Disclaimer: I am not an expert by any means. Not a therapist, medical or mental health professional. I do not diagnose, treat, or tell people what to do. The main purpose of this website and blog is education and support. If you are unsure how the suggestions and resources here may affect you, please discuss……
This will be quick. I’ve been working on a grant application that required a video proposal to be shared on social media. Here is what it’s about:
I can’t use pain meds without getting physically ill. If you are a long time reader, then you know that coping strategies work sometimes, but not all the time. And the more strategies you have in your tool box, the more options you have to find solutions in the moment.
Some people can’t use conventional methods because of addiction. Others because the cost is too high/low/out of reach in some way. Or because the options are not easily accessible where they are.
I found an aromatherapy blend that works for my physical and emotional pain – when it manifests in my body and nothing else helps – and am working to find an herbal infused oil as the carrier.
You can learn more by watching the video in the link above.
You don’t have to join in or participate. It’s not something I’ve really shared or done much with before here.
Anonymity is safe and precious, I get that.
Took a lot for me to reveal myself. But it was time and necessary since so many people at work and in Portland, OR know of this site.
As I mentioned before, my life is changing. I am changing. You are changing too. And I promised to do my best to include you all in the changes.
So here goes. Anticipation feels good sometimes. Anticipation laced with fear – not so great.
But here I am. Excited and Scared. Thinking about photos. Planning posts. Considering stories. Making myself vulnerable by going on Facebook Live.
And yes that was real. I’m not sure when or where it will take place. But 1 week from this coming Sunday, I will be on Facebook live recording a video as myself.
I don’t expect anyone to be there.
I feel scared that people will be there.
Moving. Creating. As myself. No makeup. Maybe bald. Maybe with a hat or scarf on. Talking to whoever decides to join or watch later.
And between now and 2 Sundays from now, I will be posting about the different kinds of movement that goes on daily. Not the same posts here as on Scent Reflections. If you want to see what’s going on there, please visit.
But I am remiss in sharing a video with you all. It’s the first one I made and has to do with aromatherapy blending. Since that is not popular here, I didn’t post it right away.
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.
United States Thanksgiving Holiday is this Thursday. Then the holiday shopping weekend begins with Black Friday, continues with Small Business Saturday, and ends with Cyber Monday.
Small Business Saturday is my favorite shopping day because I try to support local small businesses as much as possible. Small businesses are one of the few ways ex-cons, veterans, and people with different educational backgrounds can be independent and successful with stable incomes to support themselves and their loved ones. There are lots of other reasons to shop local and shop small, but those are my two personal favorites.
If you’ve read past posts, then you might remember how challenging Thanksgiving can be. I never look forward to this holiday or the whole “holiday season” that starts in November and ends sometime in January. But this year, I am looking towards my 5 day vacation and doing some fun activities from the comfort of my home.
Buzzwords, Challenge Authenticity and Meaning of
That is part of the coping strategy and part of the coping challenge.
What do I mean? Well, words and phrases that become popular in social conversation sometimes lose their impact, authenticity, and specific meaning over time. The can get misused or become misunderstood, categorized, and labeled a certain way or associated with certain groups.
So when these words come up in conversation, people often make assumptions or jump to conclusions thinking they know what I am talking about and get offended, defensive, insulted, etc. when our meaning of the words differ.
One example that stands out came 5 years ago when I was living in an apartment building in Boston, MA. This woman and I were talking about experiencing anxiety and PTSD. She told me “Oh yes, I have a touch of PTSD too.” in a serious tone and proceeded to explain how stressed out she was from work and the recent loss of a pet and some other personal problems.
When she asked me, I explained about my symptoms. She told me that was not PTSD and that I needed serious help. Then proceeded to avoid me as often as possible. When she couldn’t avoid me, she treated me with condescension and wariness.
My struggle right now has to do with other phrases and words with specific meaning in my life:
These words have become popular as social change supports and encourages people to take better care of themselves, learn how to reduce stress, and live healthier lifestyles.
On the one hand, that’s great because more people have access to knowledge and resources that can teach them how to help themselves make these positive and neutral changes in their lives. They can learn with skepticism and make their own choices (mistakes and successes) with confidence to move forward with their goals.
On the other hand, it gives other people opportunities to manipulate vulnerable populations by twisting the meaning of these words and teaching small bits and pieces of these concepts out of context. People proclaim themselves leaders and experts with self-help guides and quick-fix programs to follow. Maybe they help some people, but what about the ones they fail?
And so I have to ask myself: am I using buzzwords because they’re popular and make me seem “cool” to others? Or am I using words and phrases with a specific intention that helps me achieve my health and wellness goals?
Is it a coping strategy, a coping technique, or a coping challenge?
The answer is unknown at this time. I’m still working through it all.
