Alter Post: Body Memories, Movement, and Sensory Grounding

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

Grapes and Sensory Information

Grapes are an interesting fruit. As a sensory grounding tool, they can be used with all five senses. Taste, touch, sound (have you ever squished a grape by accident…or maybe on purpose?), smell, and sight. Plus, finding a stock photo of grapes is a lot easier than one about the five (or four) senses. So today’s featured photo is of ripe grapes on a vine.

Personally, all parts of me prefer to use semi-sweet dark chocolate or frozen blueberries for sensory grounding meditation or breathing exercises, but we like grapes, raspberries, apples, tea, and cheese in a pinch. Coffee works great too, but none of us like the taste enough to drink it. And chocolate was easy for me (any version of me) to get as it did dual jobs as comfort food too.

Fruits were not always as easy to get and store for an emergency, middle-of-the-night trigger. Or an “I’m on my way into work on public transit and am having a flashback” type of situation. You get the idea. So I experimented with a lot of different types of food and snacks. Cookies, brownies, cake, pizza, sandwiches, granola bars, and so on. Many of them engaged 3 or more senses, but they were not strong enough to reach through the anxiety and fear blocking out everything.

And so the experiments continued until I discovered dark chocolate (candy, bar, morsels, and hot chocolate drink; but not chocolate milk or ice cream) worked 99% of the time to engage all of my senses and bring me to the present moment. That was actually the beginning of my obsession with finding portable items that worked for panic attacks and flashbacks on-the-go.

But, it was also my introduction to learning how to use sensory information in present time and on purpose instead of instinctively in the background of life (i.e. hyper vigilance or chronic pain).

Body Memories vs Flashbacks – or not?

At the beginning of my recovery I thought flashbacks and body memories were two completely different symptoms of my past trauma. And only flashbacks were “medically approved” as symptoms because they were listed under PTSD and other anxiety disorders in the DSM (IV at the time and V now). So I approached coping techniques and strategies for each symptom separately.

All I ever felt in my body was a) numbness; or b) pain. There was never any in-between. More pain or less pain. Numbness or less pain. I didn’t experience or noticed that I expressed emotions – couldn’t feel them even if my body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions showed something else.

Yes, I was that separated from all parts of myself for over 2 decades.

Traditional psychotherapy and group counseling helped me learn to recognize and cope with my emotions and overwhelming mental states. But did not talk much about body sensations or physical pain.

Never mentioned the connection between emotions and physical body sensations at all.

Not every Physical Sensation is Pain
It's our body's way of communicating with us
How we move and think about moving matters
#movementmatters

That was a not-so-happy accident all parts of me discovered during a series of bad panic attacks – one after the other – while working with the first trauma specialist.

The nightmares and emotional flashbacks were lessening in strength and severity, but the physical panic attacks that left me passed out on my bed for hours after experiencing hot flashes, cold chills, and muscle cramps from my legs to my shoulders got worse. Over the counter medications didn’t help. I refused to try anything else or anything stronger because of my past experiences with drugs and alcohol. Movement was not possible; only made the pain worse.

Meditation practice from Jon Kabat Zinn’s audiobook classes did help me learn the difference between pain sensations and other body sensations. He provided mantras and medication practices that helped promote body awareness and “making friends with pain” instead of rejecting or denying it.

I used the mantras and meditation or breathing for the body memories/physical panic attacks.

Then used sensory grounding and everything else for the flashbacks and emotional panic attacks.

But that was partially effective – as in it reduced the frequency, but not the intensity or length of each panic attack fueled by triggers, flashbacks, or body memories.

And that’s when it clicked – a light bulb kind of moment – that I could use sensory grounding strategies to learn the different sensations moving through my body. Maybe even connect them to different emotions I experience at or around the same time the pain or sensation occurs.

The body memories and flashbacks were not different at all. They were/are two parts of the same symptom – experiencing triggers in my mind (flashbacks) and body (body memories) at the same time.

By working with them together and using integrated coping strategies that address all aspects of the trigger, all parts of me (or I as we) learned how to cope with and reduce the effects of our flashbacks, body memories, and panic attacks.

