*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*
Grapes and Sensory Information
Grapes are an interesting fruit. As a sensory grounding tool, they can be used with all five senses. Taste, touch, sound (have you ever squished a grape by accident…or maybe on purpose?), smell, and sight. Plus, finding a stock photo of grapes is a lot easier than one about the five (or four) senses. So today’s featured photo is of ripe grapes on a vine.
Personally, all parts of me prefer to use semi-sweet dark chocolate or frozen blueberries for sensory grounding meditation or breathing exercises, but we like grapes, raspberries, apples, tea, and cheese in a pinch. Coffee works great too, but none of us like the taste enough to drink it. And chocolate was easy for me (any version of me) to get as it did dual jobs as comfort food too.
Fruits were not always as easy to get and store for an emergency, middle-of-the-night trigger. Or an “I’m on my way into work on public transit and am having a flashback” type of situation. You get the idea. So I experimented with a lot of different types of food and snacks. Cookies, brownies, cake, pizza, sandwiches, granola bars, and so on. Many of them engaged 3 or more senses, but they were not strong enough to reach through the anxiety and fear blocking out everything.
And so the experiments continued until I discovered dark chocolate (candy, bar, morsels, and hot chocolate drink; but not chocolate milk or ice cream) worked 99% of the time to engage all of my senses and bring me to the present moment. That was actually the beginning of my obsession with finding portable items that worked for panic attacks and flashbacks on-the-go.
But, it was also my introduction to learning how to use sensory information in present time and on purpose instead of instinctively in the background of life (i.e. hyper vigilance or chronic pain).
Body Memories vs Flashbacks – or not?
At the beginning of my recovery I thought flashbacks and body memories were two completely different symptoms of my past trauma. And only flashbacks were “medically approved” as symptoms because they were listed under PTSD and other anxiety disorders in the DSM (IV at the time and V now). So I approached coping techniques and strategies for each symptom separately.
All I ever felt in my body was a) numbness; or b) pain. There was never any in-between. More pain or less pain. Numbness or less pain. I didn’t experience or noticed that I expressed emotions – couldn’t feel them even if my body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions showed something else.
Yes, I was that separated from all parts of myself for over 2 decades.
Traditional psychotherapy and group counseling helped me learn to recognize and cope with my emotions and overwhelming mental states. But did not talk much about body sensations or physical pain.
Never mentioned the connection between emotions and physical body sensations at all.
That was a not-so-happy accident all parts of me discovered during a series of bad panic attacks – one after the other – while working with the first trauma specialist.
The nightmares and emotional flashbacks were lessening in strength and severity, but the physical panic attacks that left me passed out on my bed for hours after experiencing hot flashes, cold chills, and muscle cramps from my legs to my shoulders got worse. Over the counter medications didn’t help. I refused to try anything else or anything stronger because of my past experiences with drugs and alcohol. Movement was not possible; only made the pain worse.
Meditation practice from Jon Kabat Zinn’s audiobook classes did help me learn the difference between pain sensations and other body sensations. He provided mantras and medication practices that helped promote body awareness and “making friends with pain” instead of rejecting or denying it.
I used the mantras and meditation or breathing for the body memories/physical panic attacks.
Then used sensory grounding and everything else for the flashbacks and emotional panic attacks.
But that was partially effective – as in it reduced the frequency, but not the intensity or length of each panic attack fueled by triggers, flashbacks, or body memories.
And that’s when it clicked – a light bulb kind of moment – that I could use sensory grounding strategies to learn the different sensations moving through my body. Maybe even connect them to different emotions I experience at or around the same time the pain or sensation occurs.
The body memories and flashbacks were not different at all. They were/are two parts of the same symptom – experiencing triggers in my mind (flashbacks) and body (body memories) at the same time.
By working with them together and using integrated coping strategies that address all aspects of the trigger, all parts of me (or I as we) learned how to cope with and reduce the effects of our flashbacks, body memories, and panic attacks.
Chinese Medicine + Sensory Grounding + Spiritual Practice = Energy Healing from the inside out
That was enough to convince me to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (includes herbs, energy work, body work/massage, and a holistic approach to health/wellness) again.
And spark my curiosity about energy movement in my body. Why can I short out or freeze electrical and mechanical equipment? Why do I break computers and mobile devices so often? How come credit card machines stop working when I get stressed out?
And yes, all that and more has happened when my internal energy is out of whack.
So I used the lessons from Jon Kabat Zinn and other Buddhist teachers to learn about energy medicine through different meditation and moving meditation (yoga, tai chi, and qigong are popular versions) practices. That gave me a level of awareness that let’s me feel inside my body where and how energy is moving through my body. With my fingers and hands, I can palpate muscle groups and feel where energy is blocked and stuck inside me. During treatments, I can track what the needles or acupuncture tools are doing inside my body – i.e. where they are moving and stirring or drawing and releasing energy as it travels inside me.
