Anniversaries: Grateful Thanksgiving

Child to mid-twenties

Thanksgiving used to be celebrated 3x every year over the course of 2-3 days: once at my parents’ home with certain family members; once with my father’s side of the family; once with my mother’s side of the family.  There were tables full of food; children, teens, and adults everywhere; noise levels similar to stadium concerts (at least from my perspective) with so many people and televisions on loud; and secrets.  So many secrets and people sneaking off for minutes or hours at a time.

By the time I was in college, Thanksgiving was celebrated 2x every year with less and less family/friends and lots of tension.  Most of us were grown and had other places to be.  The next generation of children were second or third cousins removed on my mother’s side, and I was disconnected to them.  On my father’s side, people cooked while others watched tv or read books (me) and ignored or were ignored by everyone else.  Then my younger cousins and brother scattered to be with their friends while my parents kept me isolated and ignored.

You may be wondering why or how they managed that.  Part of it was me – I isolated myself and chose not to make friends or trust people at that time.  Part of it was them limiting access to my car – they always blocked me in and parked their cars in front of the driveway so I’d have to move their cars to get out.  And I did not want to drive their cars.  Asking them to move the cars was like banging my head against a brick wall.

Mid-twenties to early thirties

Then I walked away from my family.

Holidays became something different.

For the first time in my life, I could celebrate any way I wanted.  I could sleep through the day.  I could be alone.  I could cook or not cook.  I could decorate or not decorate.

Bottom line: I had choices.
And for a long time, I chose not to celebrate.  Instead, I let my alters out to play on those days.  Together, we worked through the scary memories, anxiety, anger, shame, and negative experiences associated with those anniversaries.  We stayed inside; read books; watched movies; slept; and took care of ourselves.

Thanksgiving 2017

My favorite foods of Thanksgiving:
Gravy
Stuffing
Butternut Squash or Yams

After everything that happened over the last few weeks, buying pre-made food to reheat made more sense than cooking from scratch.  Cooking from scratch triggered memories, but re-heating didn’t.

Text messages kept me in touch with close friends and family while keeping me safe from the toxic people.

Instead of sleeping through the day, I put together part of my sofa.  By part, I mean the sofa is in use, but the sectional and sleeper parts still need to be put together.  By the time I finished the main sofa and realized the rest had to wait, my muscles were saying “we’re done.  No more please.”   But the rest of me felt happy and accomplished.

So happy, in fact, that we slept on the sofa that night.  It’s surprisingly comfortable.  In spite of the muscle discomfort and stress from the upstairs neighbor’s musicals, putting together the sofa brought out feelings of accomplishment, joy, and contentment – aka endorphins.   Not even phone calls with my family and flashbacks could get me down.

Gratitude

Maybe it’s petty of me, but I also felt grateful that having a secondary place to sleep pissed off my upstairs neighbor.  She couldn’t disturb my sleep because I wasn’t using my bed.  Therefore, her musical of dropping stuff on the floor above my head didn’t work.  It was the first night in a while that I managed to sleep undisturbed and wake up on my own time.

But then I was also grateful her musical dropping of stuff on the floor woke me up the next day.  It was early enough that I had time to call Ikea, get my replacement parts for the sofa sectional, then go out to visit friends and see a movie.  It was Black Friday, and I was afraid that going to a mall would make things worse.  Instead, it was cathartic.  I felt calm, relaxed, and grounded inside myself.  The movie was good too, but I’m still not a Thor fan.  And I really need to put together a magic bag for crowded movie  theaters.

The musicals still occur just after I settle for bed and randomly throughout the day, but the sleep headphones and a favorite playlist make it all tolerable.

Mostly, I am grateful to have enjoyed Thanksgiving awake and grounded in the present instead of dissociated, hyper-vigilant, and upset.

Conclusion

I am still a solitary person who prefers alone time instead of crowds.  After so many years of being alone and/or lonely in a crowd of people, celebrating alone without any obligations feels good.  Maybe someday the other people in my life will understand that being physically alone does not equal being unconnected to my loved ones.

Relationships, connections, and interactions come in many forms.   And my heart, my mind, my spirit is always open to them even if my physical self shuns sharing space with others.  I keep all of these people and places in my heart and my mind during the holidays, so they are always with me.

