Self Care: Sleep, aromatherapy, herbs & Ice Packs

I slept most of the weekend trying to cope with feeling sick and achy. No I don’t have the coronavirus. Maybe it’s allergies.

But most often, this time of year, it’s a special brand of cold and sinus-like symptoms that make me feel like I have a swollen face, stuffy/drippy nose, sore throat, and clogged ears.

Not exactly a lot of fun.

On Saturday, my counselor taught me a new tapping routine for my face that seems to help too.

So what did I do all weekend?

Sleep more than 20 hours this weekend. I woke up long enough to meet with my counselor on Saturday and didn’t wake up until almost 2pm on Sunday.

Drink sanity chai and moistening cold tea because the sanity chai is warming and drying while the cold tea helps add moisture back to my dry self and cools me down from the inside out. Yes I need both because the moisture to make all that drippy stuff had to come from somewhere inside me right?

So what does each do? And why?

Well, the sanity chai helps in a lot of ways, but for the purposes of this post:

  1. Warms me up from the inside out when I feel too cold inside and too hot on my skin
  2. Has astringent herbs to help dry out the places with too much moisture and reduce swelling (inside nose and cheeks)
    1. But the drying part works everywhere in my body, not just the areas that need it
  3. Helps me move stuff inside my body, improve digestion, and circulate blood – more sneezing, etc., but at least it’s coming out instead of staying in

And the marshmallow root/fennel seed cold (more like room temperature) tea does this:

  1. Balances the heat from the chai so that I don’t start sweating or get a rash from too much heat coming out at once
  2. Moistens the cells, tissues, organs, etc. from the inside out so that the sore throat and feelings of dehydration/dry skin, etc. go away
  3. Helps with digestion and elimination so that all the stuff being moved around goes where it’s supposed to go – i.e. nutrients to the cells, blood to nourish the body, and waste to the elimination organ systems.

As for the ice packs, well I resisted them for a long time. For some reason that I can’t remember, using ice packs triggers anxiety. Lots of anxiety. But Sunday night I used an ice pack to reduce the swelling around my nose, cheeks jaws,, and eye sockets. Yes, I am being very specific because there are many places on the face that can get swollen. But these places always get swollen, puffy, and angry on my face this time of year.

No idea why. I can’t remember. Wish I could because that would help me figure out more effective coping strategies. But life is what it is.

So if I”m a little late in posting the next few weeks, it’s because I have a cold that’s not a cold and am figuring out how to stay healthy.

Thanks for reading.

Admin: R&R weekend

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

Hello Guests,

If you celebrate, Happy Easter and all that. I hope you managed to celebrate in your own way even if you can’t gather with loved ones this year.

As for me, April comes with some sad anniversaries and memories around Easter. Between that and having some challenging, yet positive discussions about the past with my parents, my body memories flared up this weekend.

All my sinuses and other parts of my face got swollen and are still somewhat painful right now. I spent the weekend sleeping, drinking herbal remedies (tea and soup) to help with the congestion and swelling, and practicing healing meditation when I wasn’t a sleep.

So I don’t have much to share with you this week. All I ask is that you please follow the rules and regulations in place to reduce chances of the infection spreading to other populations. Be mindful of yourself and practice self care as much as possible.

If you are like me, please take extra pains with self care and meeting your needs. Because you might not meet the typical criteria for being high risk, but you are high risk if your mental/emotional challenges manifest as physical illness that lowers your immune system. That is how I often end up sick or manifesting cold-like or sinus infection or flu symptoms when I don’t have any of those infections.

I promise I am taking care of myself, staying safe, and only going out to pick up deliveries – with washable gloves on because my disposable ones have disappeared. I swear I packed them, honest. But they refuse to be found right now. Maybe some day, they will reappear. Until then, laundry works.

Stay safe and take good care!

Thanks for reading!

Sensory Movement Challenge Day 1 – from the ground up

Ground UP – Feet First, then everything else Why start from the bottom up? Well, that’s personal to my recovery journey. My physical health goal this year is to feel grounded and stable as I move. Not wobbly and worried about falling all the time. If you decide to join me on this, you can start anywhere you like. I’ve included 2 specific exercises and 1 general exercise you can try here. Reflection is at the bottom of the post. Exercise 1: Foot Joint exercise from Dynamic Aging by Kathy Bowman

Sensory Movement Challenge Day 1 – from the ground up — Scent Reflections LLC

Body Memories: Identity – what do I look like (self and other perceptions)

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

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

This is not something I discuss often because the memories are jumbled up – a tangled mess that is filled with distortion. My perception of the experiences will be different from others who have known me in the past or shared the experience.

