DID Post: Clarification about POV for DID posts in general and the “DID Post: What does my internal system look like” post in particular

It has come to my attention that the tone and perspective of the posts written in the DID Posts category may be mistaken or misunderstood by guests and readers.

Many of the posts about DID are written by one or more alternate personalities who prefer to use a “locked vault” system of writing.  That means I (the one in charge of dealing with the outside world most of the time) am not directly involved in  the creation and editing of all of them.  Nor am I always the one to post the articles, re-read, edit, or check for potential miscommunications in tense, tone, or point of view (POV).  And the authors do not always realize how their words and writing styles could be interpreted by our guests on  the blog; especially the younger ones.

For this, we all want to apologize for any miscommunications or accidental insinuations that came from the post 2 weeks ago entitled: “DID Post: What does my internal system look like“.  This post was written from the perspective of 2 alters between 10 and 12 years old with help from some of the other adults who related better to them.  One alter is female; the other is male.  They want everyone here to know that the post is written from the perspective of how they used the tools our therapist gave them and the process they used to get around, through, and away from many triggers that caused failure, frustration, anger, and grudging acceptance.  The post is not at all about the approach or method that our therapist uses.  In fact, it is the OPPOSITE of her approach in many ways.

The girl alter and the boy alter explain a bit about why they wrote what they did in that post at the end.

This will happen often with DID posts because writing a post about the DID experience is full of conflicting feelings, perceptions, attitudes, thoughts, and reactions.  For many posts, there will be a “process” or “method” type post written from the perspective of the alter or alters sharing their story that focuses less on introspective feelings and thoughts and more on the steps, strategies, and tools involved.  Later on, after the alters have had some down time to reflect on any changes between then and now, they might write about a similar experience with the introspective feelings and thoughts that show more of the therapist’s approach in offering strategies or homework; what their reaction was to that approach; and why they used that process.  We write our posts this way because trying to incorporate process and feelings into the same post gets too messy and complicated – not to mention LONG.

IT IN NO WAY REFLECTS THE THERAPIST’S ATTITUDE, APPROACH TO WORKING WITH CLIENTS, OR POINT OF VIEW ABOUT THERAPEUTIC METHODOLOGIES.

As a reminder, I will say once again that these posts are written from my or my alters’ point of view and perception of how any one or all of us used the tools.  It in no way reflects/assumes/insinuates/intimates the approach, attitude, therapeutic process, feelings, or intentions of any of the therapists written about here unless specifically noted within the article.

GIRL ALTER’S EXPLANATION OF THE POV: I spent too many years having to nag or repeatedly ask questions or do my own investigations to get answers from any female adults.  The answers they gave me were evasions at best and lies at worst.  Any creativity or intelligence/outside-the-box-thinking I showed got everyone in our system punished with verbal attacks, public humiliation, private beatings, bullying or increased sexual duties on top of doing my homework, by brother’s homework, laundry, housekeeping, and covering for my mom when she went into one of her moods.  So yeah, I was angry and upset.  I didn’t want to do the mapping exercise, but I wanted to know the rest of my family.  I tried and failed so many times.  I got lost in the dark.  I got eaten by the monsters.  I got trapped, stuck in mud holes up to my neck, dumped on, and had to relive every single punishment that came from being creative each time I tried to participate in the mapping exercise.  It wasn’t until one of the other alters was passing by and stopped to help me rescue myself from the flashbacks that I understood what the mapping and communication meant to all of us.  So yeah, I was pissed, angry, upset and confused.  I knew there were more like me inside, but I’d never really “met” them; only hear our therapist and didn’t understand why she never talked directly to me before until I met that alter.

BOY ALTER’S EXPLANATION OF THE POV: I hated being trapped in a weak girl’s body.  I was full of anger and resentment and confused about why I couldn’t be in charge all the time.  I was a boy, much stronger than anyone else (not that I believed anyone else existed at the time) and exactly what mom and dad wanted.  They wanted their first born to be a son not a daughter.  It wasn’t a big deal until the body turned 10 years old; that’s when weird things started to happen.  Instead of the penis appearing like it was supposed to according to mom, the body grew breasts and hips.  And our stomach started feeling weird sometimes.  I heard the therapist in session and always liked listening to her; she didn’t judge or push or force programs and lesson plans on me.  She didn’t pretend I was invisible either when I talked to her.  But I was in charge when I was out.  And I didn’t want to give that up.  I was the oldest, strongest, best and wanted everything to stay that way.  The mapping exercise made the monsters come out more often and gave them ore power over me.  I didn’t want or need help from the other imaginary people in here.  Or that is what I thought until I got kidnapped and forced into reliving the secret rituals again.  The alters who came and rescued me made time to teach me how to escape and protect myself first.  That’s when I learned I wasn’t the only one there.  They let me help rescue the others too; we all made it out safely.  And that’s how I became part of the map.  Grudgingly, with a chip on my shoulder.  So yeah, that attitude was all me, not our therapist.

