Life Quirks: Technology Troglodyte

*This is for the guests who comment on my Home and About This Site Pages. *

The Trigger:

Technology scares all of the alters in our system.  For us, technology is a means to an end that allows us to avoid depending on paper for organization.

Some technology is also a trigger.  But other technology is useful enough that it’s become an integral part of my life (skip to the end for more on this).

Comment Question Addressed – you can stop here if you want…

Point is: this website, blog, etc. came about because I had to face my fear of technology for work and decided to apply the lessons here to create this website and blog too. Technology and electronics are a big weakness in my knowledge, experience, and lifestyle choices.

I learn what is needed to do my job and make life easier. The rest passes me by faster than cars pass each other on the highway’s fast lane.

Why? Learning is fun and appeases my curiosity. Technology, not so much. So I balance my need to understand technology with the fun of learning to improve this site.

Read More »

Life Changing Moments: Home for the Holidays

Dear Guests,

This time next week, I will be back in my home state (the one where I was born) getting ready to celebrate Christmas with my parents, brother, and father’s side of  the family for the first time in 7 years. Maybe longer. All of us will get together at an aunt’s house on the morning of Christmas Day to open gifts, hang out, and (later) eat a holiday dinner together. Dinner as in lunch…not the evening meal (aka supper).

I admit to feeling many conflicting emotions. Fear, excitement, guilt, joy, anxiety are a few of them. In terms of my immediate family, I’m excited to see my dad. We’ve been talking (FaceTime) and emailing regularly since August. He’s excited to see me too and has been keeping me updated about the rest of the family. I have mixed feelings about seeing my mom and brother (and his wife) again. We didn’t part on good terms, and my child parts are upset about being close to them again. But the adult parts of me are happy to see them again.

For my Dad’s side of the family, I’m excited and anxious to see them again. We don’t relate very well for a lot of reasons, so sometimes sharing space can be difficult. It’s part of why I choose to stay in a hotel or AirBnB during visits home. We love each other, but live completely different lives. And a lot of my life is not something many of my relatives on either side can acknowledge, approve, or accept. Other than some social topics or basic questions and answers, we don’t have much to talk about.

For my Mom’s side, the timing worked to visit with one group of cousins the day before I leave. As I’m only staying for 4 days, I’m grateful for that much and excited to see them. Yes I’m also nervous, but that’s mostly because it’s a new relationship with all of us being adults now. Luckily, we are all foodies and can spend a few hours chatting and enjoying good food.

Have you noticed the food theme? A lot of my family gatherings revolve around food – it was how different generations came together to prepare food, set tables, cook, share stories, and enjoy conversations while eating – as a party or event was often how my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents brought us together.

Why do  this?

The simple answer is closure.
I’m in a positive, healing place that allows me to open up and face some of the scariest parts of my past so that moving forward is less stressful. Plus, I do miss my family. I love them and want the best for them – best as in what works for and with their current goals and lifestyles. Closure allows my heart wounds to finally drain and start to heal.

The complicated answer is more nuanced.
I am going to visit my grandmother. She hasn’t been doing well since her accident back in January. If I can give her anything, it’s one holiday with all of us together like before. We can spend some time together, and I can reassure her that I’m happy, healthy, and safe even if I live all the way across the country.

I’m going for my father. Seeing him in person, giving and receiving a real hug is a gift in itself. We don’t have a lot in common, but we are interested in each other’s lives and actively listen, accept and respect each others choices. Besides that, my Dad is really funny and always finds a way to share his fatherly wisdom with humor.

I’m going for myself, to prove that I can spend time with them as an adult whose triggers don’t get in the way and cause problems. We can be ourselves, share space together, and enjoy the holiday time with less tension and negativity. I don’t have to hide parts of myself and can accept that different relatives will and do hide behind masks – but the hiding is not personal. And I won’t get in trouble for being me. Or cause problems by being me.

In doing this, I can

try to resolve my conflicting feelings about letting any family into my life and being part of their lives.

Conflict part 1: I am happy as I am now being connected again, was happy before reconnecting with any family at all, and am not sure how much I want to be connected with any of them. If I want to be connected at all.

Conflict part 2: I love my family and am happy to be peripherally connected to some of them. But I’ve left behind the dreams of being close with them or having a strong connection where we keep in touch regularly, etc.

In other words, I’m facing some of my biggest fears in less than a week. Wish me luck?

And luck to any and all of you who might be in similar situations with the holiday season.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: EMDR Trial 2

Credit to: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

*Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. The information below is for educational and support purposes only. Please discuss any changes you want to make with your provider first.*

BACKGROUND

In past posts, either my alters or I mentioned trying EMDR with different counselors. The results were good in session, but not so great between sessions or in real life. The coping strategies we practiced to help with the side effects of EMDR were sufficient but not enough to quote a past counselor. I couldn’t cope with the side effects of EMDR while living my old life, so put it aside to focus on techniques and strategies that did help.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

So what is EMDR? And why is it helpful (depending on the individual) for PTSD, Trauma, and Anxiety?

You can find an excellent definition and resources here at the EMDR Therapy website

This article defines EMDR

This website is for the EMDR International Association and offers training, education, and resources.

Q&A

Why try EMDR again after so many years?

Short answer:

Different counselor, different approach, different overall living situation

Longer answer:

  • My memories were coming back, and the emotions/sensations/triggers that came with them started interrupted daily life or nightly sleep too often
  • The hyper-vigilance and panic attacks kept increasing because of new or more sensitive environmental and internal triggers
  • Increased sensitivity to internal triggers – existing coping strategies and techniques were less helpful than usual; sometimes  made the overwhelming feelings or anxiety worse
  • My current counselor asked me if I was willing to try EMDR again and explained her process. Then showed me different options to use for the bi-lateral stimulation part of the process.
  • Overall, I felt safe, confident, and ready  to try this again

How did the EMDR work this time around?

