Life Changing Moments: Self-Acceptance

A Panic Attack Makes the Difference

After Wednesday’s post I had a panic attack and felt very frustrated with myself.  On the one hand, I was happy that I followed through on the personal challenge to socialize, be friendly, and show all parts of myself to everyone I met.  On the other hand, I felt upset and overwhelmed because the cultural and social norms are so different than anything I am used to dealing with.  Talking feels so frustrating sometimes.  And the discomfort of when to speak or not to speak and how much or little gets confusing.  But I wasn’t upset with anyone on the outside – my friends and family, the people in my neighborhood – because they are who they are and speak/behave as they will.

No I was upset with myself for falling into the pit again.  I gave myself a year to experiment with “fitting in” in this new place.  I would observe and follow the local customs as best as possible while also staying true to myself and letting people really “see” me.  Not an easy task, but something that did happen over time.  Without the cloud of my past hanging over my head, I learned to separate different kinds of triggers and how to cope with some better than others.

Hence the panic attack.  People and environmental triggers still send me into flashbacks that distort my perceptions of reality.  Sometimes I am aware of this, and sometimes I am not.  When I am aware, I usually stay inside and avoid people/circumstances that will make things worse.  When I am not aware, I use the complicated experiences as teachable moments to help for next time and hope that whatever happened did not destroy any budding positive relationships.  This time though, I still went out and interacted with people I thought were safe – i.e. friends who knew about my past and accepted the differences in my worldview as I did theirs – in different social situations.

Ever hear of the phrase “fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me”?

Well that’s kind of how I feel right now.

I chose to open up and see what would happen.  I chose to believe people when they said that I could be all of myself around them – including asking for help when I felt panic, anxiety, or triggering in public/social situations – without judgement.  I chose to take these people up on their offers to help me with issues of perception and understanding social situations.

And I chose to ask them for help when something like this did happen.

So why do I feel so shamed and upset with myself for other people’s inability to accept that my perceptions and worldview are different?

And why do I continue to try to explain a situation to a close minded individual who holds up past examples of why she or he is correct and only hears what supports that belief?

Why get myself into these traps with people?

  • Because I care.
  • Because those traps are triggering and remind me of  the convoluted, crazy-making conversations from my past even though they are not the same.
  • Because even though arguing hurts, sometimes it has to be done. The consequences coped with like any other trigger or anxiety situation.
  • And because I don’t want these people thinking something wrong about me – they are friends or acquaintances close to becoming friends – because of something I didn’t understand or a social faux pas.

Questioning My Beliefs

Arguing always upsets me.  Asserting myself makes me feel queasy and shaky for days.  But I’d rather feel upset, queasy, shaky, etc. than helpless, hopeless, powerless, and without choices because I didn’t stand up for myself.  And I’d rather challenge someone and feel good about using open, direct communication than letting stuff fester until it explodes.

So while I may not be a “traditional” or “typical” person who epitomizes an empath, I am one.  I am also a new to being an empath – the memories of past experiences and mistakes from this extra perception have been flooding my mind lately – and freely admit this to anyone who asks.  It does get confusing sometimes because I have alter personalities with their own feelings & memories.  Some of them share the empathic senses while others do not.  And when one of them senses danger from a trigger, I am more than happy to help test reality and see if this perception is true or not.

This “reality testing” coping technique is often part of what makes talking with people challenging.  I will ask question or make comments and ask for their perspective.

  • If the person knows me really well, she or he understands I am feeling anxious or triggered and responds with reassurance and acceptance.
  • If the person is aware of my past, but doesn’t truly understand me, he or she will call me “dramatic” or “over-sensitive” or “paranoid” and lecture me about looking for the worst in people and situations.
  • If the person is aware of my past and gets triggered by my comment or question, she or he will attack or accuse me of “making assumptions” or “being rude & arrogant” or “reading too much into something” and then try to “help” me by pointing out my flaws (with examples) and try to “change my behavior”.

What happens next?

  • Option 1: I express gratitude, let go of the triggered perception, relax and move on.
  • Option 2: I feel triggered, try to explain again & again without getting through to the person who’s mind is made up and end up feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself
  • Option 3: I get mad and start mirroring the other persons actions until we have time apart.  Then I use self-reflection and talk with someone objective to figure out a solution. Eventually, I assert myself and the miscommunication gets cleared up – sometimes with a positive ending; other times with a negative ending.  If lucky, with a neutral ending that we can build on in the future.

 

AS you can see, I’m not perfect.  I get mad.  I lose my  temper.  I say or do things I don’t mean when angry or upset.

BUT I don’t lash out on purpose.  I don’t hurt people on purpose.  I don’t blame others on purpose.  And I work really hard to listen, respect, and accept what the other person is saying no matter my personal opinions or beliefs.

In the end, I question whether or not I:

  1. Can interact with lots of people in positive ways
  2. Can make new friends or develop more relationships
  3. Can go back to school or pursue group activities
  4. Can ever talk and make sense to outside people (not victims or survivors or professionals who work with both)
  5. Can be a good friend or partner or cousin, etc.
  6. Have changed for the better and can pursue my goals in spite of my challenges

ACCEPTANCE helps me realize that while I can do all of these things, it’s not going to change the other people’s beliefs and reactions.  They will believe what they want and stick to those opinions no matter how much of my words make sense.  So I can continue making myself crazy or I can understand that these people are not going to change their opinions of me and let it go.

