EMBRACE DIFFERENCES

Writing & Blogging: Guest Comment from 6/14/2020

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

First off I want to say excellent blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Thank you!

Guest Commenter found in SPAM on 6/14/2020

Once in a while, I get a guest comment that is both similar and different to others about writing and blogging. It sparks my curiosity and gets me thinking about my writing process so that maybe I can answer the question.

In this case, the question also involves coping strategies for focus, anxiety, or writer’s block. Maybe it will also answer some other guest comments with similar questions. Everyone’s writing process is different and unique to them. But here is my strategy.

Free Writing

My mind is often full of thoughts and writing ideas. In the middle of the night, my alter personalities share ideas with everyone. But I don’t remember them the next morning. They come back when inspiration strikes, during meditation, or as I practice some free writing.

Most common example is Word Association style. Pick a word at random. Write down the first thing that comes to mind. Then continue writing about it until you feel more relaxed – i.e. the words start to flow easily.

Then go back to the topic you want to write about and try the same exercise.

There are other options for free writing exercises. Maybe try a few others to see what works best for you.

Refocus Your Thoughts

Sometimes, my thoughts are scattered and confusing as I sit down to write. Usually because there is something distracting me. Other times because I feel scared about the topic and am avoiding it. Once in a while, the anxiety overwhelms me and fear blocks the writing.

I use grounding and distraction coping strategies when this happens. Meditation and deep breathing may help, but it won’t stop the other ideas and so on bouncing around in my mind fighting to get out. Maybe this is true for you as well.

When you use a grounding technique (and no it does not have to be sensory grounding), you are bringing yourself out of wherever you were and into the present moment. The moment where you write about a specific topic.

Some other grounding techniques:

  • Remembering facts about yourself (birthdate, graduation date, parent’s first name, last name, etc.)
  • Remembering facts about the day: specific date (June 28, 2020), specific day of the week (Sunday), location (living room), time of day and so on
  • Remembering life milestones: college graduation 2004, first real job, 2006, first decade of recovery 2014, move across country 2016, and so on.

When you use a distraction, you have the opportunity to let out all the other stuff in your mind before you start writing. It’s a way to express whatever is stopping you from wiring about a specific topic.

Some quick distractions:

  • Practice a hobby: get creative and choose something that allows you to express yourself. Often, I get distracted by emotions or memories or associations my mind makes with the topic. So finding a way to express them helps
  • Make a drink or a snack and use it as a mindfulness exercise before you write. And if you don’t want to eat or drink, find something else you can use for a mindfulness exercise to clarify your thoughts
  • Get up and move: physical activity releases endorphins and helps you feel more connected to all parts of yourself. You also get the benefit of self expression here too. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy as long as it feels right to you
  • Change your location or routine. Try writing somewhere else or at a different time of day or different day of the week.

Be Kind to Yourself

Give yourself a break. Writing is difficult business, vocation, passion – whatever you want to call it. Lots of people have opinions about “how to write” and “what makes a writer” or even “how to be a writer/better writer”. They are both correct and incorrect because what works for them, might not work for you.

Maybe the 10-15 minutes you spend writing about other topics is part of your writing process. It’s how you clear your mind so that you can focus on your topic.

You can experiment with that idea by extending and shortening your dedicated writing time. Add 10-15 minutes. Try free writing. Then turn to a new page and start on your topic. Or end your writing time early.

Remember that you are a writer and successful because you put in the hard work to practice and improve your craft. Congratulate yourself for being where you are now and for how hard you work to be a writer.

Remember not to be so hard on yourself either. That is something I constantly struggle with because there is only so much in a day that:

  • I want to do
  • I need to do
  • I can do
Personal Story example:

I have a goal to write one blog post a week for my new blog and continue writing weekly posts here in between aromatherapy/herbal studies experiments, work, getting my business started, and self care.

But last week, I didn’t have anything to write about for my new blog.

This week, I don’t have anything to write about either because my experiments are still in progress. My rose petal and chamomile infused oil will not be ready until next week. The elderberry infused honey has 3 more weeks to macerate. I’m still testing the “soothe my skin” healing salve with homemade arnica infused oil to help with pain and scars.

And the conflict is: maintain my schedule by writing something low quality and maybe not useful. Or skip some deadlines until I have results and something interesting/useful to write about to create high quality content.

I’ve decided to skip a few deadlines so that I can deliver quality content with photos.

Conclusion

The ideas above are some ways I work through the focus problem as I write. The rest of it is simply this: first drafts are always messy and never reflect the final product – at least for me. So I give myself a break when writing something new.

