Movement Challenge – Invitation to Participate — Scent Reflections LLC

Next Sunday, I’m starting a 1 week self care challenge to help me cope with the overwhelming feelings of grief that come up every year between February and April. You can read more about it on today’s blog post at Untangled Connections. If you want a refresher about my ideas regarding movement, check out last week’s post. I will be posting every day for 7 days about one activity that fits both the movement and sensory grounding categories of coping strategies and self care. Most of the time there will be photos. Fingers crossed they are related to the topic and not random, but no promises 🙂 And, I may even do a Facebook Live on the Scent Reflections facebook page next Saturday as part of the challenge’s last post. If I do use Facebook live and the weather is nice, you will get to see the view from my balcony. If not, probably another view of the indoor garden. I’m still working out the details of office space and unpacking so don’t really want to show off the rest of my space.

Movement Challenge – Invitation to Participate — Scent Reflections LLC

Coping Challenge: Grief and the movie “Groundhog Day”

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.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Grief

Every February – March, I experience crushing amounts of grief about my past. People who have died. People I’ve lost in other ways. People who lost me. Experiential loss – failed achievements, shameful experiences, guilt, and so on. It almost always happened between February and March; sometimes as late as April.

For many years (decades really), I would go through the year and do what was necessary or required of me; then wake up one morning and feel like a blank slate – happy and looking forward to life instead of sad and confused. I had a routine that did not change much. But anything new or interesting that happened before the “wake-up” was lost. I would make friends and forget them. I would make plans and not follow through because I didn’t remember making the plans. And I would learn skills, but then not remember how to use them months, weeks, years, or days/hours/minutes later.

It was scary and felt shameful – another secret to keep from everyone – not something I could explain to the adults in my life. But it did earn me a reputation with my teachers and lots of time with the special education department instructors.

Odd part about this: even though my mind and cognitive memory could not remember or do the tasks, my body and muscle memory did remember and could do the tasks as long as I used “instinct” instead of logic.

Later on as an adult in trauma-informed therapy, I realized that the “instinct” was actually letting my alter personalities take control of my body to accomplish the tasks. They remembered the lessons and the practice. They could do what I could not. In school, though, my alters rarely showed themselves or got involved in day-to-day activities. They understood their place much better than I did.

The sense of loss and failure combined with teasing from peers and instructors crushed me so often that I started to avoid competitions and learning anything interesting.

What was the point if I tried and tried only to forget and fail every time?

And so my teen and college years went through this cycle every year. The ignorance of this pattern continued until 2011/2012 when I decided to try working with a dog trainer to self train a service animal to help with the PTSD. You (and I thought so too) would think it’s hard to forget all the love, care, training, and work and time spent with a puppy over 4 months, yes?

Well I did forget. I literally woke up one Saturday morning and couldn’t remember anything the pup and I worked on together. I couldn’t remember his favorite treats or games. I couldn’t remember writing a blog or notes in a notebook. I am lucky I remembered the dog and his name; at one point I might have forgotten the pup’s name too.

And as I tried to remember working with the pup, I started to realize how much other stuff I had forgotten too. Work-related tasks and achievements. Bills to pay. Plans made. Grocery shopping. Appointments. Memories with friends and acquaintances. And how something similar happened every year and often caused problems at work that I couldn’t explain, especially in the last few years working for the same company with the same people.

It was one heck of a wake up call.

p.s. The pup ended up having serious digestive problems and was re-homed to a loving family with a large back yard and the time/money to give him the life he deserved. And I learned that it’s not safe to live with beings who depend on me until I get my s**t together.

Groundhog Day – the 1992 movie with Bill Murray

Hans Haase / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) from Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1992, when I was 10 years old, there was a time travel movie called “Groundhog Day”. It was a grown up drama/comedy that I didn’t really understand or remember; not even when I re-watched one weekend as a bored teen. Still don’t understand a lot and am not interested in re-watching to get all the details.