Chinese Medicine + Sensory Grounding + Spiritual Practice = Energy Healing from the inside out

That was enough to convince me to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (includes herbs, energy work, body work/massage, and a holistic approach to health/wellness) again.

And spark my curiosity about energy movement in my body. Why can I short out or freeze electrical and mechanical equipment? Why do I break computers and mobile devices so often? How come credit card machines stop working when I get stressed out?

And yes, all that and more has happened when my internal energy is out of whack.

So I used the lessons from Jon Kabat Zinn and other Buddhist teachers to learn about energy medicine through different meditation and moving meditation (yoga, tai chi, and qigong are popular versions) practices. That gave me a level of awareness that let’s me feel inside my body where and how energy is moving through my body. With my fingers and hands, I can palpate muscle groups and feel where energy is blocked and stuck inside me. During treatments, I can track what the needles or acupuncture tools are doing inside my body – i.e. where they are moving and stirring or drawing and releasing energy as it travels inside me.

Remember back at the beginning when I mentioned that this was all instinctive to me at first? I thought it was my hyper vigilance…

And in past posts I mentioned turning weaknesses or challenges into strengths…

Well this is a coping challenge turned into coping strategy.

I was skeptical at first. I didn’t want to believe in energy healing or energy medicine. That people could sense movement and problems in their bodies or be tuned in to energy of other people. But the more I denied it, the worse the physical pain and panic attacks got.

So I embraced it. Used patience and persistence to find faith that it would end soon. And it did. Each one got progressively shorter with less intense periods of shame spirals afterwards. I did not feel the need to self harm as often either.

That was one more step into embracing my authentic (if distinctly weird and unconventional) self.

Body Remembers – Finally Reveals Trauma and Ready for Healing

These days, my body is starting to trust the rest of me and our practitioners with its secrets. What secrets?

Well, the scars for one thing. And the muscle kinks and puffy places in my body that are not actually fat for another.

Wait, I’ve seen a few of the photos you shared and your skin doesn’t have physical scars. Are you talking about emotional scars? or (gasp) invisible scars?

Like everything else on this blog, the truth surprised me as much as it may surprise you:

Yes I have scars. No they are not often visible to the eyes. I think only one scar is visible all the time. The rest appear as textural differences in my skin or sometimes rashes and blemishes (acne). They show up when they feel like it and then disappear until the next time a trigger brings them to the surface.

As for the textural scars, no one notices those unless they can feel my skin or examine it under a magnifying glass. You can guess how many people get that privilege…

The physical pain in my body is caused by my muscles and tissues being frozen in place or numb for many years as a form of self-protection. The puffiness and “knots” under my skin are the tightened forms the muscles and water retention took on to protect themselves from harm.

Only now, 3.5 years after moving west and 16 years into recovery, is my body starting to reveal its secrets and start physically healing. I have rashes in unusual places, but at the same time less physical pain and less knotted muscle groups. I can feel sensation in parts of my body that I haven’t experienced in decades – yes decades.

My youthful looks are a genetic gift/curse/quirk. But I haven’t felt my lower and middle back muscles move since I was 5 years old – 32 years ago. My shoulders used to lock up every time I started to stretch and do more than lift laundry baskets and groceries until 2019-2020.

So this is all new to me. And exciting too. Because now that I can understand and communicate with my body, all parts of me can start moving more and enjoying more of life.

Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Thanks for reading.

Holidays: Celebration with a Twist

Anniversaries: Celebration with a Twist for Chinese New Year

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

Unnecessary Comparisons & Competitions within Family Traditions

Holidays of any kind are rather stressful and triggering for me. Chinese or Lunar New Year is one that twists me up with glee and anxiety in equal measures and has since I was a kid.

Glee because I got to openly celebrate this part of my culture at home, in school, and pretty much anywhere without the usual jeers and harassment. Plus the food was always incredible and filled with rare treats our grandparents spent weeks making for all of us. The hong bows (red envelopes with money) were less interesting to me, even after I got older and better understood the concept of “free money”.

