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.

Survival Mode: Body says “enough is enough”

Like the title says, enough is enough right now.

Present State of Being

Emotionally, everyone in the system feels happy, grounded, steady, and excited about our new home.

Spiritually, we all feel reflective and a little stressed out as bits and pieces of recent experiences add perspective to confusing past memories of family time.  And also that some friends turn out to be somewhat different than expected.

Physically, all tired and experiencing backlash – physical panic attacks, migraines, back pain, and exhaustion to go with nausea and cramps from that time of the month – from all of the changes.

I almost fell asleep without posting today :/

Plans for this week and two weeks into the future

So the next few weeks will feel like Survival Mode again – lots of self care; lots of self-soothing; coping with backlash and physical panic attacks; more sleep and less activity.

I have a resource post coming up this month, but not sure when.  Need to find some resources to link to for tapping.  Maybe YouTube videos this time?  Either way, I want to try out some of the tutorials before sharing here.

Also, some quick reminders:

Sometimes falling into old patterns is okay – many times it happens as part of an automatic defense mechanism without awareness until the experience is finished.  Other times, it takes a safe person (friend, therapist, loved one, significant other) to point out what is happening.

As my previous therapist and a friend later pointed out, sometimes our subconscious self is more aware of the reality of a situation than the conscious self and takes steps to protect everyone – i.e. implementing the automatic defense mechanisms.

Therapy does not make a person more selfish or self-centered.  Therapy encourages the individual or group to open up and be more authentic while also learning strategies to cope with internal struggles in healthy safe ways.  That includes “I” statements, being assertive, setting boundaries, and changing.

Finally, change scares a lot of people especially when they are struggling with their own demons and not happy when a pattern changes.  If someone accuses you of  a negative behavior or something similar unexpectedly, please remember that individual might be triggered by the changes and projecting her or his fears on to you without realizing it.

Takes a lot of resilience and strength to maintain your own boundaries during the conversation and then reflect on the experience to process it properly.  

You didn’t do anything wrong.

You are growing, changing, and becoming more you.

It’s something I have to remind myself of often this month.  I hope the reminder helps you stay strong too.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: A new pillow, Knitting & walking

Spring triggers

End of April brings out my “allergies” and many head colds.  My sleeping patterns and eating habits change too.  Beginning of May equals many family birthdays and Mother’s Day combined with Memorial Day and end of spring semester in college.  Dissociation is common.  Nightmares get worse.  The usual stuff.

Here, though, the sun rises around 7:00 AM and sets around 8:00 PM.  I can sleep late on weekends and still have plenty of time to go out for a walk in the sun.  Taking the trash and recycling out feels like less of a chore and more of a task on my to-do list.  With the weather in the high 40s or 50s (Fahrenheit), my big window can stay open while my loft remains warm and cozy.  Love fresh air.

A new pillow

Pillows have been a burden for many years.  Between chemical sensitivities and night sweats, I have yet to find a pillow that lasts more than a year or two.  Even the wool-filled ones from the last few years flattened out and stopped being supportive.  It’s hard to get comfortable and stay asleep, especially when the night sweats manifest.

But this weekend I found a new alternative.  There’s a local store that specializes in chemical free, natural & home furniture and bedding.   Last night, I slept easier and longer than I have in a while.  Not exactly nightmare free, but also not a night filled with bad dreams and sweat waking me up.  I hope investing in a new pillow continues to help with my sleep hygiene.

Knitting

Knitting is something I and my alters enjoy, but can also be triggering.  It’s also physically intensive and can be calming with repetitive action.  But this weekend, I feel happy, calm, proud, and accomplished.  My first infinity scarf is almost finished.  My arms and shoulders got some decent exercise, and no triggering this time.  It was a great distraction from my other discomfort and worry because still not feeling hungry or eating like I’m supposed to.

Walking – exercise & moving meditation

After some self massage and lying down meditation this morning, I felt good enough to do some apartment cleaning.  Picked up trash, collected recycling, and did some vacuuming.  Still have some laundry sorting to do, but that can wait a bit longer.  By treating these tasks as a moving meditation, I calmed down enough to go outside for a short walk and get a real meal at the grocery store.

That gave me a chance to check out new store products, eat outside, and enjoy the fresh air while thinking about what kinds of food and drinks to put together this week.  Being outside felt good and helped me feel better about myself.  Getting out the door isn’t easy this time of year, so any advantage to help me leave the building is welcome.

Conclusion

Sometimes changing seasons can affect mood and triggers.  Many people ask me if lack of sunlight or changing seasons increases my chance of depression.  The short answer is no.  The long answer is, not depression but my anxiety and hyper-vigilance get triggered.  I start to fear going outside and interacting with the world while also feeling angry with myself because I want to be outside enjoying the spring weather.

These coping strategies are hit or miss, but ones I love to put into practice as often as possible.  My young alter personalities enjoy the knitting as much as the teens and adults.  The moving meditation helps all of us relax and connect mind/body/spirit while also getting chores done.  Replaces scary or negative experiences with positive ones.  Finally, anything that helps us all sleep better is worth saving up the money to purchase and use.

I and my alters hope these examples might help you find a way to cope with unexpected triggers or seasonal changes too.

Thanks for reading.

Body Memories: the fragments are connecting…what happens next?

I’ve been practicing self care since the last post.  A lot of sleeping and a lot of cooking have brought my energy levels back up.  One load of laundry, a potential new apartment interview, taking care of taxes, knitting, and essay writing rounded out the rest of my physical self care strategies this weekend.  Meditation, deep breathing, a mindful walk, sensory grounding, and a call to the hotline rounded out my mental self care.

What I’m still struggling with:

Body memory and body self care.  In the last post, I mentioned how much the treatment impacted my body.  What I didn’t realize was the consequences of that impact.

