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.

Shame: Fear of small talk & talking about my interests/ideas

Introduction

Lots of posts tonight.  I’ve been saving them up since most of my time is spent with grandma and other family or hanging with old friends

So in continuing the themes from the first and second posts of today, this post is about facing my conversational fears.

Fear of Sharing Ideas outside of work

I and my alters often feel shame about sharing our interests with outside people.  We also are not comfortable making small talk, although the adult host personalities are getting better with that in the home state.  We also have limited control over the automatic switching between alters who feel compelled to take over and speak without identifying themselves.

We also tend to be so focused on not offending or insulting someone else, that whoever is talking can end up offending & insulting the individual regardless.  Or the repeated apologies, I statements, questions to check in on the situation, and projected insecure behavior from all this stems from these fears:

  • rejection
  • humiliation
  • public speaking
  • socializing
  • making verbal mistakes – i.e. stuttering, switching and not knowing what comes out of my mouth, dissociating, being talked over and unable to express myself
  • anger/frustration/disappointment because I keep repeating myself trying to say something but can’t verbalize without being interrupted and losing my train of thought

The Shame connection

I have consistently been told that I am:

  • not smart
  • lacking social skills
  • not loud enough
  • too loud
  • full of stupid ideas & opinions
  • not worthy of being listened to
  • going to embarrass and humiliate myself when talking or sharing ideas out loud
  • talking funny/confusing/weird
  • a boring conversationalist
  • not supposed to talk because my opinions, interests, ideas, etc. are not interesting
  • not supposed to ask questions because the response will always be negative and/or demeaning or (worse) silent treatment
  • not allowed to talk because I always embarrass the people with me by opening my mouth
  • so scared about talking that I start switching alters and am unable to follow a conversation or control what’s coming out of my mouth
    • usually conflicting opinions and words, sometimes gibberish, sometimes stuttering or stumbling over my words

These lessons have been embedded in me since I started talking and then (either consciously or unconsciously) reinforced by life experiences as I grew up.  On the negative side, it means verbalizing anything is painful to an almost physical degree.  On the positive side, these experiences forced me to become a better listener (when I’m not switching) and a better writer.

But those coping strategies, while effective, did not and do not address the trigger being discussed here.  And my issue with switching personalities and sounding self-centered because of all of the talk about myself.

And when I brought this up to my friend, she told me that I could:

  • talk about ideas
  • ask how the other person is doing
  • find something other than myself to talk about if I really wanted to or tried

Did you read the last bullet?  IF I REALLY WANTED TO AND TRIED TO TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE

What that friend doesn’t realize is:

  • I am aware of doing this to people for different reasons
    • Sometimes I do it on purpose as a coping strategy to drive people away when nothing else works – annoying/rude/off-putting/abrasive/self-centered
    • Sometimes I do it to test if an individual is listening to me or not
    • Most often I do it because the other person or persons have a habit of making assumptions and interrupting me without letting me finish so this becomes a conversation pattern that is difficult to disrupt
  • I am not always able to control or stop it from happening, especially in stressful or triggering situations
    • Awareness is key, and I am not often aware any switching occurred until too late
  • I am not always able to tell the individual I am talking to that my alters are the ones talking to them.
    • i.e. “Oh, hey, it might sound like I’m talking about myself a lot and acting self-centered, but I’m really not. My alter personalities like you and feel comfortable talking to you as individual alters so are using “I” for themselves.  Complicated, yes, but true.  Not all of the “I” statements  are about the “me” you know best.  They are from the other “me” personalities.”
  • Less often these days, I do this in conversations sometimes when I switch without awareness because talking is triggering

FROM Rude/Offensive Language TO the Socially Appropriate Language Process

And yes, this is a process – one I can’t do alone – that requires asking a counselor from the BARC Hotline, my therapist, or a trusted friend for assistance.

Although I am starting to realize that asking friends (even close, trusted, good friends) for help with this is NOT such a good idea.  But lessons learned and all that.

