Coping Challenges: Finding Language to describe body memory challenges

DISCLAIMER 1 – no photos today.  I couldn’t think of anything relevant and didn’t want to include book covers.  Also, this is a long, potentially triggering post.

DISCLAIMER 2 – what you read here is my opinion only and based on personal experiences. This information is provided as an alternate perspective and optional coping strategy from one survivor to another and does not replace professional recommendations from medical and/or mental health providers

Background

When I first started blogging, I mentioned many books as my favorite resources, but never explained why.  Same went for books that did not help or had unexpected results.

Shame is one reason – a personal shame that belittles me every time I think about sharing an opinion.

Lack of language to explain my feelings, thoughts, and experiences was the other reason. It’s really hard to say “my instincts did not react well to … in the book” and be taken seriously.

Now I have words and language to describe my experience of using Peter Levine’s process.  The experience was neither negative nor positive. It was overwhelming and opened up avenues into the trauma that no one predicted. Not any part of me could cope alone, and we weren’t able to cope together back then. It was before we re-connected with each other.

The process of movement, bodywork, integrating feelings with sensations, and releasing energy is what I described here in the post about Anger. The exploration of bodywork and so on started with Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger and continued with Sexual Healing as feelings and sensations started coming back to my body awareness. Plus I was genuinely confused and distressed about not being able to “feel” or “experience” sexual feelings at the time.

So what happened?

As with many steps in my recovery journey, my mind/feelings heal faster than my physical body. Spirit/soul/spirituality/religion helped keep me on the path to recovery through faith and belief in a higher power, but it couldn’t help me bridge the divide between my mind and body. The lack of communication and integration between the two fit the whole “two steps forward, one giant step backward” scenario.

My mind and spirit were and are on the fast track to recovery.  But my body (the parts of me that experienced the worst and most significant amounts of trauma) is taking longer to find its recovery path.

Psychotherapy helped heal the emotional and mental wounds; and partial programs taught me how to safely experience feeling. Neither technique helped me cope with the body pain and other sensations that got worse as my mind healed.

Waking the Tiger taught me a different way of looking at the mind/body/spirit connections and how to identify if a physical sensation related to an emotion or feeling.  But all I felt when inside my body was varied degrees of pain.

Every feeling was connected to pain of some kind. I didn’t have the tools, knowledge, or skill set to work with the pain and find out what was underneath.  Other sensations were hiding underneath the pain.  Part or parts of me knew that, recognized that not every feeling equals pain.

But past conditioning is hard to break.  And my trainers excelled at their specialties. They linked all of my feelings back to pain in childhood so that my body experienced pain every time I felt and emotion. This epiphany did not appear until years later and occurred while I was reading the Pay/Changeling book Series by Nalini Singh.

Reading a series about the recovery process of a whole race that spent 100 years not feeling provided hope that I could feel again too. Someday.  But I wouldn’t have made the that connection without the knowledge from Peter Levine’s books. And I wouldn’t have started searching for information about mind-body therapy techniques either.

Present Time

In the 3 years before I moved across the country, my counselor and I explored different types of mind-body therapy.  She and my other providers encouraged me to try alternative medicine and learn more about the mind-body trauma connection. I read Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book and listened to a variety of webinars about his approach. I tried sensorimotor psychotherapy with different practitioners and also Deirdre Fay’s classes too. And I tried taking exercise classes in a gym or working out on my own in different places.

Each resource helped me learn about myself and my body – limitations, boundaries, strengths, and vulnerabilities – so that I could say “yes, this is worth trying again” or “no, I’m not ready for this yet”. Figuring out my limitations helped more than I understood at the time.  Without knowing how far I could go before my body shut down, I kept wandering into the “no trespassing zone” and passing out.  Then getting mad at myself for doing too much.

What are my limitations?

Agoraphobia – it’s a reaction to not feeling safe and not trusting my body to signal me when we need to get someplace safe ASAP.

My physical body – While it looks healthy, whole, etc. on the outside, it’s still healing on a massive scale on the inside. Every molecule, every cell in my body holds some kind of trauma memory. Right now, it holds everything inside and doesn’t know how to let go of or move memories, feelings, experiences, etc. around and out.  i.e. let go of the past.

Lack of knowledge – I couldn’t find answers using conventional methodologies. All of their strategies were too overwhelming for my body to cope with on a sensory level. These days I explore all kinds of healing methodologies.

What works for right now?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – a combination of herbs, body work, and acupuncture that helps move my chi to promote integrated healing and wellness. Works on mind/body/spirit at the same time

Qigong in all of its forms – physical exercise (like tai chi), meditation (standing/sitting/lying down), and energy healing (sound, meditation, physical movement) works on an energetic level to heal by removing blockages, etc. that prevents chi from circulating through my body.

