Back to Basics: Mindful Cooking

Warning: Potentially triggering and detailed content in this post.  I tried to insert a “read more” tag after the “And yet…” subtitle, but please do not read past there if you feel uncomfortable

Background

I love cooking.  As a child, one of the ways I got personal attention and approval was through the cooking process.  There was a wealth of knowledge handed down to me as I sat or stood in the kitchen with my aunts, uncles, grandparents, and yes parents learning basic food preparation and storage skills.

When I think of the smells in my grandparents’ kitchen, I feel safe.

When I think of standing on a chair stirring sauce in a pot with my uncle, I feel loved.

When I try to remember how to “properly” marinate meat to get the tender, melt-in-your mouth feel, my mind draws a blank.

When I try to chop common vegetables like carrots, celery, onions, or broccoli, my hands start to shake.

And yet…

Read More »

Alter Post: Accepting Help

My name is Darkness.  I am between 6 and 10 years old.  My name comes from holding some of the darkest memories and feelings in our system.  It was my job to protect the other parts from the monsters by creating walls between them and reality – aka a darkness that veiled the scary truth.  I was and still am a protector – strong and independent and capable.  I didn’t think that I needed any help; in fact asking for help was considered a weakness back then.

It wasn’t until the adults started going to therapy that I realized help is not a weakness.  Offering help feels good and lessens the feelings of guilt and shame for not being able to protect everyone all the time.  But accepting help?  Admitting I couldn’t handle all of the memories, feelings, and triggers by myself?  Admitting that I couldn’t do everything, protect everyone, prevent the others from remembering, maintain the dark veil?  That I refused to believe for a long time.

Because what would I do?  How could I be a useful part of the system if I wasn’t protecting everyone and myself from the scary memories?  How would I cope with the voices and the pain that came from lifting the darkness?  Who would want to help a monster like me?  One who lived in perpetual darkness reliving what the monsters did to our mind and body?

No, I didn’t believe anyone would offer to help me unless that offer was a trick of some kind.  I didn’t believe I deserved to be helped either.  So I ignored the offers.  And I denied needing anyone’s help.

Until the day, or was it evening, that I got caught in a trap that stuck me in the past and couldn’t get out on my own.

A whole group of alters (different ages and genders) came to find me.  They told me I could get out of this easily.  All I had to do was accept their offer of help.  I didn’t believe them at first.  I fought them.  I insulted them.  I hurt them.  I fought myself.  I insulted myself.  I hurt myself.  I pushed them away.  I hid from them.

They always found me.  They protected themselves without hurting me.  They offered compassion.  They stayed down in the pit with me and never, not once, left.

It felt like days, but was only hours – that last battle.  I was so tired.  I gave in and accepted their help.  As soon as I opened up to the offer, the trap disappeared.  No one was stuck anymore.  We climbed out of the pit and made our way home.  It was kind of embarrassing that the girl alters were stronger and faster than me fora long time as I recovered.

Boys are supposed to be stronger than girls.  Smarter and faster too.  But that’s a lie too.  Maybe boys are physically stronger because of the differences in body shapes.  But not stronger or smarter or faster in the other ways that count.  Anyone can be strong and fast and smart; it has to do with the individual not the gender.

Sometimes I forget that I”m part of a system who loves and accepts me as I am.  Sometimes I forget how important I am to the system; without me we wouldn’t be the AlterXpressions system (a unique, independent woman) and able to do so much.  And without them, I wouldn’t be able to learn, grow, and do my job as part of the system that makes up the woman we are.

A woman with masculine and feminine characteristics who is learning to embrace all parts of herself as I learn to accept myself and my part in our system.

Thanks for reading.

Back to Basics: Anger Management and Putting Me First

An unedited post…

There are 4 parts of DBT: Emotion Regulation, Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Effective Interpersonal Communication.  I learned them during my first time in a partial program.  They helped with anger management and emotional control.  At the time, I did not know about Dissociative Identity Disorder, alternate personalities, or triggers.  All I did know was that my anger and fear overwhelmed me to the point where I stopped thinking, stopped talking, and started reacting.

The partial program helped me deal with my present distress by teaching me to stop and think before reacting (mindfulness).  And after the experience, look back and analyze what happened to identify feelings and reactions to feelings (mindfulness).