In order for me to verbalize my thoughts, I have to go through the DBT process for expressing my feelings to be able to verbalize what to say to anyone in a conversational tone.  So here are the steps:

  • Identify my feelings
  • Identify the cause of those feelings with words
  • Identify the goals or purposes of the future conversation
  • Use “I” statements in this phase to clarify my feelings and opinions and boundaries
  • Call the BARCC Hotline and ask the counselor for help:
    processing and reality testing the situation
    my experience of the situation
    and my potential verbal response to handling the situation
  • Work with the counselor to refine the goal and possible ways to approach the conversation without it sounding rehearsed or like a therapy session
  • Repeat as needed with another counselor or my therapist while in session

YES, it’s a long and clunky process, but this coping strategy has helped me improve many conversations and work through the backlash of having such conversations without rehearsal too.

BUT, I can’t use this process EVERY TIME with EVERY conversation I talk to in ANY situation.

Why is this fear & shame so important to clarify and work through right now?

  1. It’s the single biggest stumbling block to becoming more social & living a full life in the present moment
    1. Find a way for alter personalities to feel safe enough to reach out to each other in our system so that we can help and support each other – understand and find ways to cope together without blame/shame/guilt/frustration/anger/fear getting in the way
    2. Making & keeping friends
    3. Socializing without anxiety
    4. Feeling confident in myself and being able to portray that in my conversations
    5. Find a balance so that my alters stop automatically switching and talking during potentially stressful or triggering conversations
    6. Find a way for all parts of me to be able to converse and verbalize when they feel like it instead of interrupting or causing issues
    7. Dating and potentially being part of an intimate relationship
  2. It’s a major trigger I have to face in order to accomplish my professional goals in the future
    1. go back to graduate school
    2. get my degree in alternative medicine
    3. work as an alternative medicine practitioner
    4. make this website & blog a self-sustaining business so that I can continue to improve the website design and expand the Resources page
    5. make my existing job less stressful
    6. networking & future job hunting

How am I going to cope with this?

I don’t know.  We don’t know.  It would be different if we lived separate lives.  But we are “integrating” into one unified self.

By “integrating”, I mean we are becoming a balanced and unified personality without any alters disappearing.

Yes that defies the conventional meaning of Integration for Dissociative Identity Disorder.  But, none of us want any alters to poof out of existence.  We’ve lived together for 34 years and want to continue doing so – only now as a merged, single personality to the outside world.

This topic is something for all of us to discuss with our current therapist.

Thanks for reading

DID Posts: Communicating With Outside People/apartment hunting/being me

Beware this is a long rambling post…

Being watched – paranoia or reality?

One thing I as the host often say to people is that I feel like people are always watching me.  And no one in my circle of friends really challenges that.  Except for the people in my new home state; they challenge me on this often because no one here really does watch me the same way as before.  And in spite of knowing about my past, they really do believe I am worrying too much about what others think of me.

From their perspective and experience, it’s true.  And without the added trauma history of my past, I’d agree with them 100%.  But, and this is a big BUT, even though my perspective may be skewed (I always appreciate friends helping me adjust perspective and kicking my ass when necessary), the origins of these feelings are real.  I can’t always verbalize these thoughts in a way that makes sense to outsiders.

So both perspectives are true.  And each perspective matches alter personalities in our system.  In general, I lack confidence in speaking to people because I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth.  Then I worry about offending other people (trigger from past experience) with my opinions.  Where I live now, I am not being watched by other people except in the usual sense.

Never Alone, always observed

But, sometimes I feel like I’m being watched.  And in a conversation today, I realized that I am being watched.  Not by outside people, but by my alter personalities who are observing and protecting me as I start to relax and be more myself around lots of people.  They are feeling hyper-vigilant while the adult parts of me are ready to let go, relax, and show confidence in socializing and communicating verbally with people.

Sounds strange right?  But maybe not so much to someone else with DID or who is close with an individual who has DID?  It feels strange that right now I am my own worst enemy towards moving forward.  At the same time, it also feels right and true because the parts of me who are scared and feeling hyper-vigilant are also the ones who were abused, shamed, criticized, and humiliated in public/private/around family/in the community all the time.

They are trying to protect the system (aka us) from experiencing that again.  In doing so, they focus on everyone else’s communication and behavior while ignoring how we are appearing to everyone else.  And my attention as host is split.  Then other alters try to help by taking over and socializing or communicating.  And if many of us try to communicate at the same time?  Well that never ends in a good place either.

