Resources: Quiet Revolution Newsletter Discusses NeuroDiversity

Okay, so what is neurodiversity, and why would you put it here?

In my words:  An individual’s brain is thinking, responding, feeling, acting, or functioning differently than the cultural norm.  Examples from the article: ADHD, HSP (highly sensitive person), Asperger’s syndrome.

I put it here because trauma survivors and people with mental illness think, act, feel, and react differently than the rest of society.  Some of the difference is biochemical and part of DNA.  Other parts of the difference come from developmental and physiological changes based on experience.  The rest are learned behaviors in the form of coping techniques/strategies and survival skills.

The last group can sometimes be changed or removed or adapted to current circumstances, but the first two not so much.  This article celebrates differences and promotes acceptance, so it belongs here.

Article Information

You can find the whole article here.  FYI, this article is an essay on the Quiet Revolution website.  While one goal is to empower introverts, another is to find ways for introverts and extraverts to live and work harmoniously.  So please don’t think the website is not for you if you are an ambivert or extravert.

A few interesting quotes from the article linked above:

About Depression

“Unfortunately, it took me a long time to find a workaround, so in the meantime came undiagnosed, debilitating depression and anxiety for years, which often accompanies those who unknowingly mask neuroatypicalities while trying to cope and survive. I can’t say what triggered the depression exactly, but it felt like a slow, creeping fog that thickened more intensely over the years. Finding the right therapist and a helpful medication finally made the skies clear,” – Jenara Nerenberg

About Neurodiversity

“Now, I’m 33, and they’re calling these neuroatypicalities ADHD or HSP (Highly Sensitive Personality) or even Asperger’s. Shows such as Invisibilia give us the language of Synesthesia and Empaths. And I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all somewhere along this continuum, this spectrum of personalities, with diverse traits. This is the beauty of what we call neurodiversity.” – Jenara Nerenberg

Being authentic self

“Re-joining the jungle like Mr. Tiger means embracing the beauty of my inner nature and sharing that with others. And I’ve found that others who observe me start to feel and act the same, freed up by letting go of some of our cultural conditioning.” – Jenara Nerenberg

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.

Resources: CEO’s video discusses mental illness openly

Another LinkedIn find, and one that I want to share ASAP: the CEO of a communications company talks about his experiences and struggles with mental illness here

I listened to his video and could only say “thank you” as a comment on his post.  It’s touching and profound.  But more important, he shares a message of hope and support for everyone with mental illness.

It’s my first time, so please bear with me: #StopTheStigma is the hasthag going around.

Thanks for reading…

Resources: Mental Health info and resources for firefighters and first responders

About Firefighters and mental health resources

This was written by a firefighter and has some potentially valuable information.

I AM NOT endorsing the last section of the article – it is a request for votes in the authors community – that asks for support and donations for a campaign election.

But the resource link connects to the IAFF Recovery Center  If you are a firefighter, member of IAFF or know someone who is a firefighter and can benefit, please share the link however you choose.

Thanks for reading.

Mental illness and anxiety in the classroom — Skills with frills

Before and after ever post, I skim through my feed to see what interesting topics the writers I follow or WordPress shared.

Today, I found an interesting post about resources to help children showing signs of anxiety or mental health issues in school.  The blogger is new to me, but I enjoyed her article enough to follow and share her information here.

If you are interested, I encourage you to click on the link below, read the whole article, and maybe look at some of her other posts too.

Thanks for reading.

I was browsing through BBC news a few days ago, when I came across the story of 16 year old George Hodgson. Despite suffering from extreme anxiety, OCD, panic attacks and even suicidal thoughts, like so many other children, George was placed on a waiting list to get the help needed, but was told that […]

via Mental illness and anxiety in the classroom — Skills with frills

Recovery: From Survival Mode to Long-Term Care Mode

Survival Mode

Since moving out-of-state, my alters and I have moved out of survival mode.  Most of the every day triggers are gone.  All of us feel emotionally and physically safe here.  We are integrating with each other to create an “I” on the inside and integrating with our new community on the outside.

The coping challenges are different.  The strategies that help are not quite the same either.  We all have more down time between panic attacks and other escalating symptoms now.  No one is worried about maintaining calm and sanity every moment of every day.

None of us feel crazy or insane or bad anymore.  We go for days without major dissociation and lost time.  We can focus better and be slightly more active.  We can cook and do some basic housekeeping with better self-care too.

Present Care Mode

Problem-solving and working on issues that cause problems every day:

  • physical pain from body memories
  • internal body injuries related to spine and muscles
  • digestion problems
  • dental care and rehabilitation
  • lack of energy
  • mild agoraphobia
  • hygiene

These issues focus on different kinds of strategies and self-care that have not yet been explored on this blog.

