Self Care: An off-the-cuff story

I had something else planned for today, but decided to share an unedited story instead.

Verbal communication is a big trigger for me.  I tend to not talk as much as possible because a fear of what could/will come out of my mouth when the automatic defense mechanisms kick in.  The range is extensive:

From mildly irritating and insulting to verbally/emotionally abusive, mean, evil, manipulative, shaming, and purposefully hurtful in such a way that will get me fired and/or blacklisted from work or other places.

Actually, that probably did happen in the past – work or friend circles or socializing – and one of many reasons why I deliberately isolated in the past.

And it’s one of the ways my PTSD still expresses itself: dissociation, depersonalization, hyper-vigilance, extreme reactions to stimuli or “normal” situations, anger management issues, irritability, anxiety, etc. all here

What does that mean exactly?
It means that I can talk and work well with others when my anxiety and triggers don’t interfere.  But I hesitate to do this because the triggers and anxiety are so strong that my automatic defense mechanism kick in without any self awareness.  In counseling, I shared that maybe (and this is optimistic) 50% of the time I can feel the trigger before my defenses kick in.  And less often than that, I can stop the automatic defenses.

This whole verbal communication issue is going to be a life long coping challenge.  The amount of self care and coping strategies just to manage work meetings is enormous.  When I have work meetings combined with managing social situations (interacting with neighbors, friends, family, and store/restaurant employees), well something has to give.

My alters took over some of the socializing (for a few it was their first time in the outside world), but then got triggered and had panic attacks inside our mind.  On one hand this is good because it means we all are recovering and healing.  On the other hand, it leaves in new territory trying to figure out how to cope with alters wanting to participate in the outside world too.

Lessons learned

That’s part of the reason why I’ve been quiet this week.  And why the shared info posts have been less descriptive than usual.  My brain is kind of mushy.  Everyone is tired and grumpy.  Lots of mistakes and lessons learned from internal and external experiences.  There are deadlines at work, and chores to do – chores no one enjoys – that require facing other triggers.  Bathrooms and basements are still scary.  Laundry is scary.  And at this point, none of us really want to be social.  With anyone.  But going out of the apartment to do laundry or take out trash, etc., means the potential to run into other people.

And while all of us had hoped that moving someplace else would bring out positive changes and less of the hate/negativity, etc., we accept that certain hostilities exist everywhere.  And being different, looking different, living on our own  terms makes us a target wherever we go.  Bullies are everywhere.  Racists are more open about their prejudices.  If they can get away with intimidation and harassment, they will and do.

Unless I/we choose to live in a remote cabin off the grid and get everything delivered, there is no escaping people and problems like that.

Self Care and Coping Strategies

Instead, all 88 of us are choosing to work within our limitations and enjoy life as best as possible.  That’s our updated version of self care.

What does the Self Care look like?

  • Work at a job with flexible hours that doesn’t require working in an office or extensive commuting
  • Choose distance learning with self-learning options instead of structured timelines for course completion and attendance requirements
  • Focus on improving our internal family systems’ communication and participation in life
  • Limit socialization and feeling comfortable staying inside instead of feeling shame about choosing solitude and feeling anxiety about running in to neighbors/people at the building
  • Face certain triggers to put up decorations around the apartment and let go of unnecessary clutter
  • Make choices and budget money/time to accomplish home decorating and organizing tasks
  • Continue with meditation and crystal work as part of every day coping strategies
  • Find a park or grassy/wooded/beach area to visit and meditate or exercise or relax and enjoy nature
  • Resolve lingering issues with my mom’s side of the family – find a way to safely communicate and be part of each other’s lives if only in a peripheral sense
  • Take small steps to improve self trust and remove more past conditioning

Life is always interesting and never lonely for us.  Often scary, weird, and loud, but we are never alone.

Thanks for reading

Alter Post: Illness, Bullies, Harassment & Triggers

Sick

I don’t know about you, but bullying and harassment are big triggers for my child parts.  Being sick with a cold, then the flu, then a cold during the bullying period didn’t help.  Any kind of physical illness scares all of my alters because it makes us vulnerable and brings flashbacks to life.