Stress of Communicating with Family While also Apartment Hunting

So this week was full of strangeness.  I had to communicate with various family members – trying not to play favorites – and also spent a lot of time interacting with strangers as I went apartment hunting.  In my world – talking to people = untold amounts of stress.  I can only do that comfortably for short periods of time after a lot of internal preparation.

But I had goals to accomplish this week.  Lots of them.  One goal was to nail down an apartment I could call home for many years.  Another was to go out someplace new and experience peripheral socializing.  i.e. find someplace outside of my apartment where I could relax and maybe write blog posts or read or research information for the Resources page.  I kind of did both by apartment hunting.

Now my choices are narrowed down to two options:  

Option 1 offers a lot of amenities, but is kind of pricey.  The space is large enough to accommodate my home office and living space while still small enough for me to feel comfortable.  And it’s an open plan studio in a new construction building.

Option 2 is a smaller open plan studio in a renovated boarding house with less amenities and a price well within my budget.  The space is open plan and has built-in shelving to help utilize the space in the best possible way.  I’d have to think creatively and work with the owner, but can definitely fit office and living space.

 

 

Hiding Behind a Shield of Insecurity

I’ve spent a lot of time downplaying my skills and experience, hiding my natural strength and confidence under layers of shame or abuse-induced insecurity.  Slowly but surely, those layers are being peeled away.  But it’s at times like this – when I get wrapped around and twisted inside those memories without even realizing it – that I am holding myself back because of fear.

All I see is the negative.  All I see is how people are reacting to me.  All I feel is blame and responsibility for offending those people with my lack of (whatever) and inability to stay focused on the conversation during the interaction.  I fear miscommunicating – being misheard and misunderstood – more than anything else.

DID makes following a conversation difficult sometimes.  I switch unconsciously when I feel safe and comfortable.  My alters and I all share thoughts and speak with the same voice and face most of the time.  Only when feeling scared or angry do physical changes manifest.  So most people don’t know if I am speaking to them or myself, and I’m not even sure sometimes.

It’s like living in a crazy-making world where everything I say is twisted around until I get into trouble.  Past triggers meet present.

If I remember the conversation, great I can cover up alter opinions as thinking out loud or reflecting on information.  The times when I don’t remember or when I switch because I feel threatened during social interaction or conversation are the ones that cause the most trouble.  And also the experiences that cause my alter personalities to “watch” or “react to” everything with hyper-vigilance.

Conclusion

As I settle in to my new home, I find myself more and more frustrated with this insecurity about communication.  For some reason, I feel more scared in the summer than I do any other time of the year.  Yes, I deal with worsening symptoms, body pain, flashbacks, and so on other parts of the year.  But I never feel as scared and mute then as I do now.

I chose to live alone, to be alone.  And I enjoy my current lifestyle.  But I feel so much anxiety and discomfort socializing because of internal expectations I never knew existed.  As my alters share these expectations with me, we all realize that they are the foundations for this fear and insecurity.  Something else to work on in therapy.  Thanks alters for finally opening up.

Thanks for reading today’s ramble.

Anniversaries: Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

I love you.  I hate you.  I feel sorry for you, for me, and for all we didn’t have as a mother and daughter.  Sometimes I think I miss you.  Other times I feel shame that I don’t miss you.

But I’m happy we are not in each other’s lives anymore.  I needed to find myself.  And you needed to do the same.  Me in your life just brought back stuff you didn’t want to deal with.  You in my life kept me from finding my confidence and truly living.

But you also did something I didn’t fully appreciate until after I moved out of state and started remembering my childhood.  You left me with monsters – pedophiles, rapists, cults, drug traffickers and dealers – when you didn’t want me around.  The monsters paid you and compensated you with other perks that made you happy once in a while.

But those monsters also raised me into the woman I am now.  They taught me life skills and survival skills.  They taught me how to protect myself and identify lies as they are told to me.  Most important, they taught me how to survive anything with intelligence, patience, and resilience.

Living with you, taking care of you from childhood into adulthood taught me other important skills.  Not all of them good or bad, but extremely useful in dealing with the bullies, pushy relatives, and generally mean people.  If you hadn’t been so abusive and neglectful, if you hadn’t told lies that convinced others to treat me like a lying pariah for most of my life, and if you hadn’t tried to control me by destroying my sense of self, I might not have learned how to be independent and self-reliant.

