DID Posts: Working through food issues with my alters

Background

Something not often mentioned is that different alters (or parts) have different experiences in the same body.  It’s why doctors and medical professionals could have trouble diagnosing illnesses or interpreting lab tests.  Or why nurses have trouble finding veins to take blood or give IVs.  This can even explain why one person can be sick with the flu, but not exhibit any physical symptoms except through a blood test.  Sometimes, it also changes physical appearance and healing rates.

Personal Experience

For me, some of my alter personalities don’t have to eat.  Other alter personalities (mostly my child parts) love eating meat, dairy, poultry, fish/seafood, and eggs (aka animal products) because they bring back good memories with family.  Most of my adolescent and adult alter personalities (me included) prefer a nutrient-focused, vegetarian or vegan (whole foods, plant based) eating style.  None of us really enjoy eating processed or fast food except for a treat once in a while; usually it tastes too salty, too sweet, or too much like chemicals.

The nutrient-focused, whole foods path works because plants are easy for our body to digest, bring a variety of pleasurable flavors & textures to meals, and are fun to cook.  Eating animal products and even some processed foods

  • When I eat meat and animal products, the vegetarian and vegan alters don’t get involved in digesting those meals.
  • When I eat plant based meals, everyone except the alters who don’t eat help with digestion.
  • My child parts and adolescent parts (up to mid-twenties probably) were anorexic and still struggle with triggers and the possibility of relapse.
  • My adult parts struggle with weight fluctuations and finding a diet with a label that helps the system stay healthy, tastes good, and limits potential triggers and small lapses.
  • We all struggle with making good food and hydration choices about 4-5 times a year when these triggers appear.  Past experiences with shaming and lack of support make this more difficult than it has to be.

The Challenge

Right now, the challenge is maintaining an interest in eating and hydrating.  I feel frustrated with my food options and hydration options.  I do not feel hungry or thirsty or interested in eating.  And by “I”, I mean everyone in my system.  No one wants to cook or get delivery or visit a restaurant or purchase takeout.

The first internal conflict: is the choice to eat mostly plant-based, whole foods style

  1.  rebellion against family
  2.  the beginning of a relapse for anorexia
  3. A personal choice that makes everyone in the system happy?

The second internal conflict: is the choice to animal products

  1. A self-harm compulsion triggered by obsessive thoughts about having to eat according to family and cultural/societal rules
  2. A self-harm compulsion to hurt myself and make myself sick as punishment for feeling happy and getting healthier
  3. A personal choice that makes the minor discomfort manageable because it helps younger alter personalities feel grounded and connected to happier times?

Side note: I use hydrating because “drinking” can sometimes trigger negative feelings – something I hope to avoid for any guests who read this post – or be misinterpreted.  Maybe it’s over-explaining, but that distinction is as much for my benefit as it is for the readers’ benefit.

Epiphany

Part 1

The first week after my dental surgery, I ate 100% whole foods, plant based meals.  With the exception of serious gas and constipation issues from the anesthesia and first few days of antibiotics, my digestion was fine.  I am grateful for acupuncture and food medicine for that turnaround.  What surprised me most was:

  1. how great I felt physically in spite of the pain
  2. how emotionally stable I felt in spite of the triggering experiences
  3. how rapidly my body healed with minimal pain killers with lots of rest & minimal activity
  4. how well I slept in spite of the pain and anxiety that came from flashbacks and food triggers
  5. the root of my food triggers centered around
  6. fear that this choice is based on PTSD food fears and anorexia nervosa relapse symptoms
  7. food and diet shaming
  8. lack of support from past medical and mental health professionals along with family members and friends

Part 2

  1. all alter parts feeling frustrated by these conflicting internal thoughts and feelings
  2. fear that that each time I ate animal products was giving into self-harm compulsions because of obsessive internal thoughts
  3. we all justified eating those meals as experiments to help child alters understand and experience the negative reaction our body has to eating animal products
  4. helping our system make peace with the conflict by explaining that eating animal products is fine as long as we are willing to accept the consequences – gas, constipation, slow digestion, nausea/stomachaches, backaches, lethargy – for a limited time
  5. acknowledging that the frustration stems from wanting to cook and eat a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle 90% of the time
  6. acknowledging that nothing is being excluded – we can eat animal products & processed food any time as long as we are willing to feel physically ill for a little while afterwards
  7. Alcohol is not included here because it’s in a different category – none of us like the taste of alcohol, but we do enjoy drinking once in a while with close friends.
    1. Problem is: we metabolize alcohol fast like with most other drugs and get drunk really easily.
    2. So 1 alcoholic beverage drunk over an hour = a drunk me for about 2-3 hours.  Then I’m fine except for the hangover headache.  If I fall asleep within the 2-3 hours, I wake up hungover.
    3. Very perplexing and makes drinking hard to enjoy…
  8. Processed foods are something I happily live without most of the time because they do not satisfy my hunger anymore.  When I do make an exception, it’s because of a craving for comfort food.  And then we all can enjoy the treat.