My child alters started crying.  My teen alters got mad.  My adult alters were busy trying to keep our body warm, work, and survive.  None of us could really address the triggers that turned into intrusive voices, negative self-talk, flashbacks, and really awful cold chills that went bone-deep.

First attempt at conflict resolution

Maybe the tenant above tried to talk to us while we were sick.  Maybe not.  I know my alters did try to talk to the tenant above, but that only escalated the problem.  Seems that the tenant took my visit as a personal success, so increased the noise, etc.  With everything scattered from feeling sick and not wanting to take a sick day, we all agreed to try ignoring the individual’s bullying and harassment.

What did the individual do?

  • Walk heavily or stomp around upstairs.
  • Jump around; hit furniture, drop things onto the floor
  • Play with the heat so that my apartment and the other apartment got cold
  • Open and close dresser/closet doors, etc.
  • All day and all evening long for about 1.5 weeks

At first, I wasn’t sure this was deliberate.  But then I noticed the noise only happening at certain times: when all of my lights were out because I went to bed early (I didn’t have blackout curtains on every window then); when I opened the vents more to get rid of the chill in my apartment; after the noise from my climbing up to my loft bed stopped.

Now what?

So what to do when someone is doing this and none of the neighbors want to get involved?  When this individual will not talk to you directly and the last time you tried ended an escalation in negative behavior?

You know the owner of the building will not believe you because the situation is already tense from other stuff?

And all you want to do is sleep and stay warm because you’re sick with a fever, coughing, and vomiting?

When All the Alters Make a Plan…

This time, the child and adolescent alters solved the problem.  They went back and confronted the flashbacks these people brought up.  Observed how the bullies from our past treated us.  Observed what got them to stop.  Decided on a plan of action.  Cried a lot.  Hid under the covers a lot.  And executed a plan.

They decided that the tenant above was a covert bully whose actions needed to be brought into the open.  Otherwise nothing would get resolved.

Step 1: Ignore the tenant’s activity upstairs and try to stay warm.

Since everyone was sick, they focused on helping the rest of the system with work and self care until our weekly doctor appointment.  That also meant we could hang out in a warm, safe place with a public restroom for a while and then start to feel healthy again.  Feeling healthy meant everyone integrating once more and some mental clarity.

Step 2: Laughter is the best medicine

With the mental clarity came the realization that none of us really cared what the tenant upstairs was doing.  The noise didn’t bother or annoy us anymore because we were feeling so much better.  Plus we were able to use our sleep headphones and enjoy music again.  So the next time the tenant’s musical started, we laughed and listened to our own music as we fell asleep.

Results: step 1 and step 2 worked – the tenant’s negative behavior escalated to the point where others were getting disturbed.  They asked the tenant to stop more than once.  The tenant stopped temporarily, but continued to escalate at different times during the day instead.

Step 3: Play the game until the tenant is forced to stop

This was now six days into the harassment.  I felt great.  My alters felt great.  But we all worried about next steps if this didn’t stop.  By now, the upstairs tenant was getting very violent with temper every time I changed my heat settings or the other upstairs tenant changed heat settings.  The violence wasn’t to another individual, but to objects in the tenant’s apartment.  And the resulting noise was loud enough to bother the tenant’s neighbors.  Plus the third floor tenant wasn’t getting any heat; something I felt bad about but couldn’t do anything to resolve at the time.

A Mediator Steps in

Eventually, with the heat vents completely open on my and the upstairs tenant’s floor because otherwise no heat at all came into my apartment, another tenant got involved as mediator.  I agreed to keep my vent 1/4 open and mostly covered on two conditions: 1) the second floor tenant stopped with the noise and playing with the heat; 2) both of them also kept their vents 1/4 open and mostly covered too.  The third floor tenant agreed with one caveat: if I did go to the owner with a complaint, I kept all other neighbors out of it.  I agreed as long as the second floor tenant stopped with the bullying and harassment.