Self Acceptance

The answer is YES as long as I can accept myself and feel good about my choices.

I put myself out in the world.  I let many people see my vulnerabilities and challenges.  Sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed.  I met a few people whose opinions matter; we are slowly working to build a friendship.  I met a few people who will make good acquaintances instead of friends.  I met old friends and colleagues after a year away and realized that change comes to us all; how we cope with change defines what happens next.

I realized that no matter what I say, sometimes the words fall on closed minds and deaf ears.  These people can’t or won’t accept my words because it challenges their self-perceptions and worldviews too much.   Instead, I have to be wrong.  And our relationship can’t change.  Who are they, what role do they play when they realize I am self-aware and not in need of their mentoring/guidance etc. or willing to play their games anymore?  Where does that leave our relationship?

Where it leaves the other people, I don’t know.  And honestly, as long as it doesn’t cause major harm, illness, or death in their world, I don’t care.

For myself, it gave me choices.  And helped me understand certain realities.

Like the fact that I feel more comfortable with myself now than I have before.  That I have changed and opened up for the better and want to continue.  This opening up and internal change has brought out visible external changes too.  One external change being self-assurance and security in who I am.  Not so much self-confidence which is part of assurance, but acceptance of self with the goal to continue changing and improving.

Like the fact that parts of me will always feel and act upon the negative self-perceptions from Wednesday’s post, but those perceptions will not inform thoughts, feelings, or behavior as much anymore.  Or like the fact that positive for me tends to sound negative to everyone else.  And positive to everyone else often sounds unrealistic or rosy to me.

So I can accept that these people who might or might not continue to be friends, but will always be friendly acquaintances, view me in a somewhat negative light even if they admire my strength and resilience.  And I can accept that it’s time for me to let them go.  I wrote them an email thanking them for their honesty and friendship and sent a link to the post explaining my communication issues.

What happens next is up to  them.  Because I am finished.  Finished letting my fear of sounding funny or not making sense stand in my way.  Finished trying to be something I am not.  Finished trying to “have friends’ and “be social” on acceptable levels.  Who’s idea of “acceptable” is it anyways?

I am grateful for the wonderful friendships that already exist.  I am grateful for the limited but fulfilling family relationships that exist.  I am grateful for the opportunity to meet lots of people and have interactions that always teach me something.

Now it’s time to go back to being my happy, solitary self.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: A Story about Perspective & Goals

Schedule Change this week: I may not be able to post on the regular days due to anniversaries – PLUS ANOTHER LONG POST

The Story

Between January of last year and March of this year, I went through the process of applying to graduate school for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  That & aromatherapy are what I’d like to be my second career, so it seemed like a good thing to do and provide opportunities to meet people in a new city.  Plus, I had been going there for a few months to get treatment at the teaching clinic and really liked the school’s philosophy, training approach, professionalism, etc.

Many of my friends, co-workers, and family members were happy for me.  Almost all of them knew how much I wanted to work in the healing arts and couldn’t take those steps during the first round of college.  I was still scared and worried that my PTSD and DID would get in the way, but I also felt hopeful because everything was different.   Interpersonal communication, socializing, and interacting with people was still difficult.  The fears, panic attacks, and communication issues still existed, but I was ready to face these challenges head on.

I applied for the masters program.  And I persisted even when my application got put aside due to human error/glitch in the admissions department.  My application was accepted, and I was asked to come in for an interview (step 2).  Now, speaking in groups is extremely triggering and scary, not just for me (the host interacting with people), but for everyone in our system.  It brought back a lot of bad memories.

So I coped in the best way I knew: gather information, practice with different people, and focus on what I can control instead of what I can’t control.  Namely, my outfit, accessories, and travel plans.  Then work out a group of coping strategies I could take with me to use.  People who didn’t know me well got the impression that I was not focusing on the important stuff – namely acing my interview questions – and too much on my appearance.  But that’s okay.  Certain forums are NOT the best place for personal confessions.  Not everyone needs to know everything about anything.

The interview was lively with a good flow and many laughs.  They asked the required questions and then some based on the conversation.  Then I asked questions to follow up on some of their comments. But I was brutally honest about all of my personal challenges and possible issues with being in classes and classrooms during the interview.  I felt accomplished about getting through the interview without switching or having a panic attack.

I didn’t expect to get accepted.  Nor did I truly want to be accepted into the program at the time.  Either I would be waitlisted or rejected.

I got wait listed and offered a chance to “sit in” and observe some of the potentially triggering classes; then write an essay about my experiences and have a second interview.  But all of this had to happen before the admissions deadline.  And all of the classes were during the day.  Thankfully, my boss understood and allowed me to change my work schedule for 3 weeks.  It was a great opportunity for me to see if my plan (school and work together) was workable or not.

 

So, I worked, went to acupuncture appointments, went to counseling, blogged, and attended classes for 3 weeks in the spring.  The students and teacher included me in many activities and made me feel like part of the class.  It gave me a perspective I would not have had otherwise and a chance to test myself in a real life situation.

Then came the time for my second interview.  My essay was strictly about experiences related to whether or not I could succeed in a graduate school program in spite of the current challenges.  It did not touch on how I felt or reacted or coped with life in general.  My blog posts touched on that; and in an effort to be transparent and honest, I let the committee members have access to the blog posts during that period too.

The differences in my professional essay to the committee and my blog posts in the same period were glaring and could be misinterpreted by those who don’t understand what it’s like to live on the inside and the outside.  So I explained the differences in the interview.

