Alter Post: School of Hard Knocks – and what it taught me about knowledge

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.

Hey All,

All of us in the AlterXpressions system (i or we) decided to share some more about our personal story as a follow up to last week’s post.

A winding path through trees...destination unknown
Destination unknown

First because our journey to where we are now has been filled with directional changes.

Second because many guests have been asking about how we got to where we are now.

Finally, because all of us are here to emphasize that this place is about sharing knowledge and resources – not telling people what to do or how to live their lives.

Being smart doesn’t get a person anywhere unless the individual knows how to use and apply those smarts. Same with education and experience.

It takes courage, resilience, compassion, love, acceptance and an open mind to pick up the pieces of life after trauma and figure out how to live again. We mean how to have the

  • Courage to believe in, love, and accept ourselves as we are in that moment knowing we are different and will never be who we were again
  • Resilience to learn how to roll with the changes that life throws at us as we learn our new “normal”
  • Compassion for ourselves and the people around us as mistakes happen, hurt triggers all kinds of emotions and sensations, and we fall
    • Because everyone falls, makes mistakes, hurts self/others, and gets hurt
  • Open mind to ask for/accept help, learn the tools we need to be who we want to be, and thrive as our authentic selves – happy, loving, loved, safe, – in alignment with our personal values

All parts of me agree to share this with you, so please don’t be surprised by shifts in language or writing style. We tend to interrupt, talk over, or repeat each other writing like this.

College did not exactly prepare me for “real world” work. But it did give me insight into how much I didn’t know about life and people because of how I was raised. The classes and instructors provided lots of book learning, but living on campus taught me about hope and made “happy ever after” seem possible. It was a break from the reality of my other life – almost like a bubble – until my past caught up with me there too.

7 geese in a meadow. One is not like the others...pairs of 2x2x2...then one?
One of these geese is not like the others. Two by two by two…

That”s when I realized college life didn’t fit me in the same way high school didn’t fit because my life experience taught me to value different life goals/career objectives. I was in survival mode and didn’t realize it.

Graduate school taught me that I wasn’t meant to spend my life in a rigid classroom. It also gave me the opportunity to explore skills that I disregarded as useless in high school or college. It also highlighted areas where I was completely lacking in knowledge and experience. Like interpersonal communication and time management; saying “no” and setting boundaries.

University buildings, a parking lot, food trucks...typical academic setting
Typical academic setting

Still, graduate school helped me find a temporary job that turned into a 13-year long career with the same company and allowed me to start this website/blog. I learned foundational skills in architecture and design from graduate school. Combined that knowledge with my writing and organizational skills to land a job helping a project manager create deliverables for a client.

My hard work, eagerness to learn and apply knowledge, and commitment to meeting deadlines caught the attention of other managers and people in the department. They mentored me and taught me more than I can ever express. In that organization, I got to be myself. Acceptance and respect was based on my actions and reactions instead of rumors and assumptions.

My past didn’t matter to them when they learned about it. Instead of firing me or suspending me, they offered support and helped me find ways to keep working no matter how bad my symptoms got. As long as I was honest with them, they worked with me to create flexible schedules and go through the red tape so I got to keep my benefits and job.

Now, thirteen years later, I have job security and a role that allows me to continue doing what I started while also taking on new challenges that help my team and enjoy work again.

EPIPHANY

College education and graduate school classes gave me the foundation skills to understand the work I do, but the school of hard knocks provided me the important life lessons that helped me earn credibility, respect, and acceptance.

Without both parts of that equation, I would not be as valuable or useful in my day job or here on the blog.

Finally, I acknowledge that I am lucky and blessed to have found an organization that accepts me, values me, and allows me to continue on the winding path that is my career with them.

As always, thanks for reading.

Recovery: 2018 Reflections – family & life

What a year it’s been…

So many changes and discoveries. Reconnecting with family. Enjoying time with family.

Creating new paths. Learning different ways to live and thrive beyond survival. Opening up to the wonders of the universe.

Finding a spiritual path & a way to make dreams come true.

CATCHING UP…

Last Week with Family

Other than typical air travel issues, the visit went well. My family and I spent quality time together enjoying each other’s company, giving gifts, and eating great food. My dad and I got to spend some alone time together and with the rest of the family. My brother and sister-in-law are happy; we hugged and talked and laughed on Christmas.

As for time with mom, we carefully started rebuilding the bridge again. It got tense at times, but someone was always around to help smooth things over. In the end, we shared contact information; this way she can reach me if she feels like it.

My mom’s side and I didn’t get to meet after all. Between the flight delay and busy schedules, 4 days became 3 days full of other activities. In the end, we promised to see each other next time I travel back east.