So maybe I am a suspicious and skeptical person when it comes to trusting people.  Maybe I keep most everyone at a distance and only let in so many people at a time.  And maybe I lack confidence in socializing and communicating because I spent so much of my life quiet and silent.

But I am the woman I am today because of you.  I am smart, strong, resilient, caring, empathetic, creative, confident, sometimes rebellious, assertive, respectful of others, and able to stick to my values.  You taught me to fight for what I believe in and speak up even when I’m going to get in trouble.  Sometimes honesty and persistence turn people away.  And plain speaking can make other people uncomfortable.

All of that is okay as long as I stick to being me instead of pretending to be something or someone I’m not.  In trying to make me your creation, you taught me how to preserve my sense of self even when times were darkest.  In turning everyone against me, you taught me that I didn’t need other people (or their approval) to be happy and fulfilled.

So thanks for being the mom you were.  I love you sometimes.  I hate you other times.  And I wish you can find the happiness you’ve been searching for someday.

Love,

Your daughter

Anger: Health & Feelings a new category of posts

This is NOT a series of part 1, etc. in order.  Like other categories I will share posts as they come to me.

DISCLAIMER: What you read here is my personal experience – as an individual, as a system of alter personalities, and as separate alter personalities.  There are my and my alters’ thoughts, impressions, and experiences about how anger affects our mind, spirit and body.  This IS NOT from a perspective of a therapist, counselor, or other professional who has helped in the past.   Any information I share here is based on what I learned from them, but the words, thoughts, feelings, etc. ARE MY PERSPECTIVE AND OPINION.

Besides shame, anger has been a major force in my life.  It causes me to go into rages sometimes.  Rages where I don’t remember anything that happened until my mind clears and I am grounded in my body again.  Rags where people (including me) get hurt.

It’s one of the main reasons I fear physical contact and normal social interactions with others.  Before therapy, and not even until the last 2-3 years, I thought I was a monster who abused other people when they made me angry – it was like my evil twin broke free once my mind overloaded.

But only 2 emotions trigger this kind of rage: fear and protectiveness (aka survival instinct)

As an adult whose been in therapy for more than 10 years, I can cope with and express anger in safe and healthy ways.  So can the adult alters who participated in this journey with me.

But the others can’t, not yet.  This is what happens in order

  • Issue number 1: any feelings of present anger trigger past anger.
  • Issue number 2: past anger can overwhelm, trigger, and throw me into a flashback so that I am not reacting to the present anymore
  • Issue number 3: I can’t always tell when Issue number 2 occurs
  • Issue number 4: If the anger is strong enough, it sets off my survival instincts or fear response – freeze/flight/fight/faint
  • Issue number 5: Once issue number 4 happens: I dissociate and whoever is best able to handle the threat takes over
  • Issue number 6: I still struggle with finding a healthy way to express anger so that the other issues don’t happen.

These are the consequences of my denial and repression over t he years:

  • physical illness – the digestive issues, the sinus pressure, the pain in my body, the tiredness from having to cope with so much going on inside
  • Emotional Stress – anger denied layers feelings of fear, shame, guilt, rage, and confusion over the memories, distorting them and making the recovery slower
  • Emotional Stress – anger repressed comes out as resentment, envy, frustration, jealousy, depression, and the urge to self-harm
  • Spiritual Stress – questioning myself as a good person, questioning my values, questioning my purpose in life, questioning whether or not I deserve to be alive
  • Physical Stress – my immune system suffers, my mobility suffers, my stamina suffers so  that useful activities can’t be accomplished

My alters and I are learning how to let go of and ride the feelings of anger as they come.  But even that learning curve is exhausting.  One alter thought maybe our guests could relate, so we are sharing some of our experiences, trials, and errors here with the hope that the information helps someone else too.

Thanks for reading

Life Changing Moments: When Emotional Self-Harm stops working…

Introduction

This past month has been busy with a lot of changes.  When not writing a post, working, or going to necessary appointments, I’ve been sleeping and trying to practice self care.

Coping Strategies

Thankfully, where I live offers grocery delivery service and food delivery options.  This kept me fed no matter how tired I felt.  But every once in a while I did try to go out and walk.  I did try to talk with friends and acquaintances.  Or at least act friendly when we ran into each other; this includes dogs and other friendly animals.  I also tried to do some cleaning and trash removal.

