DID Posts: Seasonal memory loss started again…

I haven’t written a post about DID in a while. It’s so much a part of me and my chosen lifestyle that I forget how much of a struggle it was to get here sometimes.

Every year something unique happens in my life. It can start any time between the first day of school and Halloween.  It ends some time between March and May the next year. Average length of time is six months.

During this time period, my symptoms increase to an overwhelming level; my body memories activate and never stop or slow down; and all of my  typical patterns (sleep, exercise, eating/hydrating habits, work) change.

It starts with a feeling of sadness that permeates all parts of my consciousness. The sadness is followed by hyper-vigilance, paranoia, and lethargy.  I stop sleeping. I dissociate more often.  My hunger decreases, and I’m tired all the time. Everything feels like a challenge.  Nothing brings joy. Staying at home feels safe.

Time slows down or speeds up without my realizing it. I feel like I am moving through a fog. Fear makes fun activities like cooking and going out too scary to contemplate. Lack of appetite = weight loss = more body memories and body-related symptoms.

Worst of all, I start forgetting every day things and not recognizing my surroundings.

How do I know this happens? Why can I describe it so well?

The awareness started after I got a real job that required me to remember routines and processes, so probably 2006/2007. Shortly after I walked away from my family, I experimented with self-training a service animal to help with the PTSD. While that story is for another post (maybe), the whole experience brought the lost time issue into present reality.

It started in August with meeting, hiring, and learning basic dog care and dog information from a professional dog trainer. By October, I had a puppy and was working with him and  the trainer through a 4-level dog training program. One Saturday in February, I woke up and couldn’t remember any of the training exercises and activities we had been working on since October.

Luckily, I did remember having a dog and how to take care of him. Reflecting on that experience, though, showed me a similar pattern of remembering and forgetting that spanned decades. My counselor at the time was not surprised when I shared this with her in session. She explained to me that many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) have such experiences.

A full switch (my term, not  the professional one) between alter personalities means a full consciousness switch – as in one personality leaves or goes dormant while the other takes over completely – and whoever is in charge retains the memories of those experiences. Alter personalities in a non-integrated system often are not aware of each other and do not communicate or share memories if  they are aware of each other.

close up of pictures
Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

My counselor reassured me that the memories weren’t lost or stolen. Instead, they were stored someplace in my mind that the present me (or me in charge) couldn’t access.  If and when I did need that information, it would become available. By this time, we had been working together for almost two years. She was familiar with my patterns of increased and decreased symptoms, triggers, etc. more than I was.

When my counselor realized how much  this bothered me, she offered to help me create a plan to minimize the negative effects of my seasonal memory loss. The first (and most effective to me) was focusing on Internal Family Systems therapy to foster communication within my alter personality system.

The coping strategies and techniques I have discussed in the past are all part of this plans so I’m not going to describe them again here.

Who is in charge? And what will I remember next May?

Back then, it was me or Pip or a combination of our four dominant personalities in charge unless something triggered one of the others into taking over. I  didn’t know about my two simultaneous lives, so couldn’t factor that into the equation. But that mattered less because the memories still disappeared and often didn’t come back again for years.

These days, we all work together and are all “in charge”.  Sounds weird, but that is the truth. Each personality or part of me has a specific set of tasks to do in order to keep our system running smoothly. We have others trained to perform multiple tasks or act as back up if someone isn’t feeling well or needs extra help, but all of us are needed if we want to be at our best.

So what will I remember? I honestly don’t know. And at this point in my life, I am not sure if I would want to know. One of the best lessons therapy taught me was that I don’t have to remember everything that happened. And I will remember what I do need to remember at the exact time that information is required to help us:

  • achieve a goal
  • maintain safety
  • not make the same mistake again
  • something else I can’t describe with words

Conclusion

While memory loss is scary and often feels uncomfortable, I can now accept it as another part of my life. Sure, I miss being able to remember everything and sometimes mourn the loss of those memories. But at the same time, I trust all parts of me to find and share memories, skills, and experiences as we want or need them to thrive in our present life.

Thanks for reading

Self Care: Focus on what I can do

I’m about 3/4 of the way through the roughest part of my year.

The time of year when I lose time and experience all kinds of panic attacks.  Agoraphobia keeps me in the apartment when I’d rather be outside.  Nightmares make sleeping in the dark difficult while work prevents me from sleeping late.

It’s so easy to focus on the negative right now.

All of the stuff I can’t do because of the limitations forced on my mind and body.  Even though this year is better in some ways, the differences make everything feel wrong.

When I told my counselor this yesterday, she suggested that I focus on what I can do instead.  Even if the task is small like waking up in the morning or putting on clothes.  Maybe, what I can do is leave my bedroom or walk from one end of my apartment to the other.

