DID Post: Sometimes it’s okay to be an uptight (insert word) clinging to structure

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Background

This week, especially, had all parts of me reflecting on the so-called rigidity and busyness of my life right now. Starting something new often brings up boatloads (and I mean cruise ship or air carrier sized) triggers and flashbacks. Enough that I used to get discouraged from trying something new or beginning a project outside of my comfort zone.

Uptight, Rigid, or Something Else?

Something I am often accused of (in my personal life more than professional these days) is being a rigid, uptight, type-A personality, stick-in-the-mud whose life is too regimented to ever be fun. 

My face often lacks the appropriate facial expressions to show others I am enjoying myself, etc. Body language is the same way.

What these people don’t (or maybe can’t/refuse to) understand is that I relax when I feel safe and comfortable. 

The less safe or comfortable I feel, the more tense and rigid my exterior self appears to people.

Structure, DID, and Meeting Basic Needs (aka functioning)

During the years when I would lose time or forget as part of my traumatic amnesia, an ingrained routine was all that kept me functioning moment to moment and day to day.

I might not wake up knowing where I was. Lunch time could turn into an adventure that left me on the other side of town in an unknown to me neighborhood and no public transportation. After work, I might get on the same commuter train as always (time and berth are correct) and end up in another city all together. Mirrors used to piss me off because I never recognized the face or body reflected back at me.

And those are some of the big items that get attention. Smaller stuff like walking into walls and furniture, forgetting a process for work, not being able to learn a dance routine or martial arts technique, were less obvious items affected by DID and traumatic amnesia while also more embarrassing. Adults often chastised me for being inattentive, forgetful, etc. because I was so “book smart” and yet so uncoordinated within my body. Peers used that as yet another excuse to bully and make fun of me when I lived as a “normal” little girl in public school or among blood family.

But that same structure allowed me to live both lives without mixing them up often. Punishment for mixing up my two lives included a lot of pain and sensory overload. When those triggers visit, all I remember is unbearable noise followed by feeling sensations of extreme pain throughout my head and body.

And so, even when I lose a weekend or wake up not remembering what happened for weeks at a time, the structured survival routine embedded in my muscle memory ensures that I and my alter personalities remember to meet our basic needs until awareness and memory comes back. Even for small things like:

  • staring at a computer at work, getting triggered into a dissociative or alter personality switch for seconds or minutes, and coming back not remembering what happened in all that time. But the screen looks different and a quality check of my work shows errors I wouldn’t normally make…

And as I experience the pain again, I think to myself “well yes it hurts, but I’m still here. Alive, present, happy, busy doing what I enjoy.”

Conclusion

My life is not “typical” in any way, but it works for me. I get 99% of my work and personal stuff accomplished from within the relative safety of my apartment. Work is balanced with “fun-to-me” activities and hobbies. Communication with the outside world is often limited to email and phone or video chat, but that feels safe and comfortable.

I don’t feel busy, but people who hear about what’s going on right now often tell me I am exactly that. But maybe it doesn’t feel busy or negatively stressful because I chose each activity and feel joy working on each task?

And these activities are not substitutes for a “more active social life” either. They are how I like to fill my time and enjoy life. Socializing, for me, is a big trigger. When I need person-to-person contact, I check mail at the UPS store, go for a walk outside, get on public transit, or visit a store full of people. Maybe a restaurant or a park instead.

You might be wondering about these “activities”, so here is a short list not in any specific order:

  • my day job with opportunities to learn new skills and utilize my existing ones in creative ways (aka job 1)
  • aromatherapy, herbalism, incense, etc. certification or continuing education classes to develop a new business venture (aka job 2)
  • this website and blog (aka job 3)
  • my plants – talking to them, dancing with them, learning to enjoy having roommates again
  • cooking – my memories are finally coming back so I feel more comfortable and confident here
  • reading books, listening to music, or watching a funny movie
  • bath time – never again will I compromise on renting an apartment without a bath tub. A good soak with epsom salt or essential oil based soap works wonders for self care and relaxing

So my questions to you are:

  • how does structure (or lack of it) impact your life?
  • what activities, work, or hobbies bring you joy and fulfillment?
  • if you had a choice, would you include more joyful activities even though they will or could cause pain from triggers and flashbacks?

Thanks for reading

DID Post: Follow Up of Last Week’s Coping Strategies

Catching Up

Last Sunday, I couldn’t post because all parts of me got hit with intense body memories and flashbacks.

Literally, the monsters in my mind tried to take over by staging a coup. The traumatized parts of my alters got triggered and sent mixed signals to my brain. It felt like getting sick with a cold and the flu at the same time all over again. Plus, I still had to work and finish tasks before my vacation last week.

Types of Change in My Life

There are times when change happens so fast, a person is left flailing around unable to keep up with it all.

There are times when change happens, and the individual has enough awareness to fight it, roll with it, or try something else. Either way, the change(s) does not overwhelm the individual.

Then comes the slow change  that silently creeps up on a person, the kind that goes unnoticed until something happens to make it obvious. Kind of like an “I should have known that would happen” situation.