Anxiety because it meant spending time around relatives, neighbors, and other Chinese people who compared me with my brother and cousins (and found me lacking), treated me poorly because of where my parents were in the family hierarchy, or ignored me completely. I looked younger than my age, was too smart for my own good, and acted clumsy/socially awkward compared to my socially adept, taller cousins who looked and acted more mature than their ages.

Then there are the traditions and rituals involved in preparing for the Chinese New Year holiday – some that stay the same from region to region, and others unique to family mini-cultures – that actually starts on New Years Eve with dinner. That can take up to 3 weeks of advanced preparation with all the cleaning, organizing, decorating, food preparation, and cooking involved. Finally, the celebrations may start on the evening before, but they last for 4 weeks. And each day of the first two weeks have specific traditions involving travel, visiting, receiving guests, and so on.

College Drama: A hick’s traditions passed over for a green card?

Then, once in college, I met a young man from Hong Kong through a college dorm neighbor. I want to say we were friends, but it was more one sided than that. She liked having me around because my “pathetic” existence boosted her self esteem. Plus I was at least as smart as she was so our academic accomplishments became a competition she strived to win. Since I didn’t care, she often did win.

But that’s getting away from the point. She practically worshipped this young man and wanted to stay friends with him, but he was having trouble with his green card and ability to stay in the US. Before I met him, she asked me about my heritage and how I celebrated holidays with my family. I answered her questions and reached out to other family members for more details if I didn’t have an answer. It was a good excuse for me to re-connect with that part of my culture.

A few weeks later, she came back and told me his opinion: my family and I were a bunch of hicks from the country because people in the city don’t celebrate like that. He called us country bumpkins and other terms I can’t remember.

Maybe if she waited until after asking me to go out with him and consider marrying him so he can get a green card and stay in the US before telling me that, I wouldn’t have been so rude to him when we met. Then again, maybe I would have been just as rude – but less annoying and a lot friendlier during his dorm visits.

Either way, that was the beginning of the end our our pseudo-friendship and another reason for me to hate holidays. Not the first time someone proposed marriage that way even if it was for other reasons, but it was the last time. And yes, both experiences soured me on the idea of relationships and marriage – especially with an Asian man.

Celebration with a Twist

Holidays: Celebration with a Twist
Happy Year of the Rat! Reclaiming another holiday

I do my best, but cannot follow everything. The traditions I know best have been passed down from my grandparents to their children to their grandchildren (i.e. my brother, cousins, and me). Even within that large circle, some traditions have changed with people marrying in and bringing their own holiday traditions. My father’s side of the family decorates different from my mother’s side of the family. And each of my mother’s married siblings follows a blend of each side’s food and decorating traditions.

Planning my move during Chinese New Year wasn’t intentional. But the apartment came available at the right time and for the right price. I had the money mostly saved up and a plan to cover the rest of my other expenses. Plus the act of packing up my old place to move in to the new one constituted cleaning the whole apartment and discarding anything old, broken, unwanted, or holding me back with the end of the year – part of the holiday preparation 🙂

While I couldn’t decorate the new apartment with traditional good luck and prosperity symbols, I was able to do some laundry, change my sheets, shower, put on clean clothes, and cook a small meal with the basics of a traditional dinner on Friday evening. Then rest quietly until bed time and spend Saturday relaxing or napping as I let my body heal from the physical stress of packing + working + coping with many triggers and 0 down time all week.

In the end, I was able to reclaim another holiday the trauma had taken away from me.

A new home.

A fresh start.

An auspicious new year.

HAPPY 2020 YEAR OF THE RAT

Thanks for reading.

EMBRACE DIFFERENCES

Alter Post: Self Care in a triggering environment

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

You can find the latest Scent Reflections blog here. FYI, I re-posted from the Emotional Sobriety blog; a place to gain insight into other recovery strategies, challenges, and options

Background

Life is full of challenges. Some more difficult than others. Finding a sanctuary that suits emotional, physical, basic, and lifestyle needs within a specific budget is one of the difficult challenges.

