Coping Strategy: Meditation Conflicts & Confusion

A quick review of my thoughts about and experience with meditation

I started meditating as a child in Taekwondo classes.  We had 5-15 minutes of meditation every class 2-3 times a week.  The purpose of that meditation was to practice focus and calmness – we focused on breathing in and out, sitting quietly, not moving.  As we got older, the focus transitioned to clearing our minds and letting thoughts flow in and out while focusing on our breath.  It was a sitting meditation with our eyes closed, posture straight.

As I got older and went to college, I learned about yoga and moving meditation too.  This was more like mindfulness meditation where the focus was on being present and acknowledging the sensations brought on by moving slow (yoga) or by the environment (walking meditation).  We let our feelings and thoughts flow in and out, acknowledging each bit while focusing on the deliberate, slow movement our bodies made with each position.

Then I started learning about Buddhism and meditation to clear my mind or free myself from the clutter of incessant thoughts and feelings.  This meditation was the most difficult for me as an adult because every time I started to clear my mind, my past memories (blocked by amnesia) would surface and cause flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  That kind of ruined the whole clear-my-mind and look into the emptiness goal.  Visualization worked better for me because I got to “paint a picture” with my imagination; less scary than looking into clear water or dark nothing.

Different kinds of meditation suit different purposes

The meditation taught in most therapy groups, sessions, and programs is mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness can help keep an individual grounded in the present while also teaching how to slow down and be more aware of self/surroundings.  Mindfulness teaches individuals how to be more aware of one’s internal landscape and offer tools to cope with overwhelming feelings.

Focused meditation is about learning mental and emotional self control by letting go of feelings and staying calm.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps build clarity of thought, compassion, and resilience depending on the goal of each session.  The hardest part about focused meditation is clearing one’s mind of stray thoughts and focusing on breathing or emptiness.

When I was in the partial programs, many of the moderators skipped meditation and dismissed it as too hard and not useful because of their failures to achieve positive mediation practice.  I felt angry when I heard this repeated; it made me rethink everything they taught.  Meditation helped me get to where I am and was my frame of reference so I could understand their emotion regulation concepts.

I use focused meditation to help with my shame and compassion work more than any other type.  It helps all of us (my alters and I) get in touch with the scary feelings from a safe and grounded place inside of ourselves.  The mindfulness meditation helps with the severe physical pain that comes from anxiety and body memories; we use this most often during panic attacks, nightmares, and insomnia.  And the moving meditation helps us cope with too much energy or compulsion to over exercise.  It offers a stretch and tone without a lot of exertion.

Lessons from almost 2o years of meditation practice

  • Meditation is hard
  • Meditation takes practice, persistence, and patience to learn
  • Trying to practice a focused meditation with DID and many alters is scary, confusing, and frustrating because the thoughts and feelings of other alters enter and flow through the same consciousness as the one trying to meditate.
  • Maintaining a level of physical stillness for some meditation practices with DID might be a big challenge
    • So far I have not found a way to stop my eyes from moving (sign of switching alters) when I practice a focused standing or sitting meditation with my eyes open.
  • Remember that meditation practice can be fluid and flexible to a degree
    • Try to accommodate personal quirks like alters or injuries in ways that still allow for beneficial practice
  • Clearing one’s mind is not exactly the goal – calming one’s mind is a better option
  • Calming one’s mind is scary for everyone because once you calm down, you can see everything you’ve been hiding from or ignoring or denying about yourself
  • The goal is not to attain emptiness or numbness, but to be able to  observe and acknowledge your internal feelings and sensations without having them take over your life.
  • The goal is to feel and let feelings/thoughts/sensations inform you and help make choices in every day life
  • Meditation helps me pause and step back when I feel overwhelmed, confused, or stressed out so that I can calm down and make choice based on emotion and logic instead of only emotion or only logic

Conclusion

Meditation is a skill worth learning.  There are many ways to learn, but I think that in-person lessons with an experienced practitioner are the best option for anyone with doubts and questions.  Instructors have experienced many of the barriers that frustrate people on all levels and can help students work through them one-on-one.