My dad’s side of the family hosted Christmas this year. Seeing my younger cousins for the first time in a while was filled with anxiety on both sides. We weren’t sure how to interact at first, but things got easier with time. We ended up laughing and talking by the end of the visit – that felt great.

My aunts and uncle and I spent some quality time together too. We talked and caught up with life before giving gifts. Things got a little tense with one aunt, but that was expected. Her way of coping with fear is to push people away. Some time apart (and maybe conversations with others) helped both of us work it out for a pleasant rest of the visit.

Finally, I got to spend some quality time with my grandmother. She wasn’t doing well on Monday – my first day visiting – and spent a lot of ¬†time sleeping. On Christmas Day (Tuesday), she was awake and more present – enough to enjoy opening gifts, talk, and eat dinner with us.

We had a chance to talk in private. I told her how much I love her and that she doesn’t have to worry so much about me anymore. I’m healthy and happy and safe, so she can focus on taking care of herself and doing what she needs to do to feel healthy and pain-free.

Milestones, Changes & Goals

For the first time, maybe ever, I completed all of my goals for 2018. That felt good and acts as a symbol of the many positive changes that happened this year.

Of the many changes that occurred this year, the biggest ones have to do with the transition from survival mode to living to thriving. Here are 3 on my list:

  • Open up to others in the outside world – making friends & connections; going to workshops; participating in events & activities at work – because I feel safe on every level of being (spiritual, emotional/mental, physical)
  • Change my self-image in order to be assertive at work and act on my dreams – job changes, go back to school, continue writing this blog, work on my spiritual practice
  • Find closure with my past by embracing my shadows and connecting face-to-face with family again

As for milestones, my biggest one is letting go of the fear that held me back for so long by finding my faith again and choosing to live a life rooted in unconditional love and acceptance. For every individual, finding that faith in a higher power; believing she or he is deserving of unconditional love and acceptance; then opening up to receive those gifts is a unique and difficult journey.

The New Website & Aromatherapy

My other web site and blog is in progress, but on hold for right now. Other priorities got in the way of completing the pages and starting the new blog, so it’s empty and will be for another few months.

As for aromatherapy, I’m still taking the online classes in between work and life. It’s slow going, but lesson 1 of 7 is finally finished. The aromatherapy blends work well and smell great. I used them to help with some cold and sinus problems that affect me every fall/winter season. Lesson 2 is in progress.

Questions for Guests

What will/do you reflect on for 2018?

How do you feel about the milestones, changes, successes, or lessons learned?

What will you leave behind or take with you into 2019?

Final Thoughts

2018 was an incredibly positive year. Many unexpected successes and positive changes tempered by some losses, more than a few lessons learned, and much confusion. I’ve discovered a spiritual practice that suits my solitary nature and allows me to believe in God and other wise beings or deities without having to choose a specific religion. The openness of this spiritual practice helps me develop my other gifts instead of fearing them and teaches me how to listen to my intuition too.

Feelings still confuse me. Being in crowds still has a negative effect on my memory. I am not (nor will I ever be) 100% comfortable or relaxed outside of my home, but I can utilize coping strategies to get at least 80% comfortable or relaxed now. Most important, I feel safe interacting with other people even when triggered or feeling severely anxious.

Personally, I’m looking forward to many surprises and possibilities in 2019 ūüôā

I wish all of you a happy, healthy, prosperous 2019!

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategy: 365 Days of writing affirmations or mantras

What is an affirmation?

An affirmation is a statement of positive intention.  It can be a phrase, a sentence, a group of sentences, or a quotation.

What is a mantra?

A mantra is a phrase, statement, slogan, or quotation that can be repeated frequently.  It can be used for comfort, inspiration, support, a renewal of faith, etc.

Why both instead of one or the other?

Both words have similar uses that can be hard to distinguish sometimes.¬† Affirmations can be used as mantras.¬† A mantra (whole or parts) can be used as an affirmation.¬† Since I can’t tell what category mine go into, I write out my intention and then decide if it’s a mantra or an affirmation later.

Inspiration comes from?

  • Other bloggers – So many bloggers are creating their own or sharing inspiring affirmations that I decided to be brave and try writing mine down too
  • Tara Brach – Understanding grief & loss, coping or healing through faith, meditation, and communication – I personally like her free “Tara’s Talks” videos
  • Pema Chodron – Lessons in spiritual resilience, faith (whether or not you are Buddhist), meditation, and compassion (loving kindness and mindfulness meditations)
  • Jon Kabat-Zinn – Mindfulness meditation to help with pain, stress, and other uncomfortable feelings through Harvard Medical School
  • Brene Brown – lessons in authentic living, shame, resilience, and vulnerability
  • Deirdre Fay’s classes – affirmations as part of meditation or breathing techniques to help cope with trauma
  • other self-help books –¬†The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook was the second self-help book that helped me start making sense of the coping challenges and learn how to use affirmations even if I didn’t believe in them at the time. ¬†My other favorite self-help and coping strategy books are on Pinterest if you want to look there too, but beware I also have some personal boards up there. ¬†You might learn more than you care to about me…
  • Louise Hay – her affirmations helped me through some of my darkest moments; I’m grateful for the person who introduced me to her writing way back in the first years of my recovery journey

How does it help so far?

