Life Changing Moments: Changing self perception

I struggle with being body positive and having a positive self-image.

  • Part of that is because of past experiences.
  • Part of it is because my body shape, size, and appearance do not fit any “ideal” standards, so shopping and feeling good about how I look isn’t always easy.
  • The rest has to do with looking like either parent or following “appearance expectations” – my rebellion against this

This struggle shattered my self-confidence, built up on existing shame, and gave me many reasons to “hide” from the world.

No matter what I did or how I tried, something about me always attracted attention.  Something always gave others an excuse or rationale to be mean/rude, etc.  And I believed them when they told me it was my fault for making them act that way.

I still believed that, deep down in a secret part of me, until last week.

WHAT HAPPENED?

An unexpected award at work gave me the push I needed to stop procrastinating about getting professional photos for business/school, etc.  Here’s the short version:

The company I work for in my day job has over 1,000 employees worldwide and a commitment to encourage continuous learning.  They promote this internally by giving employees free accounts to LinkedIn Learning and internal classes.  At every half-year, the people in “people teams” use some metric or formula to find out who took the most classes, etc. and gives them a small award using an internal award system.

I get a lot of down time between projects and hate being bored, so the online classes through LinkedIn were ways to me to feel like I wasn’t getting paid for doing nothing.  The award was unexpected, yet much appreciated.  But it wasn’t until after I answered the survey questions, that someone from “people teams” reached out with a request.  The company liked my answers and wanted to use them as part of a promotional campaign.  Would I allow this and also send a photo to go with the answers?

At first, I freaked out and said “absolutely not” on the inside.  But then I paused.  This was an opportunity, a big one to help me reach the next step of “not hiding” and achieving outside goals.  If I said no, I’d be going backwards.  If I said yes, I’d have to face a whole lot of fears, including putting my face out on the Internet.

I said yes and asked for some time to get them a decent photo.  We agreed on a date, and I booked my first photo shoot in 14 years (since college graduation photos).

WHY IS THIS A LIFE CHANGING MOMENT?

My style group friends have been cheering me along on my journey to self-discovery and being my authentic self always, but especially in how I present myself to the outside world.  With their help, I chose an outfit and makeup that felt 100%, authentically me.  Surprisingly, I didn’t see

  • a little girl playing dress-up in the mirror
  • A woman dressing to look “like a lady” according to parental expectations
  • My mother, father, aunts, cousins, or grandparents looking back at me
  • A clown or over made-up woman trying to be something she’s not

I saw myself – all parts of myself expressed as a single, adult woman wearing a dress & blazer with fun accessories and subtle makeup – as I got ready for the photo session.

The photographer was amazing.  She helped me feel completely at ease and comfortable posing outside.  The whole experience felt like chatting with an old friend and taking photos for fun.  Never before had I felt so relaxed with a stranger taking photos of me.  Part of it was location – we took photos in a beautiful park – and part of it was the overall feeling of rightness that stayed with me throughout the day.

I got to see myself through the photographer’s eyes and camera lens that afternoon.  She accepted my quirks and even appreciated some of them.  Before her, I’d not met many people who also talked to ladybugs or openly expressed a reverence for nature.  We connected over a mutual love and respect for trees; some of my favorite “fun” shots are of me sitting on exposed roots or posing against trees.

Together, we narrowed down to 3 photos that fit the main purpose of this photo shoot: business headshots for work & professional networking profiles.

But I also chose one for school and “fun” profiles too.  My current day job is segregated from my other hobbies and work choices on purpose.  They do not play well together, and I am very private.  Not many businesses want someone with my kind of mental health issues working for them, no matter how good I am at my job.  So 3 photos:

  • One for internal work/business (like email, profiles, messaging, etc.) that showed me and my “professional” personality with hints of non-work life
  • One for business and networking or job hunting profiles that expressed my business professionalism, creativity, and unique personality
  • One for school and personal profiles (personal email, WordPress account, Facebook, etc.) that showed me in a happy, confident, relaxed, open way.

WHAT CHANGED?

My self-perception, self-image whatever you want to call it.

When I look in a mirror, I finally see me.  A beautiful (inside out kind), confident, secure-in-herself woman.  An authentic, person with many alternate personalities who thrives in her chosen life style with family of choice, a support network, and a fulfilling life in spite of many challenges.

MY HOPE

For all people, with and without mental health or trauma issues, to experience a positive change in self-perception too.  I share this story with the hope that someone can relate to the experience, realize he or she is not alone, and have the courage to make positive steps too.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: 14 Lessons Learned

My recovery started in 2014, a couple months before college graduation.  Since then, I’ve been blessed with many mentors and guides along the journey. Here are 14 (of many) lessons Recovery has taught me: People everywhere sometimes say one thing, believe something else, and act on their beliefs more than their words. Self-awareness in our […]

Resources: Another Author Round-up with a Twist

In the past, I’ve shared some of my favorite contemporary authors who write romance, science fiction, and/or fantasy – mostly skewed towards female or male/female partnership authors – or self-help books.  But I never shared many of my favorite male authors or other types of books – books that taught me many valuable life lessons.