The EMDR worked well and helped a lot to reduce my sensitivity to certain triggers and feel more confident about my reactions to situations in real life. The memories are just memories now. Any lingering trauma sensations or triggers left with each EMDR session.

Each Session?

Yes, I have had two sessions so far: one earlier this summer and one in October.

Why wait to share?

As mentioned earlier in the post, there are side effects or after effects that linger for a period of time after the EMDR session. The time period for long those effects last differs from person to person.

For me, the effects last about 2-3 months. During this time period, my focus is narrowed to: meet basic needs and self-care as I work with or through the emotional and physical changes brought out by the EMDR.

Will you share tips and suggestions for preparing for an EMDR session?

Yes. I broke the list down into three sections.

Discussing with or finding an experienced counselor

  • Learn as much as you can about EMDR and how it could benefit you because it does not help everyone
  • If you are seeing a counselor, have a conversation about how EMDR could help you
  • If your counselor is trained in EMDR, ask if you can try it in a future session
  • If your counselor is not trained and you want to try EMDR, ask for a referral to work with an EMDR specialist along with regular sessions
  • If you do decide to work with a specialist, make sure you feel safe and comfortable with her or him before you start anything.

*remember it’s important to trust the counselor and feel safe sharing these experiences in order for any kind of therapy or coping technique to be effective*

Before the EMDR session

  • Listen to the counselor’s process: intake questions, building resources, practicing coping strategies so that you remember them even in distress, discussing memories and choosing which one to work on in each session, etc.
  • Work with the counselor to answer questions as honestly as possible; provide enough information to help you both make informed decisions about the session and after care
  • If a coping strategy does not work for you, say so and work with the counselor to find an alternative
  • The counselor may ask you what type of EMDR tool you want to use for the bi-lateral stimulation part. The choice is yours, and it’s okay to ask if you can try out each one before making your choice

After the EMDR session

  • You will feel tired after your session, so it’s best to try scheduling your session after work or on a day with minimal activity
  • You may experience emotions and sensations differently – that makes coping with and reacting to them difficult sometimes
  • Your body may feel different – especially if you experience body memories
  • You could have more memories resurface – not all traumatic – and have to cope with them too
  • If you are like me (aka open about your unique gifts), you might also have some interesting experiences within your environment or during interactions with people. Traditional coping strategies might not work for those experiences, but your spiritual or religious practice could help. My spiritual practice helps me cope with them

Remember, EMDR is not for everyone. These tips are for informational purposes only and based solely on my personal experience. Please discuss with a medical or mental health professional before making any decisions or changes to your current treatment plan.

Thanks for reading.

DID Post: Follow Up of Last Week’s Coping Strategies

Catching Up

Last Sunday, I couldn’t post because all parts of me got hit with intense body memories and flashbacks.

Literally, the monsters in my mind tried to take over by staging a coup. The traumatized parts of my alters got triggered and sent mixed signals to my brain. It felt like getting sick with a cold and the flu at the same time all over again. Plus, I still had to work and finish tasks before my vacation last week.

Types of Change in My Life

There are times when change happens so fast, a person is left flailing around unable to keep up with it all.

There are times when change happens, and the individual has enough awareness to fight it, roll with it, or try something else. Either way, the change(s) does not overwhelm the individual.

Then comes the slow change  that silently creeps up on a person, the kind that goes unnoticed until something happens to make it obvious. Kind of like an “I should have known that would happen” situation.

A Quick Detour to Explain Hallucinations vs Intuitive Communications

Option 3 is what happened to me two weeks ago. Unlike a lot of people I talk to about PTSD, I am completely aware of my hallucinations as they occur. I can tell the differences between them and reality in the present moment. My hallucinations are obvious to me because they are consistent in their appearance – hearing voices, seeing exaggerated and transparent forms of beings/cartoons/creatures (aka ghosts), and feeling certain body sensations – and different from the sensations and vibrations my plants use to communicate with me.

Sometimes I still get confused when my empathic senses or intuition tries to share information. But that is a case of “am I hallucinating or is my intuition talking to me?” Working with my spiritual mentor has helped me a lot with that question. I feel a lot more confidence sorting through the different sensations and information that triggers my hyper-vigilance and body memories.

Back to Last Weekend

It started on Wednesday when I woke up feeling sick and had to take a “sick day” from work. My nightmares were getting worse and bleeding into day dreams that distracted me from…well everything. I started wanting to be awake all night and sleep all day. While I was awake, the voices kept up a steady stream of shaming insults about anything and everything.

I was tired, distracted, confused, and congested with a lingering head cold. All that increased my palpitations (side effect of high anxiety levels) and made breathing difficult. The high anxiety made tense head and neck muscles tighten even more. No matter what, I just couldn’t get comfortable. So I slept as best as possible and drank lots of tea. Distracted myself with podcasts about essential oils, aromatherapy, and herbalism. Focused on trying to figure out why the pain increased no matter what coping strategy I tried.

Then it hit me. Maybe one or two weeks before, while shopping for holiday gifts at my favorite store, I ran into a different spiritual teacher. We talked, and she suggested that maybe part of my anxiety came from holding on to the past without realizing it…that maybe I (or parts of me) was projecting my hopes and dreams onto others and forging connections the rest of me didn’t want. It could be that my alters were growing, changing, and afraid to let go of the familiar.

