Life Quirks: Coping Challenges, Confusion, and Check-ins

*Trigger Warning – all opinions and information shared here are mine and mine alone; will be discussing certain topics in detail…read at your pace*

*Caveat 1 – This is a journal-entry style post so it looks like a first draft with errors, etc. *

*Caveat 2 – Feeling triggered so no photos or affirmations*

Coping Challenges – Self Harm.

Last week, I posted about self-harm and how it happens less often, but is still prominent in my life in spite of 15 years in recovery. Then I shared links related to past posts about this topic. It seemed like a better option and re-inventing the wheel with background, followed by (maybe) repeating myself again.

What is new or changed enough to make me re-visit this challenge?

For every positive feeling, success, or accomplishment in my life, I experience backlash.
Backlash is the need to punish oneself for positive feelings, thoughts, or actions because the individual feels undeserving of joy in her or his life. For me, the backlash is always triggered by feelings and thoughts of shame – shame reminds me how undeserving and unworthy I am to be alive, let alone thriving and happy – underscored by past lessons learned at the hands of my abusers.

Now, in the present time, I find myself experiencing triggers and flashbacks from 20 and 30 years ago. Sensations in my body connect to emotions I can’t identify, but scare me because I have not experienced them without dissociation or worse before. My existing coping strategies take the edge off the worst impulses, but the thoughts and memories about how self-harm works really well to make those sensations go away are insidious. They quietly burrow into my mind, from subconscious to conscious, as intrusive thoughts I can’t hear until after I’ve said or done something out of character with who I am now.

That is what I realized two weeks ago. And why I wrote the post last week. The percent of success-to-backlash is till high (80-90% success to 20-10% backlash for each experience). But ideas and thoughts about self-harm coping strategies occupy a lot of that 10-20%.

Our current goal: figure out strategies that discourage self-harm and can be substituted for self-harm behaviors that will work in the present.

Coping Challenges – My Gifts (empath)

Last week, I wrote more about my gifts. I even gave myself a label “empath” and described what energy and emotions (others and mine) feel like to me. For about 15 years, I hid, rejected, and denied my empathic abilities. And maybe I would have continued to do that if something inside me hadn’t broken in my late 20s. That break allowed me to start experiencing my own feelings/emotions/energy, not just other peoples’ feelings, etc. in my physical body and emotional mind. Spirituality wasn’t a big part of my life back then, so no mention here.

Why is this a coping challenge then?

First, I don’t know anything about being an empath and am still looking for mentors and reliable resources to teach me about the unique combination of gifts that make me an empath.

Second, many of the current flashbacks and triggers I am experiencing (yes the ones related to self-harm) have to to with my empathic gifts and how they were used by my owner and other abusers to hurt other people. Maybe, if I can learn more about my gifts and how to embrace them, the triggers and anxiety-related symptoms will ease up enough for me to take a breath…or two…without fear.

Finally, there is a connection between my body memories and empathic gifts. As acupuncture and TCM help reduce and relieve the pain, my body memories become regular memories connected to my mind and emotions. The charge of pain/fear/guilt/shame/responsibility goes away, and it shows. The strange puffiness around the back of my head and ears, the “fat” around my back and abdomen, the rashes on my skin are all going away as the body memories leave.

Confusion

As with most types of self-learning or self-study, I feel confused right now. My mind is full of facts, opinions, and information from books and sessions with medical professionals, audio webinars about highly sensitive people/intutives/empaths, and videos about shame (Brene Brown on Netflix). Nothing makes sense or seems to relate to one another.

And yet I can’t stop learning more, asking questions, and trying to connect the dots between the (maybe) random sources.

The worst part? Confusion turns the rest of my mind into a maze. I get stuck in the maze and cannot find my way to my goal: the tool box(es) full of coping techniques and strategies we (all 88 alters) have put together for situations like this.

Lucky for me, my alters also created emergency kits and scattered them throughout the maze. Each emergency kit has 3-5 coping strategies and techniques designed to help me (or us) out of the maze.

Check-Ins

The main coping strategy in my emergency kit.

I find that talking to someone who understands my situation (in relative terms) and works with me in a compassionate and accepting way to work through the confusion in my mind helps a lot.

First choice is always my mental health counselor. But that individual is not always available. Nor do I want to rely only on a counselor. That is not healthy for either of us.

Second choice is a crisis hotline or text line. There are many options out there with volunteers dedicated to helping people in crisis. I’ve tried a few different hotlines and always come back to BARCC’s 24 hour rape crisis hotline. I’ve been using BARCC’s services on an off for more than 15 years and always have good experiences with them.

Third choice is to talk to myself out loud or try to journal about what is creating the maze. This has a 50/50 chance of working. The other 50% of the time? I get triggered into angry feelings and thoughts.

Last resort choice is to talk to a friend or family member or loved one. Why last resort? This often has an 80% failure rate for me. I end up comforting and soothing and helping the person I’m talking to cope with what I shared. Or I get angry, frustrated, and upset because the person I’m talking to is not able or prepared to help me in this situation.

