Coping Strategy: Slowing Down my life

Slowing down has been an ongoing theme this year.  Here are some concrete reasons for my choices.

I/we want to spend time exploring our memories and experimenting with different hobbies, activities, experiences to find joy again.

joy = pleasure = happy = content = relaxed

Feeling joy in our mind is different from experiencing the sensation of joy in our body and spirit too.  All parts of me want to experience joy in mind/body/spirit together and AT THE SAME TIME without falling into triggers or panic attacks.

We’d like to experience this joy alone (amongst ourselves) and with other people too.

That means slowing down our current lifestyle to make space for big, scary changes.

choices decision doors doorway
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
  • The blog stays at 1x a week.
  • Goodbye to Facebook for the final time. Pinterest & LinkedIn stay for professional and practical reasons
  • More paper books, less ebooks
  • Knitting, cooking, sewing fun
  • More activities & experiences = more built-in exercise and play time
  • Sleep, meditate, relax, and go to related meetups
  • Limit internet & computer use for existing tasks and work/job searching

I tried living in the darkness and shadows with minimal technology and a lot of “old-fashioned” methods of getting things done.  The best part about that lifestyle was learning how to “do” things without depending on machines.

I tried living in the “modern” world with its technology and emphasis on moving fast all the time.  The best part of this lifestyle was learning how to utilize technology to help me achieve my goals without depending on others to take care of me.

Now it’s time for me to find the sweet spot of lifestyle that makes me happy and continues to support my internal healing/recovery journey.  

More big changes are happening whether I want them to or not.

I can make choices now to put support systems in place and flow with the changes.  Or I can fight them until my face turns blue and I give in anyways.  Which seems better to you?

So maybe this isn’t for you.  And maybe it is.  Either way, I hope you find ways to bring more joy into your life.

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.

Recovery: Trusting the inner self

A thoughtful, discussion type post today.  Everything is inter-related so no subtitles.

Sometimes I get caught up in the stories my mind creates.  The emotional stress from fear or anxiety combine to drown out what my instincts or inner self is trying to say, especially when they are on opposite sides.  If I only listened to the feelings generated by the nightmares and flashbacks, would I have the courage to keep getting involved in life?  Or to develop healthy relationships?  Or accept that some “negative symptoms” or “coping strategies” are healthy, natural inclinations instead?

Do you, guests, also question whether or not your habits are healthy or unhealthy?  Positive or negative?  Useful or interfering?  If so, you are not alone.  Many survivors and others who are not survivors tend to question/challenge everything at one point or another.  It’s part of growing and adapting to both change – life, recovery, personality, work, inner/outer self – in order to become closer to our authentic selves.  I say closer because becoming one’s authentic self is a lifelong journey.

At this point in my journey, I am remembering more and more of the past in order to take the next step to trusting guidance from my inner voice instead of letting reality or perspective get distorted when my instincts trigger “danger” signals.  My inner voice is different from my instincts in the same way that emotions are different from intuition.

  • Instincts are based on sensory information – sound, sight, smell, taste, touch, proprioception
  • Inner voice is based on an interpretation of what my senses are telling me based on knowledge, experience, and perception of the present situation

e.g. my instincts tell me that a certain set of sounds could mean danger.
My inner voice(s) look in the direction of the sound, take in the surroundings as a group of boisterous people enjoying outdoor music and drinks, and decide it’s wise to be cautious when going past them.
My trigger reacts like this: flashback to the past and tell me to defend myself and/or avoid the sounds because I’m in danger from the sound maker(s).

Right now, the trigger is louder than the inner voice and hijacks control over all reactions.

The goal is to build more trust in the inner voice and allow that to guide reactions and actions to my/our instincts.

Another way to look at this is through coping strategies & habits.  Some of my questionable coping strategies & habits include:

  • preference for solitude & quiet
  • need for privacy & limited social relationships
  • Urge to “reset” my sleep cycles every few months by staying up 24+ hours or not sleeping much for days/weeks at a time until I crash for as many hours as needed to recuperate
  • Compulsion to use a “resting meditation” technique that allows all alters to be active at the same time and communicate to work through large amounts of memories/feelings/flashbacks/stress in an 8+ hour period of time throughout the year.

The solitude is questionable because almost every self-help guide, program, and counselor I’ve talked to or worked with has warned about the dangers of isolation and loneliness.  They’ve also talked about the importance of making connections with people, having a support system, emotion regulation/tolerance, and importance of interpersonal communication in recovery.  But no one has discussed how some people, whether more towards introversion or extraversion, are more naturally inclined towards solitude than others.

These people may or may not be highly sensitive, but they have found other ways of creating meaningful connections and relationships with people, animals, plants, etc. that don’t necessarily require a lot of social interaction.  Not exactly hermits, but not interested in an expansive social life either.  That’s me, and something I am learning to accept instead of question or worry about.

As for privacy & trust, well I didn’t have a lot of that growing up.  And while I am good at making it appear to others that I am an open book by sharing some information about myself, in reality those people only see/know/understand what I allow them to see.  Less than 5 people in the world know all parts of me, and I’m perfectly happy with that.  Many 20 or less people know most parts of me.  Everyone else gets to meet the “survivor”, “insecure”, “grumpy”, “social”, “professional”, or “ambivert” me; maybe a combination of them too.

