Self Care: An off-the-cuff story

I had something else planned for today, but decided to share an unedited story instead.

Verbal communication is a big trigger for me.  I tend to not talk as much as possible because a fear of what could/will come out of my mouth when the automatic defense mechanisms kick in.  The range is extensive:

From mildly irritating and insulting to verbally/emotionally abusive, mean, evil, manipulative, shaming, and purposefully hurtful in such a way that will get me fired and/or blacklisted from work or other places.

Actually, that probably did happen in the past – work or friend circles or socializing – and one of many reasons why I deliberately isolated in the past.

And it’s one of the ways my PTSD still expresses itself: dissociation, depersonalization, hyper-vigilance, extreme reactions to stimuli or “normal” situations, anger management issues, irritability, anxiety, etc. all here

What does that mean exactly?
It means that I can talk and work well with others when my anxiety and triggers don’t interfere.  But I hesitate to do this because the triggers and anxiety are so strong that my automatic defense mechanism kick in without any self awareness.  In counseling, I shared that maybe (and this is optimistic) 50% of the time I can feel the trigger before my defenses kick in.  And less often than that, I can stop the automatic defenses.

This whole verbal communication issue is going to be a life long coping challenge.  The amount of self care and coping strategies just to manage work meetings is enormous.  When I have work meetings combined with managing social situations (interacting with neighbors, friends, family, and store/restaurant employees), well something has to give.

My alters took over some of the socializing (for a few it was their first time in the outside world), but then got triggered and had panic attacks inside our mind.  On one hand this is good because it means we all are recovering and healing.  On the other hand, it leaves in new territory trying to figure out how to cope with alters wanting to participate in the outside world too.

Lessons learned

That’s part of the reason why I’ve been quiet this week.  And why the shared info posts have been less descriptive than usual.  My brain is kind of mushy.  Everyone is tired and grumpy.  Lots of mistakes and lessons learned from internal and external experiences.  There are deadlines at work, and chores to do – chores no one enjoys – that require facing other triggers.  Bathrooms and basements are still scary.  Laundry is scary.  And at this point, none of us really want to be social.  With anyone.  But going out of the apartment to do laundry or take out trash, etc., means the potential to run into other people.

And while all of us had hoped that moving someplace else would bring out positive changes and less of the hate/negativity, etc., we accept that certain hostilities exist everywhere.  And being different, looking different, living on our own  terms makes us a target wherever we go.  Bullies are everywhere.  Racists are more open about their prejudices.  If they can get away with intimidation and harassment, they will and do.

Unless I/we choose to live in a remote cabin off the grid and get everything delivered, there is no escaping people and problems like that.

Self Care and Coping Strategies

Instead, all 88 of us are choosing to work within our limitations and enjoy life as best as possible.  That’s our updated version of self care.

What does the Self Care look like?

  • Work at a job with flexible hours that doesn’t require working in an office or extensive commuting
  • Choose distance learning with self-learning options instead of structured timelines for course completion and attendance requirements
  • Focus on improving our internal family systems’ communication and participation in life
  • Limit socialization and feeling comfortable staying inside instead of feeling shame about choosing solitude and feeling anxiety about running in to neighbors/people at the building
  • Face certain triggers to put up decorations around the apartment and let go of unnecessary clutter
  • Make choices and budget money/time to accomplish home decorating and organizing tasks
  • Continue with meditation and crystal work as part of every day coping strategies
  • Find a park or grassy/wooded/beach area to visit and meditate or exercise or relax and enjoy nature
  • Resolve lingering issues with my mom’s side of the family – find a way to safely communicate and be part of each other’s lives if only in a peripheral sense
  • Take small steps to improve self trust and remove more past conditioning

Life is always interesting and never lonely for us.  Often scary, weird, and loud, but we are never alone.

Thanks for reading

Resources: The Center for Self Leadership – More about Internal Family Systems Model

Two articles from the Center for Self Leadership website:

First article explains some history and defines the “Self” versus “Parts” and is written by Dr. Richard Swartz, Ph. D.  For those of you who prefer other media, this page also has a video that summarizes the article.