When I am continuing on something I started a while ago, I will re-read and review what I wrote before to remind myself of what’s already been written.

But to be completely honest, I am not sure if my main strategy will help you at all. You see, my alter personalities do a lot of the writing for this blog. They compose many articles and so on inside my mind without ever putting anything in writing form. They do all the revising and drafting, etc. inside my mind.

Then, everyone decides what gets written down and published here. I/we type up the post in WordPress and then do some light editing/proofreading to catch the major stuff.

And publish the article as is. Whatever errors, etc. you find here are all ours.

So, if you have alter personalities and coexist peacefully with them, maybe consider letting them have a journal (or a few journals) and tools to express themselves before you start the rest of your writing. And if you don’t have alter personalities, it’s always a good idea to express whatever is going on inside to help you relax and focus on your topic.

Because feeling relaxed, confident, and present are the best tools to help you focus and concentrate on a task.

Thanks for reading.

Safe, Respectful, Assertive Communication Grid

Alter Post: Being Assertive & Defending Oneself with Kindness + Honesty and a dash of stubborn

I decided to write about trauma-informed care on Scent Reflections, so here is the link if you’re interested.

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Okay, now all the warnings are in place. You can continue reading or visit another time. I’ve written about Mother’s Day and anniversaries before, so thought I’d share something different this time. You can read about how my alters are learning to use DBT and protect our system (their preferred job) to protect and defend against hostile, rude, triggering, or aggressive people.

Read More »

Coping Challenge: Grief and the movie “Groundhog Day”

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Grief

Every February – March, I experience crushing amounts of grief about my past. People who have died. People I’ve lost in other ways. People who lost me. Experiential loss – failed achievements, shameful experiences, guilt, and so on. It almost always happened between February and March; sometimes as late as April.

For many years (decades really), I would go through the year and do what was necessary or required of me; then wake up one morning and feel like a blank slate – happy and looking forward to life instead of sad and confused. I had a routine that did not change much. But anything new or interesting that happened before the “wake-up” was lost. I would make friends and forget them. I would make plans and not follow through because I didn’t remember making the plans. And I would learn skills, but then not remember how to use them months, weeks, years, or days/hours/minutes later.

It was scary and felt shameful – another secret to keep from everyone – not something I could explain to the adults in my life. But it did earn me a reputation with my teachers and lots of time with the special education department instructors.

Odd part about this: even though my mind and cognitive memory could not remember or do the tasks, my body and muscle memory did remember and could do the tasks as long as I used “instinct” instead of logic.

Later on as an adult in trauma-informed therapy, I realized that the “instinct” was actually letting my alter personalities take control of my body to accomplish the tasks. They remembered the lessons and the practice. They could do what I could not. In school, though, my alters rarely showed themselves or got involved in day-to-day activities. They understood their place much better than I did.

The sense of loss and failure combined with teasing from peers and instructors crushed me so often that I started to avoid competitions and learning anything interesting.

What was the point if I tried and tried only to forget and fail every time?

And so my teen and college years went through this cycle every year. The ignorance of this pattern continued until 2011/2012 when I decided to try working with a dog trainer to self train a service animal to help with the PTSD. You (and I thought so too) would think it’s hard to forget all the love, care, training, and work and time spent with a puppy over 4 months, yes?

Well I did forget. I literally woke up one Saturday morning and couldn’t remember anything the pup and I worked on together. I couldn’t remember his favorite treats or games. I couldn’t remember writing a blog or notes in a notebook. I am lucky I remembered the dog and his name; at one point I might have forgotten the pup’s name too.

And as I tried to remember working with the pup, I started to realize how much other stuff I had forgotten too. Work-related tasks and achievements. Bills to pay. Plans made. Grocery shopping. Appointments. Memories with friends and acquaintances. And how something similar happened every year and often caused problems at work that I couldn’t explain, especially in the last few years working for the same company with the same people.

It was one heck of a wake up call.

p.s. The pup ended up having serious digestive problems and was re-homed to a loving family with a large back yard and the time/money to give him the life he deserved. And I learned that it’s not safe to live with beings who depend on me until I get my s**t together.

Groundhog Day – the 1992 movie with Bill Murray

Hans Haase / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) from Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1992, when I was 10 years old, there was a time travel movie called “Groundhog Day”. It was a grown up drama/comedy that I didn’t really understand or remember; not even when I re-watched one weekend as a bored teen. Still don’t understand a lot and am not interested in re-watching to get all the details.