The Positive

  • Less physical pain around my face, neck, and spine
  • Less swelling around my sinuses, ears, neck, and abdomen
  • More yucky stuff (aka toxins) getting released
  • More feeling in my legs and other muscle groups that have been numb for a while
  • Improved temperature regulation
  • Improved sleep

The Scary

  • Odd tingling pain and discomfort from hips (and are between) to toes that is starting to go away
  • Extreme tiredness and lack of energy immediately after treatment
  • Lots of recovered memories and memory fragments piecing together while awake and asleep
  • Had to take a “mental health day”
  • Tenderness in private parts that feels uncomfortable and triggering – don’t know how to cope with it
  • Increased visits to the bathroom that interrupt my sleep and feel oddly uncomfortable because the previously mentioned tender parts are affected.

Conclusion

I really need to talk with my intern practitioner about these sensations; glad Tuesday is only two days away.  And after that conversation, I may break my rule and ask my counselor to call me between sessions.  This discomfort is not something I’ve ever had to cope with long term and starting to distress me.

Other than that, I’m feeling pretty good about the self care.

Thanks for reading.

Life Changing Moments: Emotional/Physical Disconnect Part 1

LYING

I am an excellent liar.  I can freeze my body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions in neutral  or gullible obliviousness.  People lying to me think I believe them.  People listening to me believe what I’m telling them.  The usual “clues” do not apply when I decide to start lying.  I can project any emotion and feeling on my physical self when I feel nothing, something different, or the opposite emotion internally. But people looking at me believe what they see.

EMOTIONAL/PHYSICAL DISCONNECT

On the other hand, I can’t match genuine feelings with their appropriate physical expressions.  My facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice do not betray my real feelings unless I consciously work hard to portray the correct expressions.   That leaves many people skeptical of when I reveal truths about my background – I can/have/do talk about trauma with an expression and tone of voice matching someone conversing about the weather.

Moderating the intensity of my tone is also difficult.  In spite of acute and sensitive hearing, I have a hard time discerning when my voice rises/lowers and so on.  As my emotional state increases, my sensitivity to such changes decreases.  And my facial expressions change like a movie on fast forward.  People who see me in a state of high anxiety or a panic attack back off fast because I appear crazy in that context.

WHY?

As a child, I learned how to project whatever feelings/emotions/thoughts would keep me from getting abused.  It was survival.  It was necessary.  It taught me how not to have feelings.  Expressing joy got me punished.  Expressing anger got me a beating or inappropriate touching as punishment.  Expressing fear, sadness, anxiety, or worry got me the silent treatment.  Talking out of turn (i.e. telling the truth of what happened or anything different from my parent’s version of the truth) got me accused of lying, exaggerating, causing problems, etc.

So I denied having feelings.  I buried them deep and forgot about them.  But I had random explosions of tears and rage growing up.  There were temper tantrums.  There was fighting back.  There were instances of “rebellion”.  There were times my mind clouded, and I disappeared.  When I came back to myself, everyone was mad at me.  Hurt feelings, I was accused of being mean and exploding with anger for no reason.  And everyone from my parents to my younger brother to my so called friends used this to shame me, manipulate me, take advantage of e, and set me up as a “crazy, unstable, lying” person to the rest of my community.

No one wanted to be friends with a rude, annoying, crazy, raging, unstable, liar who otherwise had no personality.

This was my life for 27 years.  I did not have a personality, was not an interesting person, was looked down upon by everyone around me.  I did not have feelings except for facsimiles to appease other people.  Problems like this made developing friendships difficult.  It made getting jobs and keeping jobs hard too.  At least in my community or any community where my classmates and family had connections.  All of which I was interested in working at the time – healthcare, non-profits, colleges, newspapers, magazines, and other jobs related of my degree.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

Not until I started my first “real” job in an office that valued my skills and opinions did I realize there was something “wrong” with my responses to other people.  I had just started therapy with my second counselor and was feeling very stressed out about all of the changes over the past few months: new job, new apartment, new neighbors, new commute, leaving school, new doctors, new therapist.

She helped me for 3 years; we worked on my anorexia, anxiety, low self-esteem, and OCD.  When the trauma issues started taking over, I had an emotional breakdown.  Crying, nausea, pain, sleeplessness…you name it, I experienced it all in a flood.  It was like everything I held in for 27 years came flooding out in 2 days.  Only, I didn’t know these were feelings.  Or that I was physically reacting to all of these feelings.

She sent me for a crisis evaluation.  When we first started, the therapist told me outright that she did not work with trauma.  I told her that was okay because the trauma was not the main problem  then.  My anorexia and anxiety disorders (according to the previous people) were.  As soon as she realized the trauma had taken over our sessions, she sent e for additional help and slowly transitioned me to another therapist.

During the transition, I went for my first partial in-patient program.  There, I learned about what feelings were, that I had feelings, and that the physical/mental problems I had were because of those feelings.  After about 6 weeks there, I was in a much better place with a rudimentary understanding of feelings, aka emotions, and how they made my symptoms worse when allowed to take over and control me.

DBT (Dialiectical Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to recognize, control, and balance my feelings so that I could make choices about how to handle situations instead of just reacting to them.  CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) taught me how to follow the trails left behind by my feelings to understand triggers that led to thoughts and behaviors.  Grounding taught me how to come back to the present when feelings overwhelmed my senses.

But none of this really taught me how to get my face, voice, and body to align with my actual feelings or thoughts.

Or how to manage the pain that continually discourages me from trying to integrate my mental/emotional self and physical self so that the feelings and expressions/body language match.

As for the lying…the only time I purposely lie is for survival.  Any other time, I am scrupulously honest.

Thanks for reading.