Second article is an “(o)utline of the Internal Family Systems Model“.  I like the breakdown and explanation of “basic assumptions” that are the foundation of this theory.

Why share so much about Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

  • I am doing research to support important work going on in the AlterXpressions system – internal as parts are “growing up” and changing roles; external because they are ready to communicate with the outside world and our counselor in particular
  • I honestly believe that most people, even without DID and alter personalities, are made up of parts or characteristics.
    • Sometimes those parts are in harmony; other times they are in conflict.  Conflict makes coping with and healthy expressions of feelings difficult for anyone, but especially trauma survivors who’ve learned to shut down instead of feel.
    • The techniques and strategies here give options for working with and holding conflicting feelings at the same time without feeling helpless.
  • IFS can be used as a tool to bridge conversations with people who are wary of mental illness or have a hard time understanding/accepting/making sense of how symptoms appear to outsiders, but really do want to learn and help and be part of your/my/our lives.
  • IFS is what I used to explain all of this to my boss and supervisors back when everything almost blew up in my face.  Before the legal name change, but after I separated from my family.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: AlterXpressions – the host reveals herself

Hello Guests,
My name is TJ.  I guess you can call me the host of our expansive system.  But it’s not quite accurate because none of us is ever the host full time.  Not even in the past before anyone knew about alter personalities and Dissociative Identity Disorder.  I’ve always heard voices and made intuitive leaps that defy logic.  And I’ve always been different.
As a child, different meant being a target for bullies and racism.  It meant being too smart for my own good and labeled a nerd with no personality among my peers.  Within my family, being different got me excluded from group activities and punished or made fun of for being too slow, emotional, mouthy, disobedient, or ditsy.  Never for being smart or capable.
I had friends for a little while, but then they slowly disappeared.  As they left, I retreated to my amazing inner world.  When that didn’t work, books were my escape.  Crafts helped too unless Mom found out and decided to interfere.  Then crafts became a punishment.  Either I was with the cult, alone at home, or somewhere supervised by my mother.
The memories are fuzzy, but I do remember the following:
  • Climbing up high to hide from “monsters”
  • Crawling under sofas, beds, etc. to “escape” from something
  • Hiding in cabinets, boxes, closets, etc. and getting punished because no one could find me; then having my hiding places blocked
  • Lots of pain and fuzziness from “medication”
  • Lots of adults and secret games
  • Shame and despair and suicidal thoughts
  • Middle school hell because I got stuck with the “popular” kids
  • High school drama and worse because of “popular” kids, death of family members, being forced to go to prom, and graduation
  • Suddenly losing time  and being abusive and angry all the time without understanding what was happening or why
  • Hating my body and wanting to be invisible – aka negative body image and sense of self
  • Being a social outcast for most of my life because I never learned “proper” social skills
Who am I now?
I am one of many in our system and the face most people in the outside world meet or interact with.  I have a stable job in Corporate America, friends, and loved ones.  Lucky for me, I’ve had the same job for more than 10 years and earned the respect of my co-workers.  They accept my panic attacks and PTSD as part of working with me and value my skills.
The job provided me with mentors and an alternative family that taught me how to be a real person.  From those people, I learned how to be respectful, accepting, honest, and trustworthy.  They taught, through modeling and personal experience, how to interact with people and be social in positive, safe ways.  Without this job, I’d never have gotten away.
My favorite hobbies are: reading, cooking, writing, walking, and sleeping.
When not triggered, I also enjoy knitting, sewing, discovering my personal style, working with my hands, and learning about a variety of topics.
I am interested in alternative medicine, nutrition, personal finance, mental health, intuition, spirituality, wellness, and living a conscious, authentic lifestyle.  I am an empath, a highly sensitive person interested in learning more about angels, spirit guides, guardians, and energy healing.  I want to find ways to work with my alters and integrate so that we all can enjoy life in the outside world.
Personal relationships are difficult because most people can only accept part who I am and reject everything else.  Friendships take time, work, patience, and trust.  Do I want an intimate relationship someday?  Yes.  Will that happen in this life time?  I don’t know.  Do I have hope?  Yes.
Finding a man (because I am heterosexual) who can accept all parts of me sometimes feels like searching for a unicorn.  I mean who could ever accept, not only the darkness inside me, but also that I am a multiple?  Yet I still have hope and am open to all of the possibilities my future holds.  So maybe one day…
Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Internal Family Systems explained by Psychology Today

Internal Family Systems Therapy – From Psychology Today magazine.

