Life Changing Moments: Home for the Holidays

Dear Guests,

This time next week, I will be back in my home state (the one where I was born) getting ready to celebrate Christmas with my parents, brother, and father’s side of  the family for the first time in 7 years. Maybe longer. All of us will get together at an aunt’s house on the morning of Christmas Day to open gifts, hang out, and (later) eat a holiday dinner together. Dinner as in lunch…not the evening meal (aka supper).

I admit to feeling many conflicting emotions. Fear, excitement, guilt, joy, anxiety are a few of them. In terms of my immediate family, I’m excited to see my dad. We’ve been talking (FaceTime) and emailing regularly since August. He’s excited to see me too and has been keeping me updated about the rest of the family. I have mixed feelings about seeing my mom and brother (and his wife) again. We didn’t part on good terms, and my child parts are upset about being close to them again. But the adult parts of me are happy to see them again.

For my Dad’s side of the family, I’m excited and anxious to see them again. We don’t relate very well for a lot of reasons, so sometimes sharing space can be difficult. It’s part of why I choose to stay in a hotel or AirBnB during visits home. We love each other, but live completely different lives. And a lot of my life is not something many of my relatives on either side can acknowledge, approve, or accept. Other than some social topics or basic questions and answers, we don’t have much to talk about.

For my Mom’s side, the timing worked to visit with one group of cousins the day before I leave. As I’m only staying for 4 days, I’m grateful for that much and excited to see them. Yes I’m also nervous, but that’s mostly because it’s a new relationship with all of us being adults now. Luckily, we are all foodies and can spend a few hours chatting and enjoying good food.

Have you noticed the food theme? A lot of my family gatherings revolve around food – it was how different generations came together to prepare food, set tables, cook, share stories, and enjoy conversations while eating – as a party or event was often how my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents brought us together.

Why do  this?

The simple answer is closure.
I’m in a positive, healing place that allows me to open up and face some of the scariest parts of my past so that moving forward is less stressful. Plus, I do miss my family. I love them and want the best for them – best as in what works for and with their current goals and lifestyles. Closure allows my heart wounds to finally drain and start to heal.

The complicated answer is more nuanced.
I am going to visit my grandmother. She hasn’t been doing well since her accident back in January. If I can give her anything, it’s one holiday with all of us together like before. We can spend some time together, and I can reassure her that I’m happy, healthy, and safe even if I live all the way across the country.

I’m going for my father. Seeing him in person, giving and receiving a real hug is a gift in itself. We don’t have a lot in common, but we are interested in each other’s lives and actively listen, accept and respect each others choices. Besides that, my Dad is really funny and always finds a way to share his fatherly wisdom with humor.

I’m going for myself, to prove that I can spend time with them as an adult whose triggers don’t get in the way and cause problems. We can be ourselves, share space together, and enjoy the holiday time with less tension and negativity. I don’t have to hide parts of myself and can accept that different relatives will and do hide behind masks – but the hiding is not personal. And I won’t get in trouble for being me. Or cause problems by being me.

In doing this, I can

try to resolve my conflicting feelings about letting any family into my life and being part of their lives.

Conflict part 1: I am happy as I am now being connected again, was happy before reconnecting with any family at all, and am not sure how much I want to be connected with any of them. If I want to be connected at all.

Conflict part 2: I love my family and am happy to be peripherally connected to some of them. But I’ve left behind the dreams of being close with them or having a strong connection where we keep in touch regularly, etc.

In other words, I’m facing some of my biggest fears in less than a week. Wish me luck?

And luck to any and all of you who might be in similar situations with the holiday season.

Thanks for reading.

Back to Basics: Building Small Successes

In terms of life, this week sucked.  Flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, more spider bites, and unexpected costs of flight/hotel to go visit family just made me miserable.  On top of  that, I’m still mostly unpacked, feeling low energy, and having noise/heat issues again.  Still, these heat and noise issues are nowhere near as bad as as the last place.

Did I mention the smoker who breaks the rules and smokes pot in the building?  No?  All I can say is that I can’t wait to start blending and diffusing essential oils in my place again.

