Family: Connecting Safely

This weekend I’m flying back to visit family

It’s an unexpected trip, and one I am not too excited about.  With everything that’s happened, I really need some down time.  But I also need to be mindful of the work vacation/sick day policy.  This year, my goal is to stay within the acceptable limits of time off instead of going over by accident or necessity – aka big move or panic attacks or triggers or unexpected family stuff.

Family trees
This was taken back in grad school; branches and leaves remind me of my family connections

My grandma had bad accident late in January, and I couldn’t visit then because of the moving situation.  She is not getting any younger and doing well with recovery/rehab, but I still feel like visiting sooner instead of later is important.  More important than taking a vacation or personal down time to recover from recent experiences.

At the same time, I also need to take care of myself.

My internal family system - sort of
How I see myself…still alive and thriving as I connect my inside and outside worlds

Hence the hotel.  And spending a few days working and connecting with positive people in my network.  I hope it balances out visiting people on my mother’s side of the family too.  And potentially running into my father, brother, mother, etc.

My Self Care Kit goes a little like this:

For flying

  • Warm comfortable outfit
  • Aromatherapy inhalers my friend made me
  • Wireless noise-cancelling headphones + charger/cord
  • E-books/music saved on my phone + phone charger/cord
  • External Battery for electronic devices (fully charged) + charger/cord
  • 1 carry on suitcase + 1 personal bag/backpack
  • Empty water bottle; chocolate/snacks
  • Crystals for grounding, serenity, protection, and mental clarity

For Family

  • Crystals for grounding, protection, courage, and mental clarity
  • Warm, comfortable clothes and accessories in my favorite colors
  • Personal computer with cord for distractions or grounding
  • Chocolate and other grounding stuff
  • Extra warm layers in my backpack in case the house is cold

For Being Where I Grew Up

  • Restaurants with reasonably priced comfort food
  • Room service for times I don’t want to leave the hotel
  • A plan for getting around town – aka public transit card, GPS, and rideshare apps
  • A plan for getting to and from hotel, airport, and work with minimal anxiety
  • Soothing kit that fits in my purse for environmental triggers
  • Fully charged phone with hotline and support phone numbers in case of emergency

And an ESCAPE Plan for everything else.

Things for ME to remember:

  • CBT will help me stay grounded in the present
  • DBT is my best, most effective communication tool
  • No matter what, I am an adult now and can leave ANY time I want
  • Safety first always
  • Travel light, but stay warm
  • Connecting flights are scary, but doable without checked luggage
  • Cramped, middle airplane seats are scarier, but necessary for my budget (sigh)
Hope
A wish that my family will be repaired someday…like the branches of these trees

Wish me luck!  Next post will be coming from a hotel and/or a family member’s house.

Thanks for reading!

Coping Challenge: Self Soothing is Positive instead of Negative

Background

I struggle with self soothing.  My alters, especially my child and adolescent ones, struggle with self soothing.  We all had questions about what that term meant.  Some of us still have questions like:

  • What is self soothing?
  • How is it different from self care?
  • Why is self-soothing a positive coping strategy?
  • How does it work?
  • Can you provide examples?

My adult self tried to apply answers from a variety of sources, but the suggestions triggered anger, fear, shame, and grief.  Then panic attacks.  So I avoided thinking about self soothing until recently.

Present Day

Physical pain requires other types of coping strategies.  Strategies that trigger me and cause fear or anger to manifest into panic attacks or worse – self-harm.  Unfortunately for me, those same strategies are tried and true for body memories.  These strategies include:

  • Trauma sensitive yoga
  • Sensorimotor psychotherapy
  • Self-soothing
  • Movement or exercise therapy

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

sensorimotor psychotherapy does work and can be useful, but requires a lot of trust between the client & counselor.  It also requires the client to be at a certain level of recovery with support in place for any increased symptoms.  Deirdre Fay is one of the foremost practitioners.  Her work is great; I tried one of her online workshops, but wasn’t ready for it yet.  Maybe you will be.  I recommend doing your own research and talking with a professional before trying any of her programs.

Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Trauma sensitive yoga is something I recently started once a month.  Our first session was great.  I learned a lot and am hopeful this will help with my physical symptoms in  a variety of ways.  But more on  this later, after I’ve had another session and more time to try the practice at home too.

Exercise & Movement Therapy

Bessel Van Der Kolk promotes yoga as his number one form of movement therapy.  But drama, dance, martial arts, tai chi, or any form of gentle, meditative movement can produce similar results.  What matters most with this type of therapy is A) doing something the victim/survivor/partner/loved one enjoys; and B) choosing an instructor or group that feels safe, supportive, inclusive, and positive.  A strong support system to help out when symptoms increase or triggers start to overwhelm is important too.

Self-Soothing Coping Technique

Self Soothing has been a struggle to define and understand up until the past month or so.  My current counselor/therapist helped me understand that my child and adolescent alters define self-soothing as hurting others or being destructive/aggressive to feel better.  That is what they learned from their providers and caretakers.  And a volunteer on the hotline defined self soothing as: a conscious act of choosing self care and comfort instead of destruction, aggression, blaming, or self-harm.

What do you think of the

The Challenge

Re-learning that Self Soothing is positive and means comforting myself instead of hurting myself or others.

Helping my child and adolescent alters understand and accept this so that they can use the self soothing too.

Discovering all of the ways self soothing can help with muscle pain, body memories, and physical discomfort in order to build a tool box of useful strategies for present and future use.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes the strategies that can help us most are the scariest and most challenging to learn.  I am not afraid to admit that I am afraid of my body.  I am afraid of my appearance.  I am afraid of the sound of my voice.  I am afraid of showing my face on this blog or any social media.

That fear gets in the way of doing most positive actions or tasks to help me feel better.  Instead of moving, everything freezes.  I freeze.  They freeze.  We all freeze into paralysis.  Can’t move our body.

But if you’ve learned anything about our system, you might remember how stubborn and persistent we are.  And so all parts of us are talking with our current counselor/therapist to work on this.  In another week or two, maybe we will share the results of our new practice.

What scares you?  How helpful or harmful would it be?

May all of you who read this find ways to choose self care and support instead of self-harm or harm to others when triggered.

Thanks for reading

 

Admin Post: Down with a Cold; nothing until next Wednesday

Hi All,

For the first time in a long time, I have a real cold – not body memories pretending to be a cold or sinus whatever or allergies – a stuffy nose, possible fever, body aches, coughing cold.

What made me realize the difference?

  • A cold, dry nose yet couldn’t breathe through it
  • Coughing – I hardly ever cough
  • A constant chill – not from the already chilly temps in my apartment
  • Nausea – the kind that sticks in your chest/throat and wants to come back up
  • and the other half of nausea – yup vomiting

Body Memory cold symptoms are:

  • Headaches & sinus pain
  • Uncontrollable sneezing/nose blowing
  • Dizziness
  • Allergy symptoms
  • and asthma symptoms

How do I know this is true?

  • Evidence-based past experience with my doctors and medical practitioners.

So I am going to try and be good this week.  Lots of self-care.  Trying to self-soothe.  Hot drinks.  Soup (delivery or takeout).  Rest.  And staying warm.

See you all in a week.

thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: Hyper-vigilance and Cold Weather Triggers

It’s fall.  The weather has turned cool, damp, and cloudy.  Leaves are changing color and falling.

Normally, this is my favorite season and time of the year.  I love rain and color changes and the smell of ozone in the air after rain fall.  The plants have a different scent too; and I’m surrounded by plants and forest on one side; a benefit of living within blocks of a city forest.

And yet, this year, I’m struggling with hyper-vigilance and body memories about cold weather even in my apartment.  The curtains are up, the windows have been caulked.  My apartment is warm with the heat on.  A few places still have cracks that let air in, but not too badly.  If I open the heat vents more, then the place will warm up more too.

I’m being mindful and wearing lots of layers too.  Using coping strategies and grounding techniques to help with the anxiety and depression.  Making financial plans to finish decorating my apartment sooner instead of later.  Going to therapy and for Chinese Medicine treatments regularly.  Maintaining an open dialogue with the landlord/owner about what I notice in the apartment and documenting everything.  And so on.