So I write posts like this with the following caveat:
My memories are distorted and filled with a perception based on negative body image and negative identity. That was then and not who I am now. This story is as factual as possible given the memory holes and distortion. Please read with skepticism.

Anorexia

My anorexia started with disrupted eating patterns and negative beliefs about food, weight, dieting, and self image from early childhood until early adulthood. At first, I internalized the messages from the women in my family – most of whom had weight issues and were constantly dieting – about how a female should look, what she should eat, how much to eat, when/where, etc. in order to be a proper young lady.

I’ve always been short and skinny. My weight problems included gaining weight and maintaining a healthy weight. As a child, that got me reverse shaming – comparisons with other family members saying “oh you’re so lucky you don’t have to worry about your weight. You’re so skinny and you eat like a bird. Wish I was that skinny and could lose weight like you do.” Their “praise” always came at a cost – “Oh you look so pretty and skinny. Why can’t you be as outgoing as your cousins?” or “Look at her; she’s so skinny and pretty. But don’t worry because you’re smarter and have social skills + grace. That’s so much better since looks go away fast.”

Whenever my mom went on a diet, I did too. Because in her mind, we shared a body. So I never saw myself as skinny or thin. People around me did. I always thought I was fat, overweight, and clumsy.

Sometimes, I still feel that way.

The eating disorder started around 5 years old; after the first time I was raped and gang raped. These people liked how I looked and that I was strong and resilient enough to take whatever punishments they handed out. Losing weight was a way to punish myself, control something in my out-of-control world, and punish the people around me by giving them what they accused me of being – a weak, skinny, ugly, dumb, socially awkward child.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Anorexia physically changes a person on the outside and the inside. By the time I hit my teens, I had done enough damage to not be considered “beautiful” or “pretty” anymore. I looked sick and tired and weak most of the time. It was easy for people to ignore me and not take me seriously.

That contributed to the social awkwardness – I couldn’t speak up or have conversations or friends with all the secrets – and my ability to be invisible anywhere at any time.

The downside – once I did speak and get people’s attention, they didn’t/couldn’t/maybe wouldn’t forget me. Or that fact that I was not exactly what I pretended to be to everyone else.

But the experiences leading up to the eating disorder taught all parts of me (because yes, I had already started developing alter personalities by 5 years old) to learn ways of manipulating my body and personality to meet other people’s perceptions of who I was supposed to be. I stayed skinny. My body was thin and bruised easily. I cried a lot and was quiet the rest of the time. It was obvious that I was smart, but also flighty because I had a hard time paying attention and participating in class. Kids didn’t want to be around me because I was too shy, quiet, and weird. Easy for the popular kids to make fun of and use for mean games.

And so, I learned that my survival was based on becoming whatever other people wanted me to be on a moment’s notice.

Who was I? What did I look like in my own eyes?

Young girl: Fat, clumsy, ugly, awful, stupid girl who didn’t deserve to live. Not as good as her cousins or younger brother. Not graceful or acceptable or good at anything. Hates her body. Hates being female. Always being used and shamed.

Adolescent girl: skinny, nerdy bookworm with too many curves and a bad attitude to keep people away from her. Hated herself, hated everyone around her and just wanted to disappear. Boobs too big or not big enough. Butt too big and got too much attention. Skinny in spite of that and always too short. Everyone made fun of me for being too short. Irritable all the time because I couldn’t be myself and show my personality in school. Hated being there and having to find ways to deal with bullies and teachers without blowing my hide-in-plain-sight cover. Lots of temper and anger management issues.

Young adult: ugly, fat, woman who gets too much attention even though she wears ill-fitting clothes. nothing to live for. hates her body and her self. hates her life. ready to die, but suicide doesn’t work. questions the meaning of life when everything hurts all the time, and she can’t even move without pain anymore. Doesn’t want this body. Hates herself and everyone around her. Does not respect anyone or anything. Anger and shame all the time.