That made a lot of sense. Headaches and pain that won’t go away no matter what I try usually means some kind of internal conflict.

I haven’t used the phrase “monsters in my mind” in a while, so let me explain. I and every one of my alter personalities experienced severe trauma of some kind. We all hold the memories in different ways (mental/emotional/spiritual) and in different parts of our physical body. The memories are attached to the “other stuff” (emotions / thoughts / behaviors / actions / reactions) we experienced and couldn’t process back then.

Our memories are neutral. The “other stuff” is what creates the monsters in our mind – the voices telling us how awful we are and that we are worthless, etc. Essentially, I and my alters are fighting ourselves when this happens – hence the term internal conflict. Sometimes a call to the hotline helps; the volunteers listen objectively and can help sort through the confusion. Other times, though, only meditation can help.

By meditation, I mean lying down someplace warm and safe (usually my bed), closing my eyes, and letting all parts of me out to communicate at the same time. We do a roll call to make sure all 88 are present. if anyone is missing, we go looking for them. We protect each other from the monster traps and any other potential problems that come with high anxiety and flashbacks.

On the outside, our body looks like it’s sleeping. Sometimes sleep talking and sleep laughing occur too. Our body might move on the bed, roll around or change positions, but it does not get up and move around. That kind of vertical movement is too dangerous. On the inside, though, all of us are aware of the different body sensations moving through our physical form as we check our internal home and its safeguards.

The safeguards are boundaries that protect our inside home and its safe spaces from the monsters. This worked well in the past because many of the triggers that caused these kinds of panic attacks and flashbacks came from outside of our body/mind self. We could retreat inside and do what was necessary to keep the monsters from invading and taking over.

This time, though, our safeguards were intact. The monsters were inside the safeguards and causing havoc.

How did they get in? They were already inside. These monsters were the hallucinations body memories given form as we alters learned to cope with and let go of our past. And the monsters wanted to leave just as much as we wanted them to go. But no one knew how to get them out.

A meditation that combined 2-3 different practices.

  • LovingKindness or Compassion: all parts of me opened up our home and safe spaces to everyone – especially the “monsters” and “outcasts” – with open minds and open hearts – kindness, compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love
  • Mara – in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition: They could stay and be part of the community for as long as they wished as long as they followed our rules. If at any time they wanted to leave,  the could do so knowing that leaving was permanent.
  • Visualization – The monsters liked to talk, so once one said “I want to leave” or something similar, a rainbow portal appeared – sometimes in front / side/ back, sometimes above, sometimes below the monster. Then the monster – who was decidedly not an alter personality – stepped through the one-way portal to go home.

Imagination and a love of fantasy combined with a belief in magic, miracles, and the paranormal helped all parts of me design this meditation.

Since all 88 alter personalities changed and had monsters ready to leave, the meditation took a long time. It started on Friday after work and continued through Sunday. There were times of actual rest and pause for food/drink, etc. throughout the weekend. But most of it was spent lying down in meditation.

One week has passed since that big self-care weekend, but I still get requests for portals.

And yes, if at any time one or more alter personalities decided to leave our system, I would open a portal for that personality. Before he/she/it left, I’d give a big hug and say good-bye. Then probably cry for a bit at losing part of myself. But I’d let that part go because trying force something to stay against its will goes against my values.

Yes, I am afraid that will happen some day. But if it does happen, there will be an excellent reason.

Until then, all parts of me continue to work on recovery together.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: What is fun? What is play?

This is a reflective post…

quotation-erich-fromm-creativity-requires-the-courage-to-let-go-of-certainties-10-33-76

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

Body Memories: Wellness exams, doctor visits & triggers

I had my annual wellness visit  this past week.

Any kind of doctor visit is triggering for me. But annual exams have more triggers than other kinds of exams.

Anxiety

Anxiety comes from traveling to and from the doctor’s office, making time during the work day to go to the appointment, and meeting (sometimes) new people who will be working on my body.

Body Memories

Body memories come back throughout the rest of the exam and sometimes cause problems getting my vitals, etc. Certain tests can’t be administered either. Not because I don’t want them, but because of how my body automatically reacts (based on past experience) to the exam tools. Shots and blood work have a 50/50 chance of working.

How I Cope

Luckily for me, I have a physician who accepts me as I am, is compassionate, and works with me to get as much done as possible with minimal distress.

Then came the matter of getting used to the new nurses and physicians assistants at the location my doctor moved to this year. They all are kind and caring, but my body and my alters did not care. These people were strangers. While I had a choice of letting them work on me or not, what was the point of a visit if not for the check up?

What worked

  • Being honest about my fears and any potential challenges
  • Repeating myself until the person took notice
  • Using grounding affirmations and deep breathing (silently) when talking to the person didn’t work
  • Letting my body and my alters do what they needed to do in order to protect themselves as long as it didn’t involve harming anyone
  • Being patient with the person and explaining again what is happening and why
  • Talking with my alters and checking with them to decide what happens next – try again or make another appointment
  • Throughout the experience – being respectful, using open communication, asking questions and listening actively, practicing patience, and accepting the other person’s choices without judgement – after all these people are professionally trained and experienced in what they do; I’m the oddball

In the end, my alters only took issue with the blood work. In spite of having to try twice and use two different needles, the physician’s assistant got the blood. Some of the results are a little iffy to me (I didn’t fast that morning), but most are on target.

I have to take a vitamin D supplement (normal) because my body does not make enough or make it as easily as I hope and keep an eye on my iron. If my mind can’t stop ruminating on some of the other results, then I’ll have to follow up with the doctor about that too.