What I do remember (and this is why it sticks in my memory) is that the main character (played by Bill Murray) had an awful day – that just happened to be Groundhog Day – and went to bed wishing he could do it all over again. So he wakes up the next day. Starts his routine. And realizes part way through he is re-living the events of Groundhog Day. Over. And over. And over again. Until the main character gets frustrated enough to reflect on what could be keeping him locked in a time loop and how to get out of it.

Eventually, the main character resolves the conflict keeping him in the time loop by making changes in his life and interactions with the people around him. How he does it and what those changes are, I don’t remember. All I do remember is feeling queasy and anxious whenever I thought about the movie. That continued until I got really frustrated a few years ago and looked up the movie on the internet. Once I read the description and watched the preview, the connection clicked.

I finally had words to describe what I was feeling and going through to my counselor. And something concrete to use as an analogy for the counselor. And for me too. Some of my best coping strategies come from reading books and watching movies. Being 2013/2014 when I finally looked up the movie and shared it with the counselor, we had been working for about 3-4 years by then. She had observed this happening every year and waited for me to bring it up. Once I did, we began working together to create plans and strategies to manage this recurring event.

Hope Arrives in 2019; continues in 2020

2019 was the first year I did not wake up sometime between February and April with significant memory loss or some other manifestation of grief that left me injured, impaired, or triggered in some way. I experienced the grief and felt the depression that wasn’t really depression. Expressing it safely was not as easy, but no one got hurt either. I didn’t lose weight. My physical and emotional health stayed relatively stable.

Instead, my body memories erupted as a rash that lasted months. When not experiencing the rash, other parts of me stopped feeling numb. I looked fatter from bloating and puffiness around certain muscle groups, but did not gain weight from it. Pain increased. Energy and the need to move did too. Luckily, my current counselor, Chinese medicine practitioners, and primary health physician were/are aware of these changes and helped me cope.

Having my parents and other relatives back in my life and being supportive helped too. That continues to help in many different ways.

Now, in March 2020, I recognized the signs of grief when they started last weekend and have been doing my best to cope with them. So far the only major crisis was exploding the plastic lotion bottles when I tried to get soap (made myself and poured in) out of them multiple times in the week. That resulted in having to clean and rinse the pumps; then put them back together and onto the lotion bottles. Funny – yes. The next part, not so much.

Water got stuck in the pump parts and contaminated the soap blends I made. And since I made them with soap, essential oils, and aloe vera gel (a water-based carrier), mold and fungus grew at the bottom of both containers after 5 days. Yes 2 containers because I made a hand soap and a shower gel. So, after examining the bottoms of each container a few days ago and seeing the white strands floating up from the bottom, I dumped out the soap; rinsed the containers too.

Now, they are waiting to be recycled because I don’t trust myself using the containers again. Not after I caused the pumps to pop off and the pieces to come apart after trying to pump soap through the mechanism multiple times.

If that pump exploding experience is the worst that happens this year, I will be so grateful. If not, well, I’m trying not to fall into anticipation and catastrophic thinking. Not easy, mind you. But I’m trying. And succeeding sometimes.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: The Struggle to Trust Myself (all parts of me)

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Reflecting on a Different Perspective

Last week I shared a post about counseling as a tool and coping technique on Scent Reflections, but did not go into details about personal use. That kind of story is more suite to this safe space.

Either way, the inspiring post got me thinking about how and why I continue to go to therapy with a trauma specialist. Is the relationship a co-dependent one? And if so, how can that be changed? If not, what kind of dependent relationship is it? And how can I become more independent?

You see, there comes a time in my recovery when the therapeutic relationship changes. Communication sometimes becomes difficult, and I struggle with verbalizing my internal frustration about the process. It has happened with every therapist and counselor. And happened before with this counselor too.

In a healthy and safe therapeutic relationship, the client and counselor both trust each other and feel safe enough to bring up sources of frustration, fear, boundary issues, or other trouble and communicate in session to work them out. That requires a lot from both parties – including respect, assertiveness, trust, and open communication. But when it works, it really works and brings about an even stronger trust bond that can improve the client’s recovery.

In an unhealthy or unsafe therapeutic relationship, one or both parties feel threatened in some way and the communication breaks down even more than before bringing up the issues. In my case, one therapist got mad at me; shamed me; manipulated me; told me I was crazy and would never be normal; then refused to see me anymore. Another therapist (my first one), tried to convince me that trauma wasn’t real; I needed medication in order to not be crazy, and used hypnosis to manipulate my feelings. She also manipulated and shamed me into never contradicting her, never challenging her, and never questioning her expertise

As for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, I only had one that earned my trust. He was gruff, professional to the point of being abrupt, focused on data and nothing personal, but never forced me to take medications or try something unsafe once he learned of my history and experience with medication.