But at the same time, my body feels chilled constantly.  I feel hyper-vigilant like intruders could get in at any time.  The usual sinus/cold/allergy body memories are trying to manifest as they normally do – making me feel sick and listless – and yet are not.  Instead of severe sinusitis and flu-like symptoms, I feel like I have allergies.  Instead of many sleepless nights followed by crashing, I feel tired a lot and sometimes have to start my day later, but have not needed to take any time off.

And still my body experiences pain around my neck and shoulders.  No amount of hot tea or soup brings my body temperature back to warm/normal.  I feel alternately tired and energetic, yet unable to exercise or be active without backlash.  And my body itself is humming with internal movement.  The kind you might feel after a moderate workout or stretching routine where your muscles were given a thorough workout.

It didn’t help that my alters got activated late last week when a supposedly down on his luck man came knocking at the door asking for a handout.  My alters tell me that he was really a private investigator looking for information, but no one has concrete evidence.  Either way, he made everyone feel super uncomfortable to the point of changing our plans.

The next I let a scam artist convince me to give him and his female partner two dollars.  That felt conflicting because I knew it was a scam, yet my intuition told me that giving the two dollars would help protect the female partner in some way.  The man felt predatory and smug to me; I didn’t like him at all as he spoke to me.  The woman stayed back with hoodie partially covering her face and silent.

Except for her eyes.  Her eyes told a different story.  And for once, I empathized with her situation, and the potential danger of not meeting a quota for her handler.  So I gave the money in spite of my instincts telling me these people were dangerous and to just run away/ignore them.  That was a new struggle for me because my reactions used to be very straightforward:
Danger = fight/flight/faint/freeze response is activated and I run or fight or hide/stay still until the danger passes

This time my reaction was:
Danger = is this danger to me or someone else?  I am safe and can walk away, but that doesn’t stop the danger.  So the danger is not to me; who is in danger?  Can I help?  And will this action help?  Feeling of relief because my small action did help.  Feelings of confusion, anxiety and shame because I did not react like I normally do

So now I’m struggling with making my home feel warm and safe again so that my body can relax.  And then my mind can relax.  And maybe I will stop feeling danger everywhere.  Or second guessing myself and questioning my reality/perceptions.  Or feeling scared and not wanting to leave my apartment.

The only thing really working for right now is reality testing my perceptions and experiences with a compassionate and objective third party.  Grounding, meditation, etc. always helps in the short term.  And in spite of my body feeling unsafe and on alert, the rest of me does feel safe/happy/healthy.

It’s the mixed signals that are confusing me.  Confusing the alters too.

I wish this post could be more positive and offer effective strategies/solutions, but it’s not.  I am struggling too.

If you get triggered by weather or environment or circumstances beyond your control, please take steps to feel and be safe.  It’s often more difficult to reach out as winter and holidays approach.  You are not alone or isolated.  Neither are we.  Sometimes just remembering that helps too.

Thanks for reading.

Anniversaries: A Wish for Everyone to Stay Health & Safe this weekend

Hello,

This weekend is a holiday weekend in the USA.  That means we have a 3 day weekend to celebrate Labor Day.

Not sure about any of you but most major holidays bring about some anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and so on.  Triggers are everywhere, and a lot of places don’t feel safe.  I worry about what could or will happen if I interact with people when I feel this way.

Staying home feels right unless there is something I HAVE TO do that requires leaving.  Delivery works best too since it helps me meet my self care needs without causing anxiety or panic attacks.

Depression is something that comes and goes in waves.  Last month, it took over for quite a few weeks as I struggled to process so many changes and cope with flashbacks.  Funny how (for me at least) working through anger and shame eases the feelings of depression in my mind/body/spirit.

At times like this (read almost any anniversary), Self Care and Self Soothing are super important to maintain, increase, start again, continue, or follow up on – depends on where you are in the moment – so that the symptoms and scary stuff don’t take over as easily.

So I wish you all a safe, healthy, relaxing weekend full of sleep/rest, self care, and positive energy.

xx AlterXpressions

p.s. Yes there is a post going up tomorrow.  This is a bonus for all of us 🙂