Coping Challenge: What is fun? What is play?

This is a reflective post…

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And so it begins…

As part of my recovery and spiritual work, I’m working with all of my parts to learn how to play and have fun. It’s part of bringing joy and happiness back into all parts of my life.

Not all the time, mind, but often enough to balance out the sad or down times and give everyone one more reason to wake up in the morning excited to start the day.

Coping strategies involving fun….

Part of self care is doing things I enjoy.

Part of self soothing is working with feelings/sensations, objects, ideas, etc. that bring comfort or peace.

Part of grounding is bringing back or recalling good memories, pleasurable moments, or fun acuities/times.

Way back when…

IMG_0715Whenever someone used to ask me: “What makes you feel (good/happy/joyful/peaceful)?” My answer was: “I don’t know.” and I felt embarrassed every  time I answered that question.

Whenever people ask me: “What do you do for fun?” or “What are your hobbies?”…I distracted with a different question. Or mentioned typical stuff that seemed hobby-like – cooking, reading – and then turned the conversation to something else.

Most often, though, I would get a panicked look on my face and become really quiet. So quiet the other person thought something was wrong with me and chose to not spend time with me anymore.

These days…

I’ve found that joy scares me. The emotions and sensations feel uncomfortable in my body. I am never sure how to act, react, not act, or not react when the sensations move through me.

But I have started finding joy, peace, and happiness in all phases of my life. The best part, though, is that all parts of me are finding and experiencing these emotions and sensations too as they grow and change.

But fun, fun still eludes me. I am never sure if what I feel is fun or not. Play is the same way. I don’t know what play is. Not sure I ever truly experienced it as a child. Or if I did, the memories are locked in one of the amnesia vaults for now.

IMG_0736Right now, my plants bring a lot of joy. They are all different shapes, sizes, and shades of green. Some flower, but most don’t. My succulents (right) live on the sunniest window sill.

But what surprises me most is that each of my plants has its own personality They communicate with each other and with me in “plant speak”. Sometimes I burst out laughing just “listening” to their observations.

Working with crystals brings joy and feels good overall. Studying aromatherapy brings excitement, anticipation, joy, and anxiety. The whole school aspect brings out triggers and sometimes feels overwhelming, so I’m a bit stalled on my aromatherapy studies. But the crystals, I try to visit my favorite store at least once a month to play with the crystals there and photograph my designs. Here are a few of my latest creations:

Maybe the crystal work is “play” and “fun”?

Final Questions….

So what does “fun” mean to you? And how do you bring play into your life if you don’t already make time to play?

Thanks for reading

Body Memories: Wellness exams, doctor visits & triggers

I had my annual wellness visit  this past week.

Any kind of doctor visit is triggering for me. But annual exams have more triggers than other kinds of exams.

Anxiety

Anxiety comes from traveling to and from the doctor’s office, making time during the work day to go to the appointment, and meeting (sometimes) new people who will be working on my body.

Body Memories

Body memories come back throughout the rest of the exam and sometimes cause problems getting my vitals, etc. Certain tests can’t be administered either. Not because I don’t want them, but because of how my body automatically reacts (based on past experience) to the exam tools. Shots and blood work have a 50/50 chance of working.

How I Cope

Luckily for me, I have a physician who accepts me as I am, is compassionate, and works with me to get as much done as possible with minimal distress.

Then came the matter of getting used to the new nurses and physicians assistants at the location my doctor moved to this year. They all are kind and caring, but my body and my alters did not care. These people were strangers. While I had a choice of letting them work on me or not, what was the point of a visit if not for the check up?

What worked

  • Being honest about my fears and any potential challenges
  • Repeating myself until the person took notice
  • Using grounding affirmations and deep breathing (silently) when talking to the person didn’t work
  • Letting my body and my alters do what they needed to do in order to protect themselves as long as it didn’t involve harming anyone
  • Being patient with the person and explaining again what is happening and why
  • Talking with my alters and checking with them to decide what happens next – try again or make another appointment
  • Throughout the experience – being respectful, using open communication, asking questions and listening actively, practicing patience, and accepting the other person’s choices without judgement – after all these people are professionally trained and experienced in what they do; I’m the oddball

In the end, my alters only took issue with the blood work. In spite of having to try twice and use two different needles, the physician’s assistant got the blood. Some of the results are a little iffy to me (I didn’t fast that morning), but most are on target.

I have to take a vitamin D supplement (normal) because my body does not make enough or make it as easily as I hope and keep an eye on my iron. If my mind can’t stop ruminating on some of the other results, then I’ll have to follow up with the doctor about that too.