The Trigger

But I also felt some shame about not keeping in touch, especially with people and dogs in my building.  That shame mixed with my usual March depression created this compulsion to put myself in an emotionally compromising situation yesterday.  It was the first day in a couple of weeks where I felt good in the morning, dressed in a cute outfit for myself, and was focused on enjoying the day instead of the discomfort from feeling sick.

I don’t know what possessed me to do this (maybe missing my neighbor’s dog?), but I opened the door when I heard my neighbor’s dog bark.  His bark is distinctive, but I wasn’t sure if I missed him or not.  Well, I didn’t miss him.  We spent some quality time cuddling together, and then I brought him back to his human.

And this is where the emotional self-harm kicks in.  

 

Upon seeing her again, (I brought the dog downstairs to her while she was chatting with a potential renter) I suddenly felt the need to apologize for not being in touch over the last few weeks.  My mind got cloudy, and I started to feel really far away (desensitization) even though we stood less than 3 feet apart.  I didn’t want to say a lot or stay long, so I apologized and told her I’d been busy; she replied by saying we should catch up some time.  I agreed, then left.

Then I went upstairs and wrote her an email.  In the email I was more honest and explained in more detail what happened the past few weeks.  Who would want to be around people when they feel sick?

Then I sent the email, not expecting a response.

And I didn’t get one.  I won’t get one.

But I also didn’t feel upset or ashamed of myself for not getting a response.  I didn’t feel good or bad about myself.  The negative self talk did not arrive.  The trigger is still there.  The past memories and experiences tried and continue to try to shame me by bringing up memories of high school and college that used to unleash floods of shame and embarrassment.

Instead, the anxiety I feel now is because the expected response to this unsafe situation I put myself in did not occur.

As both my therapists would say: this is a sign of significant internal change.  And the anxiety over the different response – normal.

How did I cope?

  • I watched some episodes of Glee on Netflix and got in touch with the preteen and teen parts who were feeling the grief and shame.
  • Then I packed and put the accumulated recycling in the outdoor bins.
  • Before I treated myself with an amazing chocolate dessert, I brought the return packages to the mailbox.

Conclusion

My mind tried to trick me into feeling awful with past memories.  It used someone I consider a friend, but feel wary around now because of some semi-recent experiences that were part projection (triggers) and part reality.

I had not consciously put myself in an emotionally unsafe situation in over a year before now.  For two years, I was careful and chose to avoid people who seemed emotionally unsafe – i.e. they reminded me of my parents or others from the past with their words and actions.

And now I realize that I really have changed.  What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Thanks for reading.

PTSD Post: Balancing Self Care with a full life

One of my biggest fears about going back to school is not being able to “act normal” around other people for extended periods of time and still learn.

Turns out, that is not my biggest obstacle to going back to school.  Balancing self care with work and school is my biggest obstacle.

Right now, I’m in a positive healing space.  My body is responding to current treatment and improving – slow and steady progress.  I have more energy and less instances of panic attacks.  My mind is more clear-headed.  Basic chores and tasks like laundry, house-cleaning, and cooking are easier and more enjoyable too.  My sleeping and appetite are better.  The muscle and joint pain are easing too.  And I am knitting again.

All positive improvements and personal milestones.

Working full time and going back to school for the last two weeks and this week has brought home how little time I will have for self care.  My personal time decreased by 50%, and my stress increased about the same amount.  I worried about transportation, being available to people at work, meeting my deadlines, paying attention in class, getting proper nutrition, coping with the new people (at school) and responsibilities (at work), and getting enough sleep.

Instead of taking time off, I worked extra on the weekend to make up missed weekday hours.  I did extra loads of laundry; spent more time packing my backpack and snacks for class time; and pushed myself to wake up early so I could eat breakfast before leaving in  the morning.  Or pushed myself to eat 1 – 2 decent meals before the afternoon classes.

Then, on Monday, class discussed a part of diagnosis and treatment related to genitalia.  And the instructor demonstrated how to identify location points on the body while also being sensitive to the patient’s boundaries about physical contact.  It was the first class where I was so anxious that I dissociated a couple times during the demonstration.  Later that night, I had trouble sleeping.