  • The affirmation or mantra sets my intention for the day
  • Makes my thoughts concrete and visible to anyone who reads it
  • Reminds me to feel gratitude and practice what I’ve learned to help cope no matter how I feel at the time
  • Gives me a place to visit and remember positive thoughts when my mind decides to go blank
  • Teaches me patience, consistency, perseverance, and follow-through on my goals and objectives
  • Let’s me practice self-kindness and self-compassion when I make mistakes by not writing down an affirmation or mantra every day

But 365 days?  Why?

Yes, 365 days or approximately 1 year.¬† It’s time for me to expand my boundaries and try to do this in spite of the triggers that stopped me in the past.¬† Plus this is an activity that all parts of me can participate in, remember, go back to, and enjoy together.¬† We are all involved and motivated to succeed.¬† This gives us all a better chance at accomplishing our goal.

Other thoughts

Some people will tell you that affirmations are crap or bs or (my personal favorite) hogwash.¬† You can’t change your life with positive affirmations.¬† And even if you can, how can you say them and have faith if you are in a negative mindset?¬† Or you have a negative self-image?¬† Or, like people in group once said, maybe these things can happen for other people, but not for me because I’m not worthy.

Maybe that’s true for some people.¬† It was sort of true for me back when I first started listening to people talk about the power of positive thinking, etc. ¬†But then I tried looking at the concept from other perspectives.¬†

I started reading other affirmations to try to understand what made them positive or inspirational or meaningful. What was a mantra, and how did it relate to affirmations?  Because many people preferred using mantras instead, I wondered if it was language that made the difference.  Language as in how words are perceived by the dominant culture around us.  Later, I wondered if these affirmations and mantras were like prayers.  Instead of going directly to God, they were spoken as a gesture of faith in a higher power or to whatever religious deity the people believed in.

Questioning my spiritual path

That’s when I dropped the word “positive” and kept affirmations.¬† Also why I prefer “mantras” to “prayers” even though I do pray every night and every morning.¬† And if I time traveled back to the moment when I was choosing a religion, I’d probably be Jewish because that was the faith that brought me the most love and comfort in childhood.

Maybe some day I will be able to visit a Synagogue without crying – it’s been almost 30 years, and I still miss my Uncle Teddy.¬† And so I pray.¬† I practice compassion and gratitude through meditation and random acts of kindness.¬† I collect prayers, quotes, affirmations, and mantras that connect with my spirit. ¬†Finally, I write my own affirmations and mantras. ¬†Maybe someday I’ll share them here too.

Lessons Learned

And I learned that affirmations, mantras, and prayers all have a few things in common:

  • They share hope for a different outcome
  • They open people up to different possibilities and choices
  • They bring comfort during times of stress or overwhelming sensations
  • They are not always positive
  • They can be as simple as one word or as complicated as a poem
  • They work as long as the one speaking/writing them believes
  • They are the wishes and foundations for everyday miracles in life

Your Choice

*Like most tings in life, you get out of affirmations and mantras what you put into them.*

If you want to try one, why not pick a quote or phrase that is meaningful to you and repeat it once a day for a set time period.  At the end of that time period, reflect on how you feel and if anything has changed between then and now.  Then decide for yourself if you want to continue using them.

Thanks for reading

Family: Writing to my dad this year

This time of year, I think about my family often. ¬†A lot of “firsts” happened between November and May. ¬†Including the first time my dad chose someone else instead of me. ¬†That choice left me feeling shamed, rejected, and hurt (physically and emotionally).

Perspective has taught me that, no matter what he said or did, my father loves me.  He has never chosen me or put me first, but he does love me and did try to take care of me as best he could.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if some of the things he said and did after I reached adulthood were his way of protecting me and ensuring I had the means to become and independent adult.

Self-Reflection over the past few months has taught me that I am truly in a better place overall.  I feel physically safe 99% of the time and emotionally safe about 80% of the time except during the rough periods.  My life is prosperous and overall happy.  Because of all this, I am in a position to reach out and contact my dad without the crippling anxiety or fear of discovery/intrusion into my present life.