That comes from the scared parts of me who fear sharing such an important cornerstone even with close friends and family.  I am an absolute nerd when it comes to books and have a love affair with ancient/classic stories (before and during the time of Shakespeare) along with early American authors.

And so, many of my favorite male authors come from these categories.  A lot of them still carry memories, so I listen for free on Podcasts or borrow from the library.

If you are interested, here is a short list:

Classic Greek/Roman

  • Euripedes – comedies and tragedies
  • Aristophanes – comedies and tragedies
  • Homer – Oddessy & Iliad
  • Aesop – book of fables

British across many periods

  • Bede – Anglo/Saxon mythology or creation stories
  • Chaucer – A Knight’s tale and other poems
  • John Donne – beautiful sonnets and poetry
  • George Bernard Shaw – not usually a fan of politics or plays, but his are short, interesting.  I actually did my senior thesis paper on his take of Antony & Cleopatra.

American across many periods

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Mark Twain
  • Walt Whitman
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Robert Frost

Youth (mostly within the last 4 decades)

  • Dr. Seuss
  • Donald J. Sobol
  • Sid Fleishman
  • Rick Riordan

As you can see, these books range from fiction to non-fiction, children to adult, and poetry.

What do you think this says about me?  And does it bring up any secret parts in you that might want to be heard?

For me, I’m starting to read these books and enjoy them again – this time without the past shading my experience.

Thanks for reading

Recovery: A Story about Perspective & Goals

Schedule Change this week: I may not be able to post on the regular days due to anniversaries – PLUS ANOTHER LONG POST

The Story

Between January of last year and March of this year, I went through the process of applying to graduate school for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  That & aromatherapy are what I’d like to be my second career, so it seemed like a good thing to do and provide opportunities to meet people in a new city.  Plus, I had been going there for a few months to get treatment at the teaching clinic and really liked the school’s philosophy, training approach, professionalism, etc.

Many of my friends, co-workers, and family members were happy for me.  Almost all of them knew how much I wanted to work in the healing arts and couldn’t take those steps during the first round of college.  I was still scared and worried that my PTSD and DID would get in the way, but I also felt hopeful because everything was different.   Interpersonal communication, socializing, and interacting with people was still difficult.  The fears, panic attacks, and communication issues still existed, but I was ready to face these challenges head on.

I applied for the masters program.  And I persisted even when my application got put aside due to human error/glitch in the admissions department.  My application was accepted, and I was asked to come in for an interview (step 2).  Now, speaking in groups is extremely triggering and scary, not just for me (the host interacting with people), but for everyone in our system.  It brought back a lot of bad memories.

So I coped in the best way I knew: gather information, practice with different people, and focus on what I can control instead of what I can’t control.  Namely, my outfit, accessories, and travel plans.  Then work out a group of coping strategies I could take with me to use.  People who didn’t know me well got the impression that I was not focusing on the important stuff – namely acing my interview questions – and too much on my appearance.  But that’s okay.  Certain forums are NOT the best place for personal confessions.  Not everyone needs to know everything about anything.

The interview was lively with a good flow and many laughs.  They asked the required questions and then some based on the conversation.  Then I asked questions to follow up on some of their comments. But I was brutally honest about all of my personal challenges and possible issues with being in classes and classrooms during the interview.  I felt accomplished about getting through the interview without switching or having a panic attack.

I didn’t expect to get accepted.  Nor did I truly want to be accepted into the program at the time.  Either I would be waitlisted or rejected.

I got wait listed and offered a chance to “sit in” and observe some of the potentially triggering classes; then write an essay about my experiences and have a second interview.  But all of this had to happen before the admissions deadline.  And all of the classes were during the day.  Thankfully, my boss understood and allowed me to change my work schedule for 3 weeks.  It was a great opportunity for me to see if my plan (school and work together) was workable or not.

 

So, I worked, went to acupuncture appointments, went to counseling, blogged, and attended classes for 3 weeks in the spring.  The students and teacher included me in many activities and made me feel like part of the class.  It gave me a perspective I would not have had otherwise and a chance to test myself in a real life situation.

Then came the time for my second interview.  My essay was strictly about experiences related to whether or not I could succeed in a graduate school program in spite of the current challenges.  It did not touch on how I felt or reacted or coped with life in general.  My blog posts touched on that; and in an effort to be transparent and honest, I let the committee members have access to the blog posts during that period too.

The differences in my professional essay to the committee and my blog posts in the same period were glaring and could be misinterpreted by those who don’t understand what it’s like to live on the inside and the outside.  So I explained the differences in the interview.

The blog shares experiences about my whole life (the internal one my alters and I cope with all the time) and all of the recurring coping challenges that come with having PTSD & DID.