For most of my life I settled for “good enough” in terms of living spaces and environmental sanctuaries. All parts of me did not believe we deserved a safe home and community that fulfilled more than the basic needs. Part of the self punish,ent and shame cycle was living in such places that were physically safe, but not emotionally or spiritually safe.

If you want to know more about my thoughts on self protection and safety, check out these posts from 2019.

If you want to read about some challenges and coping strategies for feeling safe, use the search bar with key words “self care”, “safety”, “feeling safe”, “DBT” to start. Or look the Coping Challenges and Coping Strategies categories in the archives.

“Good Enough” isn’t really good for me. What about you?

Settling for “good enough” is so much easier. Sometimes necessary, but often less scary, anxiety-provoking, triggering, etc. at the beginning. Over time, however, it’s scarier, more triggering, and extra anxiety-provoking

But for now, my alters and I will share some insights we’ve learned about triggering environments.

Growing up, people used to tell me I wouldn’t succeed in life and should settle for “good enough” since that was…maybe…the best I could achieve. Even if my work was better laid out, more creative, etc., teachers, parents, and other people told me my efforts were “ok” or “not as good as so-and-so” or “(insert name)’s work is better; work harder”.

Or they accused me of cheating, stealing someone else’s ideas, etc. Or other people (in group work) took credit for my ideas. And I let this happen instead of trying to get the acknowledgement for myself. Instead of fighting back against a community of people determined to put me in my place – beneath them.

That worked for a long time – and still does in some circumstances – to the point where I didn’t think I deserved or could achieve anything good in my life. That included an apartment that met more than my basic needs, acted like a sanctuary, and felt safe – emotionally, spiritually, environmentally, physically.

Being Different Brings Out the Best in Me – but not always in others

I didn’t – and still don’t – think I am a good person. I have too much darkness, live too often in the gray areas, and embrace my flaws/failures/negative attributes too much to ever be good and light and positive. But I like being me.

FOR EXAMPLE

  • My temper is scary and terrible; it intimidates people
  • My facial expressions and body language don’t match my tone of voice or what I talk about
  • I don’t remember or recognize people I meet on the streets; let alone remember names.
  • I sometimes talk over people and interrupt without meaning to do so; it’s an anxiety response
  • I am messy and struggle with housekeeping.
  • I stutter and lose words in group conversations or stressful experiences.
  • I can be abrasive, blunt, rude, and annoying when I feel like it.
  • I apologize too much
  • And I offend people with my unique perspective on life and comfort sharing those opinions.
EMBRACE DIFFERENCES

And yet, these flaws are as much a part of me as the positive characteristics people attribute to me. They show my personality and allow people glimpses of who I really am.

I developed these so-called flaws into effective strategies that help me cope with life before recovery. They kept people away from me. Kept them from learning my secrets or exposing me when I wanted to be invisible.

After recovery started, they became useful communication tools that helped me as I practiced DBT on myself (internal dialogue with alter personalities, negative self-talk, flashbacks) and other triggering people in my life. It wasn’t perfect, but it taught me this:

every part of my personality – aka every part of what makes me me – has value and purpose

TJ/AlterXpressions

By embracing, learning from, and turning into strengths these flaws (aka weakness), I learn how to accept myself as I am and create effective coping strategies or techniques that also work within the laws/guidelines/terms of my residence/place of business, etc.

The Triggering Environment, Coping Strategies, Moving on My Terms

First, the triggering environment is living in an emotionally unsafe apartment. Yes, it sounds a lot like the previous apartment where I needed help from an attorney to get out of that mess.

This situation is similar and different. I am on good terms with building management. The apartment itself and my close neighbors are great. I have enjoyed living and working here for the past two years.

The apartment amenities can be challenging sometimes because the building is more than 100 years old with original electrical wiring. My job and this website are dependent on Internet and electronics. Plus the bathroom ventilation system allows smells from my apartment to get into my upstairs and downstairs neighbors’ apartments. Finally, the noise from above can be heard easily below.

The reverse is also true.