Remember back at the beginning when I mentioned that this was all instinctive to me at first? I thought it was my hyper vigilance…
And in past posts I mentioned turning weaknesses or challenges into strengths…
Well this is a coping challenge turned into coping strategy.
I was skeptical at first. I didn’t want to believe in energy healing or energy medicine. That people could sense movement and problems in their bodies or be tuned in to energy of other people. But the more I denied it, the worse the physical pain and panic attacks got.
So I embraced it. Used patience and persistence to find faith that it would end soon. And it did. Each one got progressively shorter with less intense periods of shame spirals afterwards. I did not feel the need to self harm as often either.
That was one more step into embracing my authentic (if distinctly weird and unconventional) self.
Body Remembers – Finally Reveals Trauma and Ready for Healing
These days, my body is starting to trust the rest of me and our practitioners with its secrets. What secrets?
Well, the scars for one thing. And the muscle kinks and puffy places in my body that are not actually fat for another.
Wait, I’ve seen a few of the photos you shared and your skin doesn’t have physical scars. Are you talking about emotional scars? or (gasp) invisible scars?
Like everything else on this blog, the truth surprised me as much as it may surprise you:
Yes I have scars. No they are not often visible to the eyes. I think only one scar is visible all the time. The rest appear as textural differences in my skin or sometimes rashes and blemishes (acne). They show up when they feel like it and then disappear until the next time a trigger brings them to the surface.
As for the textural scars, no one notices those unless they can feel my skin or examine it under a magnifying glass. You can guess how many people get that privilege…
The physical pain in my body is caused by my muscles and tissues being frozen in place or numb for many years as a form of self-protection. The puffiness and “knots” under my skin are the tightened forms the muscles and water retention took on to protect themselves from harm.
Only now, 3.5 years after moving west and 16 years into recovery, is my body starting to reveal its secrets and start physically healing. I have rashes in unusual places, but at the same time less physical pain and less knotted muscle groups. I can feel sensation in parts of my body that I haven’t experienced in decades – yes decades.
My youthful looks are a genetic gift/curse/quirk. But I haven’t felt my lower and middle back muscles move since I was 5 years old – 32 years ago. My shoulders used to lock up every time I started to stretch and do more than lift laundry baskets and groceries until 2019-2020.
So this is all new to me. And exciting too. Because now that I can understand and communicate with my body, all parts of me can start moving more and enjoying more of life.
Life is full of challenges. Some more difficult than others. Finding a sanctuary that suits emotional, physical, basic, and lifestyle needs within a specific budget is one of the difficult challenges.
For most of my life I settled for “good enough” in terms of living spaces and environmental sanctuaries. All parts of me did not believe we deserved a safe home and community that fulfilled more than the basic needs. Part of the self punish,ent and shame cycle was living in such places that were physically safe, but not emotionally or spiritually safe.
If you want to know more about my thoughts on self protection and safety, check out these posts from 2019.
If you want to read about some challenges and coping strategies for feeling safe, use the search bar with key words “self care”, “safety”, “feeling safe”, “DBT” to start. Or look the Coping Challenges and Coping Strategies categories in the archives.
“Good Enough” isn’t really good for me. What about you?
Settling for “good enough” is so much easier. Sometimes necessary, but often less scary, anxiety-provoking, triggering, etc. at the beginning. Over time, however, it’s scarier, more triggering, and extra anxiety-provoking
But for now, my alters and I will share some insights we’ve learned about triggering environments.
Growing up, people used to tell me I wouldn’t succeed in life and should settle for “good enough” since that was…maybe…the best I could achieve. Even if my work was better laid out, more creative, etc., teachers, parents, and other people told me my efforts were “ok” or “not as good as so-and-so” or “(insert name)’s work is better; work harder”.
Or they accused me of cheating, stealing someone else’s ideas, etc. Or other people (in group work) took credit for my ideas. And I let this happen instead of trying to get the acknowledgement for myself. Instead of fighting back against a community of people determined to put me in my place – beneath them.
That worked for a long time – and still does in some circumstances – to the point where I didn’t think I deserved or could achieve anything good in my life. That included an apartment that met more than my basic needs, acted like a sanctuary, and felt safe – emotionally, spiritually, environmentally, physically.
Being Different Brings Out the Best in Me – but not always in others
I didn’t – and still don’t – think I am a good person. I have too much darkness, live too often in the gray areas, and embrace my flaws/failures/negative attributes too much to ever be good and light and positive. But I like being me.
My temper is scary and terrible; it intimidates people
My facial expressions and body language don’t match my tone of voice or what I talk about
I don’t remember or recognize people I meet on the streets; let alone remember names.
I sometimes talk over people and interrupt without meaning to do so; it’s an anxiety response
I am messy and struggle with housekeeping.
