Coping Strategies: Day 94 of “365 Days of Affirmations” challenge

Background

About 3 months ago, I decided to try to write a unique affirmation every day for 365 days.  You can read about it here in this post.  Today’s featured image is an affirmation from Louise Hay whose book You Can Heal Your Life inspired me to persist on my recovery journey after my first big relapse.  Maybe it will help you too.

As a writing challenge, I was pushed to sit and put time/effort/discipline into practice on a regular basis.

As a mental health challenge, this was a way to get all parts of me to change perspective from negative or neural to positive and friendly.

As a personal challenge, this helped (and continues to help) cope with and work through fears of failure, rejection, worthlessness, and shame.

How and Why?

Writing Challenge:
My writing style (not work related) is rather undisciplined and spontaneous.  That works okay for some things like Alter Post stories and so on, but it’s not that great when I try to organize ideas and improve my skills to provide useful, concise, well-written content overall.  The discipline of having to write even a few words every day has helped a lot with organization and self-discipline for writing.

Mental Health Challenge:
Change is difficult for anyone.  For me (especially when the I is more like them, us, we, him, her) staying positive and changing our perspective about life from negative to positive is a challenge.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Action Commitment Therapy (ACT) can only do so much if the rest of me isn’t willing to put in the work.Writing at least 1 positive affirmation about my intention for the day forced everyone to think outside the box and get creative.  Imagination and curiosity always gets everyone in my system excited and willing to try something new.

Personal Challenge
Fear of failure as in stop trying because you can’t win or aren’t good enough.

Fear of rejection as in why bother because no one cares?  Anyone who finds you writing this is going to criticize and insult or make fun of you.

Fear of worthlessness (lack of confidence) and shame as in you can’t do this.  You’re not smart enough or good enough at writing to create affirmations.  You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking you can write affirmations, let alone the disciplined enough to write one every day.  You’re too lazy and irresponsible.

Those have been the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and voices in my head for as long as I can remember.  Most of the time, I can use coping techniques and strategies to get around them.  That’s not enough anymore.

This challenge was and is a way to use “small successes” and “determination” to keep writing the affirmations even when I miss one or more days in a row because life got in the way.

Celebrating Day 94

Today is Day 94 of the challenge.  At my lowest point, I missed writing 5 affirmations/quotes in a row.  On my best days, I wrote up to 3 affirmations and/or quotes in a day.  Some are phrases.  Some are poems.  Some are paragraphs.

All of these affirmations are unedited first drafts right now.  The first 10 or so are awful and require some revising.  But I’ve decided to be vulnerable and share some of my favorites with you.

Affirmation 94: “I love my family unconditionally and accept them as they are”

Affirmation 79: “The universe is full of friendly people.  Universe is friendly, not scary.”

Affirmation 8: “I am safe and secure in my home.  Today is an excellent day for laundry.”

Mantra 31:

“I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Memories can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Family can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  The mail will be delivered without fuss.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Lyft is faster and safer than a bus.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Therapy today is right for us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  I/WE believe in us”

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

Alter Post: Eating Disorder is not the same as disordered eating

Eating Disorder History

I have anorexia nervosa.  Right now, it’s in remission.  But stressful times casue a loss of appetite.  If I am mot careful, I start skipping meals, eating less, and forgetting to hydrate.  My body interprets the pattern of skipping meals and eating less as a signal to start hoarding calories and retaiming water to protect vital organs.  It falls back into the cycle instincitvely to protect my body from wasting away because past experience says “who knows when the body will be fed again?”

Even after I got the anorexia under control and found ways to make the allergies go away, I still had problems with disordered earing habits like:

  • food fears
  • dieting restrictions
  • obsessive/complusive behaviors related to food
  • shopping, preparation, cooking, meal times, and so on

I was taking in calories but unable to enjoy eating or maintain a healthy weight.  Low energy, sleep problems, lowered immune system…you name it I experienced it in some way.  My doctors and I are constantly surprised that the only long term sign of decades of malnutrition a d starvation is pale skin because of lack of melatonin production.  That means I have problems absorbing vitamin D and have to be careful of sun exposure.  It also means I have to take supplements.

Present

That was about 4 years ago.

These days my skin is a healthy  warm/neutral skin tone – neither pale white nor a obviously brown, but somewhere in between – and my weight stays mostly the same within a 5 lb range.  This isn’t my target weight or my ideal weight, but it’s the weight my body/mind/spirit believes is best for overall health.

When I do lose weight, it’s less than the 10 lb cut off that tips me into an official relapse.  Problem is that I’m already petite & slim, so can’t afford to lose any weight.  Being slim also means that any weight loss is easily noticed.  Same with weight gain.