The other issues and mental coping strategies will not be ignored or abandoned.

If at any time someone wants me to re-visit a mental coping strategy or some other issue, please let me know in the comments.

But there will be more focus on strategies and techniques for physical coping and related issues as our recovery moves to different phases.

Some of the issues being discussed this year include:

  • Pain management without medicine
  • Chiropractic medicine
  • Massage therapy
  • Financial planning and strategies for repayment
  • Dental-related coping strategies
  • Working to find providers with and without insurance
  • Oral hygiene in spite of panic attack level triggers
  • And planning a timeline for all of this to happen before I go back to graduate school

Conclusion

I am grateful for my job, my co-workers and colleagues, my early lessons in financial planning and debt repayment, and medical/dental insurance.  I am grateful for a support network of mental health and physical health providers that will expand this year.  And I am grateful for you guests who visit this website and blog.

You are part of a different kind of support network and community that I never thought I could be part of.

And while many of you might wonder how advanced planning and being financially savvy are coping techniques for physical and body related issues, I do know how important knowledge in both areas are from personal experience.  Maybe these tips and experiences will help.  Maybe not.

All I ask is that you read with an open mind.  Use what helps, and ignore the rest.

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: When the secret life is not so secret anymore

Yesterday was difficult.  I had to work hard to concentrate on finishing work and projects for the week while my mind swirled with memories and feelings.

Today was difficult because I talked with my cousin about future plans.  Plans that recalled memories and experiences that were hidden for a long time.  Memories and experiences I would have thought were hallucinations or nightmares or deja vu before I started therapy with a trauma specialist.

Now, I’m trying to reconcile that secret life with my other life, the one I lived in broad daylight, and my current life.  The nerd, the warrior, the woman who is both.  The “good girl”, the “rebel”, the woman who defies labels.  The fighter/the runner.  The raging monster who hurts people/the defender who can’t stand to see herself or others crushed under the pain of being put down all the time.

A good girl doesn’t do drugs, smoke, drink while underage, have sex without a commitment, listen to certain kinds of music, steal, etc.  I don’t and never have stolen anything.  As for the rest, it wasn’t voluntary.  But I did all of those things before I hit puberty.  Does that make me a bad girl?  Or a rebel?  And does choosing not to smoke or use drugs or have sex anymore once I could make my own choices make me a born-again virgin or good girl?  Does being able to fight make me tough?  Does being a pacifist make me a coward?  Does having a temper make me a monster?  Does not having control over my body make me weak?  Am I crazy because I feel so conflicted?

I want my body back.  My body wants me back.  All parts of me want to be physically active again.  We want to be able to fight in the daylight and use our nerd skills in the shadows.  And combine everything to combat the darkness threatening to pull us under.  I want to stop using food to hurt myself.  I want to stop using people to hurt myself.  I want to start exploring my true likes and dislikes.  I want to finish my projects so that my obligations are fulfilled and I can move on.

More than anything else, I want my secret life to shine in the light, unhidden and acknowledged with pride instead of shame.  My parts and I, we did what was necessary to survive.  We accomplished incredible feats together.  And those parts of me deserve the acceptance, respect, honor, compassion, trust, and welcoming that was refused to them before.  What they did kept us alive; taught us skills we needed to get through high school and college; helped us stay on track when the depression and suicidal thoughts tried to get us killed; and cut through the bullshit of family pressure and denial to keep us safe as adults.

And now that I’ve reconciled with one side of my family, the other side is hopeful that I might reconcile with them too.  But the relationships between me and each side of my family is different.  My experiences with them are different.  I am still so mad at some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins that I honestly don’t think I can speak with them again without letting the hurt loose on them.  I forgave those people when I forgave myself years ago.  I understand why they said and did what they said and did back then.  But I don’t want that in my life now either.

And there’s no guarantee that walking back into the fire will  have a different outcome.  That those family members have changed their opinions of me and will treat me differently.  Or that they are trustworthy to keep my secrets.

And that is the origin of my trust issues.  I am suspicious of everyone except the few people who have proven themselves to me.  Letting people in is difficult.  Balancing my need for solitude and privacy with socializing and valuing connections with people gives me a headache too.

So I am conflicted.  I am confused.  I am grieving.  And I feel so much that sometimes I go numb.  And when the dam bursts, my feelings explode.  And there are consequences to that too.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.  Thanks for your patience and for reading my post.