I’ve had three different groups of people living above me in the 2 years renting this apartment. My first upstairs neighbors triggered me by intentionally being noisy, smoking in a non-smoking apartment, and creating a hostile living environment through their friends and acquaintances who also lived in this building.

That got settled with help from building management (different group than now) and their permission to let me use coping strategies and techniques that worked, but were not common and did not conform to cultural norms.

They left at the end of their lease, and the environmental/emotional triggers went away for a while. I settled in and started to feel comfortable. The nightmares and flashbacks eased up too.

Then the third group of neighbors moved in. These people liked breaking the rules and did not appreciate when the rules were enforced. My current building is a non-smoking building. It has designated quiet hours too.

But these neighbors smoked pot often in their apartments. Or cigarettes. Or herbal blends with pot in them. The smoke kept getting into my apartment. I didn’t know it was them at first. A lot of people moved in and out during that time period, and many of the new neighbors smoked in their apartment.

In the beginning, I used aromatherapy to change the smell in my apartment. My favorite diffuser is strong enough to use in my whole apartment. When that stopped, I used scented candles or a combination of both.

As the smells increased, I started reporting them to management during the day and the management’s’ courtesy patrol/security team in the evenings. Had neighbors come in and verify the smells. Talked with an attorney and non-emergency police lines to get details.

In other words, I followed the rules.

When that didn’t get me anywhere and the neighbors upstairs continued to escalate their intentional negative behaviors, I informed the property management that I was going to use my own coping strategies and techniques to feel safe and comfortable in my own apartment until my lease ended. These techniques could be considered unorthodox, weird, etc., but they wouldn’t break lease terms or the law. I would also be looking for a new apartment and continuing to inform them of the disturbances by email.

From then on, I started using everything in my toolbox to cope with the upstairs neighbors. First, I used them the way I normally do. Then I started experimenting and doing research to find more resources. My family helped too. Rebuilding those connections increased my support network and made some of the worst times more bearable.

Intentions, Gratitude, Humor & Patience = Moving to a better place

Last September, I set my intention.

Work on myself until I believed I deserved a home that met ALL my requirements and needs; then prepare as much as possible to take advantage of the moving opportunity when it presented itself.

I practiced gratitude and self care. Gratitude in thought, emotion, and behavior – towards all parts of myself (internal) and every being in my life (humans, animals, plants, etc.) – to find blessings and miracles everywhere. Learn from reflection and appreciate everything happening now.

I practiced Cognitive Re-Framing (cognitive behavioral therapy) and challenging my cognitive biases techniques on my own, with help from the BARCC hotline, and my mental health therapist.

How? Like this

  • Find humor in my current living situation (and laughing about the drama going on all around me)
  • Acknowledge each incident and then putting it aside
  • Discuss my thoughts and feelings with my counselor and support network
  • Focus on achieving my financial, work, and personal goals (problem solving) as distractions from what’s happening around me
  • Reflect on the situation to understand my emotions
    • Separate my present feelings (how I feel about my neighbors and this situation) from my past feelings
    • Separate my past feelings (triggers and flashbacks) from my present feelings
    • Acknowledge both sets of feelings and express them in safe ways
    • Then let the feelings go when they end
  • React to the present and not the past
  • Use these experiences as Exposure Therapy and learn from them
  • Be honest with my loved ones about the challenges (aka sharing the truth about my mental health disorders with the hope they will still love and accept me)
  • Show gratitude to the people, plants, and other beings supporting me through this challenging time – acknowledgement of their efforts, “thank you”, giving gifts, saying “i love you”
  • Being patient – not something I am good at – in spite of the OCD pressure to react without thinking

Then, when everything falls into place, make the change with courage and faith.

REFLECTION QUESTION: How will you/do you want to cope with triggering environments?

That’s my next step: I found a new apartment and decided to break my current lease.

If you don’t see much from me here or at Scent Reflections over the next two weeks, it’s because I’m busy working, packing, and moving to a new apartment.

I promise to try my best and share posts or updates, but please understand if you don’t get a new post until 2/2/2020.