Step 4: Cover my ass even if it means being on the owner’s bad side for a while

I already knew the owner wasn’t going to do anything about the problem.  For one thing, the tenants in this building are very much the I-don’t-want-to-get-involved types.  They also try to go for the easiest solution with the least conflict.  But I wanted insurance and a record in case something happened that required me to contact legal services.  So the same evening as the mediator event, the upstairs tenant started up with the noise again around midnight.  In turn, each alter who was awakened sent an email to the owner recording the type of noise and heat changes.

Then Angora who is usually the most level headed and Shea who is a fierce protector of our child parts got pissed.  They had just finished reviewing everything the others did over the past few weeks to cope with the bully – self care, affirmations, gratitude prayers, grounding exercises, safe spaces – and were so proud of the strategy they came up with all on their own.  At the same time, we all felt angry  that our parts had to cope with that on their own.

So they broke the rules and texted the owner in the middle of the night.  That woke  the owner up, so none of us got much sleep going in to the next day.  The owner reacted as expected and wrote an email basically telling us that we were liars and to stop complaining because no one wants to hear it.  I wrote back a respectful and polite thank you with a promise not to cross any more boundaries.

Step 5 (final): If the bullying and harassment doesn’t stop, call the tenants association and get the law involved.

Luckily I live in a state with a lot of tenant rights.  And if this continues, I will reach out to those organizations and work with a pro-bono attorney to get this situation fixed.  But only if the issues continue or something else happens to make us break the lease early.

Since I have not broken any laws or terms of the lease, the owner can’t retaliate with a rent increase or eviction.  But we are stuck in a 1 year lease.  And I’m not sure what will happen at the end of it.

Lack of Shame Feelings

Normally, something like this would trigger lots of feelings of shame & guilt that send all or some of us into a backlash spiral.  In fact, that’s what we all expected.  Or at least anxiety because the tenant upstairs and the owner remind us so much of women in our biological family.

But no, that’s not the case.

In fact, ever one of us feels empowered, safe, and confident in our choices so far.  My child parts feel empowered and more confident because they faced a bully and won.  Plus we all supported the child parts and praised them for being thoughtful, respectful, and smart in their problem-solving.  My teen parts feel empowered because they also faced a bully and won.  Instead of getting in trouble for winning, they were supported and praised for working with the child parts and helping them implement the solution.  We adult parts are happy because our child and teen parts feel empowered, happy, confident, and safe instead of scared, angry, or ashamed for standing up for themselves.

Conclusion

In a very real way, these two individuals stood in for many of the female figures who bullied my child and adolescent parts in the past.  The child and adolescent parts faced some very real fears and triggers mostly on their own with everyone being sick.

The experience was not ideal.  And our approach wasn’t perfect or anything we would want to do again.  But it worked with minimal negative backlash to ourselves.  We learned a lot.  My child parts found ways to stay safe, speak out, and cope with past and present colliding.  My adolescent parts did the same.

And now they realize that we adults trust our child and adolescent parts to make good choices and participate as useful members of our system.  They are important and valued and necessary to our healthy functioning as a whole person.  And even though they can’t help with work, they can and do help with everything else.  Plus they can come out and communicate with the outside world too.

So I guess there was a silver lining to all of this.

Thanks for reading.

 

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

Resources: Another Author Round-up with a Twist

In the past, I’ve shared some of my favorite contemporary authors who write romance, science fiction, and/or fantasy – mostly skewed towards female or male/female partnership authors – or self-help books.  But I never shared many of my favorite male authors or other types of books – books that taught me many valuable life lessons.

That comes from the scared parts of me who fear sharing such an important cornerstone even with close friends and family.  I am an absolute nerd when it comes to books and have a love affair with ancient/classic stories (before and during the time of Shakespeare) along with early American authors.

