Life Changing Moments: To vote or not to vote?

This post IS NOT about judgement or defending my choices.  It’s about the complexity of a dilemma that comes every four years in this country.

Every four years, I face a dilemma.  Do I register to vote or not?  And if I register, do I vote or not?

Since I turned 18, I’ve voted 3-4 times in my life.  Election years always happened during times I was moving from one county to another and had to register again.  Or the voting booths were in locations I couldn’t get to without a car.

When I joined the address confidentiality program in 2014, I was told not to register my new address with the USPS or register to vote.

Not because they didn’t want me to vote or be able to get mail delivered to my home.

Because both registrations put my information on public record.  An official public record that can be accessed by anyone in the US or other foreign country by computer or a specific set of forms; shared or sold to other people for direct mail marketing and other purposes; and leaves me vulnerable to being found by the people I’m hiding from.

Yes, I said it.  I am hiding from my parents, my brother, my mother’s side of the family, people from that community I was raised with/went to school with, and many of the other predators/abusers in my past who I don’t remember or recognize, but who remember and recognize me.

Yes, I changed my name.  Yes, I joined a program that kept them from finding my address and location before.  That didn’t stop former classmates from high school and college from recognizing me and harassing me.  That didn’t stop my cousins and their friends from trying to verbally abuse me in public.  That didn’t stop my brother’s friends from doing all of the above before I moved.

I left the address confidentiality program when I moved across the country.  I did not register my new address with the USPS because this apartment is a “starter” place – i.e. not sure if I’m staying or not for the long term.

I planned on registering to vote.  I filled out the form and sealed it.  But then I stopped before applying the stamp.  And I hid the registration.

Because I got scared.  And I didn’t like any of the candidates.

In some of my Facebook and other groups, I nominally supported Hillary Clinton.  That came because I could not intentionally support a man who promotes and condones racism and abuse of any kind.

As I followed the campaign (sort of), the flashbacks got worse.  The fears increased.  My body reacted negatively to any thought of sending in that voter registration.

I couldn’t do it.

So here’s my dilemma: Do I be a responsible American citizen and vote?  Or do I keep myself safe and protected by not putting my name and information on public record?

And 4 years from now, I will face this moment again.  New candidates, same kind of attitudes.  Will I register or not?  I guess that depends on how safe I feel because self care is more important to me than upholding a country’s ideals right now.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: Reflecting on Friendship

This is (for me) a short post.  500 words or less including these sentences.

Any kind of abuse makes trust difficult.  Being surrounded by people not your age during childhood and adolescence makes connecting with peers difficult.  Being abused by teens and adults makes connecting with older people difficult.  Being bullied by peers and younger people makes socializing and putting myself “out there” difficult.

Can you see the connections?

When I moved to the new city, I planned on making acquaintances – people to chat with and talk to in every day life – but not friends for the first year or so.  Socializing is not high on my list of priorities.

Safety, solitude, learning the city and how people here interact are my priorities.
Someday, I plan to make friends, go out more, socialize and interact.
Someday, I will go out more and stay home less.
Someday, I will feel confident about interacting with people.

But not today.  And not tomorrow.

The few friends I have, the few people I do know here are wonderful people.  They have established routines and friendships and social circles.  Through them, I meet a variety of people and opportunities to participate in events that would not have been on my radar even a month ago.

So why reflect on this now?

The topic of friends and “knowing” people came up recently in a conversation.  I call 1 person friend here and have met members of her family; people I am slowly including in my circle.  These people I go out with and socialize with a few times a month.  The other person lives here part time, so we will meet up when she gets back.

I guess I didn’t expect the person who told me to invite “my other friends” to the public event to be surprised when I said that I only know him and his wife.  It’s been about 3 or 4 months since I moved here.  But he was surprised.  And I didn’t feel like explaining my lack of friends at the time.

Before anything else, though, I want to feel safe and comfortable in my neighborhood.  I want to feel like I belong and am part of the community before opening myself up.  But, most important, I want to be able to walk outside, talk with a variety of different people, and pass by people without feeling the prickles of dissociative anxiety coming on.

I still feel scared right now.  The memories come fast and furious.  Too many new things all at once.  And a schedule that’s not a schedule.

So, routine first.  Socializing next.  Then, maybe, friendships later.

Thanks for reading.

Body Memories: Recovering Memories and working through pain

My focus is on safety, self-care, and comfort or self-soothing to help with the body memories and pain.

Many of the coping strategies I use for pain management are not available right now because the food options here are different from where I used to live.  There is not much of a Chinese community with authentic foods through restaurants.  What is available is hard to get to without a car and tends to be very salty.  Cooking has been interesting with community kitchens and lack of pantry space for utensils, etc.