What I do remember (and this is why it sticks in my memory) is that the main character (played by Bill Murray) had an awful day – that just happened to be Groundhog Day – and went to bed wishing he could do it all over again. So he wakes up the next day. Starts his routine. And realizes part way through he is re-living the events of Groundhog Day. Over. And over. And over again. Until the main character gets frustrated enough to reflect on what could be keeping him locked in a time loop and how to get out of it.

Eventually, the main character resolves the conflict keeping him in the time loop by making changes in his life and interactions with the people around him. How he does it and what those changes are, I don’t remember. All I do remember is feeling queasy and anxious whenever I thought about the movie. That continued until I got really frustrated a few years ago and looked up the movie on the internet. Once I read the description and watched the preview, the connection clicked.

I finally had words to describe what I was feeling and going through to my counselor. And something concrete to use as an analogy for the counselor. And for me too. Some of my best coping strategies come from reading books and watching movies. Being 2013/2014 when I finally looked up the movie and shared it with the counselor, we had been working for about 3-4 years by then. She had observed this happening every year and waited for me to bring it up. Once I did, we began working together to create plans and strategies to manage this recurring event.

Hope Arrives in 2019; continues in 2020

2019 was the first year I did not wake up sometime between February and April with significant memory loss or some other manifestation of grief that left me injured, impaired, or triggered in some way. I experienced the grief and felt the depression that wasn’t really depression. Expressing it safely was not as easy, but no one got hurt either. I didn’t lose weight. My physical and emotional health stayed relatively stable.

Instead, my body memories erupted as a rash that lasted months. When not experiencing the rash, other parts of me stopped feeling numb. I looked fatter from bloating and puffiness around certain muscle groups, but did not gain weight from it. Pain increased. Energy and the need to move did too. Luckily, my current counselor, Chinese medicine practitioners, and primary health physician were/are aware of these changes and helped me cope.

Having my parents and other relatives back in my life and being supportive helped too. That continues to help in many different ways.

Now, in March 2020, I recognized the signs of grief when they started last weekend and have been doing my best to cope with them. So far the only major crisis was exploding the plastic lotion bottles when I tried to get soap (made myself and poured in) out of them multiple times in the week. That resulted in having to clean and rinse the pumps; then put them back together and onto the lotion bottles. Funny – yes. The next part, not so much.

Water got stuck in the pump parts and contaminated the soap blends I made. And since I made them with soap, essential oils, and aloe vera gel (a water-based carrier), mold and fungus grew at the bottom of both containers after 5 days. Yes 2 containers because I made a hand soap and a shower gel. So, after examining the bottoms of each container a few days ago and seeing the white strands floating up from the bottom, I dumped out the soap; rinsed the containers too.

Now, they are waiting to be recycled because I don’t trust myself using the containers again. Not after I caused the pumps to pop off and the pieces to come apart after trying to pump soap through the mechanism multiple times.

If that pump exploding experience is the worst that happens this year, I will be so grateful. If not, well, I’m trying not to fall into anticipation and catastrophic thinking. Not easy, mind you. But I’m trying. And succeeding sometimes.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: Buzzwords, Triggers & Thanksgiving

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.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

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:

  • Self Care
  • Resilience
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Reflection
  • Acceptance

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.

Triggers

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?

Thanks for reading

Halloween Fears or Autumn Fun? Leaves, pumpkins, apples, hay rides

Anniversaries: Halloween Fright = Autumn Fun?

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 Favorite Month and Season

October is my favorite month for many reasons – not including it being my birthday month.

The leaves start changing color. The air cools down and smells crisp. Apples are in season. Love fresh apple cider – cold or hot with cinnamon – as an autumn treat. Soups and stews are back. Pumpkins. Hay rides. Fall festivals. All that and more.

Autum is my favorite season because it reminds me of home and hearth. Safety and refuge. In summer, there was nothing to break up training or life with the cult except taekwondo. In Autumn, school started. 8+ hours of my day in a place I get to listen and learn – and yes those were my favorite activities.