I stutter and lose words in group conversations or stressful experiences.
I can be abrasive, blunt, rude, and annoying when I feel like it.
I apologize too much
And I offend people with my unique perspective on life and comfort sharing those opinions.
And yet, these flaws are as much a part of me as the positive characteristics people attribute to me. They show my personality and allow people glimpses of who I really am.
I developed these so-called flaws into effective strategies that help me cope with life before recovery. They kept people away from me. Kept them from learning my secrets or exposing me when I wanted to be invisible.
After recovery started, they became useful communication tools that helped me as I practiced DBT on myself (internal dialogue with alter personalities, negative self-talk, flashbacks) and other triggering people in my life. It wasn’t perfect, but it taught me this:
every part of my personality – aka every part of what makes me me – has value and purpose
By embracing, learning from, and turning into strengths these flaws (aka weakness), I learn how to accept myself as I am and create effective coping strategies or techniques that also work within the laws/guidelines/terms of my residence/place of business, etc.
The Triggering Environment, Coping Strategies, Moving on My Terms
First, the triggering environment is living in an emotionally unsafe apartment. Yes, it sounds a lot like the previous apartment where I needed help from an attorney to get out of that mess.
This situation is similar and different. I am on good terms with building management. The apartment itself and my close neighbors are great. I have enjoyed living and working here for the past two years.
The apartment amenities can be challenging sometimes because the building is more than 100 years old with original electrical wiring. My job and this website are dependent on Internet and electronics. Plus the bathroom ventilation system allows smells from my apartment to get into my upstairs and downstairs neighbors’ apartments. Finally, the noise from above can be heard easily below.
The reverse is also true.
I’ve had three different groups of people living above me in the 2 years renting this apartment. My first upstairs neighbors triggered me by intentionally being noisy, smoking in a non-smoking apartment, and creating a hostile living environment through their friends and acquaintances who also lived in this building.
That got settled with help from building management (different group than now) and their permission to let me use coping strategies and techniques that worked, but were not common and did not conform to cultural norms.
They left at the end of their lease, and the environmental/emotional triggers went away for a while. I settled in and started to feel comfortable. The nightmares and flashbacks eased up too.
Then the third group of neighbors moved in. These people liked breaking the rules and did not appreciate when the rules were enforced. My current building is a non-smoking building. It has designated quiet hours too.
But these neighbors smoked pot often in their apartments. Or cigarettes. Or herbal blends with pot in them. The smoke kept getting into my apartment. I didn’t know it was them at first. A lot of people moved in and out during that time period, and many of the new neighbors smoked in their apartment.
In the beginning, I used aromatherapy to change the smell in my apartment. My favorite diffuser is strong enough to use in my whole apartment. When that stopped, I used scented candles or a combination of both.
As the smells increased, I started reporting them to management during the day and the management’s’ courtesy patrol/security team in the evenings. Had neighbors come in and verify the smells. Talked with an attorney and non-emergency police lines to get details.
In other words, I followed the rules.
When that didn’t get me anywhere and the neighbors upstairs continued to escalate their intentional negative behaviors, I informed the property management that I was going to use my own coping strategies and techniques to feel safe and comfortable in my own apartment until my lease ended. These techniques could be considered unorthodox, weird, etc., but they wouldn’t break lease terms or the law. I would also be looking for a new apartment and continuing to inform them of the disturbances by email.
From then on, I started using everything in my toolbox to cope with the upstairs neighbors. First, I used them the way I normally do. Then I started experimenting and doing research to find more resources. My family helped too. Rebuilding those connections increased my support network and made some of the worst times more bearable.
Intentions, Gratitude, Humor & Patience = Moving to a better place
Last September, I set my intention.
Work on myself until I believed I deserved a home that met ALL my requirements and needs; then prepare as much as possible to take advantage of the moving opportunity when it presented itself.
I practiced gratitude and self care. Gratitude in thought, emotion, and behavior – towards all parts of myself (internal) and every being in my life (humans, animals, plants, etc.) – to find blessings and miracles everywhere. Learn from reflection and appreciate everything happening now.
I practiced Cognitive Re-Framing (cognitive behavioral therapy) and challenging my cognitive biases techniques on my own, with help from the BARCC hotline, and my mental health therapist.
How? Like this
Find humor in my current living situation (and laughing about the drama going on all around me)
Acknowledge each incident and then putting it aside
Discuss my thoughts and feelings with my counselor and support network
Focus on achieving my financial, work, and personal goals (problem solving) as distractions from what’s happening around me
Reflect on the situation to understand my emotions
Separate my present feelings (how I feel about my neighbors and this situation) from my past feelings
Separate my past feelings (triggers and flashbacks) from my present feelings
Acknowledge both sets of feelings and express them in safe ways
Then let the feelings go when they end
React to the present and not the past
Use these experiences as Exposure Therapy and learn from them
Be honest with my loved ones about the challenges (aka sharing the truth about my mental health disorders with the hope they will still love and accept me)
Show gratitude to the people, plants, and other beings supporting me through this challenging time – acknowledgement of their efforts, “thank you”, giving gifts, saying “i love you”
Being patient – not something I am good at – in spite of the OCD pressure to react without thinking
Then, when everything falls into place, make the change with courage and faith.
