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

Resources: The Center for Self Leadership – More about Internal Family Systems Model

Two articles from the Center for Self Leadership website:

First article explains some history and defines the “Self” versus “Parts” and is written by Dr. Richard Swartz, Ph. D.  For those of you who prefer other media, this page also has a video that summarizes the article.

Second article is an “(o)utline of the Internal Family Systems Model“.  I like the breakdown and explanation of “basic assumptions” that are the foundation of this theory.

Why share so much about Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

  • I am doing research to support important work going on in the AlterXpressions system – internal as parts are “growing up” and changing roles; external because they are ready to communicate with the outside world and our counselor in particular
  • I honestly believe that most people, even without DID and alter personalities, are made up of parts or characteristics.
    • Sometimes those parts are in harmony; other times they are in conflict.  Conflict makes coping with and healthy expressions of feelings difficult for anyone, but especially trauma survivors who’ve learned to shut down instead of feel.
    • The techniques and strategies here give options for working with and holding conflicting feelings at the same time without feeling helpless.
  • IFS can be used as a tool to bridge conversations with people who are wary of mental illness or have a hard time understanding/accepting/making sense of how symptoms appear to outsiders, but really do want to learn and help and be part of your/my/our lives.
  • IFS is what I used to explain all of this to my boss and supervisors back when everything almost blew up in my face.  Before the legal name change, but after I separated from my family.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: AlterXpressions – the host reveals herself

Hello Guests,
My name is TJ.  I guess you can call me the host of our expansive system.  But it’s not quite accurate because none of us is ever the host full time.  Not even in the past before anyone knew about alter personalities and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I’ve always heard voices and made intuitive leaps that defy logic.  And I’ve always been different.
As a child, different meant being a target for bullies and racism.  It meant being too smart for my own good and labeled a nerd with no personality among my peers.  Within my family, being different got me excluded from group activities and punished or made fun of for being too slow, emotional, mouthy, disobedient, or ditsy.  Never for being smart or capable.
I had friends for a little while, but then they slowly disappeared.  As they left, I retreated to my amazing inner world.  When that didn’t work, books were my escape.  Crafts helped too unless Mom found out and decided to interfere.  Then crafts became a punishment.  Either I was with the cult, alone at home, or somewhere supervised by my mother.
The memories are fuzzy, but I do remember the following:
  • Climbing up high to hide from “monsters”
  • Crawling under sofas, beds, etc. to “escape” from something
  • Hiding in cabinets, boxes, closets, etc. and getting punished because no one could find me; then having my hiding places blocked
  • Lots of pain and fuzziness from “medication”
  • Lots of adults and secret games
  • Shame and despair and suicidal thoughts
  • Middle school hell because I got stuck with the “popular” kids
  • High school drama and worse because of “popular” kids, death of family members, being forced to go to prom, and graduation
  • Suddenly losing time  and being abusive and angry all the time without understanding what was happening or why
  • Hating my body and wanting to be invisible – aka negative body image and sense of self
  • Being a social outcast for most of my life because I never learned “proper” social skills
Who am I now?
I am one of many in our system and the face most people in the outside world meet or interact with.  I have a stable job in Corporate America, friends, and loved ones.  Lucky for me, I’ve had the same job for more than 10 years and earned the respect of my co-workers.  They accept my panic attacks and PTSD as part of working with me and value my skills.
The job provided me with mentors and an alternative family that taught me how to be a real person.  From those people, I learned how to be respectful, accepting, honest, and trustworthy.  They taught, through modeling and personal experience, how to interact with people and be social in positive, safe ways.  Without this job, I’d never have gotten away.
My favorite hobbies are: reading, cooking, writing, walking, and sleeping.
When not triggered, I also enjoy knitting, sewing, discovering my personal style, working with my hands, and learning about a variety of topics.
I am interested in alternative medicine, nutrition, personal finance, mental health, intuition, spirituality, wellness, and living a conscious, authentic lifestyle.  I am an empath, a highly sensitive person interested in learning more about angels, spirit guides, guardians, and energy healing.  I want to find ways to work with my alters and integrate so that we all can enjoy life in the outside world.
Personal relationships are difficult because most people can only accept part who I am and reject everything else.  Friendships take time, work, patience, and trust.  Do I want an intimate relationship someday?  Yes.  Will that happen in this life time?  I don’t know.  Do I have hope?  Yes.
Finding a man (because I am heterosexual) who can accept all parts of me sometimes feels like searching for a unicorn.  I mean who could ever accept, not only the darkness inside me, but also that I am a multiple?  Yet I still have hope and am open to all of the possibilities my future holds.  So maybe one day…
Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Internal Family Systems explained by Psychology Today

Internal Family Systems Therapy – From Psychology Today magazine.