This is when I realized how vital my current self care routine is to managing the PTSD and moving forward with recovery.  My health is important to me.  It’s part of my I moved and started fresh.  Being here has helped me realize that my emotional and mental self is much improved and in better shape than my physical self.

The current treatment of Traditional Chinese Medicine + trauma counseling/therapy + massage is working.  And I don’t want that to stop.  My worry is that adding school to a high-stress full time job at this point will take away the time and energy for self care.  And if that happens, I will spiral downward and relapse.

The learning part won’t be a problem.  The memorizing part will be a challenge, but not as bad as I thought it could be.  The communication and socializing part is a lot less scary and will be manageable with the right set of coping strategies in place.  But I feel like I will struggle with time management and transportation anxiety.  Managing work, school, homework/study, apartment maintenance, self-care, and my finances will be a big challenge.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Reviewing my toolbox

A quick post tonight.  Lots going on and not much to share at the moment – still processing.

Last week, I went back to school for the first time in over 10 years.  It’s part of my graduate school application to help me and the admissions board decide if I should be accepted into the program this fall.

I have 5 more classes to sit in on over the next two weeks.  During the first class, I stayed mostly clearheaded and did not get overwhelmed.  But I did react to the loud noise/talking when students finished their work early and waited for the rest to finish.  Also, I discovered that I have to move around in my seat, sitting still in a classroom made my body hurt.  Finally, I have to be wary of my hyper-vigilance and try to relax instead.

The day after I sat in on a class, I experienced some confusion during reflection time.  The confusion led to anxiety because I wasn’t sure I had the coping tools available to help with these “new” experiences.  A call to the hotline and a conversation with the counselor helped me realize I had plenty of applicable coping strategies and techniques in my toolbox.  I just had to figure out which ones worked or didn’t work and how to apply them in this new setting.

My list so far:

  • acupressure for pain management
  • water or a drink for grounding
  • bracelet to play with
  • deep breathing or “tree” exercise in my chair
  • Chocolate or something similar for taste grounding
  • magic bag??
  • extra battery/charger for my phone

What is on your list?

hanks 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.

Life Changing Moments: Emotional/Physical Disconnect Part 1

LYING

I am an excellent liar.  I can freeze my body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions in neutral  or gullible obliviousness.  People lying to me think I believe them.  People listening to me believe what I’m telling them.  The usual “clues” do not apply when I decide to start lying.  I can project any emotion and feeling on my physical self when I feel nothing, something different, or the opposite emotion internally. But people looking at me believe what they see.

EMOTIONAL/PHYSICAL DISCONNECT

On the other hand, I can’t match genuine feelings with their appropriate physical expressions.  My facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice do not betray my real feelings unless I consciously work hard to portray the correct expressions.   That leaves many people skeptical of when I reveal truths about my background – I can/have/do talk about trauma with an expression and tone of voice matching someone conversing about the weather.

Moderating the intensity of my tone is also difficult.  In spite of acute and sensitive hearing, I have a hard time discerning when my voice rises/lowers and so on.  As my emotional state increases, my sensitivity to such changes decreases.  And my facial expressions change like a movie on fast forward.  People who see me in a state of high anxiety or a panic attack back off fast because I appear crazy in that context.

WHY?

As a child, I learned how to project whatever feelings/emotions/thoughts would keep me from getting abused.  It was survival.  It was necessary.  It taught me how not to have feelings.  Expressing joy got me punished.  Expressing anger got me a beating or inappropriate touching as punishment.  Expressing fear, sadness, anxiety, or worry got me the silent treatment.  Talking out of turn (i.e. telling the truth of what happened or anything different from my parent’s version of the truth) got me accused of lying, exaggerating, causing problems, etc.

So I denied having feelings.  I buried them deep and forgot about them.  But I had random explosions of tears and rage growing up.  There were temper tantrums.  There was fighting back.  There were instances of “rebellion”.  There were times my mind clouded, and I disappeared.  When I came back to myself, everyone was mad at me.  Hurt feelings, I was accused of being mean and exploding with anger for no reason.  And everyone from my parents to my younger brother to my so called friends used this to shame me, manipulate me, take advantage of e, and set me up as a “crazy, unstable, lying” person to the rest of my community.

No one wanted to be friends with a rude, annoying, crazy, raging, unstable, liar who otherwise had no personality.