I might not notice that my eating habits changed right away.  Probably won’t notice if my sleep patterns or food thoughts have changed either.  But I will and do notice when my tops feel too loose/tight or my pants and skirts start bagging at the waist or feeling too tight.

My stomach and abdominal area is really sensitive to pressure so bloating and discomfort from disordered eating usually catches my attention first.

What is the difference between Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating habits?

One can have disordered eating habits without an eating disorder.

For example, I used to have a lot of rules about what I could eat, how often I could eat it, and where I could eat it.  The rules didn’t include how much or little I at at one meal or what had to happen if I over/under ate.  It was almost like a restrictive diet that allowed me to feel like I was in control, but still eating healthy.  These rules and restrictions would make sense if they were related to a medical or physiological issue that made me sick if I ate something.  But they didn’t make sense for a healthy, young woman without any food allergies or sensitivities.  The restrictions were based on fear and avoidance.  Fear of triggering flashbacks or panic attacks; and avoidance as my coping strategy to not get triggered.

*Main difference here: I was aware of this and able to make the conscious choice to challenge these fears with support from medical nutrition therapy and mental health counseling.*

One cannot have an earing disorder without a history/pattern of existing disordered eating habits.

Example of my thoughts while practicing anorexia:
I’m too heavy.  I don’t deserve to eat this food or even enjoy food.  My parents, these teachers, are all trying to control me and force me to (insert physical activity here).  If I’m too weak, they can’t make me do it.  I hate my body.  It’s the reason why these monsters want to hurt me.  If I don’t eat, my body will change; they won’t want to use me anymore.  I have to punish myself for losing control at (insert family event), so not eating (insert favorite food) anymore will prove that I have will power, etc.

Can you tell the difference in my thought processes?

Why is this important?

Stress does odd things to mental and physical processes.  It changes internal chemistry too.  Trauma causes changes in development.  All of this can cause problems with digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Advertising and the internalized messages from caregivers also have an impact on body image, self-esteem, and eating habits.

As a child, I starved and had to scrounge for food when my parents forgot or didn’t feel like cooking/feeding me.  Most of what I ate were sandwiches, pastries, toast, and junk food (cookies, chips, canned whatever) that got stored in the pantry.  The refrigerator was too heavy to open until I was about 5 years old.

As I got older, my mom put me on the same diets she was on.  And punished me by taking away any food I liked whenever the diets didn’t work.  She fed me less so she could eat more because it was my fault she gained weight.  Yeah, fhat doesn’t make sense.  But it’s how she justified her eating habits.

Then came the constant criticism about:

  • how I looked
  • my eating habits
  • food choices

Finally, there were (inevitable) comparisons to cousins of a similar age and generation from everyone.  Too fat, too skinny, too clumsy, too weak…

Connection: Stressful Situations & Self Care (i.e. eating habits)

I don’t know about you, but many of the survivors I have met and talked to have weight problems, immune system problems, and health problems that seem to stem from A) food choices; B) thoughts and beliefs about nutrition; C) beliefs about what their bodies deserve or don’t deserve in relation to food and health; and D) a lack of their own sense of self.  For myself, I still struggle with all four of these topics and probably will for the rest of my life.

Life transitions are among the biggest stressors in my life.  By transition, I mean lots of small changes that accumulate to create a BIG change.

Some examples: legal name change; moving cross country; reconnecting with family; changing jobs; deciding not to hide anymore; advocating for myself at work; decorating my apartment; talking with an attorney; getting my first bank loan approved; becoming more active on social media; changing my self-perceptions for improved self-image.

Hope

But even after all of this, I feel hope and joy whenever a change comes my way.  Each experience taught me that a positive outlook, faith in myself and in the universal energy (aka spirtual or religious belief system) being there to support me as long as I welcome it into my life.

I know that each time something like this comes up, I will feel stressed out.  My body might go into these automatic patterns, or they might not.  The big difference is that I am aware this can happen and can put together safety plans to help recover faster once the stress eases up.

And as long as I stay within the criteria my medical nutrition counselor gave me, I will not fall into a relapse of anorexia no matter what my mind and body are telling me.

Options

If you are not sure whether you are experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder, maybe it’s time to talk with a professional.

Mental health counselors who specialize in eating disorders and have trauma experience are a good first step.

If you are not comfortable talking with a counselor, talking with your primary physician is also a good first step.  He or she can get you a referral to meet with a registered dietitian or nutrition specialist.  Or maybe refer you to a program that offers food and nutrition support.

Finally, there are many non-profit organizations and social media groups (legitimate ones) who offer support for people with diet and eating challenges.  A lot of their resources are free and available in a safe, non-judgmental (sometimes anonymous) location too.

Whatever your eating challenges may be, I wish that you all find the support and resources you need to be successful.

Thanks for reading.

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.