As with any strategy discussed here, practice, patience, and persistence make the difference between a useful and a not-helpful tool in the tool box.  Please take your time and go into each experiment with an open mind if you try out any of these options.  Then, if the strategy still doesn’t feel right, please move on or tweak the strategy in ways to make it useful to you.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Changing Environment

Introduction

This is my first post since the cross-country move.  Before I moved, there was not a lot I could do to change my environment.  And even the parts I could control (apartment, office cubicle, etc.) felt unchangeable because of my safety fears.  I didn’t feel safe in either place to really decorate and make the spaces my own.  Because of that, there were too many reminders (smell, sound, textures, and visuals) that triggered anxiety.

Outside of my safer spaces, the houses looked similar to ones I was raised around in the suburbs or like the ones in other city neighborhoods where I lived or worked in the past.  The people who are raised in that state hardly ever leave; instead they move to different locales and neighborhoods.  That makes leaving one’s past behind especially difficult.

What makes an environment feel unsafe?

When I changed my name, I wanted to leave the northeast too.  But I needed my job and was invested in my mental health care.  Leaving without a secure job and limited resources would have been too stressful and traumatic.  My support network was still shaky too.  Making and maintaining safe connections is not as easy as life coaches and self-help books advise.  Also, with a large family like mine, it’s not easy to find a state in the US that isn’t populated with people who know or may have heard of me.

No, I’m not pretending.  Both of my parents are 1 of 6 siblings.  5 of the 6 (including my mother) had lots of kids who also spread out, got married, made friends and connections all over.  But my parents’ generation also has lots of cousins and relatives who live in many different states too.  And then there is the community aspect.  A whole city or group of cities in one state full of people who know of my past or took part in my past and have connections throughout the northeast and other states too through family, friends, work, networking, etc. took time out daily to make me feel unsafe and uncomfortable in public.

These people would talk about me, try to instigate trouble and set me up to be embarrassed or talked to by store managers.  In restaurants and stores, they disappeared and refused to serve me outright.  Or ignored me and acted rude and hostile the whole time they did serve me; with bad service and terrible food.  They verbally abused me with insults and deliberately got in my way so I missed trains or crossways.  Some used passing by as an excuse to try to physically push me around.  Shouting and arguments on streets also ensued sometimes.

During really bad times, I’d switch and let my alters take over.  Then come back to myself with cuts, bruises, sore muscles, and not knowing how I got them until the nightmares came.  That was my life growing up, living with my family as an adult, and living on my own even after my name change.  When family had keys to my apartment, I couldn’t risk having anything important because they would come in without telling me and take or destroy whatever they wanted.  After I moved, I worried about break-ins or people finding me and getting in somehow.

A change of pace

The plane landed on Thursday morning Pacific time.  Today is Sunday.  For the first time in my life, I’ve slept for more than four hours at a time without nightmares.  I still wake up, but that’s due to the new sounds and my own restlessness from jet lag.  Every day, I’ve gone out and met people; been friendly and socialized; been made fun of and insulted without getting triggered into a panic attack.

I’ve been stared at; checked out; and sized up by people of all ages, colors, religions and living situations (there are a lot of homeless around).  Each time it happened, I felt a little scared, some adrenaline, an increased hyper-vigilance, but not triggered into a panic attack or dissociation.  My mind and body went into defensive mode: changed posture, took out phone, moved purse, looked around more often, and maintained as bland a facial expression as possible.

All of this is because I feel physically and emotionally safe.  There is freedom in being able to express myself without fear of my past coming back to haunt me.

Conclusion

Environment has a large impact on emotions and the physical self.  Sometimes, the biggest triggers come from unconscious memories and sensory feelings that can’t be put into words or images.  Sometimes, a small change works miracles.  Other times, a moderate change acts as a better tool.  And for some people, drastic change is needed.

Most often, many people forget that an environment can be changed.  Not just an apartment or a house or the inside of a car, but also other physical surroundings by taking a walk or living in a small town instead of a city.

Like all other changes, making this kind of change is difficult.  But it’s worth thinking about if you, like me, are in a place where everything else in recovery seems to be going well, but something hard to pin down keeps derailing progress.