REFLECTION QUESTION: How will you/do you want to cope with triggering environments?
That’s my next step: I found a new apartment and decided to break my current lease.
If you don’t see much from me here or at Scent Reflections over the next two weeks, it’s because I’m busy working, packing, and moving to a new apartment.
I promise to try my best and share posts or updates, but please understand if you don’t get a new post until 2/2/2020.
Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.
All of us in the AlterXpressions system (i or we) decided to share some more about our personal story as a follow up to last week’s post.
First because our journey to where we are now has been filled with directional changes.
Second because many guests have been asking about how we got to where we are now.
Finally, because all of us are here to emphasize that this place is about sharing knowledge and resources – not telling people what to do or how to live their lives.
Being smart doesn’t get a person anywhere unless the individual knows how to use and apply those smarts. Same with education and experience.
It takes courage, resilience, compassion, love, acceptance and an open mind to pick up the pieces of life after trauma and figure out how to live again. We mean how to have the
Courage to believe in, love, and accept ourselves as we are in that moment knowing we are different and will never be who we were again
Resilience to learn how to roll with the changes that life throws at us as we learn our new “normal”
Compassion for ourselves and the people around us as mistakes happen, hurt triggers all kinds of emotions and sensations, and we fall
Because everyone falls, makes mistakes, hurts self/others, and gets hurt
Open mind to ask for/accept help, learn the tools we need to be who we want to be, and thrive as our authentic selves – happy, loving, loved, safe, – in alignment with our personal values
All parts of me agree to share this with you, so please don’t be surprised by shifts in language or writing style. We tend to interrupt, talk over, or repeat each other writing like this.
College did not exactly prepare me for “real world” work. But it did give me insight into how much I didn’t know about life and people because of how I was raised. The classes and instructors provided lots of book learning, but living on campus taught me about hope and made “happy ever after” seem possible. It was a break from the reality of my other life – almost like a bubble – until my past caught up with me there too.
That”s when I realized college life didn’t fit me in the same way high school didn’t fit because my life experience taught me to value different life goals/career objectives. I was in survival mode and didn’t realize it.
Graduate school taught me that I wasn’t meant to spend my life in a rigid classroom. It also gave me the opportunity to explore skills that I disregarded as useless in high school or college. It also highlighted areas where I was completely lacking in knowledge and experience. Like interpersonal communication and time management; saying “no” and setting boundaries.
Still, graduate school helped me find a temporary job that turned into a 13-year long career with the same company and allowed me to start this website/blog. I learned foundational skills in architecture and design from graduate school. Combined that knowledge with my writing and organizational skills to land a job helping a project manager create deliverables for a client.
My hard work, eagerness to learn and apply knowledge, and commitment to meeting deadlines caught the attention of other managers and people in the department. They mentored me and taught me more than I can ever express. In that organization, I got to be myself. Acceptance and respect was based on my actions and reactions instead of rumors and assumptions.
My past didn’t matter to them when they learned about it. Instead of firing me or suspending me, they offered support and helped me find ways to keep working no matter how bad my symptoms got. As long as I was honest with them, they worked with me to create flexible schedules and go through the red tape so I got to keep my benefits and job.
Now, thirteen years later, I have job security and a role that allows me to continue doing what I started while also taking on new challenges that help my team and enjoy work again.
College education and graduate school classes gave me the foundation skills to understand the work I do, but the school of hard knocks provided me the important life lessons that helped me earn credibility, respect, and acceptance.
Without both parts of that equation, I would not be as valuable or useful in my day job or here on the blog.
Finally, I acknowledge that I am lucky and blessed to have found an organization that accepts me, values me, and allows me to continue on the winding path that is my career with them.
*Caveat 1 – This is a journal-entry style post so it looks like a first draft with errors, etc. *
*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*
*Warning: this is a long post with lots of information. Take your time reading through everything. Come back and re-read as needed*
It’s been 3-5 weeks since the first post about this topic. I shared my current challenges with punishment, self-harm and explained what it means for me to be an empath. Then I explained why coping with these triggers feels hopeless sometimes and frustrating most of the time.
And yes, these triggers still feel like new territory. My mind and body are not reacting to the triggers or responding to the coping strategies in familiar ways. The panic attacks are more frequent and worse than they have been in a long time. Plus they manifest differently than before (more info later). The frequency means less recovery time between panic attacks, so I am constantly on edge.