Adult in Recovery: plain, sometimes attractive woman with a slender, curvy body she is learning to love, recognize, and accept. Chooses to live and be healthy by listening to and communicating with her body. Working together with all parts of herself, she learns how to change negative relationships and beliefs into neutral and positive ones. Pain is constant, and she doesn’t like her body much because it draws too much attention. But at least she is learning to be, express, and respect her authentic self. This woman has something to live for and values all the gifts in her life.

Adult now: not conventionally attractive, but happy with how she looks. 9 times out of 10, this woman recognizes the face and body reflected back from the mirror. She appreciates and embraces her curves, works with herself and other practitioners to find/utilize effective coping strategies that feel good, are positive and sustainable, and support her healthy lifestyle goals. She lives an authentic lifestyle full of love, laughter, and as many emotions as she can feel, express, and move on from every day. Her body hurts less, and the body memories are finally starting to leave her physical form. But that creates some anxiety and confusion because now her body is changing and looking/feeling/moving different again.

Other Perceptions

If you’ve read past posts, you have an idea of the negative beliefs taught to me growing up. If you’ve read the paragraphs before this one, you also can get an idea of the perceptions others have/had about me.

Perceptions are subjective opinions based on observations and shared information. Maybe that information is factual, maybe not. Maybe the observations are accurate, maybe they are missing vital clues and cues. Subjective means the observations and information are filtered through the individual’s own knowledge base and sense of self; then mixed with existing opinions, biases, information, emotions, etc. to create the opinion.

For many years, I relied on outside perceptions to understand who I was. I didn’t have an identity or a sense of self. My trainers considered me a blank slate with no personality. Peers who wanted to hurt and insult me called me a person without a personality. They thought it was the worst possible insult ever because as teens we all want to be seen as individuals with cool personalities who also fit in with our friend group(s). My mother taught me that we were the same person living in two different bodies; whatever she suffered, I suffered too. Her problems were my problems. Her failures, my failures.

But, not true with any positive or successful accomplishments. They were all hers.

I can’t remember when I decided to stop looking outward for approval and acceptance. Maybe during grief counseling after one aunt died in high school. Maybe when I started seeing the college mental health counselors. Or a college professor/mentor took me aside for a private talk. Or maybe when the police finally broke up the pedophile ring and put many of the people in jail. I was shunned for the last two years of high school because of the rumors and also some popular kids’ witnessing of me as my alter personality at those events.

But people always looked at me and made assumptions. Their perception was always based on first impressions and my physical appearance. It made my life easy because anyone who had a negative response to me was someone to avoid. That worked until I graduated college and had to get a job.

But by then, I had started counseling and was working on the idea of identity and perception. It was a concept I learned in college psychology classes and followed up on in my own time. The mental health counselor at the time taught me how to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and meditation to work through cognitive distortions and perceptions about myself, people around me, and experiences.

Identity

Identity is a work in progress that occurs throughout life.

Change is constant – always happening, never stopping. People can learn to accept and work with the change or resist/deny/fight the change and struggle in the aftermath as the change occurs.

Who I am now is not who I was in the past. Is not who I will be in the future.

But who I am now is the best version of my authentic self I can be in this moment and who I strive to be as I continue to learn, grow, and become.

It took a long time for me to stop hating myself and all the people around me. It took even longer to learn how to respect myself so that I could respect other people; then earn their respect too. Finally, learning to love myself is a constant practice. It’s easy to say the words, but difficult to do because it means accepting all the parts of myself I like and all the parts of myself I feel uncomfortable about. It means accepting what I have said and done in the past, what I say and do now, and that life circumstances can take away the choices that make me me.

If you were wondering, this is where the meditation practice comes in. Meditation helps me observe my self, my memories, and my experiences through an objective lens or perspective. From there, I can think about my choices and what I could have, might have, or would have said/done/felt/thought differently. And the possible outcomes if something changed.

Yes, that could spiral down into negative or catastrophic thinking. But thoughtful, caring, non-judgmental observation allows me to learn from my past instead of wallow in shame and guilt about what happened. Then, if a similar experience happens again (and it almost always will), I can think back on the past and choose a different path with a potential different outcome.