Conclusion

I and everyone in my system feel conflicted still.  It’s going to take a long time to sort out.  This time around, though, I have a mental health and a medical professional supporting me in the transition.  I also have many friends who support me as I try to stay healthy and make good coping strategy choices.

With knowledge comes power to make informed choices.  With trust comes the benefit of a real support network that can/will/does lift me up when I fall, encourage me when I doubt myself, and kick my ass when needed.  As for coping strategies, I’m not sure what to try or what will work.  If I find anything that helps, I will share in a future post.

If any of you are struggling with food choices, food addiction, or an eating disorder, I encourage you to learn more about different kinds of nutrition and diets, explore eating styles, and ask lots of questions.  Then (and I know this can be triggering) if you feel ready, listen to your body and how it feels before, during, and after you eat or hydrate.  My body always finds a way to tell me if it likes or dislikes something; maybe yours will too.

Thanks for reading

DID Posts: Missing my book collection

With memories coming back and alters being more active, I miss my physical book collection.  Many of the books I kept are about DID and dissociation.  They helped fill in the information gaps between visits to my therapist.  The books also helped me be able to explain some issues to people at work so that I could get accommodation and assistance with communication problems.

But I had to leave them with family last summer.  My apartment was too small, and I didn’t plan in advance – needed more boxes to ship the books – well enough.  No one in  the system thought it would be too big an issue.  We felt safe and stable enough to not have those resources at hand.  And there are many more bookstores where I live now than where I lived before.

Should have been easy to borrow from the library or find a book to read at a bookstore, correct?  Well, not so much when the topic is Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I found some books from the library.

But now I’m having trouble reading them.

Not sure what’s holding me back.

But maybe (I hope) this weekend I will get to one of them.

Thanks for reading.

 

DID Post: Different Parts; Different Symptoms to Address

CAVEAT

This will not be an in-depth post.  Goal here is to explain that not all alters experience all  of the same symptoms at the same time or ever with examples from our system.  The adults and teens are searching the memory banks, but no one can remember exactly which book or news article or blog post we read that explains this phenomenon in layman’s terms.  Finding and confirming the source may take a while.

This is a very big topic with multiple layers.

It will probably be explored as part of different DID posts, PTSD posts, Alter Posts, and Life Changing Moments posts.  If you are ever in doubt about POV or tone, you are welcome to leave a comment and ask for clarification.  Writing with alters can be tricky to navigate and consistently use the correct tone of voice, grammar, point-of-view, etc. for the guests without getting confused or awkward in the flow of writing.  It’s also a pain to organize multiple POVs in 1,500 words (Maximum of 2,000) or less.

Why is this important to understand?

To the outside world, I am one person with a set of symptoms and co-curring disorders that make up the complex PTSD diagnosis.  As such, I (the whole person) experience all of the symptoms below.

In truth, I am 1 person made up of 88 alternate personalities.  About 20 of these personalities maintain control of our system (aka parenting, basic wellness care, interacting with the outside world, ensuring basic needs are met).  Not all of us experience the same kind or severity of symptoms even though all of us feel body pain and physical symptoms to different degrees.  This is because not every one of us alternate personalities has every symptom and disorder on the list.

Confusing and scary, yes?  Or no?

A List of Symptoms and Co-Curring Disorders related to the Complex PTSD and DID:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Body Memories
  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Fear related to crowds and feeling trapped
  • Dissociation
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Phobias – spiders; agoraphobia; bathrooms, pools/oceans/swimming; slugs/caterpillars/flies and other insects that leave trails of slime, silk, sound in the environment; the dark; falling down
  • Fainting/passing out
  • Severe body pain
  • Insomnia, restless sleep, disordered sleeping, nightmares, night sweats, night terrors, sleep walking
  • Flashbacks, deja vu, and related fugues
  • Shame/guilt/anger/self-harm/emotional overload

Some examples:My child alters experienced the most abuse and have all of the symptoms above.  But they struggle with utilizing coping strategies because the shame is embedded so deep in them.  The disordered eating started young with neglect, got worse with diets, and became full-blown anorexia by 6 or 7 years old.  But they don’t understand body pain or menstruation – any kind of physical pain scares them and reminds them of abuse.

My teen alters experienced less physical abuse (thank you for the martial arts training), but more physical and non-physical sexual abuse in the form of inappropriate visuals/touching/talk and body shaming.  Many of them have the worst body image issues and eating problems.  They have a hard time accepting our body.  The physical pain is acknowledged, but hard to cope with – triggers self-harm, starvation/restriction, suicidal thoughts, etc. to numb it out.