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategy from Courage Coaching

****Please share & re-blog this post to help as many others as possible**** This blog post might be useful to anybody out there who suffers with Complex PTSD, who has suffered from childhood abuse or who has a loved one who suffers with a mental illness. I have created the below charts to assist those […]

via Child abuse, Complex PTSD & managing emotional flashbacks —

Coping Strategy: Me Time

I’ve been working a lot and focusing on getting ready for my big move in a few months lately.  Money and saving for the big move; medical insurance problems; organizing how to get rid of my belongings before I move; and increased socializing; and increasing self care so I can work, sleep, cope with all of the new-to-me challenges that come with not forgetting what I remember has eaten up a lot of the time I would take for myself.

The upside to increasing self care and working more is extra money to help with my “needs” list and saving for the big move.  The downside is less sleep, more stress, increased self-care, and less time for me to do what I like during down time.  Most weekends and week days, I miss my blog deadlines because I am sleeping.  Spring time for me means wanting to be up all night and sleep all day.  Not that I understand why; it’s what my body and brain decide for me.

That means less time to go grocery shopping; cook food I enjoy; stay healthy; go out and enjoy the sun; write blog posts to share here; update the website; and so on.  It means more potential of getting sick; feeling irritable and grumpy all the time; and getting stuck in mental loops.  It means lower energy, getting sick, sleeping more, and lots of coordination problems.

It also means being less prepared for anniversaries and anniversary months like May.  This past weekend I experienced 2 anniversaries.  Today is another anniversary.  Tomorrow will be the 4th anniversary.  This weekend and next week are two more.  Memorial Day is the last anniversary this month.  If you haven’t been counting, that makes 7 anniversaries in one month.

In spite of all of this, I am going to work hard to take back some “me time” starting with going out after work today.  Maybe I won’t get a lot of groceries or buy anything special.  But I will get to walk in the sun in a pretty outfit and enjoy the evening weather.  And  I will pick up a treat for myself to go with whatever dinner I choose to make and some other foods I have been craving.  And I will finally pick up that new toilet bowl cleaner and brush that I’ve been procrastinating on.

Tomorrow I work from home again.  So my mornings will be mine; work during the day; and relax at night.  When I am in the office the next three days, “me time” will be harder to achieve.  But I’ve got some ideas brewing.

How do you enjoy your “me time”?

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategy:  grounding with truths or facts about the present

When I have a flashback, I get stuck in the past.  When I have nightmares, I feel like I am in an alternate reality.  Everything in my mind is clouded by fear.  Everything in my body is clouded by adrenaline and pain.

Sometimes I go blind during a flashback.  Sometimes I go deaf too.  Other times, my body heats up; then gets chills.  During the worst ones, all of that happens as my body cramps up and I lose control of bodily functions.  That is the fear and adrenaline alternately makeing me run (flight) and paralyze (play dead) myself to get  away from overwhelming experiences beyond my control.

At times like this, sensory grounding doesn’t help much.  I have to rely on my intelligence, trust in self, and creativity to search out facts or truths about my present.  If I can get beyond the fear and pain to the sacred vault that holds this infornation, I can use it to calm down and stop the panic.

Here are some questions my therapist started me with first time I tried it in  session:

  1. What day is it?
  2. What year is it?
  3. What month is it?
  4. What is your name?
  5. Where are you now?
  6. How old are you?
  7. Where do you live? City, street, state?
  8. Where do you work?
  9. How long have you worked there?

Here are some other questions that help me:

  1. How long have you lived at your residence?
  2. What is your favorite color?
  3. Who is your favorite cartoon character?
  4. How long have you been (insert hobby or sport here)?
  5. What is your favorite fruit?
  6. What color is the sky

So many lists of questions can be made depending on the person’s life and activities.  Sometimes I state facts I know to be true about myself and my life if questions are too hard to come up with.  Here are some examples:

  • My name is….
  • I am _ years old
  • I was born in _
  • I have 87 alternate personalities
  • We are 88 in our system
  • I am safe; you are safe; we are safe
  • The monsters are not part of my life anymore
  • I am financially stable

It feels and sounds a lot like mantras and affirmations, yes?  The biggest difference here is that instead of saying something I want to be true, I am reminding myself of who I am now.  And the energy gets redirected from fear and adrenaline to cognitive thinking.  My system calms down.  And the panic attack symtpoms decrease as the adrenaline stops.