All parts of me have been scrambling to find coping strategies that work long enough for us to recover from the panic attacks and find internal balance again. Along with explaining the coping challenges, I/we will also share some of the coping strategies that are helping right now.
This is why we all agreed to wait until now to write a follow up post. The learning curve takes time, and none of us wants to share something before we are certain of its effects on our systems.
I hope you all are doing well and staying safe with the coronavirus scare. In times like this, it’s not easy to stay healthy, be positive, and find moments of laughter or joy to balance the fear, frustration, or other negative sensations that may rise.
For people who enjoy being active outside and/or interacting with others face-to-face, this is an especially challenging time. Being confined alone or with others for extended periods of time can bring out the best and the worst in relationships or highlight things we’ve all tried to ignore or deny about ourselves and each other. Tempers get roused easily. People react and act to stuff they normally wouldn’t. Maybe out of fear. Maybe out of frustration. Maybe the stressful times are their version of an excuse for behaving in such ways?
Please remember that we still have choices.
We can choose react from a position of fear-based choices.
We can to argue and fight and lose our tempers. Be angry at the world and socialize and continue with our routines like nothing is going on (denial). We can ignore government mandates and health authority warnings. We can let prejudice rule our opinions and influence our interactions with others. We can choose to feel and express anger in ways that hurt ourselves and the people around us.
Or we can choose to to react from a position of love-based choices.
We can use effective communication and compromise strategies. Use Active Listening skills to to ourselves and each other. Check in from a position of love and acceptance. Be kind to ourselves and each other no matter how scared or stressed out we feel. And most important, express our fear, anger, shame, or other negative emotions in healthy ways that support us and the others around us instead of hurting ourselves and those other people.
Sometimes we might not have choices in how we act or react. Instinct and learned behavior (i.e. survival skills) override everything else when we feel overwhelmed or pushed too far.
In situations like that, when “the damage is done” we till have choices to make. We can pretend nothing happened. We can continue to escalate the negativity and cause more damage to an existing relationship until nothing is left. We can acknowledge the situation and try to make reparation and/or amends or listen with compassion to the other party and work out a solution. We can acknowledge our part in what happened, reflect on the situation, and work out ways to prepare for future ones. Maybe preventative actions or a coping strategy?
But no matter what, we humans are a resilient species. And we can survive this. We will survive and learn to thrive in the changed and changing world.
I believe in you. Please believe in yourselves too.
Dear Guests, I’ve been receiving some wonderful comments on the “About” and “Home” pages. Thank you for sharing thoughts, compliments, feedback, etc. The purpose of this “Sticky” post is to address some of the frequently asked questions aka FAQs in an easily accessible place. It will evolve and change as the blog does. If the… Read more
Earlier in March, I wrote a post about newsletters and updates. In that post, I promised that my guests here at Untangled Connections would get access to any writing and blogging content exclusives that I shared in the Scent Reflections LLC newsletters. But only writing and blogging-related content.
The newsletter is coming out on March 31st, so I’m sharing 2 excerpts here for you to preview. One excerpt is the same as I posted yesterday on Scent Reflections. But the second excerpt is different and more directed to the audience here.
No, you will not have to subscribe to the other newsletter to get the booklet if you are interested in reading more. I will, as promised, make the PDF file available here for guests to download for 2 weeks.
There’s so much going on in this post, we all agreed that headings and subheadings are useful to us and our guests. Feel free to skip around and read whatever interests you.
Empathic gift challenges and labels
I wrote a post explaining my position on labels, so will keep this short. I prefer not to label myself or others on purpose. We are multi-dimensional, unique individuals with many parts coming together to create a whole person. However, sometimes a label is useful in conversations or posts to help the reader relate to the topic.
The label gives the reader a frame of reference or starting point that makes sense so she or he can follow the rest of the conversation. It DOES NOT identify or categorize or group people with similar characteristics into a stereotype. So when I talk about being an empath, it’s only so that my guests have a starting point if they ever want to learn more about the topic.
What does this have to do with empathic gift challenges? Well, one thing I’ve been encountering more often is being stereotyped and harassed on the street or in stores because of my physical appearance and choice to go places alone all the time. Or, conversely, to not go out often at all. While I don’t consciously pay attention to the people around me when I go out, my hyper-vigilance and senses are always sensitive to the environment.
Because of that, I always know when people are being rude to me – obviously like with the harassment; or not so obviously through their energy – wherever I go.
Have you ever walked into a room or store and suddenly felt uncomfortable or out of place or judged?
Unfortunately, I notice that without even meaning to do so. And there are a lot of insecure, unhappy, resentful people in the world happy to blame others to make themselves feel better. I’ve been getting this from females more than males lately, but also from males too because of my choice to be single and friendly instead of flirtatious.