Recovery is cyclical.

Trauma never goes away, but the patterns and symptoms it leaves inside ebb and flow depending on context, experience, and life.

For a while, our system was stable.  We were in a good place and able to work on other coping challenges that required attention.   Challenges that interfered with living in the outside world.

Now, a lot of these challenges have changed into coping strategies, techniques or learning paths for future references – i.e. resources.  The others are tangled with issues not ready to be addressed yet, so have moved to the background for now.

And it’s time to focus back on adapting our family system.  My alters and I, we, are ready to start working on integration, self-awareness, and creating ways to live in both worlds. That means trying new coping techniques with our counselor and revisiting past ones too.

Why Internal Family Systems therapy? – it coincides nicely with the whole/parts theory of personality and is what our first trauma counselor used to help us get sorted.  Plus, it’s great for helping people learn to cope with feelings/thoughts/opinions that seem overwhelming or conflicting without shame or guilt or anxiety.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: When two worlds collide

Pip is retired.  She wants to stay retired and find a way to integrate with everyone else.  i.e. participate in co-conscious awareness with our host and everyone else in the real world.

Angora enjoys working and taking classes online.  She’s starting to get more comfortable talking with people in the outside world too.  But not interested in being a host full time.

Some of the younger alters are growing up.  They’re trying to decide if they want to maintain separate identities or merge with others and fade away.

The teen alters are growing up and making changes too.

What we all thought was the worst possible decision now seems like a possible option if we all want to live in the same present reality together.

I hoped moving across the country would stop the evening jaunts to potentially dangerous experiences.  Pip was so excited about finally having down time and a safe place to heal all of our physical injuries.  Angora looked forward to dancing and listening to music again.  Everyone else couldn’t wait to create a real home.

And yet, that past followed us here.  Only now has Pip shared that she had to come out of retirement during our first year in the new city.  The ones who recognized us from before and their friends here tried to cause trouble.  They tested and challenged us until we proved that retirement didn’t mean vulnerable.  That none of us had any interest in resuming the other work here.

Then, in our new building, both Pip and Angora along with a few of the males came out to protect our neighbors and our building.  This time was more and less than people from the past.  It was people who witnessed what happened the first year and caused trouble as neighbors.  It was local homeless people and addicts making noise at night and disturbing us.  It was neighbors with young children worried about the impact of these night disturbances.

So one last time, Pip came out to try and make it stop.  None of the neighbors got hurt.  Not in our building or the others nearby.  None of the innocent or uninvolved got hurt either.  But now the building doesn’t smell like pot.  The homeless people and partiers make less noise at night.

Maybe this time they’ll all believe in our communal retirement.  And understand that retirement DOES NOT equal going soft or being unable to protect ourselves.

But at least it explains how so many of the younger people in this neighborhood recognize me and look at me with mixed expressions of dislike, hate, disdain, horror, fear, or anxiety. And why the host doesn’t always recognize or remember them.  On the plus side: defending ourselves, protecting neighbors and the building without harming them, finally earned some trust.  Now the neighbors are respectful and polite, sometimes nice too.

And the amnesia that comes with a switch happens less often.  We’re looking forward to a day when all of us can work and move together as a united person in mind, body, and spirit.  When our body becomes fully adult instead of going back and forth between pre- and post-adolescence, it will go through normal female stuff instead of stopping or changing under stress.

Until that happens, the moments of fear and confusion when speaking with people will continue.  Maybe, though, this time around people will accept that part of us instead of shunning us.  And maybe we can stop feeling shame about not recognizing and remembering people who greet us.

Thanks for reading.