Is it a trigger?
yes. This kind of thinking feels like walking in circles with pauses to bang my head against a brick wall to escape.
Which brings me to triggers.
Well, they still manifest in ways that are new to me. They often surprise and distract me at inconvenient times.
My pain levels stay around 5 out of 10…with 10 being the worst. It’s better than years past when my pain level stayed steady at 7.5-9 all the time.
This time of year, my triggers are environmental, sensory, and emotional:
Flashbacks and body memories cause dissociation and increase in anxiety/hyper-vigilance/agoraphobia
Physical pain plays games with my balance and movement – disturbs sleep and distracts from work
People moving in and out, city life, cold temperatures, and holiday stress contribute to environmental and sensory stress
And of course, my upstairs neighbors continue to be inventive in how they try to annoy me (and our neighbors).
In a way, the triggers haven’t changed. They exist no matter what.
How I cope with the triggers; my reactions to the triggers have changed in positive ways. Most of it is based on the work I’ve done in the past building on itself. Some is new.
Here are the main strategies that help:
Exposure therapy: I express gratitude to my annoying neighbors because they’ve helped me with triggers that used to overwhelm me, cause panic attacks, and make me pass out or not be able to sleep.
Aromatherapy & Herbalism classes: I’ve been learning how to use essential oil blends for pain management, cold and flue, emotional support, and panic attacks through aromatherapy classes. In herbalism classes, I’ve learned how about specific plants (alone or combined) can support different organ systems and overall health.
Cooking, Making Tea, and Creating Aromatherapy Blends: This appeals to me on many levels: saves me money; allows me to be creative; something all parts of me can do together; work in a safe space at home; have fun
*If you choose to try aromatherapy or herbalism, I ask/suggest/recommend you talk to your doctors and work with a certified practitioner or take classes to learn about the subjects before you try it at home*
Laughter: My perspective changes constantly. Back in the past, I had to hide my sense of humor and stay quiet if I wanted to move through the world unnoticed. My voice is unique and memorable. And humor – well, it’s quirky and eccentric and not always easy to understand. These days I choose to find humor and fun in seeming negative or stressful experiences as often as possible.
What kind of challenges and strategies are you utilizing?
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.
My goal with this series is to:
Show you learning paths that empower you to feel secure and safe in who you are so that you can go out in the world, be your authentic selves, and achieve your goals without feeling the need to hide or be held back by your past experiences.
What is considered Physical Self Protection? And why does it matter?
Physical Self Protection means more than self-defense, an alarm system, and weapons. It includes:
Feeling safe inside your physical body wherever you are
Making healthy lifestyle choices for nutrition and movement or exercise
Meeting essential needs of food, shelter, warmth, and clothing in ways that suit your life and budget in the present moment while also giving a sense of joy and satisfaction because you CAN take care of yourself in the most basic ways
Personal finance education to learn how to make good spending and investing choices
My process started about 7 or 8 years ago when I decided to break from my family. At the time, I had very little money and less interest in doing more than survive my “new independence”. Rent, medical bills, utility bills, food, and transportation ate most, if not all, of my budget back then. But I also couldn’t afford to get sick or end up in the hospital either. That put my job and independence at risk.
And I was tired of hiding behind ugly, ill-fitting clothes and a meek persona. Invisibility was safe and protected me as long as I didn’t mind observing instead of participating in life. Up until I got a full time position at work and left my family, invisibility felt inevitable for someone lacking confidence and not wanting to be noticed.
While I didn’t much like my physical self (body, face, etc.) at the time, I was learning to love, respect, value, and feel confident in the rest of my self. And I was ready to start making that change from invisible to acknowledged. Nutrition and physical health improvements were already part of my care routine, but I didn’t know anything about style and clothes. Nor did I know where to start looking for something besides fashion that focused on body types and colors. And my “friends” at the time were not exactly helpful either.
So I started a new project: positive self image through personal style. There had to be a way to make my insides and outsides match just like I was doing with nutrition and physical activity. But also within my limited budget.
Fostering a neutral/positive self image through personal style
When I feel confident and safe, I look and act confident and safe. People are less likely to target me.
But what happens if I feel confident and safe, but don’t appear confident or safe to others? People are likely to continue treating me as they always have.
If I feel good on the inside, I want to show that on the outside too.
Does that resonate with you? Because it’s how I started on the personal style journey and found Inside Out Style Blog and Imogen Lamport (creator). She discussed personal style as an expression of our authentic personality and how body/face shape, color palette, etc. are all small parts of the whole package. While primarily an image consultant for women, she has consulted with experts in men’s style and shared those tips on her site too.
I wrote about this journey in some past posts and added information about this blog to the Resources page too. You can read about the results and see some photos in “My Style Manifesto”.
