Coping Challenge: What is fun? What is play?

This is a reflective post…

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And so it begins…

As part of my recovery and spiritual work, I’m working with all of my parts to learn how to play and have fun. It’s part of bringing joy and happiness back into all parts of my life.

Not all the time, mind, but often enough to balance out the sad or down times and give everyone one more reason to wake up in the morning excited to start the day.

Coping strategies involving fun….

Part of self care is doing things I enjoy.

Part of self soothing is working with feelings/sensations, objects, ideas, etc. that bring comfort or peace.

Part of grounding is bringing back or recalling good memories, pleasurable moments, or fun acuities/times.

Way back when…

IMG_0715Whenever someone used to ask me: “What makes you feel (good/happy/joyful/peaceful)?” My answer was: “I don’t know.” and I felt embarrassed every  time I answered that question.

Whenever people ask me: “What do you do for fun?” or “What are your hobbies?”…I distracted with a different question. Or mentioned typical stuff that seemed hobby-like – cooking, reading – and then turned the conversation to something else.

Most often, though, I would get a panicked look on my face and become really quiet. So quiet the other person thought something was wrong with me and chose to not spend time with me anymore.

These days…

I’ve found that joy scares me. The emotions and sensations feel uncomfortable in my body. I am never sure how to act, react, not act, or not react when the sensations move through me.

But I have started finding joy, peace, and happiness in all phases of my life. The best part, though, is that all parts of me are finding and experiencing these emotions and sensations too as they grow and change.

But fun, fun still eludes me. I am never sure if what I feel is fun or not. Play is the same way. I don’t know what play is. Not sure I ever truly experienced it as a child. Or if I did, the memories are locked in one of the amnesia vaults for now.

IMG_0736Right now, my plants bring a lot of joy. They are all different shapes, sizes, and shades of green. Some flower, but most don’t. My succulents (right) live on the sunniest window sill.

But what surprises me most is that each of my plants has its own personality They communicate with each other and with me in “plant speak”. Sometimes I burst out laughing just “listening” to their observations.

Working with crystals brings joy and feels good overall. Studying aromatherapy brings excitement, anticipation, joy, and anxiety. The whole school aspect brings out triggers and sometimes feels overwhelming, so I’m a bit stalled on my aromatherapy studies. But the crystals, I try to visit my favorite store at least once a month to play with the crystals there and photograph my designs. Here are a few of my latest creations:

Maybe the crystal work is “play” and “fun”?

Final Questions….

So what does “fun” mean to you? And how do you bring play into your life if you don’t already make time to play?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Body Shaming – Internal & External

Apologies for the late post…I slept late and then fell asleep after exercise and a phone call with my mentor yesterday.  By the time I woke up, it was time to go back to sleep again.

Body Shaming

It’s a big deal, especially in today’s world where anything can pop up in the mainstream media or on social media (on purpose or by accident) and anyone can comment.

I had another post in mind for this week, but Grant Gustin of CW’s The Flash spoke out about body shaming in this article on Digital Spy.  Gustin fights back and speaks out against body shaming – in general and by addressing comments directed at himself.

The Flash is one of the few TV shows I enjoy and follow via Internet news.  It addresses a lot of interesting topics from alternative and unique to me perspectives without a lot of bias or stereotyping.  My other favorite CW show is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for similar reasons.

But back to the main topic – Body shaming is a form of bullying.  Depending on the circumstances, context, content, and perpetrator, it can also be a form of sexual & physical harassment or abuse.  It’s something I still struggle with as an adult and experienced from many people growing up.

Body shaming is more than talking about how physically attractive or unattractive a person is.  It goes deeper and can affect self-esteem, self-confidence, and one’s sense of self.  Body shaming covers a lot of topics.  Here are a few:

  • How I smell
  • A flabby belly instead of a flat one
  • Being short
  • Having slanted eyes
  • Being curvy and Asian
  • Wearing Glasses
  • Looking younger than I am
  • How I dress (style and type of clothes I wear)

And just for fun…since you already know my face…here’s a photo of me in one of my favorite summer outfits – no makeup as per usual.