The essay focused only on my experiences with the college and whether or not I’d be able to cope with the stress of that and continue my current lifestyle/work.

To reiterate:
What is expressed here on the blog is my whole life including 90% of what people in the outside world DON’T SEE OR KNOW ABOUT ME AND WHAT I HAVE TO COPE WITH ON A DAILY BASIS.

I got rejected for 2017/2018 admissions.

Instead of feeling sad or upset or angry or shamed, I felt happy, grateful, hopeful, and relaxed.

My Perspective & Goals for this Experience

Goal
I went through this process to test my ability to cope and interact with many different kinds of people in a triggering environment full of potential pitfalls.

My learning Style is: Kinesthetic followed by Cognitive
That means I learn best by DOING or PARTICIPATING in the activity or experience followed by Thinking & Processing information I read or learned through all senses.

Like I told the Admissions Committee in both interviews:
My life now is not the same as it was last time I went through graduate school.  I am not the same person then as I am now.  My coping strategies/techniques are different.  My sense of self is different.  My reactions to triggers and stimuli are also different.

HAPPY because I accomplished my goal and learned where I need to improve so that going back to school will be a success

GRATEFUL because the school gave me a unique opportunity to challenge myself and test my skills in a safe, but honest real life situation

HOPEFUL because someday I know that I can and will succeed at graduate school & my second career as long as I work on coping strategies to deal with overstimulation & communication challenges through small steps & successes

RELAXED because now the challenge is over, and I have the information I needed. It was tough, scary, triggering, and full of stress, but also fun, exciting, interesting, and filled with life lessons I am still processing and integrating into the present.

Life Lesson

It’s times like these when Robert Frosts’ poem “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind.

The people who know, love, & accept me as I am might not always understand why I do things the way I do, but they accept that it’s the right way for me and support my choices.

The opposite is true too.

The path we take to recovery & life after surviving trauma is a lot like the road less traveled:
Full of pitfalls, traps, and head-scratching to other people, but exactly right for each and every one of us.

And that’s part of why I write this blog
Everyone deserves to have someone in your corner who values, supports, and accepts them as they are and their choices too.  Someone gave that to me, and it changed my life.  Now I’m grateful to give that to others too.

Thanks for reading

Resources: books and movies that explore aspects of PTSD,DID, and alter personalities

Due to some technical difficulties, I am writing this post on my smart phone and cannot link to previous posts.  Feel free to use the search box at the bottom or the menu box at the top to explore related posts.

It’s been a while since I wrote a resource post.  Other than reading books, rediscovering a love of jazz music, and watching superhero movies/tv shows (Marvel and DC), I do not have much new info to share.

As I have written before, I am an avid reader and a bookworm.  These days I mostly read commercial fiction.  Science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, romance, or any book that offers character growth, challenges, strong female and male characters, and a happy ending that suits the typ of people these characters become.

If you ever wondered: how does she learn so much about people and how to use the tools in her toolbox?

The answer is: by reading books with complex characters whose journeys drive the plot.

so on to my list:

Movies:

  • Inside Out – have not seen this yet, but many people including my mental health providers have recommended it.  I am waiting for it to be available for rental through Amazon
  • Angry Birds the movie – I found this on Netflix and almost skipped it because of an unreasonable dislike of the game.  But this movie explores the problems with denying angry feelings; and the positive results from acknowledging, feeling, and expressing anger.  In this case, Red Bird and his friends used their anger and the energy from those feelings to save their community.
  • Marvels The Avenger series movies – the first one especially has a place in my heart because Dr. Bruce Banner shares the “secret” to living with the Hulk: always feeling – i.e. Not repressing or denying feelings.  But all of these movies have characters with pasts that could make or break them.  And yet they still find ways to laugh, enjoy company, love, and live with the consequences of their choices.

Fiction books last:

  • Anne Bishop’s Ephemera series – book two is about a young woman struggling with two distinct personalities and trying to find a balance that integrates both sides to become whole again.
  • Anne Bishop’s Ephemera series – Book 3 has a main character who is 3 people sharing one body and trying to survive in a world where her kind are hunted, killed, or shunned whenever they are discovered.
  • The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey – a coming of age story about a young woman who survives a mudslide as a baby and develops an alter personality in childhood.
  • The Coelura by Anne McCaffrey – not about alter personalities so much as coping with difficult family relationships
  • J. D. Robb’s In Death series – the main character is a survivor or childhood trauma who becomes a police officer.  Throughout the series, readers see an isolated, closed off young woman fall in love, open up to friendships, create a family, and start living a full life instead of being trapped by the nightmares of her past
  • Kim Harrison’s the Hollows series – family relationships, loss/grief, and growing up
  • Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series – I have already written about these books in different posts, so not repeating here.

These books helped me in my teens and twenties as I struggled to understand what was happening in my life.  They also gave me hope that I, too, could change my life around for the better like the characters did.  Maybe they can help you too.

Thanks for reading