However, looking and feeling stylish WAS NOT the most important lesson I learned as part of that learning group. Here are some lessons:
I can share who I am (sometimes how I feel) with others without talking at all through my physical appearance.
When I make time to put together thoughtful outfits that feel good against my skin, fit well, and express something about myself, I feel safe, secure, confident, and able to interact with others outside of my safe spaces
Every one of us in the 7 Steps to Style Program was on a “recovery journey” of our own to find, express, and feel confident in our authentic selves as women no matter our age, sexual orientation, race, country of origin, marital status, personal experience, or financial status.
As we completed the 7 Steps, many of us used our newfound skills and experiences to create new business and job opportunities in alignment with our values.
One of these people is Liz Klebba of Closet Play Image based in the US. She created an image consulting and personal style business to help empower women to enjoy expressing themselves through personal style while still blending in and feeling appropriate in different environments. You can learn more about this by checking out her post called “Why Trends Matter“.
How can you protect yourself with an expression of your style that fits within your budget?
Creating ways to add movement into your daily routine (physical fitness)
As I’ve mentioned before, I do not have a typical exercise routine or participate in sports these days. In fact, I have not done any of that on a regular basis since college. Not because I didn’t want to participate, but because the pain in my body combined with panic attacks and flashbacks made such activities impossible without also experiencing shame and embarrassment.
So I started by incorporating more movement into my daily routine slowly. Grocery shopping meant walking to and from the store with totes and portable shopping carts that navigated stairs. Walk to and from the public transportation stations and work. Plus house cleaning and laundry require lots of movement + energy + time.
And I move a lot when preparing food and cooking. My pantry and dishes are all in shelves under the sink or counters. My utensils hang from hooks above my head. Reusable containers live on top of the refrigerator/freezer.
What are some ways you can change your routines and environment to include more movement?
Adding sensory grounding strategies and tools (physical objects) to your every day life style (aka magic bag)
I touched on this a little in the last two sections, but there are so many ways to include physical objects or touch stones in our every day lives to help us feel grounded and safe in the present moment. Here are more details based on the examples above.
In the personal style section, I mentioned putting together outfits with clothing and accessories. Wearing clothing and accessories can be a confidence-boosting, joyful sensory experience if we allow it.
Clothing has a texture and evokes a tactile sensation as it rests on and moves with the skin on our bodies.
Accessories also have a texture and evoke sensations as they move with, enclose, or rest on our skin/hair, etc.
The colors and patterns or prints engage our visual senses and bring out different emotions – not always consciously.
And let’s be honest here, our shoes, jewelry, even clothing sometimes, make sounds as they move with us – thus engaging our auditory senses.
Why not choose fabrics and textures that feel good agains our skin? Choose prints, patterns, and colors that flatter our coloring and remind us of positive emotions? Include accessories that remind us of positive experiences and express our genuine interests?
In addition, there are other portable items we can take with us and use discreetly wherever we are.
Healthy snacks and drinks engage our sense of smell and taste. Sometimes even our visual and tactile senses too. If sustainability is a personal value, reusable containers add in another element of self care. Plus bringing your own food instead of buying take out can be budget friendly and give an excuse to get creative too.
Aromatherapy and herbs come in many portable forms these days. You can carry them in pockets, backpacks, and handbags. Take them out and use when you need a moment to yourself without disturbing others or making a mess. Then put away for use in the future.
Then there are less obvious physical grounding objects we can take with us. Some are more portable than others. Here are some examples:
What are some items you can take with you to feel safe and grounded as you navigate the outside world?
Incorporating physical protection or grounding objects throughout your living environment
Plants and sunlight are the two most important grounding objects in my apartment right now. I often feel like I’m still living in the cage when I can’t leave my apartment. Plus I worry about privacy since some of my neighbors and I can see in each others’ windows. So being able to grow plants and keep my windows unblocked bring the outside world in when I can’t go out.
After that, I’ve worked hard to save money and purchase home goods like bed linens and towels made with different fabrics and textures that feel good against my skin and help me with some of the PTSD symptoms and side effects.
Two examples here:
Bed linens. I experience night sweats and intense nightmares that soak/stain my sheets, pillows, blankets to the point where I had to get up and sleep somewhere else multiple times a night. Can’t tell you how many polyester pillows and acrylic sheets I ruined with the constant washing and sweating. Or how often I ended up with unexplainable rashes and acne or contact dermatits because of the fabric rubbing against and getting into my skin.
Solution: purchase pillows, bed linens, blankets, etc. in fabrics with natural antibacterial and cooling properties – i.e. linen, wool, and percale cotton (organic if possible)
Problem: cost and expense of replacing everything at once
Solution: prioritize self care and move 3/4 of money from “fun” to “home goods” until I replaced all of the items on my list.
Reward: purchase a book, see a movie, or something equally fun, budget friendly and frivolous after I buy 3 items.