And cooking or food is a major coping strategy for me: provides sensory and physical grounding, soothing smells, nourishment, a connection to loved ones who passed on years ago, etc.  A microwave is useful, but cooking grains and pasta or meat is trial and error right now.  Soon, I will have an electric kettle, rice cooker/steamer, and slow cooker to make cooking easier.  But they are low priority right now.

The same is t rue for real dishes, cooking utensils, silverware, etc.  I have chopsticks, plastic bowls, and soup spoons thanks to my aunt.  That plus a Chinese cleaver (like a butcher knife), a paring knife, and disposable utensils are all I want for now.  Buying dishes and silverware is personal, so I am willing to wait until I find exactly what I want – be they new or new to me via thrift stores.

I’ve been remembering again.  And the last few days have taught me that sometimes I have to relive the pain and scary sensations in my body in order to remember.  Then the pain will lessen instead of increase.  And the other symptoms will change too.  But remembering why my spine hurts so much in certain places and causes problems with alignment, joints, and muscles from head to toe is not easy.  Neither is remembering that my parents caused the pain as punishment and a way to keep me in place when other stuff was happening.

Yes, I am being vague.  I am still processing and putting together the memories.  Still working on what tools I have available that can help the most.  And working through the realization that many of the tools I depend on most are not accessible right now.  As I put the pieces together and experience less pain, I will write about why experiencing the physical symptoms of pain, shaking, headaches, etc. is a necessary part of retrieving my memories and then making sense of them.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Changing Environment

Introduction

This is my first post since the cross-country move.  Before I moved, there was not a lot I could do to change my environment.  And even the parts I could control (apartment, office cubicle, etc.) felt unchangeable because of my safety fears.  I didn’t feel safe in either place to really decorate and make the spaces my own.  Because of that, there were too many reminders (smell, sound, textures, and visuals) that triggered anxiety.

Outside of my safer spaces, the houses looked similar to ones I was raised around in the suburbs or like the ones in other city neighborhoods where I lived or worked in the past.  The people who are raised in that state hardly ever leave; instead they move to different locales and neighborhoods.  That makes leaving one’s past behind especially difficult.

What makes an environment feel unsafe?

When I changed my name, I wanted to leave the northeast too.  But I needed my job and was invested in my mental health care.  Leaving without a secure job and limited resources would have been too stressful and traumatic.  My support network was still shaky too.  Making and maintaining safe connections is not as easy as life coaches and self-help books advise.  Also, with a large family like mine, it’s not easy to find a state in the US that isn’t populated with people who know or may have heard of me.

No, I’m not pretending.  Both of my parents are 1 of 6 siblings.  5 of the 6 (including my mother) had lots of kids who also spread out, got married, made friends and connections all over.  But my parents’ generation also has lots of cousins and relatives who live in many different states too.  And then there is the community aspect.  A whole city or group of cities in one state full of people who know of my past or took part in my past and have connections throughout the northeast and other states too through family, friends, work, networking, etc. took time out daily to make me feel unsafe and uncomfortable in public.

These people would talk about me, try to instigate trouble and set me up to be embarrassed or talked to by store managers.  In restaurants and stores, they disappeared and refused to serve me outright.  Or ignored me and acted rude and hostile the whole time they did serve me; with bad service and terrible food.  They verbally abused me with insults and deliberately got in my way so I missed trains or crossways.  Some used passing by as an excuse to try to physically push me around.  Shouting and arguments on streets also ensued sometimes.

During really bad times, I’d switch and let my alters take over.  Then come back to myself with cuts, bruises, sore muscles, and not knowing how I got them until the nightmares came.  That was my life growing up, living with my family as an adult, and living on my own even after my name change.  When family had keys to my apartment, I couldn’t risk having anything important because they would come in without telling me and take or destroy whatever they wanted.  After I moved, I worried about break-ins or people finding me and getting in somehow.

A change of pace

The plane landed on Thursday morning Pacific time.  Today is Sunday.  For the first time in my life, I’ve slept for more than four hours at a time without nightmares.  I still wake up, but that’s due to the new sounds and my own restlessness from jet lag.  Every day, I’ve gone out and met people; been friendly and socialized; been made fun of and insulted without getting triggered into a panic attack.

I’ve been stared at; checked out; and sized up by people of all ages, colors, religions and living situations (there are a lot of homeless around).  Each time it happened, I felt a little scared, some adrenaline, an increased hyper-vigilance, but not triggered into a panic attack or dissociation.  My mind and body went into defensive mode: changed posture, took out phone, moved purse, looked around more often, and maintained as bland a facial expression as possible.

All of this is because I feel physically and emotionally safe.  There is freedom in being able to express myself without fear of my past coming back to haunt me.