But it’s also the beginning of my “bad season” when symptoms get worse. Read on to learn why…

The Dark Side

School was full of bullies and feeling outcast. At first, it wasn’t my peers bullying and harassing me. It was the school’s vice president and some of the other teachers. Later on, some of the “class favorites” (mostly girls my age) continued with the bullying and gossiping whispers in class. The boys and other kind of bullies left me alone when they realized I wasn’t an easy target to push around physically.

But that wasn’t even the worst of it. For the first 3 years at school (kindergarten – 2nd grade), I never got away from the monsters. School principal was one of them. It’s also part of the reason why the vice principal didn’t like me or any of the principal’s other favorites. But she only picked on me (reasons listed below)

School – torture outside of learning

From kindergarten until 5th grade I was the only Asian student to go through the entire school. Other Asian kids enrolled after me, but not before or during my time there. The vice principle (also my fifth grade home room teacher) did not like me on site. Once she told me in private it was because I represented everything she hated – pretty, short, Chinese, smart – and that I wouldn’t get any “special treatment” while at this school.

The other girls didn’t like me for a variety of reasons. Part of it was my fault though. I didn’t fit in with them, share any similar interests, or try to fit in in any way. Plus, the dissociation started early and led lots of people to think I was a liar and kind of ditzy because I couldn’t remember what was going on as it happened. Nor did I “dress like a cool girl”.

So you get the idea, right? A bookworm, nerdy, quiet, nice girl who seems kind of shy, dresses funny, whose costumes get made fun of by lots of people, and hates attracting attention because it usually leads to shame or humiliation is an easy target for bullies at school.

Bees and Other Weird Things

Oh and even back then, odd things happened to me. Once, between third and fifth grade I think, our windows were open on a hot afternoon. The bees were buzzing in and out everywhere trying to get some shade. We were required to participate in class, so I raised my hand. I knew (or thought I did) the answer or maybe had a question. But I was distracted by the breeze and tickling sensations on the palm of my hand.

My attention was on the chalkboard, and I focused so hard on the answer that I didn’t notice when the teacher and rest of class went silent. They were all staring at me, and I didn’t understand why. Not until the teacher asked me to look up at my raised hand. She and many of my classmates were afraid of bees; some might have been allergic too.

And none of them had ever seen bees playing with a human and not stinging them. Yet that’s what the 3 bumblebees and 1 yellowjacket were doing. They were grazing my hand to get my attention. Sat quietly on my palm as my hand closed over them once or twice in reflex. Let me brush my fingers against their (bumblebee) soft body fuzz. As soon as I looked up and acknowledged them; then spoke a quiet response; they left back out the windows and were not seen again.

It wasn’t the first time I had been surrounded by insects or had them leap on to my legs/arms/body during outside gym and recess classes. But it was the first time to happen in doors. And also something to make my class mates not want anything to do with me.

But the biggest reason the girls especially didn’t like me was because I refused to use the bathrooms during break time after kindergarten. I would drink the minimum necessary to stay hydrated in school and hold my bladder until I got home. Or if I was taken out of school early, hold it until I arrived at the next location.

The girls all thought I was stuck up and too good for the school bathrooms. No one ever asked me why – or if they did I probably refused to answer back then – that I can remember.

I never used the bathrooms (girls or boys) because that’s where the school principal and his cronies liked to take their favorite students for “special classes”. Every time I used the bathroom someone was waiting for me. It got me a reputation for being late. And made me paranoid about using public and guest bathrooms for the rest of my life.

Halloween Scares – Apes, Brides, and Scary Masks

I hated halloween, dance recitals, anything that got me attention for many reasons.

One big reason: it gave my mom a chance to dress me up, put makeup on me, and parade me around like a show dog.

Other big reason: it brought up triggers and feelings of shame because my mom liked to dress me up in girly costumes that only made me look “beautiful” or “pretty” or “precious” or any of those other words that judged me on my appearance and behavior.