And so, many of my favorite male authors come from these categories.  A lot of them still carry memories, so I listen for free on Podcasts or borrow from the library.

If you are interested, here is a short list:

Classic Greek/Roman

  • Euripedes – comedies and tragedies
  • Aristophanes – comedies and tragedies
  • Homer – Oddessy & Iliad
  • Aesop – book of fables

British across many periods

  • Bede – Anglo/Saxon mythology or creation stories
  • Chaucer – A Knight’s tale and other poems
  • John Donne – beautiful sonnets and poetry
  • George Bernard Shaw – not usually a fan of politics or plays, but his are short, interesting.  I actually did my senior thesis paper on his take of Antony & Cleopatra.

American across many periods

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Mark Twain
  • Walt Whitman
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Robert Frost

Youth (mostly within the last 4 decades)

  • Dr. Seuss
  • Donald J. Sobol
  • Sid Fleishman
  • Rick Riordan

As you can see, these books range from fiction to non-fiction, children to adult, and poetry.

What do you think this says about me?  And does it bring up any secret parts in you that might want to be heard?

For me, I’m starting to read these books and enjoy them again – this time without the past shading my experience.

Thanks for reading

Life Changing Moments: Family Time

Another mobile post…please excuse the poor formatting.

I don’t write a lot of detail about my current family situation often out of respect for their privacy.  Some posts will contain coping challenges in general terms or about past experiences.  But often the tone and feelings are mixed.

This post comes from the perspective of being safe and loved by my father’s side of the family.

For the last ten days, I have spent a lot of time with my father’s side of the family.  Grandmother (100+), 3 aunts (seniors), and one uncle (senior) – they welcomed me into their lives, let me stay with them, spoiled me, and showed me through actions that I am safe and loved here.  In return, I tried to be a polite and respectful house guest and show them the same love.

I am not going to lie.  The adjustment was rough on all of us. It still is.  Most of their time is spent taking care of grandma; it’s stressful and difficult sometimes.   Whatever time is left, each one lives her or his own life too.

My biggest fears sort of came true. But others did not.  We walked on eggshells around each other and tried to be sensitive to the point of frustrating each other sometimes.  Other times, we fell back into old patterns without even realizing it.

Then something amazing happened.  Instead of holding grudges or getting angry, we were able to move past it and forgive or let go of the negativity.  When I got stressed and anxious into a flashback, they would help me calm down.  When one of them felt a certain way, I tried to help them.

And they all tried to get along with each other for my sake.  Something I greatly appreciate because of the strain it takes on all of them.  For my part, I tried to spend quality time with each relative one-on-one or in groups in the way that suited us both best.

In the past, we all wore masks and stayed “on” around each other.  This time, we acted like ourselves.  And got along better that way.

Communication is still iffy sometimes.  I tend to be more direct and open about my feelings. They are not.  Certain things can be said one-on-one, but are taboo in front of each other.  I screw that up a lot.

The most important part of this family visit was spending quality time with my grandma.  At 101, our time together is limited.  Instead of talking or going places, I sat with her and my relatives in her living room and occupied myself with activities while she watched game shows or slept.  Sometimes I talked with my relatives.  Mostly we did our own thing, and I tried to stay out of their way when they took care of grandma.

So while we struggle sometimes, we are doing okay.  My love of silence and solitude come naturally.  Best quiet times are when we sit together in the same room doing our own thing.  Sometimes we talk; sometimes we don’t.  Best active times are when I walked & shopped with different aunts.  Or when an aunt taught me how to hem my pants.

So I love my family.  And now I know that I am safe with them too.  So I will come back to visit when possible.  But I will not be staying with them.  Seeing me when I have to use certain coping strategies hurts them.  And they are not in a place where I can explain what they observe happening.

They accept all of it 100%, but seeing me like that reminds them what their brother/son did to me.  And their best coping strategies are denial and silence.  So it’s better to limit time with them next visit.  At least until we all can come to a place where talking about that stuff doesn’t stress them out.

thanks for reading.