Coping Strategy: Changing Environment

Introduction

This is my first post since the cross-country move.  Before I moved, there was not a lot I could do to change my environment.  And even the parts I could control (apartment, office cubicle, etc.) felt unchangeable because of my safety fears.  I didn’t feel safe in either place to really decorate and make the spaces my own.  Because of that, there were too many reminders (smell, sound, textures, and visuals) that triggered anxiety.

Outside of my safer spaces, the houses looked similar to ones I was raised around in the suburbs or like the ones in other city neighborhoods where I lived or worked in the past.  The people who are raised in that state hardly ever leave; instead they move to different locales and neighborhoods.  That makes leaving one’s past behind especially difficult.

What makes an environment feel unsafe?

When I changed my name, I wanted to leave the northeast too.  But I needed my job and was invested in my mental health care.  Leaving without a secure job and limited resources would have been too stressful and traumatic.  My support network was still shaky too.  Making and maintaining safe connections is not as easy as life coaches and self-help books advise.  Also, with a large family like mine, it’s not easy to find a state in the US that isn’t populated with people who know or may have heard of me.

No, I’m not pretending.  Both of my parents are 1 of 6 siblings.  5 of the 6 (including my mother) had lots of kids who also spread out, got married, made friends and connections all over.  But my parents’ generation also has lots of cousins and relatives who live in many different states too.  And then there is the community aspect.  A whole city or group of cities in one state full of people who know of my past or took part in my past and have connections throughout the northeast and other states too through family, friends, work, networking, etc. took time out daily to make me feel unsafe and uncomfortable in public.

These people would talk about me, try to instigate trouble and set me up to be embarrassed or talked to by store managers.  In restaurants and stores, they disappeared and refused to serve me outright.  Or ignored me and acted rude and hostile the whole time they did serve me; with bad service and terrible food.  They verbally abused me with insults and deliberately got in my way so I missed trains or crossways.  Some used passing by as an excuse to try to physically push me around.  Shouting and arguments on streets also ensued sometimes.

During really bad times, I’d switch and let my alters take over.  Then come back to myself with cuts, bruises, sore muscles, and not knowing how I got them until the nightmares came.  That was my life growing up, living with my family as an adult, and living on my own even after my name change.  When family had keys to my apartment, I couldn’t risk having anything important because they would come in without telling me and take or destroy whatever they wanted.  After I moved, I worried about break-ins or people finding me and getting in somehow.

A change of pace

The plane landed on Thursday morning Pacific time.  Today is Sunday.  For the first time in my life, I’ve slept for more than four hours at a time without nightmares.  I still wake up, but that’s due to the new sounds and my own restlessness from jet lag.  Every day, I’ve gone out and met people; been friendly and socialized; been made fun of and insulted without getting triggered into a panic attack.

I’ve been stared at; checked out; and sized up by people of all ages, colors, religions and living situations (there are a lot of homeless around).  Each time it happened, I felt a little scared, some adrenaline, an increased hyper-vigilance, but not triggered into a panic attack or dissociation.  My mind and body went into defensive mode: changed posture, took out phone, moved purse, looked around more often, and maintained as bland a facial expression as possible.

All of this is because I feel physically and emotionally safe.  There is freedom in being able to express myself without fear of my past coming back to haunt me.

Conclusion

Environment has a large impact on emotions and the physical self.  Sometimes, the biggest triggers come from unconscious memories and sensory feelings that can’t be put into words or images.  Sometimes, a small change works miracles.  Other times, a moderate change acts as a better tool.  And for some people, drastic change is needed.

Most often, many people forget that an environment can be changed.  Not just an apartment or a house or the inside of a car, but also other physical surroundings by taking a walk or living in a small town instead of a city.

Like all other changes, making this kind of change is difficult.  But it’s worth thinking about if you, like me, are in a place where everything else in recovery seems to be going well, but something hard to pin down keeps derailing progress.

Thanks for reading

PTSD: When a safe place doesn’t feel safe anymore…and how to make it safe again

An extra post today 🙂

Background

In the last post, I wrote about a lot of what’s been taking away from “me time”.  It’s a good way of burying my head in the sand because I can’t cope with what’s happening around me as well as I want to.

One reason I’ve been avoiding “me time” is because that coping strategy only works when I feel physically and emotionally safe in my environment: home, neighborhood, work, traveling, etc.  Right now, my neighborhood and workplace do not always feel safe.  Triggers are part of it, but experiences count too.

In order to get back to the “me time” and other positive self care strategies, I have to bring back the safe feelings.

