Alter Post: The Struggle to Trust Myself (all parts of me)

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Reflecting on a Different Perspective

Last week I shared a post about counseling as a tool and coping technique on Scent Reflections, but did not go into details about personal use. That kind of story is more suite to this safe space.

Either way, the inspiring post got me thinking about how and why I continue to go to therapy with a trauma specialist. Is the relationship a co-dependent one? And if so, how can that be changed? If not, what kind of dependent relationship is it? And how can I become more independent?

You see, there comes a time in my recovery when the therapeutic relationship changes. Communication sometimes becomes difficult, and I struggle with verbalizing my internal frustration about the process. It has happened with every therapist and counselor. And happened before with this counselor too.

In a healthy and safe therapeutic relationship, the client and counselor both trust each other and feel safe enough to bring up sources of frustration, fear, boundary issues, or other trouble and communicate in session to work them out. That requires a lot from both parties – including respect, assertiveness, trust, and open communication. But when it works, it really works and brings about an even stronger trust bond that can improve the client’s recovery.

In an unhealthy or unsafe therapeutic relationship, one or both parties feel threatened in some way and the communication breaks down even more than before bringing up the issues. In my case, one therapist got mad at me; shamed me; manipulated me; told me I was crazy and would never be normal; then refused to see me anymore. Another therapist (my first one), tried to convince me that trauma wasn’t real; I needed medication in order to not be crazy, and used hypnosis to manipulate my feelings. She also manipulated and shamed me into never contradicting her, never challenging her, and never questioning her expertise

As for psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, I only had one that earned my trust. He was gruff, professional to the point of being abrupt, focused on data and nothing personal, but never forced me to take medications or try something unsafe once he learned of my history and experience with medication.

Questionable Choices: Trusting the Wrong People; Being Smart Enough to Acknowledge/Accept I don’t Know Everything – nor do I want to

If you are a regular guest, you may already know this about me. Or maybe not – I can’t always remember what I shared here before. But if you’ve read this already, feel free to move on.

Fact 1: I don’t know the different between pain and pleasure. In my world there is pain, less pain, and more pain. Less pain allows me to feel a range of emotions (joy, excitement, sadness, anxiety, fear, calm, anger, etc.) More pain is distracting and brings out my grumpiness/depressive attitudes.

Fact 2: I still have trouble understanding the different between self care and self harm for myself (not other people) and often make harmful choices instead of caring ones when triggered or under stress. Intention is part of the equation, but more is involved in understand the difference between self care and self harm behaviors.

Fact 3: Reality Testing is one of the best tools to help me decide between self care or self harm. However, I made the mistake of asking peers, colleagues, friends, and family for help with this in the past. Let’s just say that ruined many relationships and added more damage to my reputation. But this is not something I can do for myself.

Fact 4: In times of stress + flashbacks + triggers, etc., I experience an increase in symptoms. Increase in symptoms lead to shame spirals and OCD behavior. OCD behavior = uncontrollable urges to hurt myself (not others) to relieve the anxiety

What is the solution, you ask?

  • Therapy with a trauma specialist I trust
  • Calls to a crisis hotline with volunteers who listen with acceptance, respect, and empathy and are trained to offer support – not counseling – or coping strategies or just be there in the moment
  • Talking with a spiritual mentor I trust
  • Learning about other types of coping strategies from workshops and group sessions.

Being confident to acknowledge I am smart enough to know I don’t know everything and don’t want to know everything. That takes away the mystery and beauty of life’s journey.

Trust – or Lack of It – vs Fear of Myself

I don’t trust myself to make good choices when under certain kinds of stress. All parts of me feel this way.

That ability requires knowledge we don’t have, but others do have. It’s an opportunity for us to learn, practice, make mistakes, and experience success in a safe space

…once all parts of me find someone willing to do this with us.

That is where long term counseling or therapy (trauma specialist for me, but some other generalist or specialist for you?) come into play.

In times of great need (like now), I have weekly sessions with my counselor. In times of decreased symptoms, I visit once a month or once every other month.
Between those extremes, session frequency varies.

Throughout that process, I continue to learn and utilize outside sources.

My dependency comes from a need to test reality with someone I trust – a professional who understands my concerns and can teach me how to navigate them so that eventually I trust my judgement and can make good choices on my own.

So yes, I am dependent on my therapist and the hotline for specific kinds of support and education because I don’t trust myself to do that work on my own yet. They are my safety net.

So no, I am not in a co-dependent relationship (something I question often and fear getting into with anyone) with my therapist. Every session ends with me learning something or resolving an inner conflict that allows me to move (not always forward) instead of stay stuck in my rut. Movement eventually creates progress – at least for me it does.

Therapy as a Tool

All in all, I do believe therapy is a useful tool when used for a specific purpose.

It’s up to the individual or individuals engaging in a therapeutic relationship, with mental health professionals to do the hard work that gets results. They need to trust each other to make the relationship work in a way that allows the individual(s) to learn/grow/see results.

Reflection question: What would your purpose be for starting/continuing/stopping therapy and why?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenge: To Share or Not to Share? Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions.  Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree.  Thank you*

Disclosing Mental Illness

If you’ve read past posts, then you remember how I feel about labels and my thoughts about the term “mental illness”.

If not, here is the short version:
I do not believe PTSD or trauma-related mental health issues to be a form of mental illness in the same sense as say schizophrenia.