But all the small stuff adds up, accumulates until my mind is overwhelmed and unable to cope with normal stuff.

So, back to basics.  Stay home.  Sleep as much as possible.  Set small goals.  Ask for help.  Act on the help.  Use every known coping strategy or technique available.  Then use them again.  Set a goal.  Conserve energy.  Accomplish the goal.

This week’s goal: set up my new bed frame and sleep on it.

With Ikea bed frames, it helps to also be creative, resilient, and resourceful – all characteristics trauma survivors learn in order to cope with the craziness.  Here’s an example of my resourcefulness:

Headboard to frame...
Cushions prop up the frame so one person can attach the headboard without help

Now, it’s Sunday night in the US, possibly edging into Monday morning depending on your time zone.  And in spite of some misgivings and one wobbly bit, I now have a bed frame put together.  Yay!  A real bed to sleep on.  With my new peanuts blanket and favorites sheets.  Fresh pillow cases to lie on too.

And here is the finished bed:

New bed
Bed first, the rest comes later 🙂

Hope the spiders don’t follow me in there.

And for anyone else struggling for whatever reasons, please remember that you got through it once before.  It was hard then; it’s hard now.  But you’ll get through this time too.

Thanks for reading!

Life Changing Moments: Home, Holidays, and triggers

HAPPY HOLIDAY WEEKEND to everyone who celebrates a holiday this season.  Holiday season because so many people celebrate Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. during this time of year.  I am thankful for all of the many people who have passed through my life this year.  Thank you for being part of this blog.

HOLIDAYS

This year was a year of renewing connections.  Scary as it is and was, I’ve started to let more family back into my life.  Some have stayed, some have left again.  In the end, the ones who stayed truly want to be involved and work out a new relationship.  The others are happy to know I exist and go on with their lives.

Yesterday, I was in California visiting family for the day.  It was a great relief from the living situation issues occurring right now.  Except the owner interrupted our day because she couldn’t get in for the inspection; also my smoke alarm was beeping.  An inspection that she gave notice of the day before, so my evening was spent cleaning and documenting the apartment instead of relaxing before the visit.

And of course, when I left everything was quiet.  Coming home, the flight was delayed; I got home close to midnight.  The apartment cold because I turned off the heat for the day.  The neighbor complaining because I turned up the heat to warm it up; then turned it down once the apartment felt less cold.  And a smoke alarm chirping because the battery was dying.

But today, my goals changed.  I was so tired from traveling and other stuff that I slept until late afternoon today.  Then went out in the snow for a quick trip to the grocery store, lunch, and batteries.  Batteries to fix the beeping smoke alarm.  Lunch because I didn’t feel like cooking after I woke up.  Groceries to complete what I missed for Christmas dinner tomorrow.

The apartment is still freezing cold, but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying today and tomorrow.  Besides cooking will help warm up the place :).

HOME

The owner gave notice of an apartment inspection earlier this week and entered yesterday while I was out.  For safety measures, I took photos of the place after cleaning it up.  So here are a few photos of my first, official, decorated home.  Enjoy!

TRIGGERS

I am almost at my wit’s end with this living situation.  Dealing with the upstairs neighbor and the owner is so triggering that I am back in survival mode right now.  It’s snowing this Christmas.  Unusual for my new city home, but welcome too.  The cold has me shivering even inside, but extra layers help a lot.  And not having to play with the heat sort of, maybe reduces some triggers.

The neighbor reminds me of the bullies I encountered in school and how helpless I was to fight back and feel safe.  The owner reminds me of the emotionally abusive, shaming, manipulative female care-takers from childhood and adolescence.  They controlled everything about my living situation and never let me feel safe or secure wherever I happened to be.

Home doesn’t always feel safe with the intermittent noise and heat changes.  REM sleep is rare these days too.  Hallucinations have started up again.  If the visual hallucinations become auditory ones, I’ll be visiting the ER.  (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen).  Anxiety and hyper-vigilance are increasing.  Paranoia and feeling crazy are close companions.  In my present mind, I know that I’m not being paranoid and that I’m not crazy.  But that doesn’t stop the feelings.