Thanksgiving and similar holidays used to anger me, all parts of me.  I could honestly say that I hated the holidays and mean it.  But that hate gradually changed as different parts of me opened up to the rest of us.  We shared our pain, our grief, our fear, and our shame.  Then we learned how to cope with those feelings and associated memories with lots of help and support from outside people.

So thank you guests, family of choice, mental health providers past & present, family of blood, and other providers past & present who’ve helped me get to a place where holidays are fun instead of stressful.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversaries: A Different Kind of Birthday

My birthday was last weekend.

I turned 35.  Oddly, I felt a lot of anxiety along with the usual joy and gratitude that comes from being alive one more year.  Why this year instead of past years?  Honestly no one in our system can answer that.

35 just feels like a big year.  A turning point.  A crossroads perhaps.  So much good is happening that the memories are flooding in fast & furious.  Body memories connecting with emotional or cognitive memory fragments create complete memories of past experiences.  Those memories come in dreams and immense pain from my neck down.

In spite of all that, waking up to birthday wishes from friends and family made me feel blessed.  The warm messages brightened my morning and had me excited to start the day.  And it was an amazing day in spite of the pain.

I did not do anything special.  It was a day for self care and exploring spent in blissful solitude broken up with visits to appointments and interesting people in different stores. Time did not manage me that day.  After my appointments, I took my time enjoying the beautiful day as I headed back home.

For the first time that I can remember, my birthday was spent in an enjoyable way with full awareness of everything that occurred.  Not one of us (the alters or myself) dissociated, split, switched, or forgot anything that happened.  We laughed and played and watched movies or read books or knitted while relaxing and waiting for the stew to finish.

The pain did not stop any of us from enjoying the day.  We simply adjusted to the physical limitations of neck/shoulder pain by carrying the shoulder bag on the other arm and using both hands to cook.  Took a lot of breaks in between our travels.  And remembered to eat or drink fluids throughout the day.

And maybe that is what made us all feel so anxious.  A birthday without expectations or obligations to anyone.    Pure joy.  Simple fun.  Interesting, kind people.  Yummy food.  A good night’s rest.

The joy and peaceful feelings continue even now.  A different set of Chinese herbs are helping with triggers, sleep, and pain issues.  I did not expect help with the pain, but it’s been helping.  The herbs have made everyone sleep a lot, but that’s okay.  We needed the rest.  And something has changed inside too because the adults finally managed to do laundry!

Plus, the colder temperatures are not bringing up scary feelings or memories for the children as much this week.  It helps that many of the shopping packages were delivered over  the last few days.  But really, the herbs are working with our body and mind this time instead of trying to manipulate changes.  And that feels really good.

Maybe even good enough that mornings will stop being scary too someday.  And maybe good enough that bathrooms and small dark spaces like under sink cabinets will also feel safer too.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Sleep, Food, Shower, Meditation ;) – an Empath’s POV

Survival Mode

All parts of me still feel drained and off center right now.  Some unexpected challenges and expenditures for my new apartment combined with scheduling appointments around work and the owner’s schedule made this week rather interesting.

Home

general spaces:
I love the energy in this building.  In spite of the old windows that stick and have a hard time opening, quirky sliding doors, and electrical outlets that are not always grounded or placed in ideal locations, this studio apartment really does feel like home.  My neighbors are friendly, respectful, and quiet.  The owner and her management team are respectful, responsible, and responsive too.

Unexpected challenges

  • Changing home decorating and budget plans
  • Multiple panic attacks because I am changing my budget plans
  • Learning more about myself and my unique (but unacknowledged) skills
  • Understanding why strategies that worked before are not so helpful this time

The Coping Strategies for Self Care

After a session with my intern Chinese medicine/acupuncture practitioner this week, I decided to try and learn more about empaths and empathy.  She physically felt some of the problems I was experiencing during treatment and shared that information with me with calm acceptance.

It was the first time anyone had ever acknowledged and used extrasensory skills in a professional setting around me.  And it brought me back to face some facts about myself. I am an empath too.  What kind, I’m not sure exactly.  I don’t always or often experience physical symptoms of other people in my own body.  But I can and do experience energy changes, emotions, and other information about people and living beings through my senses.

All of this led me to a psychiatrist and self-proclaimed empath named Judith Orloff.  I’ve been listening to her book called The Empath’s Survival Guide and learning about my extrasensory skills.  This includes coping strategies and skills like – sleep, meditation, water, and food.