  • Schizophrenia has an underlying biological cause originating in one’s brain physiology.  aka the condition is not caused by outside experiences.  It could be developmental or genetic or a mix of influences.
  • PTSD and trauma-related mental health problems are caused by outside influences and experiences beyond an individual’s control and processing ability.  The brain and body adapts to these experiences by utilizing creative coping strategies that change the individual’s responses to stress.

Took me a long time to stop making excuses and apologizing for taking care of myself, but eventually I did.

Now I only share my past and my challenges for specific reasons:

  • Communication and team work for business purposes
  • Honesty when building friendships
  • When my symptoms might interfere with my ability to enjoy life and/or be productive
  • Discuss care with providers
  • Certain Legal and Human Resources situations

The rest of the time, I choose to be as “normal” as possible.  Why else create a toolbox of coping strategies and techniques for every day and special occasion use?

Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions.  Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree.  Thank you*

Mental Illness does not make me “special” or “different”.  I am independent and able to make plans that allow for potential triggers and stressors, especially when traveling.

I do not need or want  preferential treatment when I travel.

Advance planning allows me to arrange my  travel plans to accommodate anxiety, panic attacks, triggers, etc. without having to disclose any information to airlines, bus station attendants, and other transportation officials.

When I make my plans, I expect them to mostly stay the same unless there is some kind of natural disaster or emergency beyond anyone’s control that requires change.

I don’t expect to have my seat assignments randomly changed last minute and for no reason.  Nor do I expect to have to talk with multiple representatives and disclose having panic attacks in order to get a seat assignment similar to my original one.

Yet that’s exactly what happened on American Airlines.  To make matters worse, some of the gate or counter representatives recognized me and were accordingly rude.

So, I stayed calm and professional while quietly repeating my emergency disclosure summary:

“I don’t want to cause problems and understand if you can’t help me, but I have panic attacks.  (This is what happened).  (This is why I am asking for an accommodation).  Any help is appreciated, and I understand if you can’t accommodate my situation.  Thank you.”

In this example, I need to sit in an aisle seat on airplanes.  Doesn’t matter where on the airplane or how cramped the seat is as long as I have an aisle seat.

Everything else can be accommodated.

Coping Strategies

I have none at the moment.  The whole fiasco still pisses me off and probably will for a while.

All I can say is that I’m grateful that a panic attack did not occur at an airline or on a plane.

Yes, I did have a few emotional moments.  But anyone who was awake for 40 hours and had to make 3 connections on 4 planes would have some emotional moments.

Practical Adaptations

  • Don’t fly United Airlines
  • Save up and apply for TSA pre-check
  • Start an air travel fund for emergency trips
  • Travel during seasons that don’t require heavy layers
  • Pay extra to fly on JetBlue or a similar airline instead
    • JetBlue has provided the best flying experiences so far

Reflection Questions for Guests (you don’t have to comment or share unless you want to do so)

  • In what situations do you share information about your mental illness?
  • How would you feel about being forced to disclose such information?
  • How do you feel about receiving preferential treatment?  Why?
  • Would you disclose your mental illness status if it meant getting preferential treatment?  Why or why not?
  • What coping strategies or safety plans do you have in place to cope with stressful situations like travel changes beyond your control?
  • Do you think having a backup plan and coping strategies would be helpful in situations like this?

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.

 

Coping Challenges: Fear Responses

My Fear Response

I haven’t discussed FEAR much because the words get strangled in my throat or stuck in my mind/body/spirit and refuse to budge.

That’s what FEAR does – it paralyzes me – without my consent or awareness most of the time.

FEAR also triggers a physical response.  My muscles tense.  Adrenaline flows.  Senses get heightened.  Body starts to tremble and shake.  Head hurts.

The urge to make myself small and hide is intense.  If not hide, make myself invisible.

DO NOT DRAW ATTENTION or else…

my brain and body tell me at the same time.

“Fighting” back

What do I mean?

Learning to acknowledge and make friends with FEAR so that I use it instead of letting it use me.

Becoming more aware of the internal signals that tell me when FEAR could be triggered so I can put coping strategies or techniques into play before it is triggered.

Persisting with my goals in spite of the fear and the backlash that comes with it.

Remembering to start small and celebrate every success as a stepping stone forward.

Being kind to myself when the FEAR does take over and cause stickiness or problems with people, places, events, etc.

Letting myself and all parts of me feel FEAR instead of burying or denying it.

Recognizing that FEAR is an emotion, a protective one designed to alert our minds and bodies to avoid potential danger, not something negative or shameful that has to be exorcised.

How I “Fight” Fear

Tall order, huh?  

Baby steps.

Progress is all about baby steps.  So for now I can live with the sore neck and jaw muscles; the minor headache; and the shakes.  It will ease up and go away eventually.

Why not stop doing whatever is triggering the FEAR response?

I like speaking up for myself, talking with people, and being visible all the time.

Being me, expressing myself, writing, knitting, cooking, talking to people on my terms feels good.

I’m not going to stop just because being me triggers a built-in, past life fear response.  That was then.  This is now.  And each time this happens, the FEAR Response lessens.

It’s taken more than 10 years to get here.  It will take the rest of my life to recover with or without setbacks.  Fear is NOT in control anymore.

Conclusion

FEAR is part of life.  It can take over everything and stop people from living or enjoying life.  It can help save lives too.  There is a necessary balance to FEAR responses.  Not everyone learns that balance early in life.

BUT anyone can learn to find that balance and use it as adults.  Like anything else written on this blog, finding that balance takes courage, resilience, persistence, and patience.

I believe in you.  Maybe someday you will believe in you too.  Then we can enjoy more of life together.

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.