Conclusion

Environment has a large impact on emotions and the physical self.  Sometimes, the biggest triggers come from unconscious memories and sensory feelings that can’t be put into words or images.  Sometimes, a small change works miracles.  Other times, a moderate change acts as a better tool.  And for some people, drastic change is needed.

Most often, many people forget that an environment can be changed.  Not just an apartment or a house or the inside of a car, but also other physical surroundings by taking a walk or living in a small town instead of a city.

Like all other changes, making this kind of change is difficult.  But it’s worth thinking about if you, like me, are in a place where everything else in recovery seems to be going well, but something hard to pin down keeps derailing progress.

Thanks for reading

Back to Basics: Anger Management and Putting Me First

An unedited post…

There are 4 parts of DBT: Emotion Regulation, Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Effective Interpersonal Communication.  I learned them during my first time in a partial program.  They helped with anger management and emotional control.  At the time, I did not know about Dissociative Identity Disorder, alternate personalities, or triggers.  All I did know was that my anger and fear overwhelmed me to the point where I stopped thinking, stopped talking, and started reacting.

The partial program helped me deal with my present distress by teaching me to stop and think before reacting (mindfulness).  And after the experience, look back and analyze what happened to identify feelings and reactions to feelings (mindfulness).

Once I understood my feelings and reactions to them, I could plan ways to change my reactions or not react at all (distress tolerance) through coping strategies like distractions, self soothing, meditation, exercise, etc.

In order to do the above, though, I had to learn what emotions were and how they affected my body/mind/self (emotion regulation).  Then find ways within my control (diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation, positive experiences, self-talk) to help me regulate my feelings when I felt overwhelmed or distressed (emotion regulation).

And then I could find a language to help me communicate my feelings to myself and others without crossing boundaries or compromising safety (interpersonal communication).

This all worked great until I discovered that my distress feelings and triggers were not from the present time.  Most came from flashbacks, body memories, or remembered experiences triggered during stressful encounters with people or certain environments.  And as much as I tried to use DBT, it didn’t work.  And I got really frustrated.  Especially when my family shunned me and turned up the pressure to fall in line or else.

That brings me to the second partial experience.  It was not helpful or positive like the previous one.  But it did help me better understand the people in my family and their struggles.  It also helped me get in touch with my alters.  For the first time, I could clearly hear them in my head and recognize when I switched.  And we could communicate with each other.

My time with these people: younger and older, but not really in my age group, from different life situations and cultures reminded me that I am only responsible for myself and my choices.  I can’t change or help people who aren’t interested.  I can’t be around people who have issues accepting my real self too.  All three of those situations combined make for a very unhappy individual in an unsafe environment.

So I took what I learned from them and shared it with my therapist.  We agreed that my family wasn’t safe to be around at the time.  It was necessary to put my emergency plans in place and walk away for real.  And also to learn more about the voices in my head.  They needed the coping strategies and tools in my tool box as much as I did.

And when they started practicing DBT too, life got a lot less scary.  Communication at work improved.  My work environment got more comfortable.  I was able to take better care of myself at home because advocating for myself was easier.

And my alters had something to keep them busy while I worked.  Yes, multitasking again.  Different alters, alone or in groups, practiced DBT and other coping strategies on the inside while I or someone else lived and worked and did chores on the outside.  It became a main staple in “acting normal” and surviving in the outside world.  We set up an elaborate communication and transportation system so that everyone had immediate access to each other, but also privacy and alone time.

And I learned that solitude is very important because the “alone time” gives all of us in the system dedicated periods of “together time” like family time.  They all get a chance to be in control of the body and interact safely with the outside world.  We all get to do activities together and share information.  And there’s time for meditation or exercise and self care.  Everyone gets a voice and an opinion.  Sometimes the adults act like adults and make the final decisions.  Other times, it’s a community decision.

But we’d never have known this or be able to put ourselves first without having learned DBT.

And this is why I and others who write here struggle with how to write about what DBT means to us.  Because DBT is meant to be used in groups with other people and a moderator.  But we use it to help our internal system and work sometimes with our therapist, but not a professional moderator (like group therapy).  And our way of meditation is more like in martial arts (original training) or Buddhist practices not what Ms. Linehan teaches.

Now that I spend more time in the outside world, my solitude means a lot.  The times I spend walking from place to place during commutes are less about interacting with people on the street and more about catching up with my alters.  If that makes me less approachable, appear snobbish or remote, or act confused/abrupt, etc. then I’m okay with that.

I don’t want or need a lot of people in my life.  And the people in my life are ones I cherish and value; relationships to nurture and build on.  So yes, I put myself first and everyone else next.  Then I put time into relationships I care about with people I care about.  The rest will come as life changes.

Thanks for reading.

AlterXpressions