It works great coming out of nightmares and in busy, crowded public places too.  How and where else can it work?  I guess the versatility depends on how one applies the strategy.

Coping Strategies: Quotes, Affirmations & subscriptions

  
I saw this quote on my Facebook feed today.  It sparked hope and joy inside of me in spite of the overhwelming numbness that takes over when the nightmares and anxiety subside.

Most times, I am not fond of subscriptions.  The volume and content annoy me even though O want to be part of whatever I subscribed to.  Maybe it is triggering too.  Being part of something…even a club or professional group…is difficult.  But Web of Benefit is different. 

But this quote, it got me dreaming again.  I always wanted to fly.  And lately, my past has been bogging me down with fear and insecurity. Taking a risk or two seems less interesting than it did before.  And that is not me.

Yes, I like to be well informed and have backup strategies in place before I make a choice, but I still make the choice and do something.

So I hope this affirmation or quote or whatever you want to call it helps you fly too.

Coping Strategies: Internal Multitasking Part 2

Summary of Part 1

In Part 1, we provided examples of situations, conflicts, coping challenges, coping strategies, and possible solutions for addressing triggers and anxiety in the whole DID system.  Many of the strategies were combinations of coping techniques previously discussed on the blog.  Some were new and probably scary-sounding to readers.  Either way, it was a lot of information condensed into one post.

The main point of that post was: sometimes coping challenges require us to step outside of our comfort zones and be brave in order to find calm again.  That means observing the internal struggle like a third party and finding ways to address each trigger on its own.

When people say “multitasking isn’t possible; scientific research…”

We don’t know about you or anyone else who visits here, but the quote above is one of our most hated ones.  Too often, people would tell us to stop, slow down, do one at a time.  Multitasking makes things worse not better.  And how can we tell those educators or family members or co-workers, etc. that we are doing one at a time?  To someone with DID, multitasking is each part working on a single task.  We just happen to occupy one body and appear to be doing multiple tasks at the same time.

In that sense, finding a coping strategy to help each alter in the system when all of us are overwhelmed makes sense right?  And if this coping strategy requires mental and emotional energy (read imagination and feelings) instead of physical energy (body-related activities), then everyone has a chance to find their calm center while also allowing our physical and spiritual parts time to sleep, relax, energize, and find their calm centers too.

Please understand that we are not promoting permanent separation of alters in a system.  Nor are we devaluing the idea of integration at any level.  Instead, we are advocating for us alters to work within our current situation to promote cooperation, collaboration, and semi-integration so that our mind, body, and spirit help each other instead of working against each other during triggering situations.  It is not always possible.

In fact, sometimes we are our own worst enemies because none of us want to hurt or burden the others with our pain when it gets overwhelming.  Therapy and life are teaching us that sharing the pain and the burden with each other helps us more because we can stand together and support each other when one falls.

Ever heard of the quote “Different Strokes for different folks”?

Each of us is similar and different.  We are different ages, genders, and types of living beings.  And we have different needs at different times.  That is why self-care and self-soothing can be so difficult.  How to address the needs of many over a set period of time?  And this quote reminds us to be open-minded and allow for multiple options during a session of multiple coping strategies.

 

Coping Strategy: Internal Multitasking Part 1

Today is the last day of the new year.  For some it’s a cause to celebrate.  For others it’s a cause to do anything and everything possible to distract from internal storms.

My alters and I prefer to be home in the quiet and safety of our apartment with books and cooking and our bed nearby.  By the last day in December, we’re exhausted from coping with the unique challenges that come from living in the same state as our perpetrators.

5 times in the past 4 weeks, we have encountered people from the past while shopping and doing errands.  Each of those individuals verbally abused and harassed or stalked us until we left the store or wherever we were at the time.  And each one brought on backlash and other consequences that required creative coping strategies and help from external resources.