IMG_0599

BODY NEUTRAL & BODY POSITIVE – Body Image alternatives to shame/negativity

I’ve mentioned these terms before.  And I try to stay true to them in real life – for myself and for the people around me.

It’s not easy to change the tapes in your head when the people who are supposed to guide, support, and protect you are the ones making these comments.  The person who body shamed me the most was my mother.  Being sexually and physically abused further damaged myself and made me hate my physical appearance to the point where I didn’t trust anyone who made a comment about me; positive or negative.

What helped me most was putting aside concepts of attractiveness and beauty in favor of learning how to love, accept, respect, and value my physical self for all of the positive blessings it provides me as I work to achieve my goals of overall wellness and independence.

Something else that helps is to stop making negative comments (in my head or out loud) about my own and other’s appearance, whether on purpose or by accident.  It took me many years to stop automatically thinking in the negative about bodies (etc) in general.

I still don’t see myself the way other people see me.  Looking in a mirror can be tricky depending on who is watching through my eyes.  Every alter has a different perception of our physical self.  And none of us really enjoy the attention we receive.  Our goal is to blend in, not stand out.

But I/we also want to feel comfortable, confident, secure, and happy with our physical appearance/body/self too.  And that means creating and using a personal style to guide how we present ourself to the outside world.

Maybe these concepts and tips will resonate with you.  Maybe they won’t.  but you are not alone in experiencing the body shame.

Thanks for reading

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.

 

Coping Challenge: Intrusive/negative thoughts & feeling sick

I am over the worst of the cold that turned into the flu and back to a cold.

While I was sick, the intrusive and negative voices lurking in my mind staged a takeover attempt.  They got really loud and started whispering about all kind of bad things that would happen next.  My body temperature dropped, and I couldn’t eat, so the voices talked about the ills of starvation and anorexia and how all of us deserved the relapse.  And then all of the angry thoughts about personal situations (past & present) became topics of negativity too.

This brought out all of our fears about being sick & vulnerable; made thinking hard; caused so much noise; and made confronting a bully escalate instead of de-escalate.  More on that in another post.

How did I cope?

First and foremost, I practiced as muc self care as possible – eat when I could; sleep or est as much as possible; ignore the noise from the bully as much as possible; stay as warm as I could; stay clean

Second, acknowledge the negative thoughts; let them be heard; let them go;

Third, use affirmations and mantras; remind myself I am safe, my body is safe; my mind is safe; my spirit is safe; all parts of me are safe

Not sure if this works for people without alters, but you are welcome to try it: share the burden of fear/shame/triggers with eachh other; let all thoughts, impressions, images, feelings pass through for everyone to work on together and then let them go

Finally (and I couldn’t use this one until Sunday after my  Chinese medicine treatment) LAUGHTER really is the best medicine for nefsrivity, evil, bullying or anything like it.  Remember times that make you laugh and laugh out loud.  Watch or listen to something funny and laugh.  Visualize yourself someplace so happy you burst into laughter and laugh.

Laughing releases endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy.  Just be careful not to laugh too much or too hard if you’re coughing.  I dis fhat by accident and put myself through a few coughing/dry heaves fits.  But the laughter was so worth it.

I hope you are all healty and staying that way.  Will tey to get back to a regular posting schedule, but not sure of anything until the cold goes away.

thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Hyper-vigilance and Cold Weather Triggers

It’s fall.  The weather has turned cool, damp, and cloudy.  Leaves are changing color and falling.

Normally, this is my favorite season and time of the year.  I love rain and color changes and the smell of ozone in the air after rain fall.  The plants have a different scent too; and I’m surrounded by plants and forest on one side; a benefit of living within blocks of a city forest.