Lessons Learned:

  • Try to have my exam on a Thursday or Friday. My mind and body need time to cope /recover and can’t do that if I have to work
  • Call ahead and ask about fasting; then set a reminder the day before
  • Remember to check in with everyone before the needles go in, especially if the physician’s assistant or nurse or technician does not seem to be taking what I say seriously
  • Then remember to meditate and use grounding so that everyone stays calm and agrees to let the tests, etc. happen – remind them the alternative is having to come back again…
  • When in doubt, skip the online portal and make time for a phone call. It saves a boatload of frustration, anxiety, and panic
  • Facing my fear of doctors feels scary and overwhelming until it’s over. I have hope that some day the scary, overwhelming emotions will feel less intense or (maybe) go away for good.

How do you cope with triggers for necessary events and activities in your life?

Thanks for reading

DID Posts: Seasonal memory loss started again…

I haven’t written a post about DID in a while. It’s so much a part of me and my chosen lifestyle that I forget how much of a struggle it was to get here sometimes.

Every year something unique happens in my life. It can start any time between the first day of school and Halloween.  It ends some time between March and May the next year. Average length of time is six months.

During this time period, my symptoms increase to an overwhelming level; my body memories activate and never stop or slow down; and all of my  typical patterns (sleep, exercise, eating/hydrating habits, work) change.

It starts with a feeling of sadness that permeates all parts of my consciousness. The sadness is followed by hyper-vigilance, paranoia, and lethargy.  I stop sleeping. I dissociate more often.  My hunger decreases, and I’m tired all the time. Everything feels like a challenge.  Nothing brings joy. Staying at home feels safe.

Time slows down or speeds up without my realizing it. I feel like I am moving through a fog. Fear makes fun activities like cooking and going out too scary to contemplate. Lack of appetite = weight loss = more body memories and body-related symptoms.

Worst of all, I start forgetting every day things and not recognizing my surroundings.

How do I know this happens? Why can I describe it so well?

The awareness started after I got a real job that required me to remember routines and processes, so probably 2006/2007. Shortly after I walked away from my family, I experimented with self-training a service animal to help with the PTSD. While that story is for another post (maybe), the whole experience brought the lost time issue into present reality.

It started in August with meeting, hiring, and learning basic dog care and dog information from a professional dog trainer. By October, I had a puppy and was working with him and  the trainer through a 4-level dog training program. One Saturday in February, I woke up and couldn’t remember any of the training exercises and activities we had been working on since October.

Luckily, I did remember having a dog and how to take care of him. Reflecting on that experience, though, showed me a similar pattern of remembering and forgetting that spanned decades. My counselor at the time was not surprised when I shared this with her in session. She explained to me that many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) have such experiences.

A full switch (my term, not  the professional one) between alter personalities means a full consciousness switch – as in one personality leaves or goes dormant while the other takes over completely – and whoever is in charge retains the memories of those experiences. Alter personalities in a non-integrated system often are not aware of each other and do not communicate or share memories if  they are aware of each other.

close up of pictures
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

My counselor reassured me that the memories weren’t lost or stolen. Instead, they were stored someplace in my mind that the present me (or me in charge) couldn’t access.  If and when I did need that information, it would become available. By this time, we had been working together for almost two years. She was familiar with my patterns of increased and decreased symptoms, triggers, etc. more than I was.

When my counselor realized how much  this bothered me, she offered to help me create a plan to minimize the negative effects of my seasonal memory loss. The first (and most effective to me) was focusing on Internal Family Systems therapy to foster communication within my alter personality system.

The coping strategies and techniques I have discussed in the past are all part of this plans so I’m not going to describe them again here.

Who is in charge? And what will I remember next May?

Back then, it was me or Pip or a combination of our four dominant personalities in charge unless something triggered one of the others into taking over. I  didn’t know about my two simultaneous lives, so couldn’t factor that into the equation. But that mattered less because the memories still disappeared and often didn’t come back again for years.

These days, we all work together and are all “in charge”.  Sounds weird, but that is the truth. Each personality or part of me has a specific set of tasks to do in order to keep our system running smoothly. We have others trained to perform multiple tasks or act as back up if someone isn’t feeling well or needs extra help, but all of us are needed if we want to be at our best.

So what will I remember? I honestly don’t know. And at this point in my life, I am not sure if I would want to know. One of the best lessons therapy taught me was that I don’t have to remember everything that happened. And I will remember what I do need to remember at the exact time that information is required to help us:

  • achieve a goal
  • maintain safety
  • not make the same mistake again
  • something else I can’t describe with words

Conclusion

While memory loss is scary and often feels uncomfortable, I can now accept it as another part of my life. Sure, I miss being able to remember everything and sometimes mourn the loss of those memories. But at the same time, I trust all parts of me to find and share memories, skills, and experiences as we want or need them to thrive in our present life.

Thanks for reading

Family: Birthday Reflections

pink green and yellow ribbon illustration
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Birthdays always feel odd to me.

On one hand, I enjoy celebrating life and am always grateful for my second chance.  Every moment is precious, and all parts of me look forward to the day laugh lines appear on our face.

On the other hand, I feel extremely annoyed about all of the expectations that used to come with birthday celebrations.  Parties, going out, being around people, and all kinds of activities that were meant to be “fun” ended up something else in my personal experience.

My favorite kind of gift is when someone close says “happy birthday” and means it.  If the individual chooses to give me something too, that’s always appreciated and valued.

person holding inflatable decor
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Giving and receiving of gifts means a lot to many people.  I have a hard time accepting gifts sometimes.  It goes back to my past trauma, triggers, and fears.  Wanting something and asking for it as a gift – didn’t always get me what I wanted.  Sometimes it got me the opposite.