While I don’t subscribe to everything she’s talked about so far, her unique perspective helped me understand why these four strategies are always part of my “Back to Basics” plan.

Sleep
Before reading this book, I knew that sleep was essential – my body would knock me out if I overextended myself – but didn’t understand how or why it was so much more effective than taking a pill or using an energy drink to recalibrate like everyone else.  Now I understand that sleep is a time for reconnecting with all parts of myself and allowing those parts to relax and replenish energy levels while also healing themselves.

Food
Anorexia and almost a decade of severe food allergies/sensitivities taught me to be mindful of what I eat, how much I consume, and when I eat (frequency of meals) to stay healthy, energetic, and balanced.  While following these personal guidelines helped me maintain a healthy weight and feel strong, they sometimes frustrated me too.  After reading about how physical sensitivities are part of being an empath and why, I am practicing more self-acceptance and less shame about my unique eating habits & dietary needs.

Showers – aka baths, water, etc. (swimming not so much)
I love water.  I love being near water, smelling water in the air, drinking water, taking warm/hot baths & showers, and surrounding myself with the colors of water.  Swimming – not so much.  Being in the ocean, a river, or a pool – not so much.  Being on the water in a boat – absolutely fine.  But I’m also ashamed of this love for water.  The why is still unclear, but it exists.  The book offers an explanation about why I (as an empath) love water so much.  I am skeptical and keeping an open mind.  Some experimentation is required.  But I always feel amazing after a warm/hot shower with my favorite soap.

Meditation
I’ve practiced different types of meditation since I was 6 years old.  Maybe even earlier than that as the martial arts some of my relatives practiced fascinated me.  Our relationship has been rocky at times, but meditation never failed me when I needed help.  Now meditation helps me sleep better and wake up grounded in the present instead of stuck between the present and the past.  On public transportation or in crowds, a simple mediation practice helps me breathe easier and cope until I am alone again.  Throughout the day, meditation sometimes replaces my need for a nap or helps me get some physical activity (mindful walk or mindful washing dishes).

Conclusion

The next steps on my healing journey are to explore, grow with, and accept my empathic abilities and how they are influencing my current recovery practices.  I don’t know a lot about being an empath or an intuitive; what skills one might have; how to use  the skills without draining myself; or how to protect myself from sensory overload.  Before now, I couldn’t even acknowledge that my mind, spirit, body self even had these skills.

My parts and I chalked it up to having great instincts.  And suffered the mood swings, outbursts, and energy drains from certain people in shamed silence.

Now, it’s time to step out of the closet and learn.  Knowledge is power.  Power offers protection, insight, and opportunities.  Plus, maybe this will help us all integrate and align ourselves better.  And we can move forward with our goal for a second career sooner instead of later.

Thanks for reading.

DID Posts: Working through food issues with my alters

Background

Something not often mentioned is that different alters (or parts) have different experiences in the same body.  It’s why doctors and medical professionals could have trouble diagnosing illnesses or interpreting lab tests.  Or why nurses have trouble finding veins to take blood or give IVs.  This can even explain why one person can be sick with the flu, but not exhibit any physical symptoms except through a blood test.  Sometimes, it also changes physical appearance and healing rates.

Personal Experience

For me, some of my alter personalities don’t have to eat.  Other alter personalities (mostly my child parts) love eating meat, dairy, poultry, fish/seafood, and eggs (aka animal products) because they bring back good memories with family.  Most of my adolescent and adult alter personalities (me included) prefer a nutrient-focused, vegetarian or vegan (whole foods, plant based) eating style.  None of us really enjoy eating processed or fast food except for a treat once in a while; usually it tastes too salty, too sweet, or too much like chemicals.

The nutrient-focused, whole foods path works because plants are easy for our body to digest, bring a variety of pleasurable flavors & textures to meals, and are fun to cook.  Eating animal products and even some processed foods

  • When I eat meat and animal products, the vegetarian and vegan alters don’t get involved in digesting those meals.
  • When I eat plant based meals, everyone except the alters who don’t eat help with digestion.
  • My child parts and adolescent parts (up to mid-twenties probably) were anorexic and still struggle with triggers and the possibility of relapse.
  • My adult parts struggle with weight fluctuations and finding a diet with a label that helps the system stay healthy, tastes good, and limits potential triggers and small lapses.
  • We all struggle with making good food and hydration choices about 4-5 times a year when these triggers appear.  Past experiences with shaming and lack of support make this more difficult than it has to be.

