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

Shame: Writing, regrets, mistakes, and grudges

Earlier this week, I listened to Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong as part of my coping strategy to drown out the distracting ambient sound.  Ms. Brown built on her premise about being in the arena, falling down, and rising up again – specifically the rising up and continuing after falling – in this book.

I’m really happy that I waited until now to read the book.  If I had tried a few months ago or years ago when I first discovered her work, my mind and body would have been ready to learn what Ms. Brown shared.  Especially not about the benefits of journaling, drawing/coloring/sketching, reflection, meditation, and writing one’s thoughts on paper in general.

I tried a few of the exercises as I listened to the audiobook and came back with some lessons learned.

First Lesson:
I feel and experience regrets, but do not want them to influence or take over my life any more than I want grudges or my past to influence my present and future.  So when I say that I live without regrets, it means that I am learning from and remembering what those experiences taught me, but I my intention is to not get caught up in them.

So the phrase “living without regrets” is a trigger for me and means something different than what Ms. Brown discusses.  That’s okay too because I hope that someday I can change my opinion and live with my regrets instead of treating them like triggers or grudges.

Lesson 2:
I feel a lot of shame about my writing, writing goals, and career choices.  That shame is partly fear-based, but also tied in with my sense of self.  It’s part of what makes using coping strategies like journaling and art therapy so triggering.  Writing is something I learned out of necessity because my voice was silenced.

But before the necessity, came a love of writing that had to do with story-telling and sharing information.  Less about teaching and more about helping others learn to think, do, and act for themselves.  aka independence.  It’s something both sides of my family taught me from a very young age.  And something I wanted to share with my younger cousins as soon as I realized how unsafe it was to depend on adults.

Lesson 3:
While I am good at offering help and giving to others, I’m not as good about asking for and receiving help.  Receiving and accepting help is a lot less scary and stressful now than it used to be, but I have a long way to go before the residual shame and fear go away for good.

Beyond that, opening up and letting others into my world is not simple or easy.  One thing therapy has taught me is to be my authentic self always.  In that sense, I am learning to accept and be comfortable as a mostly-solitary introvert who is more often than not anti-social too.  Part of it comes from my own anxiety about being in crowds or interacting with people.  And part of it has to do with questioning my ability to cope with the prejudice and racism that often interferes with activities I choose to participate in.

In this, Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) is my role model.

Here’s an example of my notes from one exercise:

Shame and writing

I feel shame about writing outside of the blog.
I feel shame about being a writer.
I feel shame whenever I try to write a book or think about starting a book.
I feel shame whenever I take steps to change my career.
I feel shame whenever I think about where to take my resource website and blog.
Talking about regrets:
I want to live without regrets because every experience is meaningful to me.  In my mind, regrets are kind of like grudges.  I acknowledge regrets.  I feel the emotions related to the experience that led to feeling regret.  I learn from the experience and remember why I felt and/or still feel regret when thinking about the experience.  Then I let those feelings go for now.  My goal is to acknowledge, experience/feel, learn from, and then let go of those experiences so that they inform my present choices without directly influencing or taking them over.

My favorite part about Rising Strong:

Throughout the book, Ms. Brown acknowledges that mental/behavioral problems and substance abuse along with trauma add complexities to the concepts and learning path she shares in her book.  One chapter towards the end specifically discusses this and clearly states that the purpose of this book is for guidance and support purposes; it is not a treatment plan or supposed to be used as one.

I really appreciate this message because trauma, substance abuse, and mental/behavioral problems really do change how an individual experiences life and emotions.

My Darkness or Shadow self:

I am or can be rebellious, stubborn, bad tempered, slow to anger yet easily triggered (reactive), sometimes insecure, sometimes arrogant, curious, slow to make decisions, sarcastic, sometimes mean, often blunt to the point of rudeness, and type A personality among other things.  I often fight back and stand up when running is the safer option too.

And yet, each of these characteristics helped me become who I am now.  As part of my healing journey, I had to learn that being strong, having boundaries, securing those boundaries, and showing confidence are neither good nor bad.  How they are expressed and how I react to others decides how those characteristics are perceived.  And part of Rising Strong‘s message has to do with embracing the dark or shadowed parts of oneself as much as the lighter parts and valuing all parts of oneself.

By valuing all parts of oneself, the light shines through the darkness, burning away the secrets and fears that feed shame and negativity.

Final Thoughts:

There’s a lot to reflect on after listening to one of Brene Brown’s books.  In the correct frame of mind, her books are inspiring and thought-provoking.  In a different frame of mind, her books could be (unintentionally) triggering.

If any of you do decide to read or listen to these books, please be cautious and mindful of how your mind and body reacts.

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.

Resources: TED Talks about Negative Feelings

I really enjoy watching or listening to TED talks.

My first experience of TED talks was through the BARCC Hotline when a counselor suggested I listen to Brene Brown’s presentation about shame and vulnerability.  Since then, I’ve discovered other wonderful resources about feelings, nutrition, brain physiology, magic, etc.

Unfortunately, I’m not that great about keeping up with TED talks and many other video resources.  Movies and video don’t really have a big impact on my senses, so they are low on my priority list for distractions, resources, or coping strategies.

In this way, I am grateful for my friends who do enjoy videos and share links on social media.  This video made its way to me via Facebook.  As I write this post, I’m listening to the TED Talk about negative feelings.

The free account won’t let me embed and show the video on this post, so please click on the link above or here to watch.

Psychologist Susan David shares how the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. In this deeply moving, humorous and potentially life-changing talk, she challenges a culture that prizes positivity over emotional truth and discusses the powerful strategies of emotional agility. A talk to share.

This lesson took me many years to acknowledge, let alone understand.  Now, I’m working to accept my negative feelings.  Maybe some day, embrace them too.  Then I’ll be able to let those feelings go and move on.

Thanks for reading.

Shame: A letter to my shame

In past posts, I’ve talked about how journaling triggers anger and other negative feelings inside me instead of helping me cope.

Journaling also felt scary and overwhelming because it brought out thoughts, feelings, memories, and sensations I wasn’t ready to acknowledge or accept about myself.  Stuff that made me feel like a monster or an alien or out of place in this world because my sensory perception and intuition are different from “normal” or “average” people.

I didn’t want to put those words on paper.  Not again.  Because putting words on paper makes them real.  And gives others a glimpse into my private world.  Or an excuse to manipulate/abuse/control/shame/hurt me.

But something happened in the last few weeks.  Something inside me has shifted.  Maybe it’s living in a more open and accepting city.  Maybe it’s the next cycle in my recovery.  Or maybe I am finally ready to accept the parts of me that attracted the monsters back then.

Either way, I started journaling again.  And collecting crystals.  And inviting plants into my home as roommates.  The crystals help me feel safe and protected.  The plants bring joy and clean energy into my apartment.  The journaling helps me gain closure with the monsters in my past without having to confront them physically or over the phone.

So, here is the letter I wrote to my shame.  Maybe it will inspire you to accept that whatever trauma happened to you wasn’t your fault either.

Dear Shame,

You think you are still ingrained in me.  But you are not.  That shivery, shaking feeling you experience is the moors connecting us falling apart.  You go home.  To the ones who created you.  To the ones you belong to.

Not me.  Not us.

Them.  The monsters.

As such, you are also a monster.

Monster #23 ->beyond (past, present, future)

When your cause is just, your purpose to educate and inform, you are welcome, valued, respected and accepted by all of us.  Otherwise, shame, please go home and leave us alone.

Thanks for reading