POSITIVE NEWS

On the good side, there are only 4 days left until my meeting with the attorney.  Then there will be some progress and less feelings of frustration or helplessness.  Between now and then, all I have to do is keep my head down, enjoy vacation, and survive.  All of this designed to keep me out of the apartment and in a happy state of mind.

Thanks for reading!

Life Changing Moments: Self-Acceptance

A Panic Attack Makes the Difference

After Wednesday’s post I had a panic attack and felt very frustrated with myself.  On the one hand, I was happy that I followed through on the personal challenge to socialize, be friendly, and show all parts of myself to everyone I met.  On the other hand, I felt upset and overwhelmed because the cultural and social norms are so different than anything I am used to dealing with.  Talking feels so frustrating sometimes.  And the discomfort of when to speak or not to speak and how much or little gets confusing.  But I wasn’t upset with anyone on the outside – my friends and family, the people in my neighborhood – because they are who they are and speak/behave as they will.

No I was upset with myself for falling into the pit again.  I gave myself a year to experiment with “fitting in” in this new place.  I would observe and follow the local customs as best as possible while also staying true to myself and letting people really “see” me.  Not an easy task, but something that did happen over time.  Without the cloud of my past hanging over my head, I learned to separate different kinds of triggers and how to cope with some better than others.

Hence the panic attack.  People and environmental triggers still send me into flashbacks that distort my perceptions of reality.  Sometimes I am aware of this, and sometimes I am not.  When I am aware, I usually stay inside and avoid people/circumstances that will make things worse.  When I am not aware, I use the complicated experiences as teachable moments to help for next time and hope that whatever happened did not destroy any budding positive relationships.  This time though, I still went out and interacted with people I thought were safe – i.e. friends who knew about my past and accepted the differences in my worldview as I did theirs – in different social situations.

Ever hear of the phrase “fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me”?

Well that’s kind of how I feel right now.

I chose to open up and see what would happen.  I chose to believe people when they said that I could be all of myself around them – including asking for help when I felt panic, anxiety, or triggering in public/social situations – without judgement.  I chose to take these people up on their offers to help me with issues of perception and understanding social situations.

And I chose to ask them for help when something like this did happen.

So why do I feel so shamed and upset with myself for other people’s inability to accept that my perceptions and worldview are different?

And why do I continue to try to explain a situation to a close minded individual who holds up past examples of why she or he is correct and only hears what supports that belief?

Why get myself into these traps with people?

  • Because I care.
  • Because those traps are triggering and remind me of  the convoluted, crazy-making conversations from my past even though they are not the same.
  • Because even though arguing hurts, sometimes it has to be done. The consequences coped with like any other trigger or anxiety situation.
  • And because I don’t want these people thinking something wrong about me – they are friends or acquaintances close to becoming friends – because of something I didn’t understand or a social faux pas.

Questioning My Beliefs

Arguing always upsets me.  Asserting myself makes me feel queasy and shaky for days.  But I’d rather feel upset, queasy, shaky, etc. than helpless, hopeless, powerless, and without choices because I didn’t stand up for myself.  And I’d rather challenge someone and feel good about using open, direct communication than letting stuff fester until it explodes.

So while I may not be a “traditional” or “typical” person who epitomizes an empath, I am one.  I am also a new to being an empath – the memories of past experiences and mistakes from this extra perception have been flooding my mind lately – and freely admit this to anyone who asks.  It does get confusing sometimes because I have alter personalities with their own feelings & memories.  Some of them share the empathic senses while others do not.  And when one of them senses danger from a trigger, I am more than happy to help test reality and see if this perception is true or not.

This “reality testing” coping technique is often part of what makes talking with people challenging.  I will ask question or make comments and ask for their perspective.

  • If the person knows me really well, she or he understands I am feeling anxious or triggered and responds with reassurance and acceptance.
  • If the person is aware of my past, but doesn’t truly understand me, he or she will call me “dramatic” or “over-sensitive” or “paranoid” and lecture me about looking for the worst in people and situations.
  • If the person is aware of my past and gets triggered by my comment or question, she or he will attack or accuse me of “making assumptions” or “being rude & arrogant” or “reading too much into something” and then try to “help” me by pointing out my flaws (with examples) and try to “change my behavior”.