But these days, I can trust the people who want to give me gifts to give me something I will enjoy instead of something they think I will enjoy.

My best gift today was talking with my dad on via video chat.  We talked for an hour about so many different topics.  I got to see his smile and hear him laugh.  He passed the device around so I got to talk with my aunts and uncles too.

It was a great start to my day and brings out hope that things will keep getting better.

My last birthday wish (or hope) is for all of my guests to have a fun day or peaceful sleep after reading this birthday post.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Slowing Down my life

Slowing down has been an ongoing theme this year.  Here are some concrete reasons for my choices.

I/we want to spend time exploring our memories and experimenting with different hobbies, activities, experiences to find joy again.

joy = pleasure = happy = content = relaxed

Feeling joy in our mind is different from experiencing the sensation of joy in our body and spirit too.  All parts of me want to experience joy in mind/body/spirit together and AT THE SAME TIME without falling into triggers or panic attacks.

We’d like to experience this joy alone (amongst ourselves) and with other people too.

That means slowing down our current lifestyle to make space for big, scary changes.

choices decision doors doorway
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

  • The blog stays at 1x a week.
  • Goodbye to Facebook for the final time. Pinterest & LinkedIn stay for professional and practical reasons
  • More paper books, less ebooks
  • Knitting, cooking, sewing fun
  • More activities & experiences = more built-in exercise and play time
  • Sleep, meditate, relax, and go to related meetups
  • Limit internet & computer use for existing tasks and work/job searching

I tried living in the darkness and shadows with minimal technology and a lot of “old-fashioned” methods of getting things done.  The best part about that lifestyle was learning how to “do” things without depending on machines.

I tried living in the “modern” world with its technology and emphasis on moving fast all the time.  The best part of this lifestyle was learning how to utilize technology to help me achieve my goals without depending on others to take care of me.

Now it’s time for me to find the sweet spot of lifestyle that makes me happy and continues to support my internal healing/recovery journey.  

More big changes are happening whether I want them to or not.

I can make choices now to put support systems in place and flow with the changes.  Or I can fight them until my face turns blue and I give in anyways.  Which seems better to you?

So maybe this isn’t for you.  And maybe it is.  Either way, I hope you find ways to bring more joy into your life.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversaries: Happy Birthday Mom

Dear Mom,

Today is your birthday.  I wish you all the best and a joyful day full of fun and laughter.  I love you and accept you as you are always.  You are my mother, a wife, an aunt, a sister, and a daughter to many.  To others, you are a friend, a co-worker, or some other label.

We will never be traditional mother and daughter.  You don’t always like to admit having a full grown daughter, let alone one like me.  That’s okay too.  I forgive you for all that has happened between us.  I forgive myself for sometimes hating what happened to both of us. Hate only gives me heartburn…but pockets still exist and need to be released.

I used to shudder and sleep through nightmares on your birthday – living in remembered fear of the past.  Now, I celebrate your special day with unconditional love and acceptance.  I hope some day you will accept me as I am too.

Your Daughter

Quotes & Affirmations: A Double Whammy – Family, work & change

I’ll be honest with you.  This week has kicked my ass in many ways.  I almost didn’t know what to share today because everyone had an opinion, but no one wanted to buckle down and write it out.

Double Whammy

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There used to be a game show on TV called “Press Your Luck” that featured a “whammy” cartoon.  Every time a contestant landed on a “whammy”, her or his score was reset to zero.  The contestant had to start rebuilding prizes through trivia, etc.

 

I feel like I’ve landed on two whammy’s this week.  One with regards to my family.  One with regards to work.

Family

As mentioned before, I’m talking with my dad via email again.  We’re slowly rebuilding our relationship and working hard towards being part of each other’s lives again.  That means, indirectly, going back to what broke me before from a different perspective.  It means reaching out to other family and acknowledging them in some way.

My mother’s family received the email and wrote back to me after a few weeks.  It was nice to get a response from them.  Next on my list, and not something I do lightly, is writing to my mother and younger brother.

Why?

Here is where the second quote fits in.

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This is my way of setting an intention and giving something to fill an empty space inside of me.  By filling that space inside me, I have more to give to my loved ones and can help fill a similar space in them.

The next time I visit family, I want to enjoy time with them.  Not have the experienced ruined through my mother’s (and maybe brother’s) negativity and drama tantrums.  My grandma is 102; she’s slowly moving towards the next phase in her life.  I miss my dad.  In spite of everything, I love my mother and brother.  Seeing everyone for a short time will bring a measure of peace and closure.

Plus, having everyone together again will make my grandma smile.

Work

In my day job, I finally got some career-related questions answered and addressed.  Now, if I change my mind and choose to stay, there can be a path that allows me change, growth, and challenges.  Along with that, some leadership and organizational changes are taking place.  Our team is changing.  While some doors are closing, others are opening.  So now there’s a chance for me to get my “new job” within the same company.

The dilemma; I’m ready to leave my safety net and fly.  Does that mean I start a new job in a new company and pursue my other projects during off hours?  Does that mean I take on a new role with new challenges and pursue my other projects on the side?

Decision: Keep my options open.  If the new role at the current company goes through, seriously decide to stay or leave.  If that new role gets shunted to the side by corporate again, continue with my existing plans to move on.

Why again these two quotes?

Quote 1:

In a way, I’m going back to what broke me.