If making a list all at once is stressful, then spread it out.

So far, focusing on what I can do has a helped today.

Maybe this will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Quotes & Affirmations: Tara Brach about “Shoulds”

2018-03-07 20.53.26

This week I had to put aside many “shoulds”.  Life felt too overwhelming, yet not overwhelming at all.

All the typical stuff from this time of year occurred.  But my reactions were different.  My mind felt different.  My body felt different.

The body memories were intense, but not painful.

The flashbacks and nightmares felt scary, but did not fade back into amnesia like they normally did.  I woke up remembering why my body was paralyzed with fear or shaking with adrenaline.

ALL PARTS OF ME had to step back and act like scientists.  Yes scientists.

Observe from a distance.  Use logic to find a way into our tool box.  Analyze our symptoms – anxiety, depression, anger management, emotional overload, numbness, etc. Figure out what coping strategies and techniques to try next.

instead of…

I should feel this way but I’m not.

I should do this even though it feels wrong.

I should not react this way; it’s not “normal”.

I should not use this strategy because ____

THROW OUT THE SHOULDS or SHOULD NOTS….

and let my authentic self with natural/instinctive reactions and choices for effective coping strategies take charge

Maybe this will help you remember to give yourself space too.

Thanks for reading.

Dissociation: Emotion Regulation during Dissociation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading today’s ramble.

Back to Basics: Denial Works, Dissociation & Distractions help, but education matters too

Introduction

Sometimes the coping strategies and techniques (aka tools) that work the best are also the most harmful to ourselves.  By harmful, I mean that the way they are used now is disruptive to everyday life and dangerous to self and others.  In a different situation or used with a different set of feelings, these harmful tools could be useful.  That’s happened to us often in the last few years.

But until we figured out how to change the tools from harmful to helpful, using them only caused more distress and backlash.  Still, none of us wanted to “get rid of” or “remove” them from our skill set.  They worked when nothing else did with a range of consequences.

This is how the In Case of Emergency or First Aid tool box came about.  It’s where medicine like Tylenol and other OTC meds go because meds make our body sick.  It’s where self harm and coloring, exercise, sketching, etc. go because those tools trigger anxiety and flashbacks.

Finally, the Last Resort tool box came in to play during times when I or one of the alters felt/feel compelled to self harm or not sleep because of unidentifiable, overwhelming sensations causing overload.  These tools are: psychiatric medications, various forms of self harm, relapse into anorexia, and reckless behaviors that cause emotional harm.

Four of the most useful strategies that defined my life pre-recovery and continue to assist all of us now are: Denial, Dissociation, Distractions, and Education.

  • Denial allowed me to graduate high school and college while still living with my family.  It allowed me to maintain pseudo-friendships and relationships with people until I was able to find real friends.  It helped me block out nasty, scary stuff as I navigated my way through graduate school and a job I learned to love.
  • Dissociation aka daydreaming, deja vu, an altered state of mind, or a meditative state.  Dissociation allowed the one in control to separate the abuse from everyday life in order to go to function like a “normal” child in public most of the time.  Dissociation facilitated switching alternate personalities during times of trauma and abuse.  Dissociation allowed all of us to retreat to safe places in our mind when bad stuff happened or feelings got overwhelming.
  • Distractions kept me from thinking and feeling what happened inside me before I was ready to handle it.  Reading allowed me to escape anywhere and everywhere while still being in the same physical space as the abusers.  Now distraction helps all of us pause when any of us get triggered by something.  That pause and step back allows us to find and use/utilize the appropriate tools in our tool box for the situation.
  • Education taught me skills that no one wanted me to learn.  Under the guise of learning, I had more freedom to experience positive influences that helped me survive the tough times.  No one can take away what we learn.  Even in times of traumatic amnesia, the information is somewhere inside waiting to be let out and used again.

Definitions

  • Denial/Avoidance: not thinking about, putting aside, refusing to acknowledge events and experiences that have taken place or are happening in the present
  • Distraction: an activity or behavior that allows the user to think about and work on something other than what is currently causing anxiety and stress
  • Dissociation: mental separation of mind and body; like daydreaming and deja vu and meditative states.
  • Education: any opportunity to learn, explore, and expand one’s horizons through reading, listening, observing, and hands-on experience
  • In Case of Emergency box:  a group of coping strategies and techniques that work and are useful but have serious negative or questionable side effects
  • Last Resort box: a group of coping strategies and techniques that work in the short-term; that have not been successfully replaced with more positive or healthy tools; and have harmful, dangerous side effects and consequences

The skills and personality characteristics we practice

Problem Solving: Here is the tool box.  Here is a pile of tools all jumbled together.  Now what?