Thanks for reading

Celebrate a new year of beginnings and endings

Anniversaries: 2019 Year in Review and Looking Forward to 2020

Gratitude

First, thanks to all my guests for continuing to visit Untangled Connections in spite of challenges that made posting regularly difficult.

I appreciate all of you and your contributions towards keeping this website and blog safe for any guests who visit anonymously.

And thank you for keeping my identity safe too as I shared more and more of myself with you all.

Recovery Cycles and Transitions

Back when I started this blog in 2014, I referenced a book called Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. It was a pivotal resource in my recovery shared with me just after I started graduate school in 2006-2007. The book was updated in 2015, but original concepts remain the same.

Ms. Herman’s concepts about recovery and healing as a cyclical journey that often overlaps remain the cornerstones of my healing process. What I call “survival mode”, she refers to as “establishing safety” or part 1 in the recovery process. Part 2 (Remembrance and Mourning) and Part 3 (Reconnection) are concepts I didn’t really understand back then, but kept in the back of my mind.

I didn’t have much hope back then. And dreaming that my life might not be dominated by the past was too scary.

Parts 2 and 3: What to Write?

Recovery Part 2: Remembrance and Mourning began with Untangled Connections in 2014 even though I didn’t realize it then. I started sharing my story with the hope of helping others in similar positions in spite of my overriding fear of talking about the past. If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you might remember that I’ve gone back and forth between Recovery Part 1 and Part 2; often working through challenges in both cycles at the same time.

2018/2019 began my entry into Part 3: Reconnection as I shared some of the most painful secrets that kept me apart from my family of origin all these years here.

That sharing of secrets made me feel extremely vulnerable as I juggled what to write here and how to cope with family of origin re-entering my life. Then work got busy with many new challenges, and I started working on case studies for aromatherapy certification. All the while, I struggled with pain management as the body memories got worse in some ways and better in others. What worked before didn’t work anymore, and I spent a lot of time experimenting with different kinds of alternative medicine and coping techniques to find strategies that did help.

In spite of all that, I felt (and continue to feel) happy, loving, grateful, full of laughter about my life. So how could I write about that here and make it relevant or meaningful? You could say I felt scared and vulnerable to the point where ideas dried up. You could say I wasn’t sure if the changes in my recovery and stories I had to share adhered to the values and themes of this blog. You could also say that I was scared about what to write and how to approach certain topics when I knew family members, friends, and connections would be reading these posts.

As much as I wanted to keep up my usual routine, it got to be too overwhelming. I couldn’t keep up with balancing self care, family re-integration, work, and this blog. So I reduced the volunteer work and blogging to increase self care and work on my family relationships.

Changes in 2020 – Rebranding, New Readers, and Scent Reflections

First, I’ve “come out” to my parents and certain other family members about having alter personalities and many struggles associated with my past. My parents accepted the truth with respect and asked to learn more about those experiences. I decided to share Untangled Connections with them in 2020 and also my favorite book about alter personalities: Amongst Ourselves by Tracy Alderman to learn more about Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Second, Untangled Connections has some limitations in order to stay safe and anonymous. That means I can’t sell products, offer consulting services, or offer educational tools that answer guest questions in depth to help pay for all the work and expenses that go into creating Untangled Connections. For example: more posts about starting a blog, creating a website using WordPress or similar products, and writing.

That brings me to the third and final change: re-branding Untangled Connections as part of my small business Scent Reflections: Trauma-informed, integrated healing support through aromatherapy.

Scent Reflections is still in development even though all the paperwork is in place. I’m working on an aromatherapy product line to help with panic attacks and pain relief that is portable, discreet, and affordable. My goal is to open for business next summer in 2020.

Between then and now, I plan to start posting information about:

  • aromatherapy, essential oils, and herbs
    • How they support health and wellness goals in every day life
    • Recipes for DIY blends
    • How to integrate these concepts and techniques into existing coping techniques and strategies
  • Different kinds of sensory grounding strategies
    • Expand on the self protection series from earlier this year
    • Share meditation techniques
    • Offer more affirmations and quotes
  • Share writing, blogging, and website development tips

As for Untangled Connections, you may see some changes to the theme colors and and the Scent Reflections logo added on different pages. I will continue posting about the usual topics here too. What I post on Scent Reflections is relevant here, but not everything here is relevant to Scent Reflections. So I’ll be re-posting some Scent Reflections articles here too.