Once I understood my feelings and reactions to them, I could plan ways to change my reactions or not react at all (distress tolerance) through coping strategies like distractions, self soothing, meditation, exercise, etc.

In order to do the above, though, I had to learn what emotions were and how they affected my body/mind/self (emotion regulation).  Then find ways within my control (diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation, positive experiences, self-talk) to help me regulate my feelings when I felt overwhelmed or distressed (emotion regulation).

And then I could find a language to help me communicate my feelings to myself and others without crossing boundaries or compromising safety (interpersonal communication).

This all worked great until I discovered that my distress feelings and triggers were not from the present time.  Most came from flashbacks, body memories, or remembered experiences triggered during stressful encounters with people or certain environments.  And as much as I tried to use DBT, it didn’t work.  And I got really frustrated.  Especially when my family shunned me and turned up the pressure to fall in line or else.

That brings me to the second partial experience.  It was not helpful or positive like the previous one.  But it did help me better understand the people in my family and their struggles.  It also helped me get in touch with my alters.  For the first time, I could clearly hear them in my head and recognize when I switched.  And we could communicate with each other.

My time with these people: younger and older, but not really in my age group, from different life situations and cultures reminded me that I am only responsible for myself and my choices.  I can’t change or help people who aren’t interested.  I can’t be around people who have issues accepting my real self too.  All three of those situations combined make for a very unhappy individual in an unsafe environment.

So I took what I learned from them and shared it with my therapist.  We agreed that my family wasn’t safe to be around at the time.  It was necessary to put my emergency plans in place and walk away for real.  And also to learn more about the voices in my head.  They needed the coping strategies and tools in my tool box as much as I did.

And when they started practicing DBT too, life got a lot less scary.  Communication at work improved.  My work environment got more comfortable.  I was able to take better care of myself at home because advocating for myself was easier.

And my alters had something to keep them busy while I worked.  Yes, multitasking again.  Different alters, alone or in groups, practiced DBT and other coping strategies on the inside while I or someone else lived and worked and did chores on the outside.  It became a main staple in “acting normal” and surviving in the outside world.  We set up an elaborate communication and transportation system so that everyone had immediate access to each other, but also privacy and alone time.

And I learned that solitude is very important because the “alone time” gives all of us in the system dedicated periods of “together time” like family time.  They all get a chance to be in control of the body and interact safely with the outside world.  We all get to do activities together and share information.  And there’s time for meditation or exercise and self care.  Everyone gets a voice and an opinion.  Sometimes the adults act like adults and make the final decisions.  Other times, it’s a community decision.

But we’d never have known this or be able to put ourselves first without having learned DBT.

And this is why I and others who write here struggle with how to write about what DBT means to us.  Because DBT is meant to be used in groups with other people and a moderator.  But we use it to help our internal system and work sometimes with our therapist, but not a professional moderator (like group therapy).  And our way of meditation is more like in martial arts (original training) or Buddhist practices not what Ms. Linehan teaches.

Now that I spend more time in the outside world, my solitude means a lot.  The times I spend walking from place to place during commutes are less about interacting with people on the street and more about catching up with my alters.  If that makes me less approachable, appear snobbish or remote, or act confused/abrupt, etc. then I’m okay with that.

I don’t want or need a lot of people in my life.  And the people in my life are ones I cherish and value; relationships to nurture and build on.  So yes, I put myself first and everyone else next.  Then I put time into relationships I care about with people I care about.  The rest will come as life changes.

Thanks for reading.

AlterXpressions

 

Back to Basics: Organizing my Disordered Eating Habits

Different Post format today

Background

I practiced anorexia/was anorexic for 15-20 years; starting with childhood neglect (not always being fed) and “participation” in my mother’s diets as she tried to lose “baby weight”.  Diagnosis and recovery started in 2004.  Remission or full recovery started in 2015.  I wouldn’t be where I am now without a lot of help and support from my care team – especially the dietitian who helped recreate a healthy relationship with food.