The blog shares experiences about my whole life (the internal one my alters and I cope with all the time) and all of the recurring coping challenges that come with having PTSD & DID.

The essay focused only on my experiences with the college and whether or not I’d be able to cope with the stress of that and continue my current lifestyle/work.

To reiterate:
What is expressed here on the blog is my whole life including 90% of what people in the outside world DON’T SEE OR KNOW ABOUT ME AND WHAT I HAVE TO COPE WITH ON A DAILY BASIS.

I got rejected for 2017/2018 admissions.

Instead of feeling sad or upset or angry or shamed, I felt happy, grateful, hopeful, and relaxed.

My Perspective & Goals for this Experience

Goal
I went through this process to test my ability to cope and interact with many different kinds of people in a triggering environment full of potential pitfalls.

My learning Style is: Kinesthetic followed by Cognitive
That means I learn best by DOING or PARTICIPATING in the activity or experience followed by Thinking & Processing information I read or learned through all senses.

Like I told the Admissions Committee in both interviews:
My life now is not the same as it was last time I went through graduate school.  I am not the same person then as I am now.  My coping strategies/techniques are different.  My sense of self is different.  My reactions to triggers and stimuli are also different.

HAPPY because I accomplished my goal and learned where I need to improve so that going back to school will be a success

GRATEFUL because the school gave me a unique opportunity to challenge myself and test my skills in a safe, but honest real life situation

HOPEFUL because someday I know that I can and will succeed at graduate school & my second career as long as I work on coping strategies to deal with overstimulation & communication challenges through small steps & successes

RELAXED because now the challenge is over, and I have the information I needed. It was tough, scary, triggering, and full of stress, but also fun, exciting, interesting, and filled with life lessons I am still processing and integrating into the present.

Life Lesson

It’s times like these when Robert Frosts’ poem “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind.

The people who know, love, & accept me as I am might not always understand why I do things the way I do, but they accept that it’s the right way for me and support my choices.

The opposite is true too.

The path we take to recovery & life after surviving trauma is a lot like the road less traveled:
Full of pitfalls, traps, and head-scratching to other people, but exactly right for each and every one of us.

And that’s part of why I write this blog
Everyone deserves to have someone in your corner who values, supports, and accepts them as they are and their choices too.  Someone gave that to me, and it changed my life.  Now I’m grateful to give that to others too.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: Re-Defining the Past

Dental work update

My dental surgery (officially called dental rehabilitation) went well.  Mouth and lips are still swollen and a little sore, but nothing terrible.  I’ve only had to take 2 pain pills between Monday and Tuesday.  The most important thing is taking my antibiotics and following the mouth cleaning instructions.

I’m really happy this happened in May.  Too many of my past medical and dental traumatic experiences occurred between March and May.  The body memories and flashbacks increase and everything goes haywire.  If you visit often, you might have noticed this.

By June, I’m back in crisis care mode – trying to come out of the black hole and “fix” the damage from the last few months.  One thing that always flares up is my book addiction.

Yes, I admit it.  I am addicted to reading and purchasing books.  If I could, I’d have a whole room in my house dedicated to my collection.  As it happens, I recently switched to an electronic book library because of all the moves.  Hopefully, my next one will be the last for a while.  Then I can bring my paper books home where they belong.

So what does all of this have to do with re-defining the past?

Simple.

The goal is to substitute negative experiences with positive ones.  This dental surgery went really well.  All of us in the system cooperated.  No one woke up in the middle of the surgery.  No one has gotten really sick or nauseous from the medication.  Other than the swollen lips and jaw, I look relatively normal and feel pretty good.

The landscape inside my mouth has changed.  It feels good and right to have the bits and pieces (i.e. teeth) that were causing trouble finally gone.  And maybe, just maybe, all of us will be able to “start fresh” with dental hygiene.  No more loss of teeth.  No more cavities.  Actually have a healthy mouth and be able to brush/floss/rinse with mouth wash without flashbacks and body memories.

That’s the goal.

And the care routine the dentist has me on brings me one step closer to creating a routine that doesn’t feel like an addiction or a habit.  Instead, it becomes part of my self care regimen.

Yes, I’m playing with semantics (word meaning) here, but sometimes the minor differences mean a lot.  “Regimen” has positive associations for me.  “Routine” or “habit” have negative associations.

So how else do I cope with the body memories and flashbacks?  Especially when I refuse to self-harm anymore and nothing else is working?

I book binge.

Buy books.  Purge books from personal collection.  Borrow books from library.

And read.

Read lots of books whenever I have a moment of free time.  Spend weekends reading – eating, drinking, sleeping optional – and reading.

I speed read certain types of books.  Others take more time until I learn the author’s rhythm.  Or the professional/academic writing style.  Then I can read it faster.

How is Book Binge different from Reading?

Reading for pleasure and education as a hobby is great.  It’s relaxing and distracting and fun.  I get caught up in the world building and the characters, but I can stop at a reasonable time and sleep.

Reading as an obsession or compulsion to relieve anxiety – not so great.  I worry about buying/borrowing the book.  I worry about starting the book.  I can’t wait to finish and skip to the end; then go back and read the rest of the book (sometimes).  I can’t stop reading even when I’m tired and have to work.

Buying books from favorite authors to re-read when I have the money – great use of my discretionary funds.