Why a challenge? It triggers shame from my past and makes me think “I suck” and “why am I doing all this again?”
My panic attacks have changed. Instead of the typical process:
anxiety feelings + headaches/dizziness + chest tightness or physical pain + hot flashes + cold shakes = pass out from tiredness and sensory overload (aka overwhelming feelings)
pass out = shut down until my whole self recovers
I get this process:
anxiety feelings + headaches/dizziness = pass out from tiredness and sensory overload (aka overwhelming feelings)
pass out = shut down until my whole self recovers
The worst part: I never know when the panic attacks will manifest. Or how to cope with them/stop them once they start. Or how to effectively recover balance once the panic attack is over.
How do I feel now? Cranky. Tired. Grumpy in my digestive system. Frustrated. Hungry and thirsty, but not always able to feel it in my body and remember to eat/drink regularly.
My sense of smell is not as acute as my hearing. In fact, I’ve had a lot of problems with nasal congestion and allergies and head colds that clogged up my nose on a regular basis since childhood. Sometimes I wonder if this was/is a coping strategy my body put in place to block out the stinky basement smells from my past.
But these days, scents are among my most common and destructive triggers. I live in a no smoking building on purpose. Maybe I’ve explained my postition about smoking in the past, but it bears repeating again:
I believe in an individual’s right to choose what he or she does – that includes smoking, using drugs, drinking – as long as it doesn’t harm or negatively affect other people.
That said, I don’t care if my neighbors smoke cigarettes or pot or whatever. They smoke outside and the smell comes in the window, that’s okay. I shut my window or turn a fan on to blow it back out. If I smell cigarettes in the building, I won’t say or do anything even if they are breaking the rules. At some point, someone will complain or report the issue.
But when people smoke pot in the building and the smoke gets into my apartment, that is a problem. I get immediately triggered and start the spiral into a panic attack. It’s happened the last two nights in my building and made recovery from the panic attacks that much harder. I am sleep-deprived, anxious, hyper-vigilant, grumpy, distracted, and unable to complete all of my weekend tasks because of the constant state of panic. Not anxiety because I can cope with general anxiety every day. Panic.
So yeah I didn’t get to read any guest comments today. I will try to do that next week. Appreciate your understanding 😉
Like I said before, my usual strategies are not working. Lately, I spend a lot of time curled up in a seated position or lying down trying to relax/sleep as my muscles contract and stiffen up because I haven’t moved enough. I just can’t get comfortable or feel comfortable in my own skin right now. And leaving for a while is not an option.
So here are some strategies that have been helping take the edge off my panic symptoms.
Aromatherapy diffuser blends for sleep
A couple weeks ago, I hit my sleep deprivation limit. Meditation and relaxation did not help with my sleep debt. The flashbacks, negative self-talk, and disturbing dreams kept interfering with everything whenever I did manage to sleep. And I smelled pot in my apartment for the first time in months – most of the tenants who smoked in the past left – just as I was starting my sleep hygiene routine.
That disrupted me so much that I couldn’t calm down even after a hotline check-in. Plus I was feeling paranoid about insects in my apartment. So I decided to clean the diffuser and try using essential oils proven to help with insomnia/sleep issues, anxiety, and insects. My particular diffuser is water-based, comes with specific water-to-eseential oil ratio use instructions, and has an automatic turn-off setting.
My mind and body tends to react to essential oils, herbs, and so on in unexpected ways. I try to only use these strategies when I can focus with a mostly clear mind so that the risk (getting oil on my skin, mixing a blend incorrectly, burning myself when I make a tea or soup) is minimal. But I was desperate that night.
You can imagine how surprised I was when it worked. I slept deeply for 12 hours and woke up feeling refreshed with that first blend and used it 3 nights in a row. Then I decided to try a different blend; that one worked okay, but not as well as the first one. Next, I gave myself a break to see if I could sleep (or at least relax) without using aromatherapy. It worked okay, but not great. I woke up tired and grumpy. The last one I tried before this post worked really well and had the benefit of reducing the pot smell.
Here is recipe 1:
3 drops of Melissa essential oil
1 drop of Bergamot* essential oil
3 drops of Siberian Fir** essential oil
8 ounces of water (filtered preferred, but I use tap)
1 electric diffuser with an automatic turn-off setting***
*Bergamot oil is extremely phototoxic to skin (human and animal). Phototoxic means that the oil will cause a rash or burns on your skin when exposed to sunlight. If you want to use this blend during the day, please omit the Bergamot essential oil
**Siberian Fir essential oil may cause lung irritation or respiratory discomfort for people with asthma, allergies, or other related issues. A sniff test (sniffing the bottle cap or bottle first) is advised before using the oil around people with respiratory problems.
