Self Care: Sleepy Day & Short Post

I planned to write a follow up post about coping strategies for air travel when everything goes wrong.  That ways my Thursday/Friday experience traveling home.

But I’m too tired.  My body and brain ned to decompress before the work week starts up on Monday.  After crossing 3 time zones in 1 day and being awake for about 40 hours straight (including airplane naps), every part of me just wants to rest.  Our sleep deficit has not been this bad since before moving here.

Happy Sunday to anyone in the Northern Hemisphere.  Happy Monday to anyone in the Southern Hemisphere.

May you all take time for sleep& self care today also.

Thanks for reading.

Back to Basics: Building Small Successes

In terms of life, this week sucked.  Flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, more spider bites, and unexpected costs of flight/hotel to go visit family just made me miserable.  On top of  that, I’m still mostly unpacked, feeling low energy, and having noise/heat issues again.  Still, these heat and noise issues are nowhere near as bad as as the last place.

Did I mention the smoker who breaks the rules and smokes pot in the building?  No?  All I can say is that I can’t wait to start blending and diffusing essential oils in my place again.

But all the small stuff adds up, accumulates until my mind is overwhelmed and unable to cope with normal stuff.

So, back to basics.  Stay home.  Sleep as much as possible.  Set small goals.  Ask for help.  Act on the help.  Use every known coping strategy or technique available.  Then use them again.  Set a goal.  Conserve energy.  Accomplish the goal.

This week’s goal: set up my new bed frame and sleep on it.

With Ikea bed frames, it helps to also be creative, resilient, and resourceful – all characteristics trauma survivors learn in order to cope with the craziness.  Here’s an example of my resourcefulness:

Headboard to frame...
Cushions prop up the frame so one person can attach the headboard without help

Now, it’s Sunday night in the US, possibly edging into Monday morning depending on your time zone.  And in spite of some misgivings and one wobbly bit, I now have a bed frame put together.  Yay!  A real bed to sleep on.  With my new peanuts blanket and favorites sheets.  Fresh pillow cases to lie on too.

And here is the finished bed:

New bed
Bed first, the rest comes later 🙂

Hope the spiders don’t follow me in there.

And for anyone else struggling for whatever reasons, please remember that you got through it once before.  It was hard then; it’s hard now.  But you’ll get through this time too.

Thanks for reading!

Coping Strategy: Letting go of negative feelings visualization

This is my first time trying to articulate a meditation practice that I created and want to share.  Please excuse any awkwardness as I try to put this into a framework that makes sense outside of my mind.  Feel free to skip the background section and go right to the visualization practice instructions at the bottom of the post.

Background

I have always struggled with expressing and letting go of negative feelings, especially anger and shame.  My parts also struggle with finding healthy, positive, safe ways to express and then let go of anger.  Shame is something all of us try to acknowledge and let go of, but sometimes requires the assistance of an objective third party.

Many people will say that exercise, journaling, crafts, punching pillows, yelling, dancing, tearing paper, drawing, etc. can help release the negative energy that comes with anger.  I agree with those people in a general sense.  Personally, every single one of the suggested activities can be or is triggering and makes my feelings worse.  Only in the past year have I been able to utilize any of these strategies without being triggered.

Lashing out is not something I ever wanted to do.  Therapy and internal reflection taught me how to identify triggers that caused the lashing out at other people/objects/beings.  Real friends and mentors helped me become aware of my words and actions so that I could change my behaviors through a combination of CBT and DBT.  These days I hardly ever lash out at others.  And when I do, I work hard to reflect on why and not feel shame about making a mistake.

The Hotline and therapy sessions along with self-help books eventually helped me stop lashing out at myself – punishment, self-harm, reckless and dangerous behaviors – except under certain conditions when I have to use last resort coping strategies.  Meditation, reflection, and grounding strategies helped me the most with this kind of lashing out.

But none of these strategies or techniques helped me safely express the negative energy that comes with feeling angry or let go of the negative feelings that come from a flashback.

I had to figure out a way to express or let go of the energy stressing out my body without physical activity that caused more instead of less pain and negativity.

That’s how this meditation or visualization practice works.  It helps me let go of the negative feelings and associated energy bursts without moving or harming anyone.  Maybe it will help you too.

The Visualization

Move into a comfortable position that supports your whole body (I prefer lying down)

Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths.  Inhale for 10 seconds.  Pause for 10 seconds.  Exhale for 10 seconds.  Repeat.

Next imagine you are sitting in a clear bubble.  You can see everything around you (a 360 degree view), but none of it can reach you inside the bubble.  You are safe inside the bubble.  You control what enters and leaves the bubble.

All around you the negative feelings are moving – sometimes they look like dark clouds, other times bright streams of light; maybe monsters, or spiders, or ghosts.  But you are safe inside your bubble.  The negative feelings can’t hurt you or take over.  The negative energy can’t hurt you or take over.

Now imagine a large recycling container with a vacuum on one side and a hose on the other side.  The vacuum sucks the negative feelings and energy into the container.  The container recycles the negative feelings and energy into neutral feelings and energy unrelated to you and any of your experiences.  Then the hose pumps the neutral feelings and energy back into the universe.  All of this is done using a remote control.