A Quick Detour to Explain Hallucinations vs Intuitive Communications

Option 3 is what happened to me two weeks ago. Unlike a lot of people I talk to about PTSD, I am completely aware of my hallucinations as they occur. I can tell the differences between them and reality in the present moment. My hallucinations are obvious to me because they are consistent in their appearance – hearing voices, seeing exaggerated and transparent forms of beings/cartoons/creatures (aka ghosts), and feeling certain body sensations – and different from the sensations and vibrations my plants use to communicate with me.

Sometimes I still get confused when my empathic senses or intuition tries to share information. But that is a case of “am I hallucinating or is my intuition talking to me?” Working with my spiritual mentor has helped me a lot with that question. I feel a lot more confidence sorting through the different sensations and information that triggers my hyper-vigilance and body memories.

Back to Last Weekend

It started on Wednesday when I woke up feeling sick and had to take a “sick day” from work. My nightmares were getting worse and bleeding into day dreams that distracted me from…well everything. I started wanting to be awake all night and sleep all day. While I was awake, the voices kept up a steady stream of shaming insults about anything and everything.

I was tired, distracted, confused, and congested with a lingering head cold. All that increased my palpitations (side effect of high anxiety levels) and made breathing difficult. The high anxiety made tense head and neck muscles tighten even more. No matter what, I just couldn’t get comfortable. So I slept as best as possible and drank lots of tea. Distracted myself with podcasts about essential oils, aromatherapy, and herbalism. Focused on trying to figure out why the pain increased no matter what coping strategy I tried.

Then it hit me. Maybe one or two weeks before, while shopping for holiday gifts at my favorite store, I ran into a different spiritual teacher. We talked, and she suggested that maybe part of my anxiety came from holding on to the past without realizing it…that maybe I (or parts of me) was projecting my hopes and dreams onto others and forging connections the rest of me didn’t want. It could be that my alters were growing, changing, and afraid to let go of the familiar.

That made a lot of sense. Headaches and pain that won’t go away no matter what I try usually means some kind of internal conflict.

I haven’t used the phrase “monsters in my mind” in a while, so let me explain. I and every one of my alter personalities experienced severe trauma of some kind. We all hold the memories in different ways (mental/emotional/spiritual) and in different parts of our physical body. The memories are attached to the “other stuff” (emotions / thoughts / behaviors / actions / reactions) we experienced and couldn’t process back then.

Our memories are neutral. The “other stuff” is what creates the monsters in our mind – the voices telling us how awful we are and that we are worthless, etc. Essentially, I and my alters are fighting ourselves when this happens – hence the term internal conflict. Sometimes a call to the hotline helps; the volunteers listen objectively and can help sort through the confusion. Other times, though, only meditation can help.

By meditation, I mean lying down someplace warm and safe (usually my bed), closing my eyes, and letting all parts of me out to communicate at the same time. We do a roll call to make sure all 88 are present. if anyone is missing, we go looking for them. We protect each other from the monster traps and any other potential problems that come with high anxiety and flashbacks.

On the outside, our body looks like it’s sleeping. Sometimes sleep talking and sleep laughing occur too. Our body might move on the bed, roll around or change positions, but it does not get up and move around. That kind of vertical movement is too dangerous. On the inside, though, all of us are aware of the different body sensations moving through our physical form as we check our internal home and its safeguards.

The safeguards are boundaries that protect our inside home and its safe spaces from the monsters. This worked well in the past because many of the triggers that caused these kinds of panic attacks and flashbacks came from outside of our body/mind self. We could retreat inside and do what was necessary to keep the monsters from invading and taking over.

This time, though, our safeguards were intact. The monsters were inside the safeguards and causing havoc.

How did they get in? They were already inside. These monsters were the hallucinations body memories given form as we alters learned to cope with and let go of our past. And the monsters wanted to leave just as much as we wanted them to go. But no one knew how to get them out.

A meditation that combined 2-3 different practices.

  • LovingKindness or Compassion: all parts of me opened up our home and safe spaces to everyone – especially the “monsters” and “outcasts” – with open minds and open hearts – kindness, compassion, acceptance, and unconditional love
  • Mara – in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition: They could stay and be part of the community for as long as they wished as long as they followed our rules. If at any time they wanted to leave,  the could do so knowing that leaving was permanent.
  • Visualization – The monsters liked to talk, so once one said “I want to leave” or something similar, a rainbow portal appeared – sometimes in front / side/ back, sometimes above, sometimes below the monster. Then the monster – who was decidedly not an alter personality – stepped through the one-way portal to go home.

Imagination and a love of fantasy combined with a belief in magic, miracles, and the paranormal helped all parts of me design this meditation.

Since all 88 alter personalities changed and had monsters ready to leave, the meditation took a long time. It started on Friday after work and continued through Sunday. There were times of actual rest and pause for food/drink, etc. throughout the weekend. But most of it was spent lying down in meditation.

One week has passed since that big self-care weekend, but I still get requests for portals.

And yes, if at any time one or more alter personalities decided to leave our system, I would open a portal for that personality. Before he/she/it left, I’d give a big hug and say good-bye. Then probably cry for a bit at losing part of myself. But I’d let that part go because trying force something to stay against its will goes against my values.

Yes, I am afraid that will happen some day. But if it does happen, there will be an excellent reason.

Until then, all parts of me continue to work on recovery together.

Thanks for reading.