***All diffusers have different settings with instructions. Electric and gas diffusers use a heating element to turn the water into steam for diffusing. Purchasing a diffuser with an automatic timer and/or turn-off setting is recommended for safe use during naps or sleep periods.
Make sure the diffuser is clean and working properly. Add water to the diffuser’s container.
Add the essential oils one drop at a time. Use the diffuser guidelines for adding essential oils. Some oils come out faster than others, so be as accurate as possible, but don’t worry too much if you add too much. Accuracy takes practice.
Cover the diffuser and turn it on for a set period of time or until the water has evaporated (auto-turn off setting).
Sit back or lie down and relax as the blend diffuses through your room.
This recipe is a guideline only. Please follow the instructions that come with your diffuser and adjust the oil amounts accordingly.
I called the hotline for a check in almost every day the last few weeks. The negative self-talk and intrusive thoughts have a strong hold on my mind and keep the spiral of body trigger + emotional trigger = panic going. Once it starts, I can’t make it stop on my own with known coping strategies.
In the past, I called the hotline for help remembering grounding strategies or practicing different kinds of meditation/relaxation techniques with a partner. Sometimes to help me make a plan of 3-5 coping strategies to use after the call ended. That always helped because I live in the maze all the time these days. To be honest, I’ve never actually found an exit from the maze. Instead, I find sanctuaries within the maze of my mind that offers a break from the trauma and allows me to feel grounded enough to live in the outside world. But that’s something for another post.
These days, I don’t ask for grounding strategies. I ask the volunteer if she or he is willing to talk with me about the situation and help me process the triggers. We talk about what set me off and the strategies I’ve already used. The volunteer listens and helps me understand if what I am feeling is “normal” or extreme in one way or another; in other words validation.
Then explains why and how so that I understand the emotions and sensations in my body too. From there, I can relax a little and fend off the negative self-talk because I understand it’s okay for me to feel the way I do; and for my body to experience these sensations. Eventually, they will not feel so intense and go away.
Funny and Silly movies
Laughter is still some of my favorite medicine. I have a Netflix account and use Amazon Prime until my membership expires in a few months to find funny children’s movies or teen movies…sometimes even adult movies. They can have a “happy ever after” ending or not.
The goal is to find movies that warm my heart, bring out positive feelings (even if I cry a little), and make me laugh. For people who can’t access movies, radio shows and podcasts, TV or cable, or YouTube probably have similar shows too.
My current favorite movies are a children’s series about golden retriever puppies going on adventures (starts with Air Buddies).
Changing my schedule/staying in (agoraphobia)
I’ve discussed my agoraphobia in past posts, so not going to dwell on it here.
Summer makes me want to go out more often and enjoy the nice weather. Longer days means more sunshine and safe times to go out after work. People spend time outside. Children play and laugh in the city’s public water features on hot days. So much to enjoy outdoors.
But my panic attacks keep me inside. I never know when they will hit or how long I have to get to a safe place before I fall asleep. Or how long I will sleep once it hits. Work has been a bit of a challenge, but not as bad as when I had to work in an office for regular hours. One home office perk is being able to work flexible hours.
So until this panic attack phase eases up, I stay inside more often and work my sleep in around the triggers. My plans often change depending on how tired I am or if the panic feelings stop me from accomplishing tasks I planned for the day. That allows me to work my 40 hours a week, meet deadlines, do homework, keep house, pay bills, and write blog posts. Everything else happens when it happens.
The more I heal, the more in tune or integrated all parts of me become. I can listen to my body and understand what types of food and drink makes it feel healthy and full or sick and uncomfortable. I can listen to my mind and understand how certain foods look/smell/taste/feel affect how my body feels after consumption and digestion.
Sounds like food triggers, but not the same.
Food triggers have a trauma-experience aspect that causes flashbacks or panic sensations throughout my self.
This type of sensory information tells me how the food and drink affect my physiology. Like with dairy intolerance or gluten intolerance. Eating nutritious food that heals and feeds the organisms keeping me healthy makes more sense than doing the opposite.
So I’ve been experimenting with my diet and different cravings that come up. Lately, I’ve been craving fennel, leafy greens, fatty fish, sausage, and carbs. Dairy too, but I think I’m going to try eliminating dairy for a few weeks to see how it affects my digestion and elimination issues. And maybe help with the low energy feelings
What can you do to help your mind and body feel better?
If you want more recipes, resources about aromatherapy, herbalism, being and empath, etc…Please follow these instructions
Part 1: do one of the following
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For options 2 and 3, please also include what topics you want me to write about.
This weekend was tough because of the pot triggers and lack of sleep. Plus some digestion issues that came up unexpectedly. So I am behind on my homework goals for this weekend and have to start that next.
If you wonder at the lack of tags or polish on the post, that’s why. Thanks for keeping me company on the long post.