Survival Mode: A different kind of survival part 1 – PTSD

Introduction

I’m late with this week’s post.  The last few days have been difficult with high anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and an adrenaline high that wouldn’t stop; my reactions to recovered memories involving physical violence combined with seasonal body memory pain.  It’s a different kind of survival mode for me and one that I struggle with a lot.  Instead of typical essay format, I’m using a Q&A interview style for this series

Questions and Answers

Q: What is an adrenaline high?

A: I get triggered into panic without having a panic attack.  Adrenaline surges through my system.  I suddenly have extra acute senses, strength, mental clarity, etc. in order to run, fight, or freeze until I can escape.  But once I realize the threat is over, the adrenaline keeps on flowing.  The hyper-vigilance stays and increases over time.  I am jumpy and anxious and unable to concentrate.  I can’t relax.  The adrenaline does not stop.

Q: Why doesn’t the adrenaline stop?  Isn’t there a physiological on/off switch built into our bodies/minds?

A:  My on/off switch was permanently disabled because of past experiences.  Yes most people have an on/off switch that automatically controls how, when, and for what length of time the adrenaline flows and then slows down without crashing too hard.  I have to find ways to manually turn the adrenaline off without causing harm to myself and (potentially) others.

Q: How does it relate to PTSD specifically?

A: Symptoms of PTSD get exacerbated.  Agitation, irritability, anger easily, frustration, lack of focus, increased anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  PTSD is considered an anxiety disorder.  For me that means all of my “natural” alertness and environmental sensitivity get put on steroids to make flashbacks, nightmares, and triggers both more likely to occur and more intense with each occurrence.  That sends more adrenaline into my system until I am flying on super high energy levels and awareness even as I start to crash from being physically and emotionally drained of energy from the last wave.  No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I want to relax, the adrenaline and hyper-vigilance won’t let me because my brain senses a threat that doesn’t exist anymore.  Once I identify the cause of this state (that I call Adrenaline High), I have to find ways to slow down the adrenaline until it stops.

Q: How do I know when my adrenaline starts/stays on/stops?

A:  My first signs are physiological.  As in my body reacts to the adrenaline first.  Sweating, chills, shaking/trembling limbs, chest tightness, muscle tension, headaches, face pain, joint pain, extra saliva in my mouth, skin feels itchy, flushed or pale skin/skin changes color.  Then comes acute senses: everything is more sensitive and reactive; I jump at noises, can smell or scent objects from longer distances, flavors increase or decrease – taste too much or nothing at all, etc.  And then comes the distraction, loss of vision (everything is blurry), and an increase in mental static/confusion caused by the “hearing voices” that are not my alters trying to convince me that the past is reality and present is a dumb fantasy that will get me (put your idea of a threat here).

Q: Do automatic defenses and coping strategies kick in during adrenaline?

A:  Yes.  I try everything in my arsenal first.  All of positive, healthy, healing coping strategies and techniques from therapy, programs, hotlines, books, etc. get used and reused until I get frustrated.  Then I try last resort strategies.  Hopefully they work.  And if not, there are the strategies I refuse to consciously use: my past automatic coping and defense mechanisms: chemical help (something stronger than Tylenol like prescription anti-anxiety meds); inducing a panic attack that causes me to pass out; self harm (emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual).  As I’ve mentioned before, self-harm comes in many forms and is not always noticeable.  Luckily for me, I have caring friends and co-workers who gently point out and remind me when this happens so that I know it happened and can be more careful next time.

Q: What are some ways to make the adrenaline stop?  Are they positive/neutral/negative?

A:  I don’t know.  This is where I am still experimenting and learning.  The only ways I know for me to successfully make the adrenaline stop are negative (see question above).  Some neutral ones suggested by others include: exercise; deep breathing; hobbies and activities that allow adrenaline-based energy to be released and do not require a lot of focus; listening to music or lullabies; distractions like favorite books, TV, and movies.  I call those neutral because they can be triggering to some and not to others.  As for positive, I am still working on that.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?

A: Yes.  The backlash from using what’s necessary to come down from an adrenaline high can be worse than the adrenaline itself.  It can cause guilt and shame and more triggers or memories to resurface.

If you can ride it all out with minimal harm to self and others, you have won.  That is the attitude I have to take or else I’d be swimming in shame and guilt every time it happens.  Instead of healing, I’d be back in the downward spiral.  So, when nothing works, ask for help.  Reach out to supports if you can.  Help comes in many forms.  Sometimes I ask myself for help and support to get  through the next (time period varies).  Or I ask for spiritual help.

If you can’t reach out, do what you have to do to stay safe and protect yourself. 

And always remember: this is not going to last.  You got through it last time.  You will get through it again.