I’m reconnecting with family and places that caused so much pain.  I guess it’s a reminder that the person coming back is not the person who left.  She/I/We are going back to visit FAMILY as a whole rather than individual people.  Different perspective; different choices.  Same potential pitfalls if I’m not careful.

I’m also listening to my intuition, creating art, writing, healing/helping others, and learning how to use/utilize/explore/work with my unique gifts for positive outcomes instead of negative ones.  That means journaling, meditation, exercise/movement, bodywork, and learning from mentors who work towards good instead of evil.

The flashbacks are stronger; lucid dreams become nightmares; so many voices sometimes.  But the experience is different this time.  My parts and I, we aren’t afraid.  But the potential pitfalls exist.  And we all have to be gentle with ourselves.

Quote 2:

This quote reinforces my belief in miracles and manifestation of dreams.  For many years, I’ve been working towards going back to my family and moving into a career that brings joy – one that feels like a vocation and something fun that transforms into a “hobby” or “activity” to keep me involved and active during “retirement”.

Honest truth is, I could not have done all of this work or achieved so much alone.  Throughout every phase and step of this Recovery journey, guides and guardians (human, spiritual, and other) have taught me how to help myself achieve these goals.  By guardians and guides, I mean: family, friends, loved ones, mentors, enemies, counselors, even the racist and prejudiced people who went out of their way to verbally hurt me taught something.

It started with changing self-perceptions and perspectives about “people” and “the outside world”.  Next came working through the different challenges in the “real world” outside of my mind.

I started to “see” the world from a loving, kind, compassionate space.  Instead of a scary, violent, dangerous place, the world was full of love, life, laughter, and friendship.  During meditations, I started to see colors and shapes again.  I started to feel safe from the inside out – ready and able to “go home” without fear – and began the process of reconnecting with those I feared most.

“Home” has two meanings here:

  1. “Home” means being part of my family of origin again.
  2. “Home” means living safely within my physical body and working with all parts of me to bring our body back to optimal health

Whatever your challenges and struggles, there truly is a a way for you to live the life you want.

I hope these quotes help you the way they’ve helped me.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategies: Day 94 of “365 Days of Affirmations” challenge

Background

About 3 months ago, I decided to try to write a unique affirmation every day for 365 days.  You can read about it here in this post.  Today’s featured image is an affirmation from Louise Hay whose book You Can Heal Your Life inspired me to persist on my recovery journey after my first big relapse.  Maybe it will help you too.

As a writing challenge, I was pushed to sit and put time/effort/discipline into practice on a regular basis.

As a mental health challenge, this was a way to get all parts of me to change perspective from negative or neural to positive and friendly.

As a personal challenge, this helped (and continues to help) cope with and work through fears of failure, rejection, worthlessness, and shame.

How and Why?

Writing Challenge:
My writing style (not work related) is rather undisciplined and spontaneous.  That works okay for some things like Alter Post stories and so on, but it’s not that great when I try to organize ideas and improve my skills to provide useful, concise, well-written content overall.  The discipline of having to write even a few words every day has helped a lot with organization and self-discipline for writing.

Mental Health Challenge:
Change is difficult for anyone.  For me (especially when the I is more like them, us, we, him, her) staying positive and changing our perspective about life from negative to positive is a challenge.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Action Commitment Therapy (ACT) can only do so much if the rest of me isn’t willing to put in the work.Writing at least 1 positive affirmation about my intention for the day forced everyone to think outside the box and get creative.  Imagination and curiosity always gets everyone in my system excited and willing to try something new.

Personal Challenge
Fear of failure as in stop trying because you can’t win or aren’t good enough.

Fear of rejection as in why bother because no one cares?  Anyone who finds you writing this is going to criticize and insult or make fun of you.

Fear of worthlessness (lack of confidence) and shame as in you can’t do this.  You’re not smart enough or good enough at writing to create affirmations.  You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking you can write affirmations, let alone the disciplined enough to write one every day.  You’re too lazy and irresponsible.

Those have been the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and voices in my head for as long as I can remember.  Most of the time, I can use coping techniques and strategies to get around them.  That’s not enough anymore.

This challenge was and is a way to use “small successes” and “determination” to keep writing the affirmations even when I miss one or more days in a row because life got in the way.

Celebrating Day 94

Today is Day 94 of the challenge.  At my lowest point, I missed writing 5 affirmations/quotes in a row.  On my best days, I wrote up to 3 affirmations and/or quotes in a day.  Some are phrases.  Some are poems.  Some are paragraphs.

All of these affirmations are unedited first drafts right now.  The first 10 or so are awful and require some revising.  But I’ve decided to be vulnerable and share some of my favorites with you.

Affirmation 94: “I love my family unconditionally and accept them as they are”

Affirmation 79: “The universe is full of friendly people.  Universe is friendly, not scary.”

Affirmation 8: “I am safe and secure in my home.  Today is an excellent day for laundry.”

Mantra 31:

“I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Memories can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Family can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  The mail will be delivered without fuss.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Lyft is faster and safer than a bus.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Therapy today is right for us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  I/WE believe in us”

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

Recovery: Dad, family, letters = closure

Short post today.  I don’t have a lot to write about and too many ideas percolating.

Last Thursday, I hand wrote 3 letters and put them in the mailbox for Friday pick up.

  • One letter to my Dad
  • One letter to family I talked to last December
  • One letter to the rest of my mother’s family

Handwritten letters felt more authentic and right than computer printed letters.  A blue mailbox eliminated the need to provide a return address.

It’s been 3 days since I sent the letters.  Yes, I am still scared.  Yes I am not happy about having to send the letters.  Yes I wish I didn’t have to do any of this.