Food has always been a big deal in my family.  Weight loss and weight-related illness is a big struggle for many family members.  Part of the anorexia started because I didn’t want to be like them – obsessed about food; unable to stop eating; sick all the time; having to take lots of medicine; being made fun of and criticized for my weight and looks.  Another part had to do with self-punishment and being in control of some small part of my life when everything else was out of my control; I love food and cooking so not letting myself eat and not cooking hurt a lot.  Finally, the anorexia was about body hate; I hated being female and having a curvy female body.

Recovery, Relapse, Restart

The first thing I did when my therapist finally convinced me I was anorexic (and this took 3 months of weekly counseling sessions) was buy a book about anorexia nervosa.  The second thing I did was try to talk to my parents.  Third, I asked my primary care physician for assistance.  Finally, I took matters into my own hands and started research/recovery with my therapist at the time in secret.

I started gaining weight and got really bloated.  The weight gain was noticed; I started getting concerned looks from some and gleeful looks from others.  Concerned by family members who worried that I was getting overweight and might develop diabetes.  Gleeful from family members who were jealous of my skinny body and happy that I was looking fat or fatter than them.  Then came the lectures on behalf of my mom who was “worried about me” since I “refused to listen to her”.

Those comments hurt, but I was committed to getting better.  I didn’t want to be in pain all the time or allergic to 35 different kinds of food.  I didn’t want to be tired all the time or constantly sick.  I wanted to be healthy and active again.  I wanted to walk and practice martial arts or yoga without knee and back pain that plagued me since adolescence.

Starting the Process

My first real relapse came in 2007 after I moved out on my own for the first time.  I lost about 8-10 lbs in 3 months.  It was the weight loss that spurred me into getting help again.  First a primary care doctor who I could trust.  She recommended me to a dietitian who specialized in eating disorders.  Later both suggested I start therapy again, so I started looking for someone.  This therapist did not work in trauma, but she helped with everything else.

Between the two of them (dietitian and therapist), I learned that I was:

  • Afraid of food
  • Afraid of my body
  • Afraid of looking attractive
  • Clueless about nutrition
  • and Confused about diets and dietary needs

Then my dietitian moved to another department within the program, and I got someone new.  Her approach was different, and I was wary at first.  We’ve been working together for the last 8 years with a lot of success.  The second dietitian helped me understand more about diets and nutrition.  We addressed my food fears and body fears with facts about how different kinds of food help improve different body functions – mini anatomy and physiology lessons.

Redefining What Food Means to Me

Through my work with the second dietitian, I rediscovered my love of food and learned to separate my body negativity from my desire to be healthy.  The last few years have been focused on getting healthy and discovering what healthy means to me not about weight gain or appearance (that didn’t come until last year).

So what does food mean to me?

  • Food comes from a plant, a fungus, a bacteria, or a living organism (fish, fowl, animals, etc.)
  • Food does not come from a laboratory or genetically modified living organism
  • Food can be created by processes like fermentation (beer, miso, tempeh, pickling, canning) and dehydrating to name a few, but not by chemicals and additives
  • Food is nutrient dense with a variety in calories.
  • Food is colorful like a rainbow and goes through a decomposition process after it ripens
  • Food can be eaten raw, cooked, or baked
  • A variety of food per meal is more tasty, interesting, and nutritious than the same foods all the time
  • Food has to taste and feel good going in (chewing), going through (digesting), and going out (removing toxins) in order to help me maintain my health
  • Food is separate from how I look in the mirror or what others think of my body

And how does that relate to health?

 

Once I learned to separate my negative body image and body self-hate from my food thoughts, I started to heal.  After I decided to let myself enjoy food, my food allergies started to go away.  Once I decided it was okay to be “fat” and gain weight, my weight normalized.

This means I eat when I am hungry; drink fluids when I am thirsty; used the bathroom when my body says it needs to release toxins; and exercise as much as possible to maintain flexibility, stamina, bone density, and muscle development.

My focus is on nutrient dense foods that I don’t have to eat a lot of and are easy to cook 80% of the time and everything else 20% of the time.  That gives me leeway to experiment or to try out new/different foods for grounding and self-soothing purposes as part of a coping strategy.