And yet, this year, I’m struggling with hyper-vigilance and body memories about cold weather even in my apartment.  The curtains are up, the windows have been caulked.  My apartment is warm with the heat on.  A few places still have cracks that let air in, but not too badly.  If I open the heat vents more, then the place will warm up more too.

I’m being mindful and wearing lots of layers too.  Using coping strategies and grounding techniques to help with the anxiety and depression.  Making financial plans to finish decorating my apartment sooner instead of later.  Going to therapy and for Chinese Medicine treatments regularly.  Maintaining an open dialogue with the landlord/owner about what I notice in the apartment and documenting everything.  And so on.

But at the same time, my body feels chilled constantly.  I feel hyper-vigilant like intruders could get in at any time.  The usual sinus/cold/allergy body memories are trying to manifest as they normally do – making me feel sick and listless – and yet are not.  Instead of severe sinusitis and flu-like symptoms, I feel like I have allergies.  Instead of many sleepless nights followed by crashing, I feel tired a lot and sometimes have to start my day later, but have not needed to take any time off.

And still my body experiences pain around my neck and shoulders.  No amount of hot tea or soup brings my body temperature back to warm/normal.  I feel alternately tired and energetic, yet unable to exercise or be active without backlash.  And my body itself is humming with internal movement.  The kind you might feel after a moderate workout or stretching routine where your muscles were given a thorough workout.

It didn’t help that my alters got activated late last week when a supposedly down on his luck man came knocking at the door asking for a handout.  My alters tell me that he was really a private investigator looking for information, but no one has concrete evidence.  Either way, he made everyone feel super uncomfortable to the point of changing our plans.

The next I let a scam artist convince me to give him and his female partner two dollars.  That felt conflicting because I knew it was a scam, yet my intuition told me that giving the two dollars would help protect the female partner in some way.  The man felt predatory and smug to me; I didn’t like him at all as he spoke to me.  The woman stayed back with hoodie partially covering her face and silent.

Except for her eyes.  Her eyes told a different story.  And for once, I empathized with her situation, and the potential danger of not meeting a quota for her handler.  So I gave the money in spite of my instincts telling me these people were dangerous and to just run away/ignore them.  That was a new struggle for me because my reactions used to be very straightforward:
Danger = fight/flight/faint/freeze response is activated and I run or fight or hide/stay still until the danger passes

This time my reaction was:
Danger = is this danger to me or someone else?  I am safe and can walk away, but that doesn’t stop the danger.  So the danger is not to me; who is in danger?  Can I help?  And will this action help?  Feeling of relief because my small action did help.  Feelings of confusion, anxiety and shame because I did not react like I normally do

So now I’m struggling with making my home feel warm and safe again so that my body can relax.  And then my mind can relax.  And maybe I will stop feeling danger everywhere.  Or second guessing myself and questioning my reality/perceptions.  Or feeling scared and not wanting to leave my apartment.

The only thing really working for right now is reality testing my perceptions and experiences with a compassionate and objective third party.  Grounding, meditation, etc. always helps in the short term.  And in spite of my body feeling unsafe and on alert, the rest of me does feel safe/happy/healthy.

It’s the mixed signals that are confusing me.  Confusing the alters too.

I wish this post could be more positive and offer effective strategies/solutions, but it’s not.  I am struggling too.

If you get triggered by weather or environment or circumstances beyond your control, please take steps to feel and be safe.  It’s often more difficult to reach out as winter and holidays approach.  You are not alone or isolated.  Neither are we.  Sometimes just remembering that helps too.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: Fear Responses

My Fear Response

I haven’t discussed FEAR much because the words get strangled in my throat or stuck in my mind/body/spirit and refuse to budge.

That’s what FEAR does – it paralyzes me – without my consent or awareness most of the time.

FEAR also triggers a physical response.  My muscles tense.  Adrenaline flows.  Senses get heightened.  Body starts to tremble and shake.  Head hurts.

The urge to make myself small and hide is intense.  If not hide, make myself invisible.

DO NOT DRAW ATTENTION or else…

my brain and body tell me at the same time.