Lessons Learned:

  • Try to have my exam on a Thursday or Friday. My mind and body need time to cope /recover and can’t do that if I have to work
  • Call ahead and ask about fasting; then set a reminder the day before
  • Remember to check in with everyone before the needles go in, especially if the physician’s assistant or nurse or technician does not seem to be taking what I say seriously
  • Then remember to meditate and use grounding so that everyone stays calm and agrees to let the tests, etc. happen – remind them the alternative is having to come back again…
  • When in doubt, skip the online portal and make time for a phone call. It saves a boatload of frustration, anxiety, and panic
  • Facing my fear of doctors feels scary and overwhelming until it’s over. I have hope that some day the scary, overwhelming emotions will feel less intense or (maybe) go away for good.

How do you cope with triggers for necessary events and activities in your life?

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenges: Finding Language to describe body memory challenges

DISCLAIMER 1 – no photos today.  I couldn’t think of anything relevant and didn’t want to include book covers.  Also, this is a long, potentially triggering post.

DISCLAIMER 2 – what you read here is my opinion only and based on personal experiences. This information is provided as an alternate perspective and optional coping strategy from one survivor to another and does not replace professional recommendations from medical and/or mental health providers

Background

When I first started blogging, I mentioned many books as my favorite resources, but never explained why.  Same went for books that did not help or had unexpected results.

Shame is one reason – a personal shame that belittles me every time I think about sharing an opinion.

Lack of language to explain my feelings, thoughts, and experiences was the other reason. It’s really hard to say “my instincts did not react well to … in the book” and be taken seriously.

Now I have words and language to describe my experience of using Peter Levine’s process.  The experience was neither negative nor positive. It was overwhelming and opened up avenues into the trauma that no one predicted. Not any part of me could cope alone, and we weren’t able to cope together back then. It was before we re-connected with each other.

The process of movement, bodywork, integrating feelings with sensations, and releasing energy is what I described here in the post about Anger. The exploration of bodywork and so on started with Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger and continued with Sexual Healing as feelings and sensations started coming back to my body awareness. Plus I was genuinely confused and distressed about not being able to “feel” or “experience” sexual feelings at the time.

So what happened?

As with many steps in my recovery journey, my mind/feelings heal faster than my physical body. Spirit/soul/spirituality/religion helped keep me on the path to recovery through faith and belief in a higher power, but it couldn’t help me bridge the divide between my mind and body. The lack of communication and integration between the two fit the whole “two steps forward, one giant step backward” scenario.

My mind and spirit were and are on the fast track to recovery.  But my body (the parts of me that experienced the worst and most significant amounts of trauma) is taking longer to find its recovery path.

Psychotherapy helped heal the emotional and mental wounds; and partial programs taught me how to safely experience feeling. Neither technique helped me cope with the body pain and other sensations that got worse as my mind healed.

Waking the Tiger taught me a different way of looking at the mind/body/spirit connections and how to identify if a physical sensation related to an emotion or feeling.  But all I felt when inside my body was varied degrees of pain.

Every feeling was connected to pain of some kind. I didn’t have the tools, knowledge, or skill set to work with the pain and find out what was underneath.  Other sensations were hiding underneath the pain.  Part or parts of me knew that, recognized that not every feeling equals pain.

But past conditioning is hard to break.  And my trainers excelled at their specialties. They linked all of my feelings back to pain in childhood so that my body experienced pain every time I felt and emotion. This epiphany did not appear until years later and occurred while I was reading the Pay/Changeling book Series by Nalini Singh.

Reading a series about the recovery process of a whole race that spent 100 years not feeling provided hope that I could feel again too. Someday.  But I wouldn’t have made the that connection without the knowledge from Peter Levine’s books. And I wouldn’t have started searching for information about mind-body therapy techniques either.

Present Time

In the 3 years before I moved across the country, my counselor and I explored different types of mind-body therapy.  She and my other providers encouraged me to try alternative medicine and learn more about the mind-body trauma connection. I read Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book and listened to a variety of webinars about his approach. I tried sensorimotor psychotherapy with different practitioners and also Deirdre Fay’s classes too. And I tried taking exercise classes in a gym or working out on my own in different places.

Each resource helped me learn about myself and my body – limitations, boundaries, strengths, and vulnerabilities – so that I could say “yes, this is worth trying again” or “no, I’m not ready for this yet”. Figuring out my limitations helped more than I understood at the time.  Without knowing how far I could go before my body shut down, I kept wandering into the “no trespassing zone” and passing out.  Then getting mad at myself for doing too much.

What are my limitations?