More stuff than I can put words to happens inside on a daily basis.  That takes up more than 50% of my energy (mental, physical, spiritual) right now.  The other 50% is used to go to work, do chores, cope with external symptoms, and enjoy life.  Sometimes, I get overstimulated into an adrenaline state that makes sleep difficult to impossible – it’s a combination of flashbacks & nightmares with body memories and fear responses working their way through all parts of me.

Other times, my energy gets used up too fast, and I can’t replenish in time; not just food energy, but mental and spiritual too.  “Being normal” or focusing on life outside of my inner worlds becomes too much.  I need to take a break and let my inner world settle down after all of the changes.  That means more or less sleep and lying down meditation to allow everyone a chance be involved in the coping strategy.

The sleep & meditation used to cause untold amounts of shame and self-hate because that’s what mom did to escape the world.  She slept for hours or days at a time with the excuse of being sick.  Then there was the family shame of “being lazy” by sleeping too much.  Or the label “just like your mom” because I didn’t do enough (from outsiders point of view) to help my parents and brother.

Now, getting enough sleep & practicing meditation is part of my self-care routine.  I feel less shame and guilt about taking care of myself because self-care means I can do more with life and stay healthy.  I feel more empowered to resist the negative voices and keep going in spite of the flashbacks, fear, anxiety, body memories, pain, or nightmares that trigger panic attacks.  Sure, I may need an extra hour or two in the morning or have to take a break and work later, but at least I don’t have to take the whole day off and sleep through the anxiety anymore.

Why?
Because now I and all of my parts can hear, trust, and listen to the inner voice interpreting our instincts with a balance of emotion and logic that is based in the present reality instead of the past one.

Is it easy?  Medium?  Difficult?
Yes and no.  Like any challenge, some parts are easier than others.  It depends on the individual and her or his perspective on life, willingness to change, reactions to stress, resilience, courage, and persistence.

Wait, what if I don’t have an inner voice?
Everyone has an inner voice and instincts.  Not everyone chooses to believe in or listen to the inner voice or instincts.  And some people who do might decide that the inner voice and instincts are wrong because the short term outcome is unexpected or unwanted so choose not to listen.  As with hindsight being 20/20, so is listening to one’s inner voice.  Learning how to interpret what the inner voice is communicating takes time, practice, and mistakes.

Is this like a conscience or a moral compass?
Maybe.  For some people, their inner voices and instincts align with their values and moral compass or ethics.  For others, the conscience could be separate.  For me, they are separate.  My instincts and inner voice are non-judgemental and neutral.  They share information and guidance that I can accept or refuse or interpret in different ways.

Either way, whether you (guests) choose to explore your inner voice or instincts, I hope you all find a path to self-acceptance through recovery.  Self-acceptance makes living and enjoying life that much more interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Survival Mode: Body says “enough is enough”

Like the title says, enough is enough right now.

Present State of Being

Emotionally, everyone in the system feels happy, grounded, steady, and excited about our new home.

Spiritually, we all feel reflective and a little stressed out as bits and pieces of recent experiences add perspective to confusing past memories of family time.  And also that some friends turn out to be somewhat different than expected.

Physically, all tired and experiencing backlash – physical panic attacks, migraines, back pain, and exhaustion to go with nausea and cramps from that time of the month – from all of the changes.

I almost fell asleep without posting today :/

Plans for this week and two weeks into the future

So the next few weeks will feel like Survival Mode again – lots of self care; lots of self-soothing; coping with backlash and physical panic attacks; more sleep and less activity.

I have a resource post coming up this month, but not sure when.  Need to find some resources to link to for tapping.  Maybe YouTube videos this time?  Either way, I want to try out some of the tutorials before sharing here.

Also, some quick reminders:

Sometimes falling into old patterns is okay – many times it happens as part of an automatic defense mechanism without awareness until the experience is finished.  Other times, it takes a safe person (friend, therapist, loved one, significant other) to point out what is happening.

As my previous therapist and a friend later pointed out, sometimes our subconscious self is more aware of the reality of a situation than the conscious self and takes steps to protect everyone – i.e. implementing the automatic defense mechanisms.

Therapy does not make a person more selfish or self-centered.  Therapy encourages the individual or group to open up and be more authentic while also learning strategies to cope with internal struggles in healthy safe ways.  That includes “I” statements, being assertive, setting boundaries, and changing.

Finally, change scares a lot of people especially when they are struggling with their own demons and not happy when a pattern changes.  If someone accuses you of  a negative behavior or something similar unexpectedly, please remember that individual might be triggered by the changes and projecting her or his fears on to you without realizing it.

Takes a lot of resilience and strength to maintain your own boundaries during the conversation and then reflect on the experience to process it properly.  

You didn’t do anything wrong.

You are growing, changing, and becoming more you.

It’s something I have to remind myself of often this month.  I hope the reminder helps you stay strong too.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Strategy: Reflection Weekend

henrydavidthoreau1

Henry David Thoreau is one of my favorite authors from school.  He inspired me to keep going in high school and college.  Somehow, his essays and books always made their way into course curriculum or research for papers whenever the stress threatened to overwhelm me.

This weekend, except for some promises to keep, I am staying inside and focusing on reflection.  Too much has been revealed  in the past few weeks.  Not enough sleep.  Not enough rest.  Wanting some procrastination, I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and stay inside.

Tomorrow is back to normal and some chores…

And maybe, just maybe my equilibrium will come back.

Thanks for reading.