Buying books from a variety of authors I like, but don’t love, and may never read again to relieve anxiety – not so great and puts me in debt I can’t afford or crowds an overcrowded apartment.

Conclusion

I’m hoping this dental procedure helps re-define a really bad month of flashbacks and body memories by giving me something good to think about and work with when the darkness feels overwhelming.

And maybe by working on this routine, I will feel less compelled to hide inside books.  I will be able to do something besides immerse myself in fantasy worlds created by amazing authors.

And when nothing in my library or the public library holds my attention (I’ve read or re-read the books too many times in the recent past), I can find something else to do besides buy books and finish them in the same day.  Luckily, Amazon.com has an excellent return policy.

How do you re-define your past so it doesn’t affect the present so much?

Thanks for reading

Quote & Affirmations: Change

andywarhol109768

Wednesday passed in a blur.  I felt so tired that I fell asleep early.  And most of the day was full of distractions.  I didn’t have time to look for a quote or affirmation that suited this post until today.  That’s what happens with a major schedule change.

Many people have negative beliefs about change.  They think change is too hard to accomplish or not worth doing.  Or maybe people can’t change.

Another common belief is that others need to change, but not the individual asking others to change.  Or that people can change other people.

What I’ve learned:

  • Change happens.
  • Change is hard – the realization; the acceptance; the choices; the consequences
  • People can’t change other people, not permanently and not without causing serious harm.
  • People can and do change themselves.  They have to want to change in order for the changes to stick.
  • Influence, persuasion, and coercion are not the same as change.
  • If someone mentions dogs, horses, or trained circus animals,  I will tell you this: dogs change, follow and obey because they want to please their humans; horses are the same; trained circus animals in the past changed or obeyed to avoid pain and punishment.  It’s a choice – change for a positive or negative reason
  • Change is inevitable – sometimes people recognize it, but most times no one really notices until some experience forces awareness.
  • I’d rather be in control of my life, it’s changes, and the direction I choose to follow
  • Recovery is all about change – internal and external for the individual on the path

Surviving at any cost means changing and adapting to the circumstances of life.  It means making choices and following through on them; then living with the consequences later.  The consequences can be what triggers a mental health issue.  Like when I think of all of the mean, negative things I had to say and do to other people, people I cared about, as a child/teen/young adult I feel incredible shame and guilt.

But then I step back and ask myself if I would change anything.  Or if being kind and nice and positive then would have helped me survive?  And the answer is: no, I wouldn’t change my past words and actions.  Being positive or kind or nice back then wouldn’t have helped me or anyone else around me.

People who hate change or won’t/can’t accept it will cause people who are changing a lot of trouble.  Relationships will get stronger, may crumble, or something else?  Many of mine crumbled and died.  Others got stronger.  And new relationships were forged.  I found a family and real friends – not something I could ever have or cherish if I had stayed on the other path.

How do you feel about change?  Do you fight it?  Do you accept it?  Do you struggle in a different way?

All I know is that recovery and resilience get easier if you can embrace, not just accept, change and make change work for you instead of against you.

Thanks for reading.

 

Life Changing Moments: Emotional/Physical Disconnect Part 2

Late with this post…life got in the way

CONSEQUENCES

Negative

Some people think I am lying when I tell the truth about my past.  They think I don’t have feelings or am snobbish because of my lack of physical expressions.  My words and actions get misinterpreted often – flirting or friendly? happy or sad or angry or frustrated? – because people don’t have any visual cues to help them understand.

Some people think I am easy to take advantage of because I smile even when I’m upset or angry or confused.  They blame me for being weird and different; use it as an excuse for being manipulative or mean.  If my facial expression and body language are accepting and open to whatever they’re saying, they can turn around my words to make it seem like the disagreement is my fault.  I’d believe that in the past, before I learned about facial expressions and body language as part of communication.

My social anxiety for is often mistaken for a lack of confidence and treat me accordingly.  I am never sure how I come across to other people because I know about my lack of facial and body language cues.  That makes me feel anxious and afraid to connect with people.  And it causes me to ask questions about facial expressions and body language for clarification.  Questions that make other people uncomfortable and feel like they have permission to lash out at me or treat me with condescension since I don’t understand such basic human skills.

Past experiences taught me that there isn’t a difference between lies and truth.  Either way, I am a bad person and everything bad that happens to me is deserved.  Everything bad that happens to my family or friends is my fault.  Lies won’t help.  Truth doesn’t work either.  Only the people in control, the ones with power, are good and acceptable.

Connecting with others is difficult because of my honesty, respect, and open communication policy.  I can still be polite about it, but I refuse to accept, respect, or tell lies unless absolutely necessary.  And I have a difficult time not stepping in to defend people when I see others being mean just because.  Spending my time around negativity and meanness is not fun, so why bother?

Positive

I learned how to spot lies from a young age.  Even if I don’t say anything right away, I know when people lie to me.  And when people lie to me, I have two options: 1) call them out on the lie; and 2) let them think I am really that stupid and gullible to believe the lie.  Option 1 gets used with people I care about because I want to build a relationship with them based on respect, open communication, honesty, and acceptance.

Option 2 gets used on people I don’t trust or care much about.  Often these are people I let into my life because of triggers or self-harm type punishments because these people treat me the way my parents and perpetrators did.  Every once in a while, I will catch them in a lie and point it out to them just as a reminder that I know what they are up to.  This is usually my first step in breaking off a friendship.