“New” Eating Habits 

  • Flexibility is key
  • Eat a lot of nutrient dense food in small portions throughout the day
  • Eat until I am full and then stop; I can always eat later
  • Remember to hydrate or drink soup with one or two meals to get enough liquids
  • Smoothies can be meals too and are easy to digest
  • It’s okay to eat junk food sometimes
  • Denial and restriction only make me feel worse not better
  • Too much dairy and animal protein causes digestion problems so eat sparingly
  • Eat what I love and love what I eat
  • It’s okay to NOT enjoy eating sweet foods, chips, and desserts; it’s like others not liking chocolate or ice cream

Final Thoughts

Diet books did not help much as I researched information about anorexia and food allergies.  Regular cookbooks did not help much because all recipes included foods that made me sick.  So I started looking at “alternative food lifestyle” cookbooks – aka vegan, vegetarian, raw foodist, and allergy friendly cookbooks – for inspiration and ideas.  That is partly how I rediscovered my love of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains.

I am not vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian, or meatitarian as I’ve heard people refer to themselves.  I am a woman who enjoys eating real food that comes from plants (most of  the time) and living organisms (sometimes).  Most of the food is minimally or not processed, but a lot of it is processed in some way.  I eat a variety of different foods so that most vitamins and supplements are unnecessary.  High processed and chemical-laden food products make me ill and cause problems, so I avoid or eat them in small amounts.

I still have issues with body image and having a curvy female body, but those are topics for a different post.

Thanks for reading

 

 

Back to Basics: “It takes a village…” – taking responsibility for my own care

A different post format today.

“It takes a village to raise a child”

I am not sure where that quote came from, but my therapist mentions it often in our sessions.  It’s a reminder that one person alone cannot handle everything, especially not something like recovery.  But finding trustworthy people to help and support recovery (support network) is not easy, especially not for people who feel helpless, hopeless, trapped, unsafe, or confused.  And putting oneself out there to meet new people; interview them; talk to them about such scary and personal experiences without really knowing them can be triggering.

Creating a support network takes courage, persistence, self-trust, and access to resources.  Courage to reach out and accept help that is offered through research and resources.  Persistence to follow through on research and utilize the resources available.  Self-trust to trust in one’s instincts about the people being interviewed as potential members of the support network.  And yes, this includes family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and professionals of all kinds.

Why talk about it now?

Two reasons:

  1. I am leaving much of my existing support network when I move out of state in a few months and want to share some of what I have learned as I reflect on how to recreate a support network in my new home
  2. I feel less anxious about sharing some of my struggles with finding safe providers on the blog right now

Taking Responsibility for My Recovery and Care

Parents and legal guardians are responsible for the majority of their children’s care and support.  They choose doctors, schools, activities, social experiences, and even friends sometimes.  If, like me, the parents or legal guardians are also abusers, the child or children do not always get proper care.  But they learn that the care they receive is “proper” and “all they should expect”.

My pediatrician was also one of my abusers.  He got me pregnant and then forced an abortion when I was 15.  Before that, he kept me on a variety of allergy medications and other drugs to help my parents “manage” me and my constant illnesses better.  Shortly after the abortion, he died of a heart attack.  And I was told to “choose” a new pediatrician.  Except this pediatrician was the same one my cousins used.  She did not abuse me, but she also turned a blind eye to (what I now realize) all of the inconsistencies in my file and my symptoms.

Then I turned 18 and had to find a new doctor.  I also had my first experiences with doctors outside of my local community (college).  These doctors did not constantly brush off my symptoms and give me drugs to “feel better”.  They asked questions and followed up on any inconsistencies.  In fact, one told me that maybe the drugs were making everything worse; I might want to try not using them and letting the cold go away on its own.

Then I went back home to meet my new doctor.  This doctor who happened to be my mother’s doctor, and had been her doctor for most of my life.  I didn’t like her.  And she didn’t care about me.  Going to see her caused lots of anxiety.  And she didn’t care about my concerns or mental health problems unless they were treatable with medicine or by a specialization she approved of (aka physical therapy and orthopedic doctors)

Four years later, I graduated from college and started treatment with a clinical psychologist who treated one of my cousins previously.  We worked together ok, but she also wanted me on medication.  And she did not acknowledge trauma in any way even though she saw and heard (from interviews with my parents) that I was being controlled and abused by them before I did.