The adult alters experienced mostly verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, shaming, isolation, public humiliation, silent treatment/shunning, emotional blackmail, bullying (all alters experienced this, but not like adults), and stalking to  isolate and remove opportunities to move forward.  They experience the most body pain and have the best resources to cope with it.  But their ways of coping are not always useful or helpful because they do not address the needs of teens and children to learn how to acknowledge, accept, and cope with physical pain or the accompanying triggers and flashbacks.

Female alters have trouble coping with the pain related to menstruation because of memories related to specific punishments for any talk or overt physical changes that took place during puberty.

Male alters have trouble with body image and sexuality because of the sexual abuse and gender misdirection during childhood.  Females and males sexually abused our body/self.  They also liked to physically abuse our body during the sexual encounters.  Mom kept trying to convince daughter she was a boy and adopted throughout childhood.  Many non-incestuous sexual and physical abuse experiences also happened in a quasi-religious/cult environment with drugs and alcohol involved.

And the non-human alters hold most of the negative feelings like aggression, anger, guilt, sorrow, and of course shame.  Their first response is: a) fold up and disappear; and b) lash out and hurt/defend/protect with violence.  They also hold the internalized messages from abusers and struggle with hearing the voices, obeying compulsions, obsessive thoughts, and reality testing.

Conclusion

When I and my alters get triggered, we all experience a range of flashbacks, anxiety, and symptoms.  One strategy does not work for everything – not even grounding or self-soothing or meditation.  Sometimes one strategy can help take the edge off of the worst of the symptoms for everyone in the short-term.  But that strategy will not work in the long-term or even feel helpful sometimes.

As alters learn to trust and communicate with self and each other, they find ways to “tell” what kinds of coping strategies will help, what kinds will make the symptoms worse, and what ones they are unsure about.  Having one body with so many different needs to address can be difficult.  That is why many of the strategies and techniques here are mental and emotional based instead of physical.

With imagination and creativity, many alters can learn to use, utilize, and/or adapt the coping strategies and techniques on their own or in groups on the inside while the ones “in charge” and maintaining life on the “outside” are working, walking, shopping, interacting with others, etc.  That’s what we do, and it allows us to function better in the outside world.

I hope maybe some of this can help others struggling to understand and cope with the internal confusion that sometimes comes with unexpected and expected triggers/anniversaries/symptoms.

Thank you for reading.

DID Post: Using the whole/parts theory of personality to facilitate coping

What is whole/parts theory?

I am almost positive that this is the incorrect name for the actual psychological theory, but “whole/parts theory” is how I and my alters (aka parts) remember it.

This theory is based on the belief that a human personality/identity is made up of many parts, or characteristics/thoughts/feelings/beliefs, that work together to create the complete individual.  This is how one person can have conflicting wants and needs or trouble making a decision.

Some Examples: 

  • Person A hates romantic movies, but really likes the actor playing the lead in a new romance in the theaters.  Does he go or not go?
  • Person B is invited to go out with her friends on the same day she normally visits her cousins to go fishing.  What does she choose?
  • Person C is popular and girly, but loves working on cars and motorcycles with her father.
  • Person D is in college; he wears lots of leather and chains, rides a motorcycle, is pre-med, and is a member of the student government.
  • Person E is asked out on a date by someone she really likes, but her parents told her she isn’t allowed to date yet.  Does she say no or sneak out to go on the date?
  • Person F is a geek who really enjoys anything related to computers, but he is also a great Rugby player and plays for the local team.

How does this relate to DID?

By using the whole/parts theory and the tree metaphor, I have a frame of reference to use in understanding what kinds of coping strategies and techniques will support different alters and our system as a whole.

To the outside world, I am one person with one body and one personality/identity.  It is relatively homogenous, but people who know me well, know that I am a bit eccentric and quirky too.  Coping strategies that help all of us work through system wide triggers (aka anxiety or panic in the outside world) are like safety blankets that comfort and help all of the systems while not completely addressing the root cause or primary trigger.

This is true for me because the primary trigger resides with a single alter or a group of alters in our system.  One alter gets triggered, and that causes a domino effect in the rest of the system.  We have safety protocols and coping strategies to help in times like these, but they are a stopgap to help until we get home or to a safe place where the alters can come out and utilize individual coping strategies to help with specific symptoms and triggers unique to their experiences.

That is where the “parts” part of the theory comes in handy.  To our internal world, we are 88 unique personalities who make up the identity of a single person.  We work together and cooperate to ensure every part is heard, accepted, valued and included in the choices we make as a person to the outside world.  “Every part in exactly the right place” to paraphrase my therapist.  Part of my need for and love of solitude comes from being an introvert.  The rest comes from needing extra time to help parts of myself struggling with the past and present cope with the trauma effectively and safely.