Questionable Choices: Trusting the Wrong People; Being Smart Enough to Acknowledge/Accept I don’t Know Everything – nor do I want to

If you are a regular guest, you may already know this about me. Or maybe not – I can’t always remember what I shared here before. But if you’ve read this already, feel free to move on.

Fact 1: I don’t know the different between pain and pleasure. In my world there is pain, less pain, and more pain. Less pain allows me to feel a range of emotions (joy, excitement, sadness, anxiety, fear, calm, anger, etc.) More pain is distracting and brings out my grumpiness/depressive attitudes.

Fact 2: I still have trouble understanding the different between self care and self harm for myself (not other people) and often make harmful choices instead of caring ones when triggered or under stress. Intention is part of the equation, but more is involved in understand the difference between self care and self harm behaviors.

Fact 3: Reality Testing is one of the best tools to help me decide between self care or self harm. However, I made the mistake of asking peers, colleagues, friends, and family for help with this in the past. Let’s just say that ruined many relationships and added more damage to my reputation. But this is not something I can do for myself.

Fact 4: In times of stress + flashbacks + triggers, etc., I experience an increase in symptoms. Increase in symptoms lead to shame spirals and OCD behavior. OCD behavior = uncontrollable urges to hurt myself (not others) to relieve the anxiety

What is the solution, you ask?

  • Therapy with a trauma specialist I trust
  • Calls to a crisis hotline with volunteers who listen with acceptance, respect, and empathy and are trained to offer support – not counseling – or coping strategies or just be there in the moment
  • Talking with a spiritual mentor I trust
  • Learning about other types of coping strategies from workshops and group sessions.

Being confident to acknowledge I am smart enough to know I don’t know everything and don’t want to know everything. That takes away the mystery and beauty of life’s journey.

Trust – or Lack of It – vs Fear of Myself

I don’t trust myself to make good choices when under certain kinds of stress. All parts of me feel this way.

That ability requires knowledge we don’t have, but others do have. It’s an opportunity for us to learn, practice, make mistakes, and experience success in a safe space

…once all parts of me find someone willing to do this with us.

That is where long term counseling or therapy (trauma specialist for me, but some other generalist or specialist for you?) come into play.

In times of great need (like now), I have weekly sessions with my counselor. In times of decreased symptoms, I visit once a month or once every other month.
Between those extremes, session frequency varies.

Throughout that process, I continue to learn and utilize outside sources.

My dependency comes from a need to test reality with someone I trust – a professional who understands my concerns and can teach me how to navigate them so that eventually I trust my judgement and can make good choices on my own.

So yes, I am dependent on my therapist and the hotline for specific kinds of support and education because I don’t trust myself to do that work on my own yet. They are my safety net.

So no, I am not in a co-dependent relationship (something I question often and fear getting into with anyone) with my therapist. Every session ends with me learning something or resolving an inner conflict that allows me to move (not always forward) instead of stay stuck in my rut. Movement eventually creates progress – at least for me it does.

Therapy as a Tool

All in all, I do believe therapy is a useful tool when used for a specific purpose.

It’s up to the individual or individuals engaging in a therapeutic relationship, with mental health professionals to do the hard work that gets results. They need to trust each other to make the relationship work in a way that allows the individual(s) to learn/grow/see results.

Reflection question: What would your purpose be for starting/continuing/stopping therapy and why?

Thanks for reading

Environmental Self Protection IMAGINATION + COPING STRATEGIES = SAFE SPACES Physical safe place(s) - physical locations in and out of home Mental safe space(s) - meditation, visualization, mindfulness Spiritual safe space(s) - aka altars or holy places or nature Home decorating with feng shui & energy clearing practices

Series: Care Protection Expression Part 5 – Environmental

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

My goal with this series is to:

Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.

What is a Safe Space? Is it the same as a Safe Place?

A safe space is any environment where you or I or anyone feels physically, emotionally, spiritually safe. Ideally we’d feel safe in all 3 areas. Personally, I am for 2 out of 3 at any given time.

Safe spaces integrate and utilize the coping strategies and techniques from the other types of self protection discussed in this series to create a safe, protected environment. aka safe space

Safe Places tend to be physical environments and can be safe spaces. BUT not all Safe Spaces are safe places.