I learned how to tell and value the truth to compensate for lack of physical expressions.  In school, I heard the phrase “honesty is the best policy” a lot.  In real life, I learned “lying is the best policy” from both parents and the perpetrators.  Lots of kids lied and got caught in school.  Some got punished; others didn’t.  I didn’t often get caught or get punished for lying because the teachers couldn’t read me.  But I watched how the known liars got treated vs. how the truth tellers got treated.  Liars were not trusted or respected.  Truth tellers were.

I learned that lying is neutral.  The person telling the lie and the consequences of the lie make it good or bad.  I lied to survive my childhood and adolescence.  As often as I lied, I also told the truth to the people who mattered.  And I refused to cheat on homework or exams even if  that meant I failed and had to repeat something.  Earning the trust of my teachers felt good even if that had disastrous social consequences with my peers – i.e. suck up, teacher’s pet, nerd, etc.

I learned that sometimes shame comes from hiding secrets and telling lies.  Being honest to myself and others about my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors helps me let go of some shame.  I can put past experiences and events into perspective.  Perspective has a way of revealing the holes in a liar’s story, including the lies I used to tell myself.

Finally, I learned not to feel ashamed of myself for not reacting to feelings like most people do.  And learning the lesson is not the same as consistently applying it.  That part I still struggle with.  But I am lucky enough to have a support network to help out.  And when my friends or support network reaches out to me, I do the same for them.  Support.  Respect.  Acceptance.  It all goes both ways.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: Agoraphobia

Introduction

During certain times of the year, the pain gets worse and the memories overwhelm my logical thinking abilities.  I start to feel vulnerable outside of my apartment.  Too vulnerable and my brain automatically starts sending out “not safe” signals to the rest of my parts.  So I stop leaving my apartment building.  And then I stop leaving my apartment except when absolutely necessary.

Description

And even the “absolutely necessary” going out causes a problem sometimes.  But then I go outside and feel confused.  Being out of my apartment feels good at first.  I enjoy the scents and sounds from trees, restaurants, people, and dogs.  But the further I get from my building, the more vulnerable I feel.  What if the pain escalates?  What if I can’t get home?  What if I embarrass myself by having a panic attack in front of these strangers?

The questions, the fears crowd my mind and stiffen my body.  My hips start to ache.  My spine curves.  And I focus one step at a time to the counselor’s office.  Potential treat: a hot chocolate (regular or peppermint) from Starbucks before the appointment.  Potential treat: brunch/lunch on the way home.

Since I love food and hardly ever eat breakfast before my morning appointments, the reward sometimes helps me get from A to B.  Hot chocolate that I don’t have to make also helps.  Other days, visiting some stores to window shop works better.

But sometimes not even a reward for going out or meeting needs like laundry or grocery shopping can get me out of the apartment.

Challenge

Eventually, the agoraphobia passes.

While I experience the agoraphobia, I also feel frustration and shame.  Frustration because I want to be outside.  Shame because my fear and vulnerability prevent me from doing what I want.  Triggers occur.  Panic takes over.  And the only safe place feels like home.

Nothing I’ve tried helps.  Nothing makes the agoraphobia go away.

The trigger causing agoraphobia hasn’t revealed itself.  The trigger to make it go away hasn’t revealed itself either.

Conclusion

I wait out the periods of agoraphobia and hope that this one ends sooner instead of later.  But I still hate it.  I still struggle.

I still persist.

Remembering and pain will not stop me anymore now than it has before.

Thanks for reading.

 

Body Memories: Reflecting on Coping techniques for pain management

Body Memories

The traumatic experiences (aka memories) of past abuse held in one’s physical body.  Can cause feelings of physical pain, illness, muscle tension, digestive problems, and other issues related to the body.

Coping Techniques – a short analysis

 

I (we mostly think of ourselves as a single unit these days so “I” is appropriate) have been searching for coping strategies that help with body memories for quite a few years now.  In past posts, I’ve mentioned trying some strategies that were partially effective or not effective at that point in my recovery.  Part of the lack of success had to do with my place in recovery.  Part had to do with environmental triggers.  And part had to do with shame.