But our lives are going to mix again in the future.  It’s inevitable since I am close to my paternal grandmother. Going back to visit friends and loved ones increases my chances of running into one of them by accident.

And that’s my closure.  I wrote to them; gave them a means to connect if they want it; and kept myself safe so that this life can keep growing and changing.

What does closure mean to you?

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Changing self perception

I struggle with being body positive and having a positive self-image.

  • Part of that is because of past experiences.
  • Part of it is because my body shape, size, and appearance do not fit any “ideal” standards, so shopping and feeling good about how I look isn’t always easy.
  • The rest has to do with looking like either parent or following “appearance expectations” – my rebellion against this

This struggle shattered my self-confidence, built up on existing shame, and gave me many reasons to “hide” from the world.

No matter what I did or how I tried, something about me always attracted attention.  Something always gave others an excuse or rationale to be mean/rude, etc.  And I believed them when they told me it was my fault for making them act that way.

I still believed that, deep down in a secret part of me, until last week.

WHAT HAPPENED?

An unexpected award at work gave me the push I needed to stop procrastinating about getting professional photos for business/school, etc.  Here’s the short version:

The company I work for in my day job has over 1,000 employees worldwide and a commitment to encourage continuous learning.  They promote this internally by giving employees free accounts to LinkedIn Learning and internal classes.  At every half-year, the people in “people teams” use some metric or formula to find out who took the most classes, etc. and gives them a small award using an internal award system.

I get a lot of down time between projects and hate being bored, so the online classes through LinkedIn were ways to me to feel like I wasn’t getting paid for doing nothing.  The award was unexpected, yet much appreciated.  But it wasn’t until after I answered the survey questions, that someone from “people teams” reached out with a request.  The company liked my answers and wanted to use them as part of a promotional campaign.  Would I allow this and also send a photo to go with the answers?

At first, I freaked out and said “absolutely not” on the inside.  But then I paused.  This was an opportunity, a big one to help me reach the next step of “not hiding” and achieving outside goals.  If I said no, I’d be going backwards.  If I said yes, I’d have to face a whole lot of fears, including putting my face out on the Internet.

I said yes and asked for some time to get them a decent photo.  We agreed on a date, and I booked my first photo shoot in 14 years (since college graduation photos).

WHY IS THIS A LIFE CHANGING MOMENT?

My style group friends have been cheering me along on my journey to self-discovery and being my authentic self always, but especially in how I present myself to the outside world.  With their help, I chose an outfit and makeup that felt 100%, authentically me.  Surprisingly, I didn’t see

  • a little girl playing dress-up in the mirror
  • A woman dressing to look “like a lady” according to parental expectations
  • My mother, father, aunts, cousins, or grandparents looking back at me
  • A clown or over made-up woman trying to be something she’s not

I saw myself – all parts of myself expressed as a single, adult woman wearing a dress & blazer with fun accessories and subtle makeup – as I got ready for the photo session.

The photographer was amazing.  She helped me feel completely at ease and comfortable posing outside.  The whole experience felt like chatting with an old friend and taking photos for fun.  Never before had I felt so relaxed with a stranger taking photos of me.  Part of it was location – we took photos in a beautiful park – and part of it was the overall feeling of rightness that stayed with me throughout the day.

I got to see myself through the photographer’s eyes and camera lens that afternoon.  She accepted my quirks and even appreciated some of them.  Before her, I’d not met many people who also talked to ladybugs or openly expressed a reverence for nature.  We connected over a mutual love and respect for trees; some of my favorite “fun” shots are of me sitting on exposed roots or posing against trees.

Together, we narrowed down to 3 photos that fit the main purpose of this photo shoot: business headshots for work & professional networking profiles.

But I also chose one for school and “fun” profiles too.  My current day job is segregated from my other hobbies and work choices on purpose.  They do not play well together, and I am very private.  Not many businesses want someone with my kind of mental health issues working for them, no matter how good I am at my job.  So 3 photos:

  • One for internal work/business (like email, profiles, messaging, etc.) that showed me and my “professional” personality with hints of non-work life
  • One for business and networking or job hunting profiles that expressed my business professionalism, creativity, and unique personality
  • One for school and personal profiles (personal email, WordPress account, Facebook, etc.) that showed me in a happy, confident, relaxed, open way.

WHAT CHANGED?

My self-perception, self-image whatever you want to call it.

When I look in a mirror, I finally see me.  A beautiful (inside out kind), confident, secure-in-herself woman.  An authentic, person with many alternate personalities who thrives in her chosen life style with family of choice, a support network, and a fulfilling life in spite of many challenges.

MY HOPE

For all people, with and without mental health or trauma issues, to experience a positive change in self-perception too.  I share this story with the hope that someone can relate to the experience, realize he or she is not alone, and have the courage to make positive steps too.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Eating Disorder is not the same as disordered eating

Eating Disorder History

I have anorexia nervosa.  Right now, it’s in remission.  But stressful times casue a loss of appetite.  If I am mot careful, I start skipping meals, eating less, and forgetting to hydrate.  My body interprets the pattern of skipping meals and eating less as a signal to start hoarding calories and retaiming water to protect vital organs.  It falls back into the cycle instincitvely to protect my body from wasting away because past experience says “who knows when the body will be fed again?”

Even after I got the anorexia under control and found ways to make the allergies go away, I still had problems with disordered earing habits like:

  • food fears
  • dieting restrictions
  • obsessive/complusive behaviors related to food
  • shopping, preparation, cooking, meal times, and so on

I was taking in calories but unable to enjoy eating or maintain a healthy weight.  Low energy, sleep problems, lowered immune system…you name it I experienced it in some way.  My doctors and I are constantly surprised that the only long term sign of decades of malnutrition a d starvation is pale skin because of lack of melatonin production.  That means I have problems absorbing vitamin D and have to be careful of sun exposure.  It also means I have to take supplements.