Energy healing education – chakras, kundalini, prana, etc. is a general term for using energy movement for integrated healing of the mind/body/spirit connection.  Qigong is a specific type of energy healing.

Nutrition & diet – eating nutrient dense, whole foods and drinking lots of water.  I do not follow a specific diet because my body does not react well when I try to feed it something it doesn’t want.  Instead, I pay attention to the physical sensations and use that knowledge to inform my food and beverage choices.

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Fear of…

REJECTION…SHARING MY OPINIONS….SUCCESS

An extra post today just because…

A while back, I made a comment about reading through many posts and blogs, but not always sharing or commenting on them.

It was unintentionally offensive for many reasons.  The bloggers I read have a wealth of knowledge and do a great job getting followers, staying true to their messages, etc.  If I don’t share many posts here or comment on their blogs, it’s because of my personal fears.

Fears that come and go like ocean waves.  Sometimes stronger and more obvious.  Other times weaker and distant, almost invisible for a time.

SHARING MY OPINIONS

I am afraid of commenting on blogs and review sites.  It stems from being made fun of, bullied, shamed, and criticized whenever I spoke up in the past.  Because of this, it takes a long time for me to believe my opinions have value and be brave enough to risk commenting in spite of potentially attracting the attention of trolls.

Related to that, I find lots of wonderful information, but am never sure

  1. How to relate it to the purpose of this website and blog
  2. If sharing someone else’s post is okay or not – permissions, plagiarism, pirating, etc.
  3. Whether or not my website and blog has enough value to be worthy of sharing the author’s content

In short, I question the value and worth of my opinions often, especially when my goal is to share useful information.

REJECTION

Making a comment, sharing someone else’s content, reviewing a book/video/presentation, is equal to putting myself in the spotlight.  That makes me vulnerable to both positive and negative reactions, heckling, feedback, etc. from anyone who visits here.   It also makes anyone who visits, comments, or likes what I write vulnerable rejection too.

So, if I don’t share a lot from other bloggers or make comments, it’s because I fear rejection.  I fear others reading my comments and a) ignoring; b) responding with something mean or hateful or shaming; or c) backtracking to harass and bully not just me on my blog, but any of the guests who might or might not comment here too.

SUCCESS

This blog came about as a rejected book idea, an unsuccessful business venture, and many missed opportunities.  I only went through with it because I didn’t think the blog would work, and I was afraid of trying to find success as a published writer in traditional venues.  I never thought the website or the blog would be successful in any way.  Or that so many people would support this site and welcome me into the blogging community with acceptance, respect, and compassion.

Every  time someone liked a post or commented or started following the website and/or blog, I got scared.  Then I started pressuring myself to be more successful in traditional blogging terms – write better content, add more photos and videos, get more followers – and started feeling anxious about writing and sharing here.  Suddenly, I didn’t want to write posts anymore.  And when I did, writer’s block came to visit.

I literally did almost close down everything last December.  It felt like giving up and giving in to my fear because I wasn’t good enough to continue making this a success.  Not if it meant adding features and trying to get more and more followers, likes, comments…

That wasn’t how I measured success.  It still isn’t.

SO WHAT CHANGED?

I did.  My alters did.

We re-defined what success meant to us.  And then we decided that this website and blog started slow, really slow.  And it will progress just as slowly.  Rushing never got us anywhere we wanted in the past.

WORKING WITH MY FEAR

When I started this website and blog, I did not expect to have anyone visit, let alone comment or follow my work.  The website was meant to exist and be a safe place to visit once in a while.  If it helped even one person find hope in the darkness, the website did it’s job.

The blog was meant to be a place where I and my alters could freely share resources, information, and stories about ourselves and our fears.  Sure, some of the writing would be polished, professional, and great.  But other posts would not be any of those things.  They’d reflect the personality, thoughts, and feelings of the alter or alters who wrote the post.

GRATITUDE

I am thankful for the many guests who visit and follow my blog.  Thankful to the people who check out the different website pages beyond the blog.  Thankful for the people who share this site with others.

But most of all….

Thankful for the many people who may or may not have figured out who I am, who might now each other outside of the Internet, and still maintain safety and anonymity that is the cornerstone of this community within a community.

FEAR

In conclusion, yes I am afraid of many things.  I am afraid to leave my apartment, be in crowds, participate in conversations, and talk in public among other things.

But I’m also ready to face those fears and start commenting more on other blogs while also sharing information from those blogs here.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: To Share or Not to Share? Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions.  Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree.  Thank you*

Disclosing Mental Illness

If you’ve read past posts, then you remember how I feel about labels and my thoughts about the term “mental illness”.

If not, here is the short version:
I do not believe PTSD or trauma-related mental health issues to be a form of mental illness in the same sense as say schizophrenia.