  • Sensori-motor psychotherapy – I was ready to try something new.  My alters were ready to try something new.  None of us really  trusted the individual recommended to us.  And the scheduling became an issue.  Then, something happened in a session (only the alters involved remember exact details), but suddenly this person and this treatment didn’t feel safe anymore.
  • Trauma-sensitive yoga – My mind was ready.  My body wasn’t.  I didn’t know how much physical pain I carried until after trying different types of yoga at different studios and with different instructors.  With recurring nightmares, triggers, dealing with so many people around me, not always feeling emotionally safe, and instructors sometimes being rude, stopping for a while seemed to be the right thing to do.
  • Acupuncture part 1 – in my old home state, I tried acupuncture.  It helped a little.  But then I stopped feeling comfortable with the person who treated me.  And I started feeling anxiety about the long commute.  The treatments stopped working.  And the nightmares started up again.  So I decided to wait on continuing this.
  • Acupuncture part 2 – in my new home state, acupuncture is combined with other parts of Traditional Chinese medicine like body work and massage.  I feel very safe at this clinic and trust both the intern practitioner and the supervisors there.  My body memories are starting to lessen and cause fewer incidences of moderate/severe symptoms.  The physical pain is also lessening.  My body is changing and getting healthier on the inside where the worst damage is.
  • Chiropractic part 1 – Chiropractic helped a lot when I went to a practitioner I trusted.  My spinal health and back muscles improved a lot.  I started to be mobile again.  Optimism and hope propelled me forward in the first phase of recovery.  Then I moved away from that practice and started with a recommended group closer to my new place and job.  But I didn’t feel as safe or comfortable there.  And I didn’t trust those people as much.  After 1 year or so without progress (I think I actually regressed), the main chiropractor talked to me about next steps in a private meeting.  We agreed that I could stop for now since the spinal manipulation wasn’t working.
  • Chiropractic part 2 – Part of the reasons the second round of treatments didn’t work was because my parents stepped up the pressure with more emotional and verbal abuse.  I was making a lot of progress; had a well-paying job; lived on my own; and started making plans for my future.  Plans that were opposed to what they wanted of me.  Between their manipulations and the stress of being “independent” for the first time, my trauma memories and nightmares trumped any progress the chiropractor might have made.  I learned, then, that trust between myself and the practitioner was a key element to progress and recovery.
  • Chiropractic part 3 – In the new home state, I am ready to look for a chiropractor and start treatments again.  My counselor says that a multi-pronged approach to physical healing will help a lot.  Since chiropractors focus on spinal health and spinal manipulation, I feel hopeful that my next round of treatments will help.
  • Massage Therapy – Yesterday I had my first massage in a long time.  It felt amazing.  And I trusted this massage therapist a lot.  We had a long conversation before my first visit and also discussed the approach and boundaries before starting the session.  I felt safe in the massage therapist’s care.  And my muscles felt so much better afterwards.  By better I mean less painful and tense.  Physically, my head, neck, shoulders, and back felt lighter too.  Yesterday evening, I slept better than I had in a long time.  So I am hopeful this will help too.

Expenses and Scheduling

All of these treatments cost money and time.  I am lucky to live in a place that has a lot of options within walking distance and others that are accessible by Uber or public transportation.  Medical insurance helps with more traditional therapeutic modalities like psychotherapy,  medicine, and medical doctors.  If you are lucky, sometimes your insurance also provides discounts for alternative medicine providers in their network.  Other times, it’s a matter of deciding what is necessary and then figuring out how to find affordable, reliable, professional care.

For example:

  • psychotherapy with a trauma specialist is #1 on my priority list, so I found someone in-network with my medical insurance.  This means I pay a monthly premium for medical insurance and a reasonable co-pay at every session instead of the full fee; my insurance covers the rest.  Luckily, I found a practitioner within walking distance of my apartment, so transportation doesn’t cost anything unless I have to pay for Uber during bad weather.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (the acupuncture and body work parts) helps a lot, but the treatments are expensive without insurance.  And finding a practitioner in my neighborhood and with evening/weekend scheduling options can be difficult.  So I go to the student clinic at a teaching college for treatments.  The price per treatment is reasonable; the interns and supervisors provide quality care; but transportation can get expensive since I have to either use public transit or a Uber ride.  Still, the combined costs are less expensive than if I went with a private practice for weekly treatments.
  • Massage Therapy is new to me.  I could find someone in-network so that a discount is applied to pricing, but I prefer referrals from people I trust for this sort of hands-on experience.  Finding someone closer would lower the transportation cost.  But since I won’t have to go for massage treatments as often as the other kinds of therapy, I think I’ll be sticking with this massage therapist team for a while.  Besides, they have evening appointments (big plus).
  • Chiropractic is one treatment that I will use my medical discounts for.  Also I will hope to find someone within walking distance of my apartment.  From what I remember, chiropractic treatments are sometimes a lot harder on my body than the other kinds.  Being local means I can take my time walking home and not have to stress out about transportation or anxiety attacks on the commute.  There are many safe places I can stop in for a break if necessary.
  • Routine medical treatment is something I plan on using my medical insurance for also.  But finding a practitioner who is also trauma sensitive has been difficult.  I definitely will have to build in transportation costs, extra travel time, and time spent looking for a provider on this.  Patience will get me what I want though.  Last time I rushed into making this kind of decision, I ended up really sick and with an upswing in PTSD symptoms.  Lesson learned.  And hopefully the small co-pay will even out the transportation cost.

Conclusion

I am lucky to have a full time job with flexibility in my work schedule.  The money I make allows me to cover the cost of medical care and still be able to make ends meet.  Living in my new city helps too.  Except for food, the cost of living here is a lot lower than where I used to live.  And my work/travel expenses are lower since I work from home.

But even when I lived in the other place, recovery treatment and managing my money properly were high on my priority list.  Sometimes I worked a lot of over time and had crazy hours.  Sometimes I couldn’t save a lot of money or zeroed out my accounts to pay all of  the bills.  Sometimes, I had to go into a little bit of debt to make myself safe.  But having a plan and understanding my finances (i.e. how much I made and where my money went) helped me make good choices of where to live and how to make the most out of what I had with limited resources and lack of a support network.

And since two of my favorite distraction/grounding/meditation coping strategies are reading and researching information, I used the quest to learn about personal finance and financial planning to help with many sleepless nights.  Maybe it’s too much for you to think about now, but understanding how and where your money goes can provide a sense of emotional safety, self-confidence, and independence.  The best part, though, is that anyone can manage his or her own finances.

It doesn’t matter how bad you are or think you are with math…

It doesn’t matter how much math or thinking about math scares you…

Maybe if math is a trigger, that could cause problems in the beginning…

Personal finance is less about numbers and more about knowing yourself, understanding your spending and saving patterns, and being able to make your own choices about where your money goes.  