If it’s the same person and the outcome is the same even with a different choice, then I can say to myself: “I tried something different this time. I made choice and a change. The other person did not change or or react or act different. My change made things worse, but it’s not my responsibility or my fault because I did my best. I can feel what I feel and express these emotions safely; then let it go and move on.”

If it’s the same person and a different outcome, then maybe it was one or both of us who created something that allowed us to create a solution or a compromise or decide to not interact anymore…

You get the idea, yes? Because that works for similar situations and different people or context too.

But these mental exercises and examinations of my self: reactions, actions, feelings, thoughts, etc. are what helped me create a positive identity and sense of self not based on external accomplishments, but internal values.

So when the external stuff gets taken away (i.e. breakup with friend or partner, job loss or change, accident, etc.), I am still me with a stable identity and secure sense of self based on faith, unconditional love, respect, and acceptance. Not just of who I am, but also who each being I meet is too.

That is why I chose the photo of a man and a woman sitting together and smiling for today’s graphic representation. They look happy, healthy, comfortable with themselves, and comfortable with each other.

Thanks for reading. I wish I could add more photos, but honestly, I struggled to find even one photo that worked with today’s topic.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: Body Memories, Movement, and Sensory Grounding

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

Grapes and Sensory Information

Grapes are an interesting fruit. As a sensory grounding tool, they can be used with all five senses. Taste, touch, sound (have you ever squished a grape by accident…or maybe on purpose?), smell, and sight. Plus, finding a stock photo of grapes is a lot easier than one about the five (or four) senses. So today’s featured photo is of ripe grapes on a vine.

Personally, all parts of me prefer to use semi-sweet dark chocolate or frozen blueberries for sensory grounding meditation or breathing exercises, but we like grapes, raspberries, apples, tea, and cheese in a pinch. Coffee works great too, but none of us like the taste enough to drink it. And chocolate was easy for me (any version of me) to get as it did dual jobs as comfort food too.

Fruits were not always as easy to get and store for an emergency, middle-of-the-night trigger. Or an “I’m on my way into work on public transit and am having a flashback” type of situation. You get the idea. So I experimented with a lot of different types of food and snacks. Cookies, brownies, cake, pizza, sandwiches, granola bars, and so on. Many of them engaged 3 or more senses, but they were not strong enough to reach through the anxiety and fear blocking out everything.

And so the experiments continued until I discovered dark chocolate (candy, bar, morsels, and hot chocolate drink; but not chocolate milk or ice cream) worked 99% of the time to engage all of my senses and bring me to the present moment. That was actually the beginning of my obsession with finding portable items that worked for panic attacks and flashbacks on-the-go.

But, it was also my introduction to learning how to use sensory information in present time and on purpose instead of instinctively in the background of life (i.e. hyper vigilance or chronic pain).

Body Memories vs Flashbacks – or not?

At the beginning of my recovery I thought flashbacks and body memories were two completely different symptoms of my past trauma. And only flashbacks were “medically approved” as symptoms because they were listed under PTSD and other anxiety disorders in the DSM (IV at the time and V now). So I approached coping techniques and strategies for each symptom separately.

All I ever felt in my body was a) numbness; or b) pain. There was never any in-between. More pain or less pain. Numbness or less pain. I didn’t experience or noticed that I expressed emotions – couldn’t feel them even if my body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions showed something else.

Yes, I was that separated from all parts of myself for over 2 decades.

Traditional psychotherapy and group counseling helped me learn to recognize and cope with my emotions and overwhelming mental states. But did not talk much about body sensations or physical pain.

Never mentioned the connection between emotions and physical body sensations at all.

Not every Physical Sensation is Pain
It's our body's way of communicating with us
How we move and think about moving matters
#movementmatters

That was a not-so-happy accident all parts of me discovered during a series of bad panic attacks – one after the other – while working with the first trauma specialist.

The nightmares and emotional flashbacks were lessening in strength and severity, but the physical panic attacks that left me passed out on my bed for hours after experiencing hot flashes, cold chills, and muscle cramps from my legs to my shoulders got worse. Over the counter medications didn’t help. I refused to try anything else or anything stronger because of my past experiences with drugs and alcohol. Movement was not possible; only made the pain worse.

Meditation practice from Jon Kabat Zinn’s audiobook classes did help me learn the difference between pain sensations and other body sensations. He provided mantras and medication practices that helped promote body awareness and “making friends with pain” instead of rejecting or denying it.