Issue 1: feeling safe in my neighborhood

Have you ever noticed people in your neighborhood who set off your instincts?  You can’t see or hear anything “wrong” from their appearance or interactions with other people, but you know there’s something “not quite right” about them?  There are a few people like that in my neighborhood; they are unsafe and dangerous.  I avoid them by crossing streets and not looking them in the eyes.  And I make sure my posture and body language say “don’t bother me; I am not vulnerable” instead of the opposite as often as possible.

Also, I’ve been known to talk to the hotline while I walk home; it helps that people hear one side of the conversation and think I’m a little crazy.  This way, they actively avoid looking me in the eye and walk around me too.  As much as I’d like to be friendlier, past experience has taught me that being friendly and chatty with neighbors or people on the street gives the appearance of an easy target.

But this did not deter the older man in a wheel chair who stalked and stopped me on my way home one night as I walked from the train stop to my apartment – a trek I’ve made numerous times in the 21 months I’ve lived in this city.

You might think, oh he’s a disabled old man in a wheelchair; how dangerous is that?  Disabled people do not have a monopoly on goodness and vulnerability; they can be and are predators same as people without disabilities.

Even after I crossed the street and turned away from him, he followed diagonally to cut me off from my apartment building.  With one hand outstretched, and the other hidden or resting close to the hand rest, he looked at me and asked for money.  I ignored him, and he wheeled closer.  Finally, I turned to see him within 5 feet.  So I turned around and flung my hand out like I was going to throw the container at him and yelled at him to stop.  He tried to wheel closer, but I kept yelling and waved my hand again.  His face turned cold, eyes hard and mean, but didn’t get any closer.

We stared at each other in a standoff until I walked into his space with aggression in every step.  Then I turned away to walk around and back towards my apartment.  He tried to say something, but I made a gesture that had him hesitating.  And the counselor on the phone with me that night, started speaking to me again.  When I answered her, he turned away and looked as if I hurt him.  But I kept on moving and talking to the counselor.  A few minutes later, he got picked up by a van.  They disappeared, and I continued home.

That was a Friday night.

The Monday morning afterwards, a van similar to the on from Friday slow parked/crawled along the sidewalk I walked on; same route I take every morning to get to the train station.  The van followed me down the block and beeped its horn until I crossed the street to the next block.  To say I was shaken and scared is easy.  Triggered and feeling unsafe in the neighborhood that had been safe up until that weekend?  Yes that too.

My solution: write in an anonymous tip to the police using their website form; letting friends at work know what happened so they understand if I call or text on my way home; and using the hotline to keep me company when I walk home late if I feel anxious.

Issue 2: Feeling safe in my workplace

One of my biggest issues with PTSD is hyper-vigilance.  It takes a long time for me to acclimate to changes in my workplace – especially integrating new people; different levels of noise (stimulation); and understanding boundaries.  One aspect I never thought I’d have to deal with also is sexual attraction – not me because I’m still frozen, but a man being attracted to me and treating me odd because of it – and bullying that can come from close-knit groups of people sharing information with each other.

The new people in the office have a different work culture than we do in our office.  They get together often and are friends with each other, or are friendlier than my coworkers and I are in that we go to work to work and chat infrequently during work hours.  Apparently, the man whose interest I caught started talking about me to his teammates and other people who work in my area.  Those people started off friendly enough, but soon started acting unfriendly and somewhat hostile in their body language.

That makes me very uncomfortable.  These people are in and out of the shared work space and do not modulate their voices.  That means I can hear snippets of conversation and other stuff even with my headphones on loud.  And with my headphones on loud, I am more likely to startle easily when people do come up to talk with me.  I am also more likely to feel hyper-vigilant and anxious because I can’t use my normal coping methods (listening to and recognizing the foot treads/voices/sounds of people who come and go around me) to ensure the safety of my space.

But worst of all, the negative attitude and hostile body language combined with knowing they are talking about me behind my back is triggering and reminiscent of how I lived the first 25 + years of my life.  Work felt like a battlefield I wasn’t equipped to handle; not with the neighborhood scares and all of the anniversaries/flashbacks/memories popping into visit.

So what am I doing to feel safe again?

I am going back to basics.

  • Eat, sleep, drink liquids (and maybe something alcoholic if I feel like it), treat myself with kindness and compassion to start.
  • Use my gratitude mantra as often as necessary to remind myself of the blessings in my life.
  • Use my safety mantra as I wake up in the morning, go to bed at night, wake up in a flashback, or have a nightmare.
  • Stock up on my favorite grounding foods and flavors.
  • Enjoy reading silly books and splurge on a few new ebooks
  • listen to music
  • Continue on my personal style journey
  • Fight back using what quiet strength, resilience, persistence, intelligence, and strategy instead of letting my emotions win
  • And not do anything sometimes

Thanks for reading

Coping Challenge: How do I Cope with happy, positive feelings? Part 2 – Why do using my existing strategies feel wrong?