Agoraphobia – it’s a reaction to not feeling safe and not trusting my body to signal me when we need to get someplace safe ASAP.

My physical body – While it looks healthy, whole, etc. on the outside, it’s still healing on a massive scale on the inside. Every molecule, every cell in my body holds some kind of trauma memory. Right now, it holds everything inside and doesn’t know how to let go of or move memories, feelings, experiences, etc. around and out.  i.e. let go of the past.

Lack of knowledge – I couldn’t find answers using conventional methodologies. All of their strategies were too overwhelming for my body to cope with on a sensory level. These days I explore all kinds of healing methodologies.

What works for right now?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – a combination of herbs, body work, and acupuncture that helps move my chi to promote integrated healing and wellness. Works on mind/body/spirit at the same time

Qigong in all of its forms – physical exercise (like tai chi), meditation (standing/sitting/lying down), and energy healing (sound, meditation, physical movement) works on an energetic level to heal by removing blockages, etc. that prevents chi from circulating through my body.

Energy healing education – chakras, kundalini, prana, etc. is a general term for using energy movement for integrated healing of the mind/body/spirit connection.  Qigong is a specific type of energy healing.

Nutrition & diet – eating nutrient dense, whole foods and drinking lots of water.  I do not follow a specific diet because my body does not react well when I try to feed it something it doesn’t want.  Instead, I pay attention to the physical sensations and use that knowledge to inform my food and beverage choices.

Thanks for reading

Coping Strategies: Day 94 of “365 Days of Affirmations” challenge

Background

About 3 months ago, I decided to try to write a unique affirmation every day for 365 days.  You can read about it here in this post.  Today’s featured image is an affirmation from Louise Hay whose book You Can Heal Your Life inspired me to persist on my recovery journey after my first big relapse.  Maybe it will help you too.

As a writing challenge, I was pushed to sit and put time/effort/discipline into practice on a regular basis.

As a mental health challenge, this was a way to get all parts of me to change perspective from negative or neural to positive and friendly.

As a personal challenge, this helped (and continues to help) cope with and work through fears of failure, rejection, worthlessness, and shame.

How and Why?

Writing Challenge:
My writing style (not work related) is rather undisciplined and spontaneous.  That works okay for some things like Alter Post stories and so on, but it’s not that great when I try to organize ideas and improve my skills to provide useful, concise, well-written content overall.  The discipline of having to write even a few words every day has helped a lot with organization and self-discipline for writing.

Mental Health Challenge:
Change is difficult for anyone.  For me (especially when the I is more like them, us, we, him, her) staying positive and changing our perspective about life from negative to positive is a challenge.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Action Commitment Therapy (ACT) can only do so much if the rest of me isn’t willing to put in the work.Writing at least 1 positive affirmation about my intention for the day forced everyone to think outside the box and get creative.  Imagination and curiosity always gets everyone in my system excited and willing to try something new.

Personal Challenge
Fear of failure as in stop trying because you can’t win or aren’t good enough.

Fear of rejection as in why bother because no one cares?  Anyone who finds you writing this is going to criticize and insult or make fun of you.

Fear of worthlessness (lack of confidence) and shame as in you can’t do this.  You’re not smart enough or good enough at writing to create affirmations.  You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking you can write affirmations, let alone the disciplined enough to write one every day.  You’re too lazy and irresponsible.

Those have been the thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and voices in my head for as long as I can remember.  Most of the time, I can use coping techniques and strategies to get around them.  That’s not enough anymore.

This challenge was and is a way to use “small successes” and “determination” to keep writing the affirmations even when I miss one or more days in a row because life got in the way.

Celebrating Day 94

Today is Day 94 of the challenge.  At my lowest point, I missed writing 5 affirmations/quotes in a row.  On my best days, I wrote up to 3 affirmations and/or quotes in a day.  Some are phrases.  Some are poems.  Some are paragraphs.

All of these affirmations are unedited first drafts right now.  The first 10 or so are awful and require some revising.  But I’ve decided to be vulnerable and share some of my favorites with you.

Affirmation 94: “I love my family unconditionally and accept them as they are”

Affirmation 79: “The universe is full of friendly people.  Universe is friendly, not scary.”

Affirmation 8: “I am safe and secure in my home.  Today is an excellent day for laundry.”

Mantra 31:

“I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Memories can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Family can’t hurt us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  The mail will be delivered without fuss.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Lyft is faster and safer than a bus.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  Therapy today is right for us.

I am safe.  You are safe.  WE are safe.

Past is past.  Present is now.  I/WE believe in us”

Thanks for reading

 

 

 

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.