No blame or shame on them or me. Many people try to solve my problem for me or tell me to stop thinking about it or think positive thoughts to make the situation go away. Because it’s over and in the past right? Or (worse) these people deny my feelings, get triggered on their own, and try to blame/shame/guilt me into recanting my story – aka say I lied.

But when it works that 20% of the time, boy does it work well. The individual and I deepen our positive relationship by being authentic, respectful, supportive, and caring with each other and ourselves. The call ends with both of us feeling better.

Thanks for reading.

Life Quirks: Curiosity Inspires Self-Learning

Curiosity inspires thinking, learning, living outside the box
Stock photos courtesy of Victor at http://www.picjumbo.com

This week, all of us in the system have been reflecting on the word “Curiosity”.

It’s come up in a lot of conversations and flashbacks.

And it is the one-word answer to many of the recent guest comments or questions.

So what does this photo collage mean?

I am insatiably curious about everything even if that curiosity does not show in my facial expression or body language. Answers are useful, but not always good at satisfying my curiosity.

You know the expression “curiosity killed the cat”? This got me so scared I stopped letting my curiosity lead me on adventures for many years. I felt like the cat with a mark on her back. Soon as I let my curiosity out, I’d be “killed” in some way – i.e. brushed off, stopped, blocked – and unable to learn.

I prefer the expression “curiosity sparked my imagination” and “imagination flew me out of the box”. The final part? “Discovery led me to my joy”

Yup. That’s it. That is what the photo collage means –

 

be curious.

be inspired.

live, think, and learn as you discover different avenues to love, peace, and joy.

Curiosity and Writing

Curiosity keeps me at the blank screen or notebook, typing out words and writing down phrases or sketching doodles until my imagination takes over. The first draft never looks like the finished one. Out of 1000 words, I make keep 3 or 4 words/phrases and start again until it feels right. By the third draft, most of the content is there to be polished (aka editing and proofreading).

My routine is not consistent though. As much as I love structure, I also require flexibility in my routines. So I have time blocked off every week to write drafts and generate ideas for this blog and my aromatherapy work. Sometimes I write or type. Other times I sketch or listen so music while reading about related topics. When I can’t sleep, it’s often because different alters are busy writing drafts in my head.

That is true – for me not all of my writing is done in the physical world because not all of my alters can use our physical body for writing.

But…And this is a BIG BUT…I also write as part of my day job and send email or text to keep in touch with friends and family. That requires writing too.

No matter what anyone says, any and all writing you do counts as learning. The more you write, the more you improve. The more you read/watch/listen to learn about topics of interest, the more inspiration you have for writing.

If you are like me, then writing is a pleasure and a tool to help me share what I learn with others. If not, writing fulfills another purpose in your life. Whatever writing does for you, I hope it also brings you joy.

And why is the text not in a logical order?

Right…logical order. I am illogical at the best of times. Honest. If I ever had to share my learning process with you, I’d confuse even myself.

Way back in elementary school, I had trouble following instructions. Straight lines became slanted and wiggly even using rulers. I liked to do my class assignments and take tests backwards – I mean start at the end and work my way to the beginning of the test. Once in a while, I’d start with the questions in the middle instead. 

Why?

Back then, all I could tell my teachers is “this feels right to me” or “it just makes sense”.

Now, though, I can tell you  that starting in the middle or at  the end eased my fear and anxiety of the unknown. I could focus on finishing the assignment, quiz, or test on time because I knew how many questions there were and could estimate how long I needed to finish on time.

Plus, I was curious about all the other questions. It didn’t make sense (to me at least) to leave the questions I read unanswered and start from the beginning after I just spent time reading through it all. 

As I got older, frustration settled deep inside me. I asked questions and was told the standard answers. But the standard answers didn’t satisfy my curiosity. So I did what the teachers told me to do…think outside the box. The answers I came up with didn’t make sense or were not what they wanted to hear…so back inside the box I went. Again.

And again.

Until I was old enough to learn, explore, get answers and remember not to share them with anyone else…I mean who wants to constantly be made fun of, insulted, or told they are wrong because the answers contradict or open up avenues outside the standard and “correct” paths we’re taught to follow?

To Sum It Up

I’ve been getting a lot of questions and comments about where I get my information, how I learn all of this, if I have tips for aspiring or beginner writers, etc. or survivors starting their journeys.

And as much as I want to give you something concrete:

a) I hate giving advice and will not do so unless backed into a corner

b) All I can and will do is share stories about what inspires me or others I consider role models to keep moving forward to live and thrive on our own terms

Curiosity is what makes the wheels in my mind churn. It connects Spirit with Mind and Body in unexpected ways.

My counselors teach me how to help myself by sharing knowledge, tools, and resources. Then I follow up on my own through self-study or self-learning and hands-on experience (i.e. mistakes, experiences).

You don’t have to be book smart or street smart; a genius or savant; talented or special in any way to learn, explore or live like this.

You do have to be curious, inspired, willing to change, open to discovery, and able to cope with the challenges blocking your path outside the box.