This was my life for 27 years.  I did not have a personality, was not an interesting person, was looked down upon by everyone around me.  I did not have feelings except for facsimiles to appease other people.  Problems like this made developing friendships difficult.  It made getting jobs and keeping jobs hard too.  At least in my community or any community where my classmates and family had connections.  All of which I was interested in working at the time – healthcare, non-profits, colleges, newspapers, magazines, and other jobs related of my degree.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

Not until I started my first “real” job in an office that valued my skills and opinions did I realize there was something “wrong” with my responses to other people.  I had just started therapy with my second counselor and was feeling very stressed out about all of the changes over the past few months: new job, new apartment, new neighbors, new commute, leaving school, new doctors, new therapist.

She helped me for 3 years; we worked on my anorexia, anxiety, low self-esteem, and OCD.  When the trauma issues started taking over, I had an emotional breakdown.  Crying, nausea, pain, sleeplessness…you name it, I experienced it all in a flood.  It was like everything I held in for 27 years came flooding out in 2 days.  Only, I didn’t know these were feelings.  Or that I was physically reacting to all of these feelings.

She sent me for a crisis evaluation.  When we first started, the therapist told me outright that she did not work with trauma.  I told her that was okay because the trauma was not the main problem  then.  My anorexia and anxiety disorders (according to the previous people) were.  As soon as she realized the trauma had taken over our sessions, she sent e for additional help and slowly transitioned me to another therapist.

During the transition, I went for my first partial in-patient program.  There, I learned about what feelings were, that I had feelings, and that the physical/mental problems I had were because of those feelings.  After about 6 weeks there, I was in a much better place with a rudimentary understanding of feelings, aka emotions, and how they made my symptoms worse when allowed to take over and control me.

DBT (Dialiectical Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to recognize, control, and balance my feelings so that I could make choices about how to handle situations instead of just reacting to them.  CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to follow the trails left behind by my feelings to understand triggers that led to thoughts and behaviors.  Grounding taught me how to come back to the present when feelings overwhelmed my senses.

But none of this really taught me how to get my face, voice, and body to align with my actual feelings or thoughts.

Or how to manage the pain that continually discourages me from trying to integrate my mental/emotional self and physical self so that the feelings and expressions/body language match.

As for the lying…the only time I purposely lie is for survival.  Any other time, I am scrupulously honest.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: Safe, Respectful Touch and why it’s so hard to find

An extra post this week…seemed important

Today has been one of those stressful, difficult days when everything seems designed to send a person straight into a panic attack or relapse.  Luckily for me, I had good friends and safety plans in place to help me out.  And I also got the bonus of cuddle time with a canine friend – safe, respectful touch.

Platonic touch.

That brings me to the point of this post.

Many survivors of trauma have a fear of or aversion to touch and physical contact.  I know I do.  And that isolation (touch isolation as termed in the article) hurts.  Safe, respectful touch is considered one of the basic human needs.  I get mine from canine and feline friends, acupuncture/body work, and massage with trusted professionals.  Sometimes friends are allowed to give and receive hugs too, but rarely.

However, there is also another group who is isolated from being able to give and receive safe, respectful touch: males of all ages in our culture/society.

A friend of mine shared this article on Facebook:

How a Lack of Touch Is Destroying Men

It explains so much in a thoughtful, respectful, compassionate way.  The author is a man writing to both genders about the importance of bringing safe, respectful touch back to society.  Platonic touch that offers affection, caring,  and gentle  without being sexual, aggressive, or violent.  Male to male.  Male to female.  Female to male.  Female to female.

why share now?

I was still feeling low and triggered, trying to find something to help me relax and let go of the shame when this popped up.  I read the comments first.  Then I read the article.  The contents resonated with the vulnerability I felt after dealing with the unexpected stressors.

I empathized with this man and all of the other males in the world who also felt the effects of this isolation.  Through this empathy, I felt validated and connected to a group instead of isolated and alone in thinking this way.

Conclusion

I feel compassion and empathy for anyone who lacks safe, respectful touch in their lives.  Personal experience shows me how much I am missing out on.  Some day, I hope to have that in my life again – with humans and animals.  And I wish for anyone who craves platonic , safe, respectful, affectionate, mutually shared touch among friends and relatives receives it.

How do you indulge your need for safe, respectful touch?

 

thanks for reading