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.