What happens next?

  • Option 1: I express gratitude, let go of the triggered perception, relax and move on.
  • Option 2: I feel triggered, try to explain again & again without getting through to the person who’s mind is made up and end up feeling frustrated and ashamed of myself
  • Option 3: I get mad and start mirroring the other persons actions until we have time apart.  Then I use self-reflection and talk with someone objective to figure out a solution. Eventually, I assert myself and the miscommunication gets cleared up – sometimes with a positive ending; other times with a negative ending.  If lucky, with a neutral ending that we can build on in the future.

 

AS you can see, I’m not perfect.  I get mad.  I lose my  temper.  I say or do things I don’t mean when angry or upset.

BUT I don’t lash out on purpose.  I don’t hurt people on purpose.  I don’t blame others on purpose.  And I work really hard to listen, respect, and accept what the other person is saying no matter my personal opinions or beliefs.

In the end, I question whether or not I:

  1. Can interact with lots of people in positive ways
  2. Can make new friends or develop more relationships
  3. Can go back to school or pursue group activities
  4. Can ever talk and make sense to outside people (not victims or survivors or professionals who work with both)
  5. Can be a good friend or partner or cousin, etc.
  6. Have changed for the better and can pursue my goals in spite of my challenges

ACCEPTANCE helps me realize that while I can do all of these things, it’s not going to change the other people’s beliefs and reactions.  They will believe what they want and stick to those opinions no matter how much of my words make sense.  So I can continue making myself crazy or I can understand that these people are not going to change their opinions of me and let it go.

Self Acceptance

The answer is YES as long as I can accept myself and feel good about my choices.

I put myself out in the world.  I let many people see my vulnerabilities and challenges.  Sometimes I succeeded.  Sometimes I failed.  I met a few people whose opinions matter; we are slowly working to build a friendship.  I met a few people who will make good acquaintances instead of friends.  I met old friends and colleagues after a year away and realized that change comes to us all; how we cope with change defines what happens next.

I realized that no matter what I say, sometimes the words fall on closed minds and deaf ears.  These people can’t or won’t accept my words because it challenges their self-perceptions and worldviews too much.   Instead, I have to be wrong.  And our relationship can’t change.  Who are they, what role do they play when they realize I am self-aware and not in need of their mentoring/guidance etc. or willing to play their games anymore?  Where does that leave our relationship?

Where it leaves the other people, I don’t know.  And honestly, as long as it doesn’t cause major harm, illness, or death in their world, I don’t care.

For myself, it gave me choices.  And helped me understand certain realities.

Like the fact that I feel more comfortable with myself now than I have before.  That I have changed and opened up for the better and want to continue.  This opening up and internal change has brought out visible external changes too.  One external change being self-assurance and security in who I am.  Not so much self-confidence which is part of assurance, but acceptance of self with the goal to continue changing and improving.

Like the fact that parts of me will always feel and act upon the negative self-perceptions from Wednesday’s post, but those perceptions will not inform thoughts, feelings, or behavior as much anymore.  Or like the fact that positive for me tends to sound negative to everyone else.  And positive to everyone else often sounds unrealistic or rosy to me.

So I can accept that these people who might or might not continue to be friends, but will always be friendly acquaintances, view me in a somewhat negative light even if they admire my strength and resilience.  And I can accept that it’s time for me to let them go.  I wrote them an email thanking them for their honesty and friendship and sent a link to the post explaining my communication issues.

What happens next is up to  them.  Because I am finished.  Finished letting my fear of sounding funny or not making sense stand in my way.  Finished trying to be something I am not.  Finished trying to “have friends’ and “be social” on acceptable levels.  Who’s idea of “acceptable” is it anyways?

I am grateful for the wonderful friendships that already exist.  I am grateful for the limited but fulfilling family relationships that exist.  I am grateful for the opportunity to meet lots of people and have interactions that always teach me something.

Now it’s time to go back to being my happy, solitary self.

Thanks for reading