And what I discovered was that a multitasking approach to coping helped a lot more than trying to have all alters use the same coping strategy.  Different coping strategies for different alters to use at the same time.  Here is the example:

Situation: everyone is triggered into flashbacks and overwhelming feelings because an individual tried to publicly humiliate us in a store and then bait us into acting like the raging crazy person (as happened in the past with parents and sibling).

Resolution: Swtiching alternate personalities so that the alter with the most useful skills was in charge of the body,voice, mind, etc. and interacted with the perpetrator in a polite, civil, assertive manner.  Used DBT skills here.

Aftermath: Child parts got triggered into feeling one way.  Adolescent parts got triggered into feeling another way.  Adult parts got triggered into feeling something or nothing at all (maybe in between?).  Different memories and emotions are brought back to consciousness for each alter.  Each of us reacts to the memories and feelings in a different way.

Coping Challenge: One coping strategy does not work for all alters.  They/we resist being told to use the same one together to cope because that strategy is not universally helpful.  Child alters feel suspicious and hypervigilant; watching everyone else for signs of stress or anxiety and aggresssively refusing to calm down or relax.  Adolescent parts feel unsafe and confused.  They are frozen and unsure how to react or who to trust; fight or flight is next.  Adults are numb.  And then comes the explosion of anger and shame; it is directed internally and externally scaring all of us into a state of confusion.

Resolution: Call hotline and ask for help figuring out different coping techniques that work for different age groups.  3 to 5 ideas get chosen from everything discussed.  One that the child parts are comfortable using.  One for the adolescents to try.  One for the adults.  One they can all use together if they feel like it.  And one that is a safety plan for anyone to use if he or she needs extra help.  A strategy made up of techniques tailored for them to use alone or in groups.

Child coping technique: imagine an adult and a child sitting together quietly.  Both love each other and feel safe together.  The adult slowly brushes a hand against the child’s forehead, stroking down past the temple as if brushing hair away.  Both sit and breathe quietly with the adult continuing this motion until the child relaxes.  Thanks to the BARCC hotline counselor for this visualization

Adolescent coping technique: The adolsecents are trapped in a dark, windowless room.  Black inside.  The walls are made of brick.  Only sounds are like those from a wind storm.  Every once in a while, a bright colorful light bursts in only to fade away.  On the other side of the wall are all of the memories, feelings, thoughts, experiences they need to help them understand the howling sounds in the room.  So they each take a brick and remove it from the wall.  Holding the brick, he or she says: “Thank you for keeping me safe when I needed you.  It’s time to go home.  Good bye” and repeats this until the brick dissolves.  Then the alters take another brick and repeat until the walls are gone.  The lights and sounds mix together, swirling around the room until they integrate and leave behind the stuff that doesn’t belong.  The integrated parts go back to being memories.  The stuff that doesn’t belong gets sucked out by a black hole.

Adult coping technique: Visualizing a safe place to sit with emotions and observe our own feelings.  Our place is a forest near a cliff that looks down to the ocean.  Between the forest and the cliff is a grassy meadow with some shrubs and tall rocks perfect for sitting.  There are birds and animals up there.  A path leads down the cliff to the beach and the ocean.  On the beach are large boulders for climbing and sitting too.  The air smells like salt from the ocean, ozone from a recent rain storm, and living plants/flowers.  I can hear the breeze, the waves crashing against each other, dogs splashing and barking in the distance.  The sun is just rising turning the skies multiple colors.  And the adults sit there or walk or practice martial arts/yoga/etc. alone or in groups until we feel calm and safe again.

All the while, our physical body is sitting or lying down in a comfortable position.  Our eyes are closed.  We appear sleeping or meditating to the outside world.  When instead, all 88 of us are actively working on different versions of the techniques listed above at the same time.

We hope this strategy can be adapted to help others and are grateful for all of the wonderful counselors on the hotline and for support from our regular therapist who taught us the basic lessons to help us create strategies like this.

Happy New Year from all of us here.