And since each alter carries a unique piece of the trauma history, he/she/it needs to utilize different strategies from others during the same panic attack, moment of anxiety, etc.  One alter at a time can be in charge of our body.  But every one of us feels the pain and memories when our body is triggered.  We experience the pain differently and have different memories surface.

How do we all use different coping strategies when inside one body?

That is a work in progress.  But here are some tried and true tips that have worked over the past year and a half:

  • Listen to your alters with ALL of your senses.  Some may speak, but most do not.  I can tell the difference between memories and alters because my memories ONLY speak, but my alters prefer sending pictures, movies, cards, notes, dance routines, songs, food, lyrics, stuffed animals, etc. to communicate their thoughts and feelings
  • Use a ?? for any questions; try sending images at first – they tend to be easier for some alters, especially child ones, to understand
  • If and when you do try and “let all of the alters out”, make sure you are in a safe place and either sitting or lying down.  I personally prefer lying down and closing my eyes; it lowers the chances of my getting dizzy or accidentally falling out of the chair.
  • When trying grounding or self-soothing (aka comforting yourself) techniques, pay attention to the sensations and feelings or avoidance of both.  Usually that is how alters express positive, neutral, and negative responses to a coping strategy or technique
  • Sometimes you have to be the parent or responsible parent-like figure in your system.  That’s okay because healthy boundaries make alters feel safer the same way children feel safer.

Conclusion

DID is confusing and scary.  Not many therapists are willing to work with someone who has DID, let alone try outside of the box strategies.  I am lucky because my therapist does specialize in DID and has helped me feel confident in pushing the boundaries of “acceptable” coping strategies.

Not everyone’s experience of DID is like mine, so please read with an open mind and only try out suggestions that have meaning for you.

Thanks for Reading

DID Post: What does my internal system look like?

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I haven’t written much about DID lately.  That is because my alters and I have been quietly working on internal strategies related to communication and organization.  We’ve been creating a map of where everyone lives and trying to establish coping strategies to help with shame and backlash that comes from self-expression and communication related to switching.  This way, even when alters go away for alone time or get lost, they have a way to find home again.

My first DID homework

After my therapist finally admitted to me that I had DID and why she didn’t tell me sooner, she gave me a homework assignment.  It was a long-term, multipart project that ended up taking months.

The assignment: identify my alters and map out what the system looked like visually.

My first attempt identified 20 alter personalities and looked like an idea map (brainstorming tool) of bubbles.  The next one had 60 alters and looked like a flow chart.  Finally, a flow chart and idea map became a spider web.  But no one inside liked that version.  For almost a year, I believed our system topped out at 60 alters, including me.  But then I started hearing a voice speaking in Spanish.  And another two or three played songs related to how they felt.  Many sent pictures or movies.

In fact, 80 alters showed up for the next roll call.

By now, we’d stopped trying to map out the ever-changing landscape and trying to identify the alters with names.  No one had a concrete visual of safe spaces.  And many alters changed their names as they grew and changed through the recovery process.  When I explained this to my therapist, she agreed to put this exercise aside and concentrate on other parts of IFS therapy.

2014 is the year I legally changed my name and finally started to feel safe.  It’s also the year our last 7 alters appeared to the system.  They appeared just after I re-read a book called Amongst Ourselves and started reading/listening to Pema Chodron’s books about fear, courage, and compassion.  And that’s when I realized we were coming at the homework assignment from the wrong perspective.  Instead of going back to our roots (pun intended) and looking for a nature-based metaphor, we had been using logical tools to draw a reasonable representation of an ever-changing, chaotic landscape.

What our internal system looks like

My internal system looks like a bent, twisted, stunted tree with a short trunk and many strong branches that extend in every direction instead of a straight, tall one with a strong trunk and perfect horizontal branches.  Our underground root system is deep and strong like any other tree, but visually, we look different from maples and pines and cedars, etc.  More like an oversized bush that got lifted during a wind storm and continued growing.  Or maybe like a bamboo that a got knotted and twisted into various shapes before continuing to grow to maturity.

IMG_7080  This tree reminds me of the knotted bamboo metaphor above.  I wrote the first draft of this post before finding the photo, but decided not to change either description.  It’s not often I find a mature tree that represents my internal family so well.

But this is important to us because with switching and communication comes a giant helping of shame and self-hatred.  For too many years, we all were taught not to communicate with each other, not to work together.  And when caught, we were abused even more – many of my alters are mouthy and assertive.  They speak their minds and do not hold back.  This was seen as rebellion and defiance; two actions that caused any and all perpetrators to escalate their tactics in order to shut everyone down again.

So you probably will be seeing more posts about DID and coping strategies we use to help with anxiety induced switching, panic attacks, shame, and other triggers.

You will also see a few posts about mindfulness and meditation as relates to trauma and recovery.

Thanks for reading.