Recovery is cyclical.

Trauma never goes away, but the patterns and symptoms it leaves inside ebb and flow depending on context, experience, and life.

For a while, our system was stable.  We were in a good place and able to work on other coping challenges that required attention.   Challenges that interfered with living in the outside world.

Now, a lot of these challenges have changed into coping strategies, techniques or learning paths for future references – i.e. resources.  The others are tangled with issues not ready to be addressed yet, so have moved to the background for now.

And it’s time to focus back on adapting our family system.  My alters and I, we, are ready to start working on integration, self-awareness, and creating ways to live in both worlds. That means trying new coping techniques with our counselor and revisiting past ones too.

Why Internal Family Systems therapy? – it coincides nicely with the whole/parts theory of personality and is what our first trauma counselor used to help us get sorted.  Plus, it’s great for helping people learn to cope with feelings/thoughts/opinions that seem overwhelming or conflicting without shame or guilt or anxiety.

Maybe it will help you too.

Thanks for reading.

Alter Post: When two worlds collide

Pip is retired.  She wants to stay retired and find a way to integrate with everyone else.  i.e. participate in co-conscious awareness with our host and everyone else in the real world.

Angora enjoys working and taking classes online.  She’s starting to get more comfortable talking with people in the outside world too.  But not interested in being a host full time.

Some of the younger alters are growing up.  They’re trying to decide if they want to maintain separate identities or merge with others and fade away.

The teen alters are growing up and making changes too.

What we all thought was the worst possible decision now seems like a possible option if we all want to live in the same present reality together.

I hoped moving across the country would stop the evening jaunts to potentially dangerous experiences.  Pip was so excited about finally having down time and a safe place to heal all of our physical injuries.  Angora looked forward to dancing and listening to music again.  Everyone else couldn’t wait to create a real home.

And yet, that past followed us here.  Only now has Pip shared that she had to come out of retirement during our first year in the new city.  The ones who recognized us from before and their friends here tried to cause trouble.  They tested and challenged us until we proved that retirement didn’t mean vulnerable.  That none of us had any interest in resuming the other work here.

Then, in our new building, both Pip and Angora along with a few of the males came out to protect our neighbors and our building.  This time was more and less than people from the past.  It was people who witnessed what happened the first year and caused trouble as neighbors.  It was local homeless people and addicts making noise at night and disturbing us.  It was neighbors with young children worried about the impact of these night disturbances.

So one last time, Pip came out to try and make it stop.  None of the neighbors got hurt.  Not in our building or the others nearby.  None of the innocent or uninvolved got hurt either.  But now the building doesn’t smell like pot.  The homeless people and partiers make less noise at night.

Maybe this time they’ll all believe in our communal retirement.  And understand that retirement DOES NOT equal going soft or being unable to protect ourselves.

But at least it explains how so many of the younger people in this neighborhood recognize me and look at me with mixed expressions of dislike, hate, disdain, horror, fear, or anxiety. And why the host doesn’t always recognize or remember them.  On the plus side: defending ourselves, protecting neighbors and the building without harming them, finally earned some trust.  Now the neighbors are respectful and polite, sometimes nice too.

And the amnesia that comes with a switch happens less often.  We’re looking forward to a day when all of us can work and move together as a united person in mind, body, and spirit.  When our body becomes fully adult instead of going back and forth between pre- and post-adolescence, it will go through normal female stuff instead of stopping or changing under stress.

Until that happens, the moments of fear and confusion when speaking with people will continue.  Maybe, though, this time around people will accept that part of us instead of shunning us.  And maybe we can stop feeling shame about not recognizing and remembering people who greet us.

Thanks for reading.