* Two posts this week because there’s a lot to share.* And both are long
A minor procedure
If you are new to the blog, you might not have read the posts discussing choices, pregnancy,abortion, or relationships. There are quire a few as sexual abuse is one of the main reasons for me being the way I am, so don’t feel bad if you skipped them. I don’t wish that information on anyone and only share those experiences here as a way of sharing knowledge, resources, support, and hope with others.
Last week, I had my pre-op exam with the gynecologist who will perform a bi-lateral tubal ligation on me in 1.5 weeks. What is that? basically I’m getting my fallopian tubes permanently removed as part of a sterilization procedure.
In layman’s terms, I’m getting my tubes tied.
And I’m so excited that my emotions and body sensations have been yo-yoing all week. It’s finally happening. Yes, I am concerned about the anesthesia and some post-op requirements like the antibiotics and pain meds. But otherwise, everything is all set and ready.
Some OT this week and part of next week allows me to meet deadlines. Taxes today and next weekend will take a big load off of my mind. Some extended time off: 3 paid vacation days + compensation time from when I did OT + 2 weekend days = plenty of recover time.
My family has already sent some care packages too.
Other than some housekeeping chores – and I hope to get those done next weekend too – when my body feels less shaky, I am as prepared as possible.
Fear of Success
It’s been mentioned before. I fear success almost as much as I fear abandonment, rejection, and loss.
That said, I’ve been reluctant to write about (or even speak about ) my recent coping strategy and trauma recovery successes outside the safety of therapy or hotline calls. Sure, I might mention it to family or friends in passing, but they might not realize the significance beyond the task. Not like you, my guests, might understand.
All my life, I’ve wanted to serve – not in the sense of being a slave or trod upon or giving away stuff for free, but to help others learn and achieve their goals through empowerment, knowledge, and access to resources – and work in a career that allowed me to help others while also learning a variety of skills to feed my curiosity about..well…life.
To start in reverse order, here goes:
Last week I presented updates about a task I took on for the team and asked for feedback from the managers group. The vp of our team and my boss were there too. Everyone asked questions, and there was a lively discussion.
The big success: it was the first time in all of my 36 years I spoke in front of a group without switching personalities, having a panic attack, dissociating, not talking when I thought I was (or the opposite), or getting triggered into reacting from a past experience instead of the present one
This year, my manager approved 3 goals that included me writing internal user guides for our team documentation
technical writing has always been a goal/dream of mine in terms of an alternative career path based on my college degree. After 15 years and many people telling me I couldn’t do be a writer, it’s finally happening
At the end of 2018, my supervisor supported me in working with HR to update my job role/description to match what I actually do so that I have a future career path at the company
This goal is all about self-acceptance and feeling confident enough to advocate for change after being told for so many years that you are not enough and don’t deserve to be heard.
Finally, my aromatherapy lessons are progressing to the point where I’ll be doing case studies and a research paper soon. That brings me one step closer to my career change goal. One that is re-defining itself even as I write this.
Insecurity that I am not enough (skilled, experienced, intelligent, capable) to create a successful healing practice that supports others on their journeys using aromatherapy as part of a trauma-informed, integrated healing support strategy
quite a mouthful, but all true. I am not and never will be a doctor or medical professional.
I cannot and will not ever be able to heal people on my own or tell them what to do or cure them.
I can and will offer them choices and empower them to take control of their health in order to heal themselves by offering support, resources, and knowledge to work with what they are currently doing.
It seems like every time I think I know what I want to do when I grow up, life steps in and makes me rethink my conclusions.
I’ve come to the conclusion that people will have issues with contacting me no matter how obvious I make the links.
Same with the RSS Feeds, subscriptions, etc.
There are 4 RSS Feed or subscription buttons/links on the Sidebar to the right of every page on this site
One button/link is for WordPress members to use
The rest area for non-WordPress members to use
Many web browsers do not support RSS Feeds anymore, so you may need to download/install an RSS Feed collector like Apple News to subscribe and get my blog or comments on your feed
Apologies, but I am mostly ignorant about this topic. Only learned about Apple News when doing some research on my sites’s home page to address a guest comment earlier
Some web browsers, like Opera and IE are not as compatible with WordPress integration systems (from WordPress support) based on code and software topics beyond my pay grade.
WordPress is happy to work with you to address these issues if you email them questions through their customer support portal
I feel your pain, honest I do.
As someone who is not on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, etc. I miss getting updates from my favorite authors and news about new book releases, videos, etc. now that they moved all that info to their social media sites.
And so, I’m conquering another fear (of exposure/vulnerability./visibility) by moving the contact form to a public place on t he top menu bar.
If you really want to contact me, you can fill out that form. I do respond to those feedback emails as long as they are not obviously spam. The blog rules don’t apply to the comment form.
*All I do ask is that you be respectful and polite if you do send me an email through the contact form*
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for your time.