Coping Challenge: What is fun? What is play?

This is a reflective post…

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And so it begins…

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

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

Coping strategies involving fun….

Part of self care is doing things I enjoy.

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

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

Way back when…

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

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

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

These days…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Questions….

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

Thanks for reading

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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  • 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.