  • Schizophrenia has an underlying biological cause originating in one’s brain physiology.  aka the condition is not caused by outside experiences.  It could be developmental or genetic or a mix of influences.
  • PTSD and trauma-related mental health problems are caused by outside influences and experiences beyond an individual’s control and processing ability.  The brain and body adapts to these experiences by utilizing creative coping strategies that change the individual’s responses to stress.

Took me a long time to stop making excuses and apologizing for taking care of myself, but eventually I did.

Now I only share my past and my challenges for specific reasons:

  • Communication and team work for business purposes
  • Honesty when building friendships
  • When my symptoms might interfere with my ability to enjoy life and/or be productive
  • Discuss care with providers
  • Certain Legal and Human Resources situations

The rest of the time, I choose to be as “normal” as possible.  Why else create a toolbox of coping strategies and techniques for every day and special occasion use?

Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions.  Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree.  Thank you*

Mental Illness does not make me “special” or “different”.  I am independent and able to make plans that allow for potential triggers and stressors, especially when traveling.

I do not need or want  preferential treatment when I travel.

Advance planning allows me to arrange my  travel plans to accommodate anxiety, panic attacks, triggers, etc. without having to disclose any information to airlines, bus station attendants, and other transportation officials.

When I make my plans, I expect them to mostly stay the same unless there is some kind of natural disaster or emergency beyond anyone’s control that requires change.

I don’t expect to have my seat assignments randomly changed last minute and for no reason.  Nor do I expect to have to talk with multiple representatives and disclose having panic attacks in order to get a seat assignment similar to my original one.

Yet that’s exactly what happened on American Airlines.  To make matters worse, some of the gate or counter representatives recognized me and were accordingly rude.

So, I stayed calm and professional while quietly repeating my emergency disclosure summary:

“I don’t want to cause problems and understand if you can’t help me, but I have panic attacks.  (This is what happened).  (This is why I am asking for an accommodation).  Any help is appreciated, and I understand if you can’t accommodate my situation.  Thank you.”

In this example, I need to sit in an aisle seat on airplanes.  Doesn’t matter where on the airplane or how cramped the seat is as long as I have an aisle seat.

Everything else can be accommodated.

Coping Strategies

I have none at the moment.  The whole fiasco still pisses me off and probably will for a while.

All I can say is that I’m grateful that a panic attack did not occur at an airline or on a plane.

Yes, I did have a few emotional moments.  But anyone who was awake for 40 hours and had to make 3 connections on 4 planes would have some emotional moments.

Practical Adaptations

  • Don’t fly United Airlines
  • Save up and apply for TSA pre-check
  • Start an air travel fund for emergency trips
  • Travel during seasons that don’t require heavy layers
  • Pay extra to fly on JetBlue or a similar airline instead
    • JetBlue has provided the best flying experiences so far

Reflection Questions for Guests (you don’t have to comment or share unless you want to do so)

  • In what situations do you share information about your mental illness?
  • How would you feel about being forced to disclose such information?
  • How do you feel about receiving preferential treatment?  Why?
  • Would you disclose your mental illness status if it meant getting preferential treatment?  Why or why not?
  • What coping strategies or safety plans do you have in place to cope with stressful situations like travel changes beyond your control?
  • Do you think having a backup plan and coping strategies would be helpful in situations like this?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenge: Self Soothing is Positive instead of Negative

Background

I struggle with self soothing.  My alters, especially my child and adolescent ones, struggle with self soothing.  We all had questions about what that term meant.  Some of us still have questions like:

  • What is self soothing?
  • How is it different from self care?
  • Why is self-soothing a positive coping strategy?
  • How does it work?
  • Can you provide examples?

My adult self tried to apply answers from a variety of sources, but the suggestions triggered anger, fear, shame, and grief.  Then panic attacks.  So I avoided thinking about self soothing until recently.

Present Day

Physical pain requires other types of coping strategies.  Strategies that trigger me and cause fear or anger to manifest into panic attacks or worse – self-harm.  Unfortunately for me, those same strategies are tried and true for body memories.  These strategies include:

  • Trauma sensitive yoga
  • Sensorimotor psychotherapy
  • Self-soothing
  • Movement or exercise therapy

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

sensorimotor psychotherapy does work and can be useful, but requires a lot of trust between the client & counselor.  It also requires the client to be at a certain level of recovery with support in place for any increased symptoms.  Deirdre Fay is one of the foremost practitioners.  Her work is great; I tried one of her online workshops, but wasn’t ready for it yet.  Maybe you will be.  I recommend doing your own research and talking with a professional before trying any of her programs.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Trauma sensitive yoga is something I recently started once a month.  Our first session was great.  I learned a lot and am hopeful this will help with my physical symptoms in  a variety of ways.  But more on  this later, after I’ve had another session and more time to try the practice at home too.