“Fighting” back

What do I mean?

Learning to acknowledge and make friends with FEAR so that I use it instead of letting it use me.

Becoming more aware of the internal signals that tell me when FEAR could be triggered so I can put coping strategies or techniques into play before it is triggered.

Persisting with my goals in spite of the fear and the backlash that comes with it.

Remembering to start small and celebrate every success as a stepping stone forward.

Being kind to myself when the FEAR does take over and cause stickiness or problems with people, places, events, etc.

Letting myself and all parts of me feel FEAR instead of burying or denying it.

Recognizing that FEAR is an emotion, a protective one designed to alert our minds and bodies to avoid potential danger, not something negative or shameful that has to be exorcised.

How I “Fight” Fear

Tall order, huh?  

Baby steps.

Progress is all about baby steps.  So for now I can live with the sore neck and jaw muscles; the minor headache; and the shakes.  It will ease up and go away eventually.

Why not stop doing whatever is triggering the FEAR response?

I like speaking up for myself, talking with people, and being visible all the time.

Being me, expressing myself, writing, knitting, cooking, talking to people on my terms feels good.

I’m not going to stop just because being me triggers a built-in, past life fear response.  That was then.  This is now.  And each time this happens, the FEAR Response lessens.

It’s taken more than 10 years to get here.  It will take the rest of my life to recover with or without setbacks.  Fear is NOT in control anymore.

Conclusion

FEAR is part of life.  It can take over everything and stop people from living or enjoying life.  It can help save lives too.  There is a necessary balance to FEAR responses.  Not everyone learns that balance early in life.

BUT anyone can learn to find that balance and use it as adults.  Like anything else written on this blog, finding that balance takes courage, resilience, persistence, and patience.

I believe in you.  Maybe someday you will believe in you too.  Then we can enjoy more of life together.

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Disabling Automatic Defense Mechanisms

I learned more about one automatic defense mechanism that needs to be addressed or disabled during my vacation.

Switching and sounding like I am talking about myself all the time when all of us in the system feel anxious and safe with a person or group.

And the accompanying feelings of shame, anxiety, panic, guilt, and loss of reality that comes with it.

Two main challenges have previously gotten in the way of disabling this mechanism:

not being able to share about having Dissociative Identity disorder

Alters unwilling to identify themselves when talking to outsiders.

Lack of awareness when this happens so that I can reflect, process in therapy, and use known coping techniques and strategies to change the behavior.

Frustration when people give advice without understanding that I know what the problem is and amnstruggling with how to resolve it.  Behavior modification or change for trauma survivors requires a different approach than for “the average person”.

The first one is less of an issue now that I moved and live in a more open culture.

The second one is not so easy to figure out.

And the third one I try to address carefully, but sometimes fall back to negative strategies that work and avoid future communications.

But at least now I have words to describe to my therapist what challenge I want to work on for the present and near future.

thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: Regressing into old habits

I have a confession

My mind set has regressed into old patterns again.  I am back to feeling paranoid and unsafe in my own mind sometimes.  I am letting my family treat me like I was before and then stewing over it.  The stewing is triggering flashbacks and switching.  I am feeling less grounded and more like my old self before this blog.  A self that had more inner turmoil and less confidence in her/their ability to cope.

How I know this?

A good friend gave me a much needed kick in the ass today as she called me on my behavior and my thought process as verbalized in our conversations for the past 24 hours (for more on that read “Alter Post: feeling conflicted“)

What Behavior?