  • Some safe spaces are physical spaces like houses, bedrooms, “home”, libraries, movie theaters, work, holy places, religious or spiritual buildings, hospitals.
  • Some safe spaces are visualizations that people can reach through dreams (day dreaming, sleep dreaming, meditation, dissociation, hypnosis)
  • Some safe spaces are a combination of physical and sensory areas that help people connect with a higher power, nature, or (your noun here)
  • Some safe spaces are sensory grounding objects people wear or carry with them as they go about their lives.

You (and I) never know what your safe space will be until you experiment and create one.

How many safe spaces can I have/make/use?

As many as you feel comfortable having

As many as your imagination can come up with

As many as you need or want

How many do you have/use?

I have a lot. One for each alter personality. At least one (maybe two) general spaces we all use together. Three for spiritual work. And five physical spaces not counting parks and green spaces where I live.

So 88 + 2 + 3 + 5 = 98 safe spaces approximately.

Most of those safe spaces are not physical. But they can become physical with help from physical protection techniques, i.e. touch stones & sensory grounding tools. I build my environmental protection using a combination of sensory grounding tools, emotional protection shields and spiritual invisible armor.

My favorite kinds of environmental self protection are the safe spaces limited only by my imagination because I can take them with me wherever I go.

Please be mindful of meeting your basic needs while creating safe spaces. All of this is part of self care and can be used no matter your budget or lifestyle.

Please do not limit yourself to only self protection coping strategies when you create your environmental self protection. Use whatever feels right to you.

What do Safe Spaces look like?

Environmental Self Protection equals safe spaces
Some safe spaces I’ve visited or only re-created in a visualization

So I am being vulnerable with this collage. Two of the images are from my current apartment. One image is from a vacation I took many years ago before my name change and move. It’s the same place where I found the banner photo for this blog. The final image is a stock photo that represents one of my visualization safe spaces – a location in my mind where all parts of me can get together and “hang out” so to speak. It’s much sharper than the faded memory of visiting Niagara Falls back in high school.

As you can tell, my apartment is colorful using many shades of earth tones to feel safe, calm and soothing.

Water: the smell, sound, look and (sometimes feel) always brings a smile to my face and peace to my mind. A bath cleanses my physical and energetic/emotoinal self by washing away dirt and negative energy. Flavored water (infusions) nourish my body, look pretty, smell and taste delicious.

Earth: Plants at home. Plants and parks all around my neighborhood and throughout the city. They remind me of joy, life, rebirth and laughter. All my plants are budding or having babies. It’s wonderful to watch and be part of the growing cycle. Or mourn when a plant ends its struggle to thrive and moves on to the next adventure (i.e. dies).

Either way, I’m connected to other living beings in a way that feels safe to me.

Fire: Sunlight in my apartment. Candles. Aromatherapy diffusers heating water to spread scents through the air in my apartment. Cooking food for nourishment. Cleaning and laundry. Fire reminds me to take care of my basic needs, so I can thrive and help others too.

Air/Wind: Wind reminds me to bend and be flexible. Nothing is ever exactly what it appears to be through my physical senses. Pause, reflect, use intuition and logic to make choices instead of reacting without thinking. Change the smell of my environment to remove triggers or bring me back to the present moment when I feel triggered.

Pulling it all together

Environmental self protection is all about creating safe spaces wherever we happen to be.

Safe spaces, like all the other coping strategies and techniques I discuss, are multi-dimensional and unique to each individual.

I can give guidelines like in this post and others, but no one can create your safe space except you. And once you create it, no one can take it away from you unless you let them take it away.

That is a lesson I learned the hard way. And am still learning today. Kind of like the concept of “home” and “perfect living spaces”. Because, in spite of making my apartment as comfy and safe feeling as possible, I still (in the very back of my mind, buried in the subconscious) live in that childhood cage. The more internal stress I feel, the more my apartment looks like a mess and a reflection of that cage.

And when I worked in an office, my desk used to reflect the cage too. It got me into trouble (i.e. a target for harassment and backstabbing comments) from people who didn’t like me at work. They never talked to me directly, but they would point, whisper, stare, and talk to people who cared about me. Then those people would say something to me out of real concern. But still triggering and painful.

It wasn’t until I learned how to combine these different aspects of self care and self protection that I learned how to cope with experiences like that in more positive ways. Music, diffusers, crystal grids, other kinds of sound healing, and feng shui helped me create physical safe spaces and apply similar concepts in creating “magic bags” of sensory grounding tools to take with me wherever I go.

Maybe these ideas will help you create your own version of environmental self protection. Maybe it won’t. But I hope they inspire you to play and have fun with coping strategies and self care.

Thanks for reading.