Finally, I will be creating some “business” social media accounts for Scent Reflections that include sections for Untangled Connections too. It’s going to be a lot of work on top of my regular job and life, but definitely worth the effort.

Thank you in advance for being patient with me as these changes roll out. I invite you all to visit Scent Reflections and learn more about my work there in your own time. The first post will go out a week from today.

Thanks for reading

Halloween Fears or Autumn Fun? Leaves, pumpkins, apples, hay rides

Anniversaries: Halloween Fright = Autumn Fun?

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

My Favorite Month and Season

October is my favorite month for many reasons – not including it being my birthday month.

The leaves start changing color. The air cools down and smells crisp. Apples are in season. Love fresh apple cider – cold or hot with cinnamon – as an autumn treat. Soups and stews are back. Pumpkins. Hay rides. Fall festivals. All that and more.

Autum is my favorite season because it reminds me of home and hearth. Safety and refuge. In summer, there was nothing to break up training or life with the cult except taekwondo. In Autumn, school started. 8+ hours of my day in a place I get to listen and learn – and yes those were my favorite activities.

But it’s also the beginning of my “bad season” when symptoms get worse. Read on to learn why…

The Dark Side

School was full of bullies and feeling outcast. At first, it wasn’t my peers bullying and harassing me. It was the school’s vice president and some of the other teachers. Later on, some of the “class favorites” (mostly girls my age) continued with the bullying and gossiping whispers in class. The boys and other kind of bullies left me alone when they realized I wasn’t an easy target to push around physically.

But that wasn’t even the worst of it. For the first 3 years at school (kindergarten – 2nd grade), I never got away from the monsters. School principal was one of them. It’s also part of the reason why the vice principal didn’t like me or any of the principal’s other favorites. But she only picked on me (reasons listed below)

School – torture outside of learning

From kindergarten until 5th grade I was the only Asian student to go through the entire school. Other Asian kids enrolled after me, but not before or during my time there. The vice principle (also my fifth grade home room teacher) did not like me on site. Once she told me in private it was because I represented everything she hated – pretty, short, Chinese, smart – and that I wouldn’t get any “special treatment” while at this school.

The other girls didn’t like me for a variety of reasons. Part of it was my fault though. I didn’t fit in with them, share any similar interests, or try to fit in in any way. Plus, the dissociation started early and led lots of people to think I was a liar and kind of ditzy because I couldn’t remember what was going on as it happened. Nor did I “dress like a cool girl”.

So you get the idea, right? A bookworm, nerdy, quiet, nice girl who seems kind of shy, dresses funny, whose costumes get made fun of by lots of people, and hates attracting attention because it usually leads to shame or humiliation is an easy target for bullies at school.

Bees and Other Weird Things

Oh and even back then, odd things happened to me. Once, between third and fifth grade I think, our windows were open on a hot afternoon. The bees were buzzing in and out everywhere trying to get some shade. We were required to participate in class, so I raised my hand. I knew (or thought I did) the answer or maybe had a question. But I was distracted by the breeze and tickling sensations on the palm of my hand.

My attention was on the chalkboard, and I focused so hard on the answer that I didn’t notice when the teacher and rest of class went silent. They were all staring at me, and I didn’t understand why. Not until the teacher asked me to look up at my raised hand. She and many of my classmates were afraid of bees; some might have been allergic too.

And none of them had ever seen bees playing with a human and not stinging them. Yet that’s what the 3 bumblebees and 1 yellowjacket were doing. They were grazing my hand to get my attention. Sat quietly on my palm as my hand closed over them once or twice in reflex. Let me brush my fingers against their (bumblebee) soft body fuzz. As soon as I looked up and acknowledged them; then spoke a quiet response; they left back out the windows and were not seen again.

It wasn’t the first time I had been surrounded by insects or had them leap on to my legs/arms/body during outside gym and recess classes. But it was the first time to happen in doors. And also something to make my class mates not want anything to do with me.