  • Switching alters and then talking or behaving different without awareness
    • Alters taking over are triggered and not present; could be victims still or experiencing flashbacks and speaking from that point of view
    • When this happens, the host personalities cannot take control long enough to implement coping strategies or explain that the “individual” talking is not who the other individual believes she is
    • Not being allowed to tell the person I/we are talking to that he or she is talking to the alters instead of the “usual” host personality
  • Talking about myself too much – something I do as a way to annoy other people and turn them away OR when I am switching without awareness and my alters are talking from their points of view
  • Over-apologizing – saying I am sorry for everything because I (or the alter in charge) feel shame for being myself around her
  • Making connections between ideas and experiences that could be coincidence
  • Thinking people are watching me again
  • Using therapy talk styles to understand what the problem is in conversation with my friend and not explaining in advance that what I am sharing with her is NOT how I will approach family members
  • Feeling insecure in my ability to communicate and be okay in my friend’s house so all of the topics I stored to talk with her about flew out of my mind
  • Not being assertive enough during conversations to ask her to stop interrupting me so I don’t lose my train of thought and start repeating myself
  • Allowing interruptions because the other person or persons assume they know what I am saying, but really don’t, and then moving on out of shame
    • The part of me talking knows what is happening, but can’t get the words right to verbalize with clarity and conciseness and feels unable to assert the self in conversations
    • Leads to anger, frustration, shame, and triggers
    • Leads to varying ways to display that irritation & more switching to find an alter who can verbalize what is happening

The advice & my reflections

  • Stop talking like I just left a therapy session or group session; it can annoy and turn other people way
    • Instead reframe the words into a more conversational style that gets the point across without turning the listener away – especially if it’s someone I care about
    • If I need help, call the hotline for assistance or tell the friend I am speaking with in advance what the conversation is about and why; then check in regularly to make sure we are on the same page
  • Remember that I am safe here and am not a child or a victim anymore.
  • Remember I have options to leave if necessary
  • Remember to practice self care even if that means I leave the room for privacy to do what is necessary
  • Remember we are all flawed and struggling to be polite to each other
  • Remember that my being there is as stressful on them as it is on me – we are all walking on eggshells around each other.
  • Use my grounding tools along with my physical armor – aka outfits & tattoos – to help all of us stay grounded in the present instead of switching and letting my alters use the automatic defenses.
  • When I get interrupted, stop tell the person that I have a point to what I might have repeated before and would like to finish all the way rough.
    • Ask the person not to make assumptions about what I intend to say.  Being interrupted makes me lose my train of thought and repeat myself.
  • Find a polite way to talk to my aunts about potential trips to visit me in my hometown.
  • And make sure I get some alone time.  I forgot what it was like living around them with the TV on all the time and someone always talking or playing on a mobile device.

The Honest Truth

I love and respect my aunts, uncle, and grandmother a lot.  I enjoy being here and visiting my friends and co-workers.  But I can’t wait to go back home.

Being here is too stressful and triggering.  Even though I have access to resources, I still struggle to remember to use them along with everything I’ve learned in the past year.  Especially when my alters are in charge.

What next?

Right now, many of the alters are struggling with shame for something that happened this weekend.  They have some individual processing and coping to deal with and then need to discuss what happened with the rest of the system to share support & brainstorm a strategy for future experiences.

The rest are struggling to find balance and a way to express themselves/cope/feel acknowledged around a group of people who don’t know/struggle to understand them and that they exist.  Mental Health issues aside, it’s necessary to utilize more grounding and self-soothing techniques to help us all find our balance instead of splitting off again.

Finally, all 88 of us need to have a discussion about how to explain to friends what is happening, why, and how to address the issue when alters who don’t normally talk to outsiders start taking over and talking over themselves through constant and seamless switching.

thanks for reading

 

 

Coping Challenges: Body Shaming vs Negative Body Image

Trigger warning: Please take care of yourself and only read if as long as you feel safe/comfortable

Objectification

For most of my life, I’ve been objectified.  First as chattel, then as a sexual vessel, a soldier, a toy, an extension of my mother, a skinny girl/woman, a curvy/feminine/sexy object, a doormat, a “nice girl”, delicate, weak, etc.  People looked at me, listened to my voice, and made assumptions.  Hardly anyone ever took me seriously, and someone always tried to take advantage.