Cleaning and laundry products. In college, I learned that my body and nose were extremely sensitive to conventional cleaning, bath, and body care products. The smell made me physically ill or caused breathing problems. And the chemicals gave me rashes, acne, eczema, etc. That included: cosmetics; cleaning products; bath & body; perfume; and laundry products.
Solution: research how to make my own cleaning products or find non-bleach and petroleum based cleaners, detergents, and soaps. Or stop using cosmetics, etc. I did both for a while.
Problem: back then, the sustainability and “green” movements were grassroots and not well known. Not many products available on the market.
Solution: compromise. Use a combination of aromatherapy and recipes from diy housecleaning websites/books/blogs to keep things clean at home.
Reward: fun experiments with essential oils, mixing cleaning solutions. Find a learning path that led to this blog and other job opportunities. Apply my personal finance education to be “thrifty” and meet goals.
Crystals, stuffed animals, books, and figurines on my alter spaces and walls come in second. In my living room and bedroom, I have what I call “alter space” or “sacred space” for objects of meaning and spiritual or emotional power. They are combinations of objects arranged a certain way on corner shelves and remind me of my past and present. Before, my living spaces were bare because I used them as a place for sleep and storage. Now, I have a real home that reflects who I am and how I choose to live.
Do you have certain objects at home or work that act as protection to help you cope with stress or flashbacks?
Pulling it together
I protect myself and feel confident moving through the outside world because I’ve learned how to use every day objects in creative ways as armor or shields – aka grounding objects. The learning process was and continues to be difficult with lots of mistakes and challenges from expected and unexpected sources.
For example, I used to be afraid of anything related to my senses because I thought “sensual” was another word for “sexual”.
As I learned that sensation, sensual appreciation, and sensuality DID NOT EQUAL sexuality or sexual anything, my whole world expanded.
Sensuality and Sexuality are different.
A person can be sensual and indulge in sensual experiences without falling into addiction or having to engage in sexual experiences.
Pleasure can equal joy and peace.
Grounding strategies teach people how to uses their physical, emotional, and spiritual senses to feel safe in and focused on the present moment wherever and whenever they are.
Confidence and security in oneself are the best kinds of protection and can be expressed in physical ways. Some are visible to everyone while others are more personal and customized to individuals.
These days, sensory grounding is an essential tool in my toolbox of coping techniques and strategies. I use it all the time.
Finally, physical protection provides a strong foundation to become emotionally, spiritually, and energetically protected too.
Lots of people discuss mindfulness meditation and how beneficial it can be. But how often are the other meditation styles discussed and used? As much as we love mindfulness meditation, sometimes it just doesn’t help. We are not interested in being mindful or grounded in the present. No when we’re struggling with understanding which reality (past/present/flashback/nightmare/daydream) we are in at the moment.
Our goal is to ALL BE IN THE SAME MOMENT AT THE SAME TIME
It’s rather disorienting and confusing for the host not knowing when she is in the outside world.
In moments like this, something hat attracts everyone’s attention and pulls us together helps more than anything else. What can do that? A different kind of meditation called visualization sometimes helps us. Maybe it could be called mindfulness since the focus is on recreating every detail of the object in our mind? But our visualizations are based on imaginary places, not real ones, and use all of our senses, so not sure either way.
Our preferred visualization is always tree or earth-related. Something about trees feels especially safe, comforting, and grounding.
But anything can be used for the visualization.
The Visualization practice
We learned a variation of this meditation from the hotline volunteers. You can do this alone or with a partner or in a group.
In a quiet, safe space
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
Breathe deep and slow – inhale, pause, exhale – 3-4 times
Close your eyes
Breathe in for count of 5, then out for count of 5
Notice the sensations and/or thoughts passing through
Continue breathing deep and slow
Imagine a tree in front of you
Notice the trunk
How old or young?
How big/small, skinny/thick?
What shape is the trunk?
What does the bark look, feel, smell, sound like?
Notice the branches and leaves
What do you see? Shapes, sizes, colors, textures..
What do you hear?
How do the branches and leaves feel?
Do the branches and leaves have a scent? Can you describe it
Notice the ground under the trunk
Is the ground solid? muddy? grassy? sandy?
How does it feel, smell, sound?
Imagine you can see under the ground
What do the roots look like?
How long or short?
How thick or thin?
How strong or weak?
Observe all around the tree
Is there anyone or anything near by?
Describe what your observe
Breathe in for a count of 5, pause for a count of 5, then breathe out for a count of 5
Breathe deep and slow – inhale, pause, exhale – 3-4 times
Notice how you feel – stress levels, sensations in your body/mind, feelings you’re experiencing
When ready, open your eyes
We hope this visualization can be a tool in your toolbox to help you when other strategies are less than helpful.