But the biggest reason the girls especially didn’t like me was because I refused to use the bathrooms during break time after kindergarten. I would drink the minimum necessary to stay hydrated in school and hold my bladder until I got home. Or if I was taken out of school early, hold it until I arrived at the next location.

The girls all thought I was stuck up and too good for the school bathrooms. No one ever asked me why – or if they did I probably refused to answer back then – that I can remember.

I never used the bathrooms (girls or boys) because that’s where the school principal and his cronies liked to take their favorite students for “special classes”. Every time I used the bathroom someone was waiting for me. It got me a reputation for being late. And made me paranoid about using public and guest bathrooms for the rest of my life.

Halloween Scares – Apes, Brides, and Scary Masks

I hated halloween, dance recitals, anything that got me attention for many reasons.

One big reason: it gave my mom a chance to dress me up, put makeup on me, and parade me around like a show dog.

Other big reason: it brought up triggers and feelings of shame because my mom liked to dress me up in girly costumes that only made me look “beautiful” or “pretty” or “precious” or any of those other words that judged me on my appearance and behavior.

One year, my mom dressed me up as a bride in a white satin bridal gown and veil for Halloween. I must have been about 6 or 7. She did my makeup and got me white shoes to wear with it. Back then, kids were required to wear their halloween costumes to school for the halloween party. Then dress up again for trick or treating after school.

Mom got lots of compliments about how beautiful I was. How I “looked just like a real bride”. How well she did my makeup. and other comments. I was embarrassed the whole time and tried to hide. My goal for that year – be a clown or a ghost for halloween. But she made me a bride. The neighbors were so stunned, they gave my brother and me extra treats sometimes.

Then we got to a neighbor’s house with what looked like a stuffed Ape or Gorilla sitting under the split entry house – near the front door. I didn’t want to go there. That ape/gorilla felt real to me. It stared at me the whole time we walked up. Just as we rang the bell, it came to life roaring at us.

I don’t remember what happened after that. Or the next halloween when mom made me wear that costume again.

But I do remember being forced to wear that bride costume when my owner and his buddies initiated me into group sex for the first time. That was so popular, they created a whole halloween special for clients and would dress us all up in varying costumes the whole month of October after that year. Would have been 1988 I think.

Learning, Dissocation, Imaginary Friends…my best survival coping strategies

Yup. For about 20+ years, I spent most of my time living in a state of dissociation (aka day dreaming) and studying while talking to imaginary friends. An island of one who only came out to fulfill class participation rules and make temporary, fake friendships. I was honest about it. I was mean when necessary. I wish I could have been different, especially to the few girls who tried to be nice to me since we were all misfits.

But that wasn’t safe. Or possible. Because anyone who befriended me became a target for something.

These days, I spend Halloween hiding in my apartment. I do my best to avoid any large gatherings or places where people of all ages will dress up in costumes from mid-October to Halloween.

And when that doesn’t work, I bring books, headphones, and my sensory grounding strategies with me.

At home, I cook a delicious meal or get takeout. Then rent a movie or read a book. Go to bed early.

AVOID TRICK OR TREATERS AT ALL COSTS – gratitude for apartment living there.

Then meditate and pray that all the self care and coping strategies will help me keep my memories when the bad season of dissociation and flashbacks take over my self
(starts any time between August and October; settles in by November; stops around May…sometimes)

Halloween 2019

This year is different. I am still staying inside. Still cooking something interesting. And still renting a movie.

I’m also writing this blog post and finishing the details to set up my business – a business that will allow me to continue blogging here and offer more coping strategies outside of what gets shared here (aka survival mode) – and offer other kinds of resources too.

Turtle time is real by the way. I started planning this business 7 years ago. Launched Untangled Connections 4.5 years ago as a test run to see if my business would be viable. Announced the new website and business last May to guests here. Continued posting about seemingly random topics. Then took a partial sabbatical – which I will explain next month.

Thanks for continuing to check in here; really appreciate it.

Thanks for reading.