One year, my mom dressed me up as a bride in a white satin bridal gown and veil for Halloween. I must have been about 6 or 7. She did my makeup and got me white shoes to wear with it. Back then, kids were required to wear their halloween costumes to school for the halloween party. Then dress up again for trick or treating after school.

Mom got lots of compliments about how beautiful I was. How I “looked just like a real bride”. How well she did my makeup. and other comments. I was embarrassed the whole time and tried to hide. My goal for that year – be a clown or a ghost for halloween. But she made me a bride. The neighbors were so stunned, they gave my brother and me extra treats sometimes.

Then we got to a neighbor’s house with what looked like a stuffed Ape or Gorilla sitting under the split entry house – near the front door. I didn’t want to go there. That ape/gorilla felt real to me. It stared at me the whole time we walked up. Just as we rang the bell, it came to life roaring at us.

I don’t remember what happened after that. Or the next halloween when mom made me wear that costume again.

But I do remember being forced to wear that bride costume when my owner and his buddies initiated me into group sex for the first time. That was so popular, they created a whole halloween special for clients and would dress us all up in varying costumes the whole month of October after that year. Would have been 1988 I think.

Learning, Dissocation, Imaginary Friends…my best survival coping strategies

Yup. For about 20+ years, I spent most of my time living in a state of dissociation (aka day dreaming) and studying while talking to imaginary friends. An island of one who only came out to fulfill class participation rules and make temporary, fake friendships. I was honest about it. I was mean when necessary. I wish I could have been different, especially to the few girls who tried to be nice to me since we were all misfits.

But that wasn’t safe. Or possible. Because anyone who befriended me became a target for something.

These days, I spend Halloween hiding in my apartment. I do my best to avoid any large gatherings or places where people of all ages will dress up in costumes from mid-October to Halloween.

And when that doesn’t work, I bring books, headphones, and my sensory grounding strategies with me.

At home, I cook a delicious meal or get takeout. Then rent a movie or read a book. Go to bed early.

AVOID TRICK OR TREATERS AT ALL COSTS – gratitude for apartment living there.

Then meditate and pray that all the self care and coping strategies will help me keep my memories when the bad season of dissociation and flashbacks take over my self
(starts any time between August and October; settles in by November; stops around May…sometimes)

Halloween 2019

This year is different. I am still staying inside. Still cooking something interesting. And still renting a movie.

I’m also writing this blog post and finishing the details to set up my business – a business that will allow me to continue blogging here and offer more coping strategies outside of what gets shared here (aka survival mode) – and offer other kinds of resources too.

Turtle time is real by the way. I started planning this business 7 years ago. Launched Untangled Connections 4.5 years ago as a test run to see if my business would be viable. Announced the new website and business last May to guests here. Continued posting about seemingly random topics. Then took a partial sabbatical – which I will explain next month.

Thanks for continuing to check in here; really appreciate it.

Thanks for reading.

Resources: Maryville University Supports Veterans Earning College, Graduate, and Post-Graduate Degrees

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.

Disclaimer: Resource Posts provide information and links to the organization sharing information with guests here. I DO NOT promote, advertise, or receive any benefit/compensation for sharing the information and links.

Short Sabbatical Break; Extra Post this month

My partial sabbatical is going well so far. I’ve been concentrating on family stuff and the paid job. Aromatherapy certification requirements are on hold. Herb classes online work as a TV alternative and fun hobby to relax and learn something interesting after work. So does creating aromatherapy blends.

I continue to brainstorm new ideas for Untangled Connections and figure out where it’s headed in 2020. My plan was to write a post on Halloween since it is an Anniversary I never shared much about here in the past.