Present

That was about 4 years ago.

These days my skin is a healthy  warm/neutral skin tone – neither pale white nor a obviously brown, but somewhere in between – and my weight stays mostly the same within a 5 lb range.  This isn’t my target weight or my ideal weight, but it’s the weight my body/mind/spirit believes is best for overall health.

When I do lose weight, it’s less than the 10 lb cut off that tips me into an official relapse.  Problem is that I’m already petite & slim, so can’t afford to lose any weight.  Being slim also means that any weight loss is easily noticed.  Same with weight gain.

I might not notice that my eating habits changed right away.  Probably won’t notice if my sleep patterns or food thoughts have changed either.  But I will and do notice when my tops feel too loose/tight or my pants and skirts start bagging at the waist or feeling too tight.

My stomach and abdominal area is really sensitive to pressure so bloating and discomfort from disordered eating usually catches my attention first.

What is the difference between Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating habits?

One can have disordered eating habits without an eating disorder.

For example, I used to have a lot of rules about what I could eat, how often I could eat it, and where I could eat it.  The rules didn’t include how much or little I at at one meal or what had to happen if I over/under ate.  It was almost like a restrictive diet that allowed me to feel like I was in control, but still eating healthy.  These rules and restrictions would make sense if they were related to a medical or physiological issue that made me sick if I ate something.  But they didn’t make sense for a healthy, young woman without any food allergies or sensitivities.  The restrictions were based on fear and avoidance.  Fear of triggering flashbacks or panic attacks; and avoidance as my coping strategy to not get triggered.

*Main difference here: I was aware of this and able to make the conscious choice to challenge these fears with support from medical nutrition therapy and mental health counseling.*

One cannot have an earing disorder without a history/pattern of existing disordered eating habits.

Example of my thoughts while practicing anorexia:
I’m too heavy.  I don’t deserve to eat this food or even enjoy food.  My parents, these teachers, are all trying to control me and force me to (insert physical activity here).  If I’m too weak, they can’t make me do it.  I hate my body.  It’s the reason why these monsters want to hurt me.  If I don’t eat, my body will change; they won’t want to use me anymore.  I have to punish myself for losing control at (insert family event), so not eating (insert favorite food) anymore will prove that I have will power, etc.

Can you tell the difference in my thought processes?

Why is this important?

Stress does odd things to mental and physical processes.  It changes internal chemistry too.  Trauma causes changes in development.  All of this can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Advertising and the internalized messages from caregivers also have an impact on body image, self-esteem, and eating habits.

As a child, I starved and had to scrounge for food when my parents forgot or didn’t feel like cooking/feeding me.  Most of what I ate were sandwiches, pastries, toast, and junk food (cookies, chips, canned whatever) that got stored in the pantry.  The refrigerator was too heavy to open until I was about 5 years old.

As I got older, my mom put me on the same diets she was on.  And punished me by taking away any food I liked whenever the diets didn’t work.  She fed me less so she could eat more because it was my fault she gained weight.  Yeah, fhat doesn’t make sense.  But it’s how she justified her eating habits.

Then came the constant criticism about:

  • how I looked
  • my eating habits
  • food choices

Finally, there were (inevitable) comparisons to cousins of a similar age and generation from everyone.  Too fat, too skinny, too clumsy, too weak…

Connection: Stressful Situations & Self Care (i.e. eating habits)

I don’t know about you, but many of the survivors I have met and talked to have weight problems, immune system problems, and health problems that seem to stem from A) food choices; B) thoughts and beliefs about nutrition; C) beliefs about what their bodies deserve or don’t deserve in relation to food and health; and D) a lack of their own sense of self.  For myself, I still struggle with all four of these topics and probably will for the rest of my life.

Life transitions are among the biggest stressors in my life.  By transition, I mean lots of small changes that accumulate to create a BIG change.

Some examples: legal name change; moving cross country; reconnecting with family; changing jobs; deciding not to hide anymore; advocating for myself at work; decorating my apartment; talking with an attorney; getting my first bank loan approved; becoming more active on social media; changing my self-perceptions for improved self-image.

Hope

But even after all of this, I feel hope and joy whenever a change comes my way.  Each experience taught me that a positive outlook, faith in myself and in the universal energy (aka spirtual or religious belief system) being there to support me as long as I welcome it into my life.

I know that each time something like this comes up, I will feel stressed out.  My body might go into these automatic patterns, or they might not.  The big difference is that I am aware this can happen and can put together safety plans to help recover faster once the stress eases up.

And as long as I stay within the criteria my medical nutrition counselor gave me, I will not fall into a relapse of anorexia no matter what my mind and body are telling me.

Options

If you are not sure whether you are experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder, maybe it’s time to talk with a professional.

Mental health counselors who specialize in eating disorders and have trauma experience are a good first step.

If you are not comfortable talking with a counselor, talking with your primary physician is also a good first step.  He or she can get you a referral to meet with a registered dietitian or nutrition specialist.  Or maybe refer you to a program that offers food and nutrition support.

Finally, there are many non-profit organizations and social media groups (legitimate ones) who offer support for people with diet and eating challenges.  A lot of their resources are free and available in a safe, non-judgmental (sometimes anonymous) location too.

Whatever your eating challenges may be, I wish that you all find the support and resources you need to be successful.

Thanks for reading.