Exercise & Movement Therapy

Bessel Van Der Kolk promotes yoga as his number one form of movement therapy.  But drama, dance, martial arts, tai chi, or any form of gentle, meditative movement can produce similar results.  What matters most with this type of therapy is A) doing something the victim/survivor/partner/loved one enjoys; and B) choosing an instructor or group that feels safe, supportive, inclusive, and positive.  A strong support system to help out when symptoms increase or triggers start to overwhelm is important too.

Self-Soothing Coping Technique

Self Soothing has been a struggle to define and understand up until the past month or so.  My current counselor/therapist helped me understand that my child and adolescent alters define self-soothing as hurting others or being destructive/aggressive to feel better.  That is what they learned from their providers and caretakers.  And a volunteer on the hotline defined self soothing as: a conscious act of choosing self care and comfort instead of destruction, aggression, blaming, or self-harm.

What do you think of the

The Challenge

Re-learning that Self Soothing is positive and means comforting myself instead of hurting myself or others.

Helping my child and adolescent alters understand and accept this so that they can use the self soothing too.

Discovering all of the ways self soothing can help with muscle pain, body memories, and physical discomfort in order to build a tool box of useful strategies for present and future use.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes the strategies that can help us most are the scariest and most challenging to learn.  I am not afraid to admit that I am afraid of my body.  I am afraid of my appearance.  I am afraid of the sound of my voice.  I am afraid of showing my face on this blog or any social media.

That fear gets in the way of doing most positive actions or tasks to help me feel better.  Instead of moving, everything freezes.  I freeze.  They freeze.  We all freeze into paralysis.  Can’t move our body.

But if you’ve learned anything about our system, you might remember how stubborn and persistent we are.  And so all parts of us are talking with our current counselor/therapist to work on this.  In another week or two, maybe we will share the results of our new practice.

What scares you?  How helpful or harmful would it be?

May all of you who read this find ways to choose self care and support instead of self-harm or harm to others when triggered.

Thanks for reading

 

Coping Challenge: Exhaustion = Late Post

I admit it. I am exhausted.  My alters are exhausted.  The living situation hasn’t improved much.  And any time I try to sleep early, the upstairs neighbor goes on a rampage with the excuse that I am stealing heat.

Coping Challenges:

  • Triggers from having loud noises above my head going off at random times throughout the night
  • Stomping and items being dropped from above sound startling to someone sleeping
  • The murmur of voices also is triggering as I don’t know what’s being said, but I know something is and it’s probably about me

Strategies I’ve used to combat this:

  • Sleep headphones – mildly effective, but very comfortable to wear in spite of the headband being too big
  • A bag of crystals under my pillow – soothing but not sure how effective
  • A favorite playlist – moderately effective with the correct headset
  • Continuous nature sounds – most effective with either kind of headset because the sound is continuous
  • my over-ear noise cancelling headphones – very effective but uncomfortable to sleep in
  • A new wool blanket – moderately effective as it keeps me warm when I give in and turn the heat in my apartment down to stop the noise
  • A new down comforter – very effective as it + wool blanket keeps me warm in spite of chilly temps
  • Affirmations to keep my heartbeat steady

So why didn’t I call the police like I planned to if this happened again?

Because I was was exhausted and fell asleep early.  When that tired, not much can wake me up.  A lot can disturb me and sort of wake me up.  But not much can wake me enough to be fully alert.  Only the alters who stayed awake were triggered by what happened.  And only when they were awake because they were tired too.

And none of us really noticed the noise until early this morning when we were ready to wake up.  Yes, we feel bad for the other neighbors who have to listen to the noise, but since no one has tried to knock on our door or talk it out, not much any of us can or will do.  In order for upstairs to be happy, I have to turn off my heat and only sleep at certain times.

Plus calling the police is scary.  I’ve never done it here, but where I used to live it caused problems.

Call the attorney; pay the fee to get out

Yes, I am contacting an attorney sooner instead of later.  But that in itself is also scary and triggering.  So, this weekend probably will be the soonest unless the majority decides otherwise.

Good News

My alters and I did get some decent sleep.  We also cried and laughed and remembered and let go of old stuff.  All in all, it was a decent night.

And now that I am awake, upstairs has quieted down.  My heat settings have not changed.  And I am up early enough to get some other stuff done before starting work.

Conclusion

I apologize for the late post.  It couldn’t be helped.  After work, I set up the slow cooker and then fell into bed only waking up when nature called.

The exhaustion is from a combination of stuff going on right now.  It’s like in earlier posts when I described being awake for so many hours working, living, commuting, until my body gave out and I slept.

Sleep, when one can get it, is one of the best and most healing coping strategies available.  For anyone who is struggling with anxiety, depression or just plain old stress, I recommend finding ways to get more rest and sleep.

Thanks for reading my complaints and rambling today.