Years of therapy and spending time with positive, supportive people have helped me realize I am more than an object.  Part of my recovery is changing the objectification into a positive sense of self – including positive body image and healthy self-esteem – where people see me first instead of my body.   I used to think that body shaming and negative self-image was only connected to my eating disorder.

Now I know the truth.

That a negative body image and body shaming are separate, but related issues and do not always have anything to do with an eating disorder.

Negative Body Image

I used to hate my body, my face, my appearance.   I blamed my face and body shape as the reason for past traumatic experiences.  So I hurt myself – starvation, self-harm, compulsive exercising, not sleeping, making myself sick, reckless/dangerous activities, not caring for physical or mental health – often and in various ways for decades.

These days, I love my face and my body.  I accept all of its quirks and am grateful to be whole and healthy in spite of the pain.  I dress according to my personal style, comfort needs, and daily tasks.  The colors, the fabrics, the shapes, and the accessories help me feel safe, confident, grounded, and happy.  The textures and weights act as self-soothing and grounding objects.

Even though wearing clothes that fit and flatter shows off my feminine body shape and draws attention, I feel secure enough in who I am to ignore all that and enjoy myself.  Most of the time, I can ignore people criticizing my clothing choices or commenting on my weight changes.

But sometimes, the comments hurt or bring out anger.

Body Shaming

Have you ever been told you are too short or tall?  Maybe your eyes bug out or are slanted?  Your hips too wide?  Your butt too big?  Your chest not muscular enough?  Your body stick-like?  You look too masculine/feminine/boyish/girlish for your age/gender/size?  You are flat-chested or large breasted?  Your man-boobs are too prominent?  You stomach is not flat enough?  Skin too flabby?

Has anyone ever criticized your clothing choices?  Your accessories?  Your posture?  Shoes?

These are all examples of body shaming.  Many of them I personally experienced.  Some I have heard told to people I care about.  Others from comments made about celebrities.  The comments from my parents, sibling, cousins, and relatives are the ones that hurt most.  Second place goes to friends, co-workers, mentors, supervisors, and other people in authority positions.  Finally, the random hate from strangers and people posturing for acceptance were the least harmful.  It’s hard to take people who don’t know me seriously.

What brings this up now?

Summer time means wearing less clothes for one thing.  July 1st is a double anniversary with lots of meaning.  July 4th is another anniversary.  I remember spending most of my summers locked up and away from friends, relatives, etc. except on certain occasions for most of my pre-adult life.

Added to all that, I’ve been talking with my aunts more often to coordinate my 2-week visit back home later this month.  During a conversation, one of my aunts proceeded to body shame me, criticize me, and then act like she forgot I was visiting.  No, I am not sure why she decided to cross my boundaries and talk to me this way.  I could speculate, but why bother?  She is who she is, and I should have expected something like this to happen at some point.

Why is this time more of a challenge than past experiences?

My reaction was different.  My feelings were different.  My perspective had changed too.

Instead of feeling hurt or guilt or shame, I felt outrage like “how dare you treat me this way” and pushed back instead of retreating or defending myself.  My response was simple, non-aggressive, and direct.  Then I told her that these days are available if she wants to spend time with me when I visit.

But I still felt angry.  The anger scared me for many reasons.  Different feelings bring out different reactions and impulses.  Anger tends to bring out my rebellious and reckless sides.  It also clouds my thinking.

During that phone call I realized the body shaming and criticism did not trigger any negative feelings about my body.  It did however knock at my self-esteem a little and bring on some nasty flashbacks complete with physical pain.  I felt defensive and uncertain about wearing dresses again.  And part of me was justifying my clothing choice for the day on the inside.  So I made a plan.  When I realized I couldn’t execute the plan on my own, I asked for help.

That was Friday.

The Plan

Go out for a walk in my neighborhood.  Play with friendly dogs.  Eat good food.  Go home and watch a movie or sleep.  Go to counseling the next day.  Have fun and enjoy my 4-day weekend even if that means spending a lot of time sleeping.  Do some packing for the future move.  But most important: RELAX

Thanks for reading.