No matter what you choose or how you go about it, please remember I am silently cheering you on wherever we are.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

DID Post: Sometimes it’s okay to be an uptight (insert word) clinging to structure

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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

Life Quirks: Pushing Too Hard, Sunshine, and Taxes

*long post…lots of information. Please read at your leisure*
taxes!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Pushing too hard

If you recall about 3 weeks ago, I wrote a post about anger and self care.A week after that, I published the promised post about WordPress and blogging. And last week, I didn’t publish anything or look at comments.

It was not a good weekend for me. My lower half seized up that Friday morning, and I couldn’t get my hips/legs to work for a few hours after waking. I missed my morning acupuncture appointment, and then stumbled on shaky legs to my home office for the work day.

man holding hot water bag
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

As my body started moving, the pain levels and flashbacks increased. Saturday and Sunday were “stay at home and relax the muscles” days. Between resting and massaging the back/hip/leg muscles, I didn’t do much besides eat and try to move around the apartment. Note that I didn’t mention “sleep”. Sleep happens, but is not restful.

In general, winter is not an easy season. My sleep patterns get disrupted, and my body memories activate more often than at any other time. Recovery time between episodes is too small to be effective. Plus, it’s the busy time of year for my day job. Over time, deadlines, presentations, meetings, and covering for people on vacation – it all happens this time of year.

Beyond that, life gets in the way too. Classes, hobbies, “me  time” and plants require time and attention to thrive. How to juggle all that??

Such is the life of a person who wants to do more than her body can handle at the moment…

Sunshine

After about 3 weeks of rain, clouds, snow, and cold, this weekend was warmer and sunny! I mean blue skies, white clouds, and bright enough to hurt your eyes sunny. In the end of February. Hiding 30 degree (F) cold and wind. But still warm enough for a walk…

Instead of using the public transit, I decided  to walk to the store yesterday morning. It was about 6 blocks or 20 minutes – not a problem for me usually – wearing layers and a warm coat. About half way to the store, my body decided it didn’t want to walk anymore. The sweats started. Followed by hip cramps. And panicky breathing. Oh, and don’t forget the strange stares from passersby as I hold conversations with imaginary friends (aka my alters) out loud while walking.

IMG_0610Skipping ahead…

Being warm inside the store relieved some of the muscle pain and sweating. Odd right? But the sweating didn’t come from feeling warm; it came from anxiety about walking through an unknown neighborhood to a new place for the first time. Once that was over, the panic symptoms moved on too.

Warmth stops cramps. Cold makes the cramps worse.You’d think I would have learned my lesson from this, right?

No. My thrifty sense and stubborn need to be outside in the sun had me walking another few blocks to the next place on my errands list.

Did my pain yoyo with all the in-and-out? Yup.

Did the pain get worse? Not really. It concentrated in one location and had me limping after a few minutes outside. 

Is this normal? Yes, unfortunately. I haven’t discussed a lot about my physical pain here, but it’s on my list for some day.

Like the post about my mother, some topics are not easy to share or write about as soon as they get mentioned here.

Taxes

And so this brings me to the last topic for the post: Taxes

In the US, all taxes for the previous year are due on April 15 of the current year. Because of medical and work expenses, my taxes were complicated to work through so I tried to get them done as early as possible. And yes, I paid extra for professional help until the tax pros (as they call themselves) taught me enough to fill out the forms on my own.

person holding emoticon ball
Photo by Rahul Yadav on Pexels.com

But wait, wouldn’t the taxes be finished by now if you got them done ASAP?

Normally, yes. It prevents me from feeling extra stress.

This year, not so much. There was an issue with some of my tax forms because of circumstances beyond my control. Next, the new Tax Reform laws scared me enough to wait until after talking with a professional to decide next steps. That didn’t happen until last week. And the conversation left me still scratching my head.

But, the deadline draws closer. The next 7 work days will be extra busy during my day job. And I don’t want to do my taxes after the medical procedure. A) that’s way too close to the deadline for my comfort; and B) I want to do my taxes when clear=headed and as present as possible.

So this week, you get 2 posts. And maybe another one next week if I can swing it.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for your time.

As always, Thanks for reading.

Life Quirks: Technology Troglodyte

*This is for the guests who comment on my Home and About This Site Pages. *

The Trigger:

Technology scares all of the alters in our system.  For us, technology is a means to an end that allows us to avoid depending on paper for organization.

Some technology is also a trigger.  But other technology is useful enough that it’s become an integral part of my life (skip to the end for more on this).

Comment Question Addressed – you can stop here if you want…

Point is: this website, blog, etc. came about because I had to face my fear of technology for work and decided to apply the lessons here to create this website and blog too. Technology and electronics are a big weakness in my knowledge, experience, and lifestyle choices.

I learn what is needed to do my job and make life easier. The rest passes me by faster than cars pass each other on the highway’s fast lane.

Why? Learning is fun and appeases my curiosity. Technology, not so much. So I balance my need to understand technology with the fun of learning to improve this site.

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