Recap

I gave background in Part 1.  The tattoos are healing nicely and a great reminder of the positive, happy experiences happening in the present.  They are symbols of the positive direction my life is taking now.  And looking at them, touching them reminds me of happy past memories too.  They are a great grounding strategy to use anytime.

The Challenge

All of the positive feelings are overwhelming and anxiety provoking.  I am not used to feeling them and experiencing the sensations they create inside me.  I do not want to tone them down.  I do not want to bring them down to calmer or less reactive levels.  Nor do I want to bring them down to neutral.  I want to ride the waves of feeling and sensation until they go away on their own.

All of my coping strategies are designed to help me dial down overwhelming feelings or anxiety.  They bring me back to the present; distract me with something so that I can step back and be objective about the sensations instead of panicking; and give me an outlet for excessive energy when my adrenaline gets tapped.  The relaxing and calming strategies help me learn to sit with uncomfortable sensations and feelings so that I am not distracted by them or triggered into flashbacks as often.

But positive feelings were so few and far between in my past as to be nonexistent.  Now I’m not sure what to do or how to react to them.

The Goals

  • Learn to experience the positive feelings without getting overwhelmed and feeling anxious.
  • Let the positive feelings flow through me until they go away on their own.
  • Remember that I won’t get hurt for feeling happy.
  • Remember that I deserve to be happy.

Conclusion for Part 2

If only I could figure out my options.  I feel like I’m being twisted into pieces with the happy present and scary past coexisting inside me … sometimes fighting for the dominant position in my mind/body/self.

Coping Challenge: How do I Cope with happy, positive feelings? Part 1 – Background

Background:

Since I was thirteen, I dreamed about getting a tattoo.  When I was sixteen, I got my first henna tattoo at a fair in Canada (high school field trip).  It caused an uproar within my family – not in a good way.  But that was my rebellious year   the year after the forced abortion – when I acted out and got into all kinds of trouble.  A few months later (summer), my younger brother convinced his friends to help him get a real tattoo (something he lorded over me for years and used to make fun of me when I got other henna tattoos).

In college, I learned discovered a severe nickel allergy through a bacterial infection (nickel plated earrings) and a rash (metal-framed glasses and buttons on denim jeans).  Some research told me that people with nickel allergies couldn’t get tattoos because a) most of the inks had traces of nickel in them; and b) the stainless steel needles had high levels of nickel in them.  That was between 2000 and 2004.  Between then and now, various cosmetic permanent makeup artists and tattoo artists refused to talk to me about either option because of my nickel allergy.

On the good side, there had been improvements to inks and needles so that people with minor to moderate nickel allergies could get tattoos as long as they didn’t mind the increased risk of allergic reaction and infection.  That was about 3 years ago.  And yes obsessing about getting a tattoo helped keep me sane when life got really bad.  I even tried contacting Native American and other cultural societies that had different ways of tattooing (not using metal needles/inks, etc.) without success.

Two years ago, I moved to my new apartment in a small city/town southwest of where I grew up.  On my first visit to look at the building, I got lost.  Instead of apartments, I found a 1950’s diner inspired storefront that looked interesting.  It turned out to be a tattoo studio.  Then, the realtor found me and helped me to the apartment building.  Not perfect, but it had everything I was looking for at the time.  After 2 weeks of consideration, I signed a lease.  And kept thinking about tattoos in a diner.  Eventually, I looked up the tattoo studio.  The owner had 30 plus years of experience and only did tattoos – old school style.  We exchanged emails; I met him face-to-face once.

But I had a downswing in finances and physical health just as I got ready to make the appointment.

Event 1

Last Saturday, I finally got my two tattoos in black/gray ink: a turtle and a Tibetan Endless Knot aka Chinese Wisdom Knot.  Turtle on left inner forearm near elbow.  Endless Knot on opposite position.  My dream finally came true.  Since then, I’ve been so happy that I managed to sleep every night – real sleep through most of the night.

Event 2

Then I went to work today and shared my tattoos with friends and close co-workers who know my story.  They were happy for me; full of acceptance, joy, respect even though some did not like tattoos (especially on females).  Some asked me what they meant and listened with appreciation as I described the meaning.   The head of our division even told me to wear my tattoos with pride in the office too.  i.e. I won’t get in trouble for leaving my arms uncovered at work.

The Dilemma

I was and am overwhelmed.  I feel happy, sad, anxious, guilty, shamed, unworthy, joyous, content, safe and unsure how to cope with the happy feelings inside of me (hence the negative feelings worming in).  I know how to cope with negative, neutral, and mildly positive feelings.  I don’t know how to cope with this, and it’s making me feel edgy.  Especially with an extra heavy workload and other big things coming up.

Thanks for reading