crisis isn’t the ideal time to be trying to work out your grounding techniques! This means that when you are going along doing pretty well, you should put some time into trying different grounding techniques and seeing how they work on mild symptoms. And, as you collect your grounding kit, you can start to share this information with anyone else in your world who could then better support you through rough patches. Trust me, its a lot easier to explain these ideas to someone else when you’re not in the middle of a panic attack, flashback, or acute dissociation!
You can also have a look at what was going on in your life when you are well, and when you are really unwell to work out what your key grounding strategies may be. So, in my instance, I did no art at all during the years of my most severe dissociative symptoms. Now that was partly the result of how much loss of function the dissociation was causing me. But in my case I’ve also discovered that without regular creative activities, I’m much more vulnerable to dissociation. So these days art/writing is much more a priority for me, because I know now that it’s one of the things that keeps me well. I don’t wait until major dissociation kicks in before I pick up a paintbrush or pen. I build these techniques into my everyday life, and as a result I’ve drastically reduced the degree of dissociation I experience.
When I kick into the denial and get blasé about how important these techniques are for my health, I quickly find my stress level and symptom level stepping up. And I’m learning to pay attention to those early warning signs instead of putting my head in the sand until I’m a complete wreck. But it’s hard work in some ways to keep your worst days in mind when you’re feeling good! It’s tempting to stop looking after yourself, to even feel like a bit of a fraud, as if your bad days couldn’t really be that bad, and maybe if you’d just tried a bit harder you could have pulled yourself through without all the fuss. This is pretty common.
It’s part of the nature of mental illness that it’s episodic. For some of us that means months or years where we travel well, for others the ups and downs are more hour by hour. But all of us feel tempted to put the bad days behind us and dash off into the sunset. There’s nothing wrong with that impulse! It’s great to make the most of those good days, and we all need time off from anxiety about our situation and thinking about our mental health! But, making ourselves spend a bit of time putting in some safety nets just on the off chance we have another bad day – that’s often the key difference between people who live well with even severe mental illness, and those who are always being surprised by it, caught unaware and unprepared. And if it turns out you never need it, that your bad days really are gone forever, that’s awesome, no harm done. But, having a safety net in the form of a grounding kit can make the difference between having another bad day and total catastrophe.