Math is the tool that helps you understand these concepts through numbers.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: How Feeling Safe Changes Perspective

This could also go under life-changing moments, but I prefer it here.

Not a long post because still processing and learning to use coping strategies effectively.

Main Point

Feeling safe can change perspectives and long-held beliefs about oneself and one’s relationships with others.

First Change

Recovering memories from body and mind; then piecing them together with help from alters via dreams and nightmares.

Second Change

Interacting with the outside world more as my real self and with less dissociative experiences even in high stress situations.

Third Change

Allowing family back into my life on a limited basis; and through those blood relations, my parents and sibling are back too.

Fourth (and last on this list) Change

The beginnings of an integration where all alters work together as a single unit and allow our body to heal/become/look the way it’s supposed to look based on genetics and a higher power.

What does this mean?

I feel confident and able enough to protect myself from anything my parents or younger sibling might try.

The danger is not so much from my parents as from acquaintances and community members whose identities I don’t remember except in nightmares.

My biggest challenges have to do with facing my fears and triggers without using dissociation as my automatic coping strategy.

Conclusion

I am in a new phase of recovery.  I don’t have any reference points, past experience, or internal guides to start with.  My go-to strategies are dissociate and avoid.  They don’t work anymore.

But something must be going right.  I’m still alive and sane.

Step by step.  Moment by moment.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery:Uncertainty in a new phase of recovery

Not sure how others receive information about their past, but mine come in a few ways.  The main ones are: dreams/nightmares, flashbacks, & body memories.

The PTSD makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the automatic reactions that get triggered each time I remember something.

The DID makes separating and understanding the information difficult because of the way my brain developed and learned to store memories, sensation, & experiences.

Back in my old living area, I was constantly bombarded by triggers and memories.  It was all my therapist and I could do to keep me relatively sane and focused on the present instead of spiraling out of control.  I never truly felt safe there and could not move on to work on other aspects of recovery even though I was ready to do so.  Every time I tried, the flashbacks and dreams and body memories bombarded me with warnings.

Now, in my new living area, I am safe to delve into these memories, work on pain management and merging the fragmented sensations from body memories, dreams, nightmares, and flashbacks into whole memories of my past.  I am physically and emotionally safe here.  I can go outside and walk around any time.  I can use public transportation without fear of getting harassed.

I can shop at stores and know that bad service is because of the individual’s issues and not my past.  I can reconnect with safe family members.  I can enjoy hobbies and practice self care that was impossible before.  I can let my body heal and look the way nature intended for it to look instead of how my past molded it.

But with all of that comes learning how to cope with the shame and fear and distress that comes from confronting those triggers.  My tool box is full of options.  I’m learning new ones all the time just by observing how people interact with each other in real life.  Did I mention that people-watching is one of my favorite things to do?

The struggle now is learning how to utilize my toolbox for these new and different challenges.  It’s like starting from square 1 all over again.

So the posts here will continue to be about the same topics, but the perspective will continue to change as my journey changes.  Thanks for reading and understanding.

Coping Strategy:ACT or Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Sorry I am late.  Yesterday was rough, and I spent most of it working on self-care.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy or ACT is new to me.  What is so hard about ACT?  Doing the opposite of what I’ve learned to cope with feelings.  There’s more to it, but my learning curve is just starting.

Instead, I’m going to provide a link to a reputable source: Good Therapy (www.goodtherapy.org) and let you discover the information on your own.

Beyond that, I’m finding a lot of comfort in gratitude practice lately.  One thing I am most grateful for is the guests who visit here and inspire me to keep on going.

Thanks for reading

Body Memories: Accepting the physical changes

Halloween is next Monday.  I’m not sure I can post on Sunday, not with so many memories of why the time around Halloween scares so much flowing through my mind right now.

The holiday itself is not the problem.  The events and experiences that happened on and around Halloween are.

Instead, I’m writing early.  And I’m sharing something that scares me in ways that I have a hard time describing.  Like the title says, I’m talking about my physical body and the changes it is going through right now as the internal damage heals.

If this is too triggering, please stop reading.  If not, continue.

Read More »

Dissociation: Emotion Regulation during Dissociation

One of the hardest parts about living and interacting with the outside world is being able to regulate my emotions when I dissociate.  Many times, anger triggers dissociation and switching.  Then an alter comes out to deal with the situation.  Once over, that alter retreats, and I or one of the other “in-charge” alters comes back with no clue what just happened.

That’s scary.  It feels out of control.  The memories of what happened don’t always come back right away.  Used to be those alters wouldn’t share what happened for weeks, months, years, even decades.  Now, they share within hours or days.  But the sharing comes as nightmares or daydreams out of context of when/where/how anything happened.  Like living in 2 realities.

The past few days, I’ve been working on an exercise to write down what I am doing, thinking, and feeling whenever I feel even a little anger.  Only problem is that I have not felt any anger this week.  I felt sad, scared, and upset.  I felt guilt and shame too.

Now I have to wonder if maybe one of these emotions is the real trigger.  And then everything else gets expressed as anger.

Maybe someday, this will stop.  And then I will feel more confident interacting and socializing with people.  I will remember what happens when my boundaries get crossed and why people are treating me a certain way.  I will remember why they feel the right to treat me that way and why I feel the need to be wary of them even though being polite is a must.

Finally, maybe this will help with some of the feelings of shame and guilt that come with the periods of not remembering.