But then I got an email from an outreach coordinator at Maryville University’s Online college program about 1.5 weeks ago asking me:

  1. Am I still updating Untangled Connections?
  2. Would I add their article about Veterans, PTSD, and higher education to my Resources page if I was still updating the site?
  3. This article can help Veterans and people working with Veterans succeed in college and other higher education pursuits.
  4. Our University also offers other resources and support for veterans and active duty soldiers who want to enroll in college or graduate school

At first, I didn’t know what to say. This would be a big opportunity for me, but also triggering, in many ways. Talking with my counselor helped, and so I decided to share this resource with you. All of the links go back to Maryville University

In Support of Maryville University’s Active Work with Veterans and Active Duty Soldiers

I work with Maryville University, a nationally recognized private institution offering comprehensive and innovative education.

Our health guides aim to spread awareness on various mental conditions and break the stigma surrounding them. Seeing your page, I thought our guide would be a great addition to it. You can review it below:

https://online.maryville.edu/online-bachelors-degrees/psychology/understanding-a-veteran-with-ptsd/

This resource provides valuable information that your audience may find helpful.

Maryville University Outreach Coordinator

When this email appeared, my first thoughts were:

  • I’m not qualified to write about this
  • Wow, this is a first – a higher education institute requesting to be added here – exciting and scary
  • But I really want to share this resource here and help guests who are part of the military or military families.
  • How can I do justice to this topic and this resource?

Then I reached out to the coordinator (forgot to ask permission to include this person’s name here) and explained the reason for a delayed response (sabbatical) and my process for adding a resource. If this process was acceptable, I’d do the research and publish the post on the next Sunday (today).

Also, was there anything else the coordinator wanted to share with my guests? Answer below

Maryville’s Understanding a Veteran with PTSD guide aims to spread awareness on our heroes’ off-field worst nemesis: PTSD. The guide contains information on how we can understand their situation more and how to help them get through the situation as well.

Maryville University Outreach Coordinator

In Support of Veterans and Active Duty Soldiers

As you know, I am not a veteran and have never been part of the US Military or a government employee. I do not claim to know anything about being a soldier or what it’s like to serve the US or any country in this capacity.

My time as a soldier was for the paramilitary branch of a human trafficking organization disguised as a cult. The leaders were predominantly pedophiles who trained kids they got tired of as child soldiers instead of killing or throwing them away. It wasn’t voluntary, but it taught me how to survive.

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to know and learn from many veterans and soldiers. One of my favorite uncles was a Navy veteran who shared his love of cooking with me growing up. Many of my mentors at the paid job are veterans too. Finally, some of my TCM or acupuncture providers at the teaching clinic have been veterans.

Choices, Experiences, Trauma

One topic that often comes up in our conversations is perspective about trauma and PTSD. They can acknowledge my experiences as traumatic easily, but have difficulty applying the word “traumatic” to some of their military experiences.

One person told me it’s because soldiers choose the military life and what it entails to follow orders from command. Sometimes those orders include actions they would not otherwise commit outside of military life. Therefore, they were not really traumatized or victims of trauma.

In some ways, I can agree with that. But not in other ways. Because not all trauma survivors are victims or victimized. Many are. But not everyone.

Plus, he and other soldiers or veterans may have chosen their career paths – chosen to follow orders – but they did not choose to be traumatized by the experiences of being a soldier. They chose to follow orders, not to commit acts that would scar them in so many ways.

I believe this because I experienced it. What many people don’t realize (and I hardly ever share anywhere or with anyone) is that I chose to go back to the scary other life in college. I chose to be part of that world for many years because it felt safer and more secure than exploring the unknown other world.

It wasn’t until I got the permanent, paying job and learned how to function in the “legitimate” “normal” world with friends and peers that I decided to leave the other world behind.

So yes, like the soldiers and veterans, I chose to go back to that familiar world and be an active part of traumatic experiences that only reinforced childhood lessons for many years even though I had many opportunities to leave.

Was I a victim because I chose to go back to that world? I don’t know.

Does serving in the military make soldiers and veterans victims of trauma? I don’t know.

It’s a matter of perspective to be honest. Not just how the world views us, but also how we view ourselves

Helping Ourselves by Helping Each Other

If you or anyone you know may find this information beneficial, please share it how ever you choose.

Thanks for reading