The Challenge

Right now, the challenge is maintaining an interest in eating and hydrating.  I feel frustrated with my food options and hydration options.  I do not feel hungry or thirsty or interested in eating.  And by “I”, I mean everyone in my system.  No one wants to cook or get delivery or visit a restaurant or purchase takeout.

The first internal conflict: is the choice to eat mostly plant-based, whole foods style

  1.  rebellion against family
  2.  the beginning of a relapse for anorexia
  3. A personal choice that makes everyone in the system happy?

The second internal conflict: is the choice to animal products

  1. A self-harm compulsion triggered by obsessive thoughts about having to eat according to family and cultural/societal rules
  2. A self-harm compulsion to hurt myself and make myself sick as punishment for feeling happy and getting healthier
  3. A personal choice that makes the minor discomfort manageable because it helps younger alter personalities feel grounded and connected to happier times?

Side note: I use hydrating because “drinking” can sometimes trigger negative feelings – something I hope to avoid for any guests who read this post – or be misinterpreted.  Maybe it’s over-explaining, but that distinction is as much for my benefit as it is for the readers’ benefit.

Epiphany

Part 1

The first week after my dental surgery, I ate 100% whole foods, plant based meals.  With the exception of serious gas and constipation issues from the anesthesia and first few days of antibiotics, my digestion was fine.  I am grateful for acupuncture and food medicine for that turnaround.  What surprised me most was:

  1. how great I felt physically in spite of the pain
  2. how emotionally stable I felt in spite of the triggering experiences
  3. how rapidly my body healed with minimal pain killers with lots of rest & minimal activity
  4. how well I slept in spite of the pain and anxiety that came from flashbacks and food triggers
  5. the root of my food triggers centered around
  6. fear that this choice is based on PTSD food fears and anorexia nervosa relapse symptoms
  7. food and diet shaming
  8. lack of support from past medical and mental health professionals along with family members and friends

Part 2

  1. all alter parts feeling frustrated by these conflicting internal thoughts and feelings
  2. fear that that each time I ate animal products was giving into self-harm compulsions because of obsessive internal thoughts
  3. we all justified eating those meals as experiments to help child alters understand and experience the negative reaction our body has to eating animal products
  4. helping our system make peace with the conflict by explaining that eating animal products is fine as long as we are willing to accept the consequences – gas, constipation, slow digestion, nausea/stomachaches, backaches, lethargy – for a limited time
  5. acknowledging that the frustration stems from wanting to cook and eat a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle 90% of the time
  6. acknowledging that nothing is being excluded – we can eat animal products & processed food any time as long as we are willing to feel physically ill for a little while afterwards
  7. Alcohol is not included here because it’s in a different category – none of us like the taste of alcohol, but we do enjoy drinking once in a while with close friends.
    1. Problem is: we metabolize alcohol fast like with most other drugs and get drunk really easily.
    2. So 1 alcoholic beverage drunk over an hour = a drunk me for about 2-3 hours.  Then I’m fine except for the hangover headache.  If I fall asleep within the 2-3 hours, I wake up hungover.
    3. Very perplexing and makes drinking hard to enjoy…
  8. Processed foods are something I happily live without most of the time because they do not satisfy my hunger anymore.  When I do make an exception, it’s because of a craving for comfort food.  And then we all can enjoy the treat.

Conclusion

I and everyone in my system feel conflicted still.  It’s going to take a long time to sort out.  This time around, though, I have a mental health and a medical professional supporting me in the transition.  I also have many friends who support me as I try to stay healthy and make good coping strategy choices.

With knowledge comes power to make informed choices.  With trust comes the benefit of a real support network that can/will/does lift me up when I fall, encourage me when I doubt myself, and kick my ass when needed.  As for coping strategies, I’m not sure what to try or what will work.  If I find anything that helps, I will share in a future post.

If any of you are struggling with food choices, food addiction, or an eating disorder, I encourage you to learn more about different kinds of nutrition and diets, explore eating styles, and ask lots of questions.  Then (and I know this can be triggering) if you feel ready, listen to your body and how it feels before, during, and after you eat or hydrate.  My body always finds a way to tell me if it likes or dislikes something; maybe yours will too.

Thanks for reading