Her solution was for me to move out and start living my own life. That caused tension and a lot of distrust on my side; how was I supposed to do that when I couldn’t even find a regular job, let alone take care of myself?  Eventually I stopped seeing her.  The psychiatrist didn’t bother with me after I stopped taking the medicine he prescribed; and he was upset with me because he believed that I lied when I said the medicine was making me sick and sleepy and numb.

Around this time, I also tried working with a chiropractor; that was a positive experience until some new people were hired to work the front desk.  The new front desk people took a lot of pleasure in bullying me, and none of the other staff stopped him.  In fact, they egged him on.  So that place didn’t feel safe anymore.  I didn’t feel safe bringing up to my provider.  I left and never went back.

Then I moved out and had to find new doctors close to me.  I also had to buy medical insurance and make sure the premiums were paid on time.  A few months later, I also had to find a new mental health provider.  By now, I already knew what I did and did not want in a provider.  And I knew that finding one would require me to talk to people and engage them.  But working with the psychologist did help before.  And doing these scary activities was worth the effort if I could start sleeping and eating again.

That is how I took responsibility for my own recovery and care.

Shared Knowledge

Here are some of the criteria I used to find a primary care physician (PCP) – the cornerstone of my support network.

  • Location: Moving out meant giving up my car.  I needed to find a clinic and hospital that was easily accessible by public transportation
  • Accepted my medical insurance
  • Had staff experienced in working with mental health and/or trauma patients and who were taking new clients
  • Was female, mid-thirties to early sixties, and a fair amount of practical experience
  • Had an open mind about not using a lot of medication, was willing to work with me about mental health treatment, cared about finding causes more than symptoms, did not mind writing referrals to other specialists or that I went with a mental health provider outside of the care group, felt safe and listened without judging me

Here are some of the criteria I used to decide whether or not to stick with my dietitians for medical nutritional therapy

  • Location: accessible by public transportation
  • Accepted my medical insurance
  • Had staff experienced in working with mental health and/or trauma patients
  • Listened without judging or pushing a program/agenda on me
  • Answered questions; offered suggestions, guidance, and outside resources I could follow up on in my own time
  • Focused on teaching me how to help myself become healthy and stay that way
  • Checked in with me and allowed trust to build based on open communication and mutual respect – did not shame me or get offended when I expressed uncertainty about wanting to work with her during our first meeting

Here are some of the criteria I used to find and choose a mental health provider

  • Location: accessible by public transportation
  • Accepted my medical insurance
  • Or as an alternative was open to sliding scale fees, payment plans, etc. to help with costs of outpatient treatment
  • Specialized in trauma (or depression, anxiety, eating disorders if I couldn’t find a trauma specialist)
  • Female, between forty and seventy years old, with at least 20 years of experience working with a vareity of age groups
    • Female only because I am more comfortable with female providers than male providers; none of my childhood or adult female providers were abusive
  • Listened with respect and acceptance
  • Did not talk down to me, condescend to me, shame me, or dismiss my concerns/questions/issues in any way
  • Did not make me feel unsafe, unheard, or crazy during our first meeting
  • Felt safe and comfortable in her office during the first meeting

Here are some of the criteria I used to find and choose a psychiatrist

  • All of the above for mental health, plus did not try to push drugs on my once he or she realized the drugs were making me sick with symptoms and side effects

Here are some general tips

  • If you already have providers you trust
    • Ask what medical insurance they take and make sure you are on one of those plans for a primary care physician and specialists (psychiatrist, dietitian, podiatrist, etc.)
    • Work out a payment plan with the financial department (many major hospitals and clinics have programs and are supportive about helping figure out options as long as you talk to them) or your mental health counselor if you get into financial trouble
  • If you don’t have providers you trust
    • Try calling the phone number on the back of your insurance card
    • Try using the insurance company’s website to search their directory of providers
    • Then be prepared to make a lot of dead end phone calls and set up appointments to interview the providers
      • Dead end because many sites do not have up-to-date contact information
    • If the prospect of doing all of this research and follow up on your own is anxiety-provoking or triggering, try a third party organization or non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find providers
  • Always be as honest as possible and communicate your needs, concerns, or issues clearly when talking with providers.

Any provider who brushes your concerns and questions off is not safe or trustworthy.  Find someone else

Thanks for reading