I used the mantras and meditation or breathing for the body memories/physical panic attacks.

Then used sensory grounding and everything else for the flashbacks and emotional panic attacks.

But that was partially effective – as in it reduced the frequency, but not the intensity or length of each panic attack fueled by triggers, flashbacks, or body memories.

And that’s when it clicked – a light bulb kind of moment – that I could use sensory grounding strategies to learn the different sensations moving through my body. Maybe even connect them to different emotions I experience at or around the same time the pain or sensation occurs.

The body memories and flashbacks were not different at all. They were/are two parts of the same symptom – experiencing triggers in my mind (flashbacks) and body (body memories) at the same time.

By working with them together and using integrated coping strategies that address all aspects of the trigger, all parts of me (or I as we) learned how to cope with and reduce the effects of our flashbacks, body memories, and panic attacks.

Chinese Medicine + Sensory Grounding + Spiritual Practice = Energy Healing from the inside out

That was enough to convince me to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (includes herbs, energy work, body work/massage, and a holistic approach to health/wellness) again.

And spark my curiosity about energy movement in my body. Why can I short out or freeze electrical and mechanical equipment? Why do I break computers and mobile devices so often? How come credit card machines stop working when I get stressed out?

And yes, all that and more has happened when my internal energy is out of whack.

So I used the lessons from Jon Kabat Zinn and other Buddhist teachers to learn about energy medicine through different meditation and moving meditation (yoga, tai chi, and qigong are popular versions) practices. That gave me a level of awareness that let’s me feel inside my body where and how energy is moving through my body. With my fingers and hands, I can palpate muscle groups and feel where energy is blocked and stuck inside me. During treatments, I can track what the needles or acupuncture tools are doing inside my body – i.e. where they are moving and stirring or drawing and releasing energy as it travels inside me.

Remember back at the beginning when I mentioned that this was all instinctive to me at first? I thought it was my hyper vigilance…

And in past posts I mentioned turning weaknesses or challenges into strengths…

Well this is a coping challenge turned into coping strategy.

I was skeptical at first. I didn’t want to believe in energy healing or energy medicine. That people could sense movement and problems in their bodies or be tuned in to energy of other people. But the more I denied it, the worse the physical pain and panic attacks got.

So I embraced it. Used patience and persistence to find faith that it would end soon. And it did. Each one got progressively shorter with less intense periods of shame spirals afterwards. I did not feel the need to self harm as often either.

That was one more step into embracing my authentic (if distinctly weird and unconventional) self.

Body Remembers – Finally Reveals Trauma and Ready for Healing

These days, my body is starting to trust the rest of me and our practitioners with its secrets. What secrets?

Well, the scars for one thing. And the muscle kinks and puffy places in my body that are not actually fat for another.

Wait, I’ve seen a few of the photos you shared and your skin doesn’t have physical scars. Are you talking about emotional scars? or (gasp) invisible scars?

Like everything else on this blog, the truth surprised me as much as it may surprise you:

Yes I have scars. No they are not often visible to the eyes. I think only one scar is visible all the time. The rest appear as textural differences in my skin or sometimes rashes and blemishes (acne). They show up when they feel like it and then disappear until the next time a trigger brings them to the surface.

As for the textural scars, no one notices those unless they can feel my skin or examine it under a magnifying glass. You can guess how many people get that privilege…

The physical pain in my body is caused by my muscles and tissues being frozen in place or numb for many years as a form of self-protection. The puffiness and “knots” under my skin are the tightened forms the muscles and water retention took on to protect themselves from harm.

Only now, 3.5 years after moving west and 16 years into recovery, is my body starting to reveal its secrets and start physically healing. I have rashes in unusual places, but at the same time less physical pain and less knotted muscle groups. I can feel sensation in parts of my body that I haven’t experienced in decades – yes decades.

My youthful looks are a genetic gift/curse/quirk. But I haven’t felt my lower and middle back muscles move since I was 5 years old – 32 years ago. My shoulders used to lock up every time I started to stretch and do more than lift laundry baskets and groceries until 2019-2020.

So this is all new to me. And exciting too. Because now that I can understand and communicate with my body, all parts of me can start moving more and enjoying more of life.

Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Thanks for reading.