The remote control is inside your bubble.  You turn on the recycling container and adjust the speed.  As you watch, the vacuum starts sucking up the negative feelings and energy. You control the speed and sound of vacuuming and the recycler.

Slowly, but surely, the area around your bubble changes, becomes lighter, less crowded, less foggy until all of the negative feelings and energy bothering you right now is gone.  You turn off the recycling container, put it away, and observe your surroundings.

Notice any color changes, or sensory changes.  Notice your breathing – is it still slow and deep, or rapid and quick.  Observe how your body feels – are the muscles relaxed or tense?  Observe your energy levels – have they lowered or evened out or something else? Observe your feelings – do you feel more or less clearheaded, calm, relaxed?

Take two slow deep breaths.  Inhale for 10 seconds.  Pause for 10 seconds.  Exhale for 10 seconds.  Repeat.

Continue to breathe slow and deep.  Open your eyes when you feel ready.

***feel free to substitute your images for mine at any time in the visualization.  Some people prefer sitting inside an auditorium with a clear dome or laying on the grass instead.  The goal is for you to try this meditation and then adapt it to suit your specific needs if it works***

Thanks for reading this long post.

Shame: Another Backlash Epiphany

Introduction

There have been a lot of good experiences and positive changes in my life lately.  There have also been some unsettling realizations and uncomfortable changes about how I see myself and interact with the world.

The Pain of June (past)

One of the most difficult parts of June is pain management.  When I am awake, my body hurts.  As I try to sleep, my body still hurts.  I want to stay home and rest because the pain keeps me awake.  None of my “regular” coping strategies work.  In the past, the more I tried to use any coping strategies, the more pain I felt.  The more I tried to relax, the more tension my body experienced.

I felt at war with myself, and giving in to my OCD self- harm compulsions was the only way to get relief.  Because self-harm made the obsessive thoughts, voices, and words go away.  But the self-harm provided temporary relief and was addictive.  The window of relief shrunk as my body got used to the distraction.  And like any other addict, I had to increase the pain and self-harm to get any relief.

The Pain of June (present)

This year, the pain arrived on schedule.  The OCD compulsions to self-harm DID NOT follow.  The body memories, flashbacks, and hallucinations did follow the pain.  I’ve been living with the hallucinations for a week now.  The pain has ebbed and flowed…some days worse than others.  But the weekly Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments have helped a lot.

I use TCM because each visit includes acupuncture and body work in the form of cupping, massage, or gau sha.  My intern practitioner also teaches me self-massage techniques I can use between appointments.  Together, the acupuncture, massage, and body work helps manage my pain to acceptable levels in spite of triggers.  This allows me to sleep less, feel more energetic, and do more with my time.  (all positive changes)

The Shame of Backlash

The downside is intense backlash and triggering that feels different and is difficult to cope with.  Shame is one of the few emotions we all still struggle with.  It’s something that requires help and perspective from an objective third party who can listen with empathy and help clear out the confusing bits.

Once the shame trigger is identified, healing with coping strategies can begin.  Why the hotline?  Because my counseling sessions take place every week or 1.5 weeks and this type of trigger often occurs between sessions.  If the hotline can’t help, I do reach out to my therapist.  But only when all other resources have been utilized first.

The hotline helped me and my triggered parts calm down enough until our weekend session.  Calm down as in be able to sleep and quiet the anxiety the evening before therapy; not as in make the backlash go away.  My therapist witnessed how the backlash affected me in real time.  She asked some questions and helped me understand why this version of backlash felt different:

Therapist: how do you feel?
Me: I feel fine; just tired.  My emotions are calm even though I am experiencing backlash.
Therapist: how does your body feel?
Me: tense.  All of my muscles hurt, but especially around here (pointing).
Therapist: you’re braced for an attack.  Am I correct in thinking this?
I paused
Me: yes, you’re right.  I do feel braced for an attack – a slap of some kind or my head being pulled back by my hair.

The backlash is my younger par way of saying:
don’t do this!  It’s dangerous.  Our body is going to get hurt.  Then ALL of us will feel t he pain.  And we’ll be humiliated in front of everyone.  And then be punished even worse.

Conclusion

This time, backlash has to do with memories of physical abuse for showing confidence or accomplishments instead of hiding and letting someone else take the credit.  It happens most often when I interact with the world by sharing my experience, skills, knowledge, accomplishments, and abilities with confidence.

The more often I step out and do this, the more often I experience backlash.  When combined with anniversaries or other flashbacks, the pain increases.  Emotional distress remains the same or decreases.  With this new information, my therapist and I are working on coping strategies and techniques for pain-related flashbacks.

As I learn more, I will share the information in future posts.

 

 

Thanks for reading

 

 

Coping Strategy: Meditation Conflicts & Confusion

A quick review of my thoughts about and experience with meditation

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

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

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

Different kinds of meditation suit different purposes

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

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

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

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

Lessons from almost 2o years of meditation practice

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

Conclusion

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

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

Thanks for reading.