So I am composing a letter to him.  Right now, the drafts are in my mind.  At some point, I will decide whether or not to type or hand write the letter and mail it in an envelope with only my initials.  No contact info or ability to trace anything back to me.

Why now?

I miss my dad.  I worry about him and his health.  And I worry about the responsibility he has in taking care of the egg donor.

Yes, I am still reluctant to call her “mom” or “mother”, etc. ¬†She didn’t raise me. ¬†And she never really took care of me. ¬†I only got her attention when I embarrassed, insulted, shamed, or offended her in some way. ¬†Or when she decided to “be a nice mom” and involve herself in my life to show how much she loves me and how little I appreciate her.

No I don’t want anything to do with her or my sibling and his circle of people.

Will this be difficult?  Yes because they all share a house.

Do I care?  Not anymore.

Wish me luck.  The goal is to have this letter written and mailed out by summer.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenge: To Share or Not to Share? Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions. ¬†Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree. ¬†Thank you*

Disclosing Mental Illness

If you’ve read past posts, then you remember how I feel about labels and my thoughts about the term “mental illness”.

If not, here is the short version:
I do not believe PTSD or trauma-related mental health issues to be a form of mental illness in the same sense as say schizophrenia.

  • Schizophrenia has an underlying biological cause originating in one’s brain physiology. ¬†aka the condition¬†is not caused by outside experiences. ¬†It could be developmental or genetic or a mix of influences.
  • PTSD and trauma-related mental health problems are caused by outside influences and experiences beyond an individual’s control and processing ability. ¬†The brain and body adapts to these experiences by utilizing creative coping strategies that change the individual’s responses to stress.

Took me a long time to stop making excuses and apologizing for taking care of myself, but eventually I did.

Now I only share my past and my challenges for specific reasons:

  • Communication and team work for business purposes
  • Honesty when building friendships
  • When my symptoms might interfere with my ability to enjoy life and/or be productive
  • Discuss care with providers
  • Certain Legal and Human Resources situations

The rest of the time, I choose to be as “normal” as possible. ¬†Why else create a toolbox of coping strategies and techniques for every day and special occasion use?

Preferential Treatment

*REMINDER: please remember these are my opinions and not anyone else’s opinions. ¬†Feel free to disagree, but please be respectful in how you disagree. ¬†Thank you*

Mental Illness does not make me “special” or “different”. ¬†I am independent and able to make plans that allow for potential triggers and stressors, especially when traveling.

I do not need or want  preferential treatment when I travel.

Advance planning allows me to arrange my  travel plans to accommodate anxiety, panic attacks, triggers, etc. without having to disclose any information to airlines, bus station attendants, and other transportation officials.

When I make my plans, I expect them to mostly stay the same unless there is some kind of natural disaster or emergency beyond anyone’s control that requires change.

I don’t expect to have my seat assignments randomly changed last minute and for no reason. ¬†Nor do I expect to have to talk with multiple representatives and disclose having panic attacks in order to get a seat assignment similar to my original one.

Yet that’s exactly what happened on American Airlines. ¬†To make matters worse, some of the gate or counter representatives recognized me and were accordingly rude.

So, I stayed calm and professional while quietly repeating my emergency disclosure summary:

“I don’t want to cause problems and understand if you can’t help me, but I have panic attacks. ¬†(This is what happened). ¬†(This is why I am asking for an accommodation). ¬†Any help is appreciated, and I understand if you can’t accommodate my situation. ¬†Thank you.”

In this example, I need to sit in an aisle seat on airplanes. ¬†Doesn’t matter where on the airplane or how cramped the seat is as long as I have an aisle seat.

Everything else can be accommodated.

Coping Strategies

I have none at the moment.  The whole fiasco still pisses me off and probably will for a while.

All I can say is that I’m grateful that a panic attack did not occur at an airline or on a plane.

Yes, I did have a few emotional moments.  But anyone who was awake for 40 hours and had to make 3 connections on 4 planes would have some emotional moments.

Practical Adaptations

  • Don’t fly United Airlines
  • Save up and apply for TSA pre-check
  • Start an air travel fund for emergency trips
  • Travel during seasons that don’t require heavy layers
  • Pay extra to fly on JetBlue or a similar airline instead
    • JetBlue has provided the best flying experiences so far

Reflection Questions for Guests (you don’t have to comment or share unless you want to do so)

  • In what situations do you share information about your mental illness?
  • How would you feel about being forced to disclose such information?
  • How do you feel about receiving preferential treatment? ¬†Why?
  • Would you disclose your mental illness status if it meant getting preferential treatment? ¬†Why or why not?
  • What coping strategies or safety plans do you have in place to cope with stressful situations like travel changes beyond your control?
  • Do you think having a backup plan and coping strategies would be helpful in situations like this?

Thanks for reading