Thanks for reading today’s ramble.

Life Changing Moments: Can’t have friends because everyone around me is a potential target

The more I live in the present and focus on working through recovery, the more I remember my past.  The memories are being unlocked as I learn to work through the pain in my body.

Less pain = more memories recovered

Less pain = more crying and grieving before the letting go process moves on

More pain = less memories and more confusion

More pain = less awareness of my feelings and instincts

Do I want less pain?  Yes.  Do I want to remember what is locked up in my body?  Not really.

Today, after about 3 weeks of acupuncture with the new student and 3 sessions with my new counselor in between sessions with the old one, I can finally put some of the pieces of my childhood and adolescence together.  The recurring dreams that turn into nightmares really did happen.  And those people I remember fighting, they were real friends who became targets for  the monsters controlling my life.  In protecting them, I lost their friendship too.

And other people who could have made decent friends, I had already mastered the art of pushing people away by then.  And it wasn’t safe either way.  No matter where I went, there was always someone who recognized me and spread the rumors behind my back.  Or told someone in my family what I was doing.  And then the harassment (not of me, but of the people who were kind to me) began.  They thought I knew.  But I didn’t.  And instead of talking to me about it, they kicked me out of their lives and avoided me.

Living a double life is not fun.  Being drugged into not remembering that other life completely sucks.  And when the truth hits, the sensation is overwhelming.  The tears fall until no one wants to cry any more.  The movie reels start.  And suddenly, I can see my friends and any family members involved as they were back when we were children.  I hear their voices.  And the memories come flooding back.

The big difference here is that no one tries to stop the flood.  We all sit back in our comfy chairs and watch the memories go by.  From our safe bubble, the memories surround us.  But they don’t hurt us anymore.  Our bubble can float to the surface, bounce from wave to wave, and coast along the flow of movement instead of being drowned.

And the memories tell me that I can’t trust anyone.  I can’t make friends because those friends might be targeted as employees(sex trafficking), members (of the cult), or clients (for drugs and other illegal stuff).  Or they and their families will have to suffer being harassed and stalked and manipulated by my parents and the other people who owned me.

So yea, I and my alters, we all feel kind of sad and depressed today.  People often wonder why I don’t pursue leadership jobs and more social activities.  How can I tell them why that kind of job doesn’t work for me?  That I am afraid to be noticed because the monsters will hurt me again?  Or hurt the people around me.  How can I tell them that I survived by staying below the radar instead of taking charge and being more independent?  How can I say that I am ashamed of my intelligence and skills so have a hard time displaying them in public and around strangers who might not actually be strangers?

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: celebrating the small steps

A couple weeks ago, I went to the dentist for the first time in over 10 years.  I was so scared that I shook on my way to the dentist’s office.  It turned out to be a very pleasant interaction.  I left feeling excited and hopeful for the first time in a long time.  I even bought a new tooth brush.

Well, I did not start brushing right away.  That felt like too much at first.  All I and my alters wanted was to relax and cope with the backlash and triggers of going to a dentist before anything else.  But Monday brought a surprise, and the brushing began again.  This time with a new toothbrush head (we all really love the type with disposable toothbrush heads instead of having to buy a new toothbrush every few months) and the recommended toothpaste.

The dentist suggested starting with 1x a day brushing and see how that works.  She also said be very gentle and brush downwards over the surfaces to remove plaque; nothing else for now.

Today is the 7th day in a row that we have brushed our teeth 1x a day without serious side effects or an increase in symptoms.

I still can’t look at my teeth.  Neither can the alters.  Nor can any of us watch the brushing take place.  We set everything up and  then brush with eyes closed.  Not until the toothbrush is out of our mouth and we are ready to spit/rinse do our eyes open.  And only because no one wants to miss the sink and clean up the mess.

This accomplishment has led to many other small steps being completed since the last post.  And has helped counterbalance the negative experience from last Wednesday.

What small steps can you celebrate?

Thanks for reading!

Coping Challenge: Unexpected Triggers, cars, panic attacks, safety

What does a person do when stuck in a car with a stranger and triggered?  How does one cope with the pain that comes from a panic attack waiting to happen while taking a Uber home?  When is the right time to call for assistance without having the driver listen in?  Where does the person go to feel safe and still be present enough to pay attention to the ride?

Since moving, I’ve taken advantage of Uber and its safe driver policy a lot.  Taking a Uber allows me to participate in activities across town that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.  The driver safely gets me to and from doctor’s offices and new-to-me neighborhoods with low levels of anxiety.  We sometimes have interesting chats during the drive.  Other times, we’re both quiet and focused on other things.

I’m still coping with my worst trigger yet.  A doctor’s appointment that didn’t happen and brought me back to my childhood.  In another post, I might analyze what automatic strategies kicked in and how I got home safely, but not today.

All I can tell you is that getting home safely without causing anyone harm during the coping to not have a panic attack or lash out at others is possible.  Maintaining safety after that is possible too.

For me, I put a safety plan into place – one that I never had to use before:

  • Acknowledge the feelings
  • If possible (aka feel safe with the driver), inform the driver that I am feeling upset and not to take my words/actions personally if I lash out by accident
  • Quietly focus on who can be contacted via email or text for a distraction (I texted two therapists and emailed another one)
  • Focus on maintaining internal calm so that the anxiety does not become a panic attack
  • Get home safely
  • Use any coping strategies that make sense and can be remembered

Thanks for reading