Self Reflection: This is what happened.  This is what I remember.  This is how I felt.  This is where I was.  This is when I reacted.  What is the trigger?  How did I cope?  Which tools did I use?  How do I feel about my reactions and actions?  How do I feel about myself now?  Would I use the tools again?  How effective were the tools?  What would I do differently if it happened again?  Where would I go?

Distress Tolerance: I feel this way.  It’s overwhelming.  I can’t think.  I am going acknowledge my feelings.  Then stop and do something different to give myself a break (distraction).  Or answer a question that’s been bothering me by reading a book, asking people I know, browsing a website or blog, listening to a TED talk, or participating in a related activity (education).  Finally, I will cope with the overwhelming feelings.

Resilience: My idea got shut down again; big mistake.  But I figured out a solution and fixed it.  Now the boss is happy, and I learned something new.  Or, this strategy isn’t working anymore.  What if I tried saying the safety affirmations for morning nightmares next time my body starts sweating and my abdomen cramps up in pain?

Creativity: AlterXpressions as a system is using imagination, education, and experience to our internal world.  Each alter in the system creates individual and community toolboxes too.  And all of this takes place inside our mind – our internal world where everyone in the system is accepted, valued, and supported by self and each other.

Value: in creating these boxes, learning, and finding effective distractions, we learn our value as a whole and as individual parts.  We compromise and work together; and realize that we each bring something important to the process.  Without those bits, our system and tool boxes would not work as well.

Acceptance: In practicing the self-reflection needed to transform our tools from harmful to helpful, we learn to face fears with compassion and accept that trauma is something that happened to us, not something part of who we are.  We learn how to love, respect, value, and feel compassion for ourselves, each other, our body, and people in the outside world.

One workaround = One new tool in the tool box

Back to example 2 in the Skills section.  Certain triggers used to cause physical panic attacks where my body cramped up and started sweating.  I lost control of bodily functions and over a pint of fluid.  Then the cold chills set in, and I passed out from the energy released by my shaking, cramped body.  Nothing helped with the pain or the cramps.  Deep breathing made the cramps worse.  Distractions made the vice like pain around my abdomen intensify.  Denial made everything feel 100x worse.  So I tried an affirmation I made to help me when I started to feel hyper-vigilant and unsafe.  In my mind or quietly under my breath, I repeated a 6 line mantra and combined that with an affirmation about pain lessening to pressure and pressure dissolving into nothingness.

To my surprise, it worked.  Eventually, I was able to decrease the length and severity of the attacks and control the passing out period.  Passing out put me to sleep for 8-20 hours at a time, so not something I wanted to happen during work hours or events.  By doing this, I found another use for two coping strategies in my box and created a new tool.  That success built on itself as my alters and I continued experimenting with the effectiveness of different strategies or adaptations of strategies in other triggering situations.  Each success added another tool to our tool box.  Each failure taught us something about ourselves and what we need to help us cope effectively.

Some days, too many triggers and flashbacks occur and overwhelm my mind.  Distractions don’t help because relaxing allows the feelings and thoughts, etc. to intrude again.

Denial with a time limit does help.
I put the triggers, flashbacks, and associated sensations in a temporary locked container with a timer. That gives everyone involved some breathing space and time to consider how the stuff in the box will be dealt with.  The timer goes off, the stuff comes out.  And we work through the stuff with coping techniques and strategies in our tool box.  Sometimes this works.  Sometimes it doesn’t work.  But it’s better than giving in to the panic or using a more harmful strategy.

My favorite kinds of distractions include research, reading, and working with my hands.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to work with my hands often; that and social kinds of learning are major triggers.  But I do read a lot. And use reading to help me learn.  When the anxiety gets really bad, I start to form mental loops or tape recordings that play over and over again.  Asking a question or setting myself up to learn a new task breaks these loops.

First example: I decided that I didn’t want to be in financial debt anymore after successfully breaking away from my parents and starting fresh.  So I decided to learn everything I could about personal finance, frugal lifestyles, and effective strategies to get out of debt.  That included, reading books, viewing a variety of blogs, and going through a non-profit organization to work with a mentor.  Now, I am debt free; pay off my credit cards on time; and even started a small nest egg with help from a financial advisor.

Last Example: My first mental health counselor diagnosed me with anorexia 12 years ago.  It sparked many questions about food, nutrition, and wellness in my mind.  I discovered chiropractic doctors who taught me about integrative medicine through a graduate school internship.  From there, I read books about food allergies and alternative food lifestyles (vegetarian, vegan, raw food, etc.) and began work with a registered dietitian who supported my questing mind and personal goals of nutrition and wellness through real food.

Final Thoughts

Now, all of us are physically healthy and in remission from anorexia.  Our mental health is improving.  It’s hard work, but every survivor and connection has the internal resources, strength, and power to get here and beyond too.

Thanks for reading