Archives for the month of: August, 2015

Introduction

My kitchen is a scary place.  I go there and remember all of the times I had to deal with family and friends and strangers either with cooking, baking, preparing food, cleaning, or doing something not at all related to food.  Traditional cookware is a trigger.  Bakeware is a trigger.  Knife blocks, cutlery, utensils, tools, silverware, dishes, etc.  All are triggers.

And as I contemplate what to keep and what to get rid of, I realize that brands, types, styles, even materials the cookware, etc. are made of are more triggering than the memories.  I love the idea of having a wok again.  Cooking with a wok means I can make traditional Chinese food I grew up with.  But every time I look at a wok I feel anxiety.  Every time I try to choose one to buy, I feel anger and other negative feelings.  At home, I have a small/medium stainless steel sauce pan with a cover.  Every time I use it, I feel shame.  After I use it, I can’t bring myself to clean it right away.

I used to have a knife set that I got for my first apartment.  If was one of my first purchases for the rental because I wanted a good set of knves to cook with.  And because knives are expensive, I kept it even after I left my family.  Two weeks ago, I realized that looking at the knives made me feel scared and angry.  It was one of the main reasons I had been avoiding my kitchen.  The same thing happened with the set of cooking utensils I bought around the same time.  Getting rid of them was the best decision I ever made.
What Happens Now

Now, when I look for anything kitchen related (whether it’s dish towels or cake pans), I have to ask all of us, is this item something that will trigger us once we bring it home?  Will buying it make us feel good or anxious?  Will we use it or hide it?  Will having this item at home cause anxiety or excitement?  Will a part of us come out during its use and break it because the anxiety and other emotions got so overwhelming the need to destroy the trigger overcame everything else?  Because yeah, that’s happened to us in the past too.  broken cups & plates; tarnished silverware; rusted cast iron, etc.

And buying what I like, what I choose for myself is a trigger in itself.  The fear that someone will come and take what is mine away from me exists in some of my parts.  The urge to destroy what I like as punishment exists in other parts.  And the need to hurt the self because of the rule breaking drives me and some parts to not buy anything out of paralyzing fear.  The triggers start thoughts ruminating; the rumination feeds into obsessions; obsessions trigger compulsions until one or all of us finds relief by giving in to those compulsions or having a panic attack because the coping strategies aren’t working so well.

The Trigger Cycle

Which brings me back to my original feelings of:

Why buy cooking utensils?  Why bother trying to cook?  Is the enjoyment that comes from cooking and baking worth this hassle?  Why not continue to avoid it?  Eating isn’t necessary, and you don’t deserve to be healthy anyways.  It’s not like you’re an important person who does important work.  No one will miss you.  But if you go out and get (insert item here), you will (insert threat here).

This cycle happens whenever I try to do something good for myself.  Examples:

  • Buying clothes that fit
  • Sticking to a budget
  • Deciding to replace my cookware/bakeware/etc
  • Cleaning my apartment
  • Buying garbage bags
  • Wearing accessories and looking stylish
  • Eating food I enjoy

How do you handle your triggers?

The OCD and Rumination Cycle

I’ve been avoiding buying what I need – not exactly the best coping strategy, but it works for now because I am trying to avoid buying too much stuff right now.  Where I live now is great.  All of us enjoy it and are relatively happy.  We feel safe.  But we also know that this place is where we grew up; full of triggers just walking around outside or going to work; and often end up encountering people from the past.

So the decision has been made (by all of us) to move to another state as far away as possible from this one where no one from our family or past that we know of resides.  This will happen around the end of next summer.  And since the price of moving a lot of stuff cross country is ridiculously expensive, why not take the opportunity to sell/get rid of everything unnecessary and use the savings to buy after moving in?

Makes sense right?  But is this another case of avoiding self-care or of being practical?  Am I hurting myself by not nesting where I’ve lived for a year and plan to spend another year?  Or am I being smart by only buying what’s necessary to facilitate self care and then selling it before I move.  I can always re-buy later or give my self a limit of boxes to ship to my new place rather than move everything.

As you can read here, examples of ruminating thoughts, obsessive thoughts, and inability to make choices.

How the Cycle Is Broken

I break the cycle by using CBT and DBT with a judicious dose of meditation most of the time.  When that doesn’t work, self-soothing and sensory grounding usually do the trick.  And when all else fails, a text message or call to someone I trust for some support will help me clear my head.

I hope the quote helps you remember the importance of self-care the way it does for me.

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Have you ever encountered people from your past at unexpected times?  I admit to not handling it very well in the past.  Present time, my parts and I cope better.  This proverb is similar to one from a long time ago that started me thinking about how to deal with people who trigger and scare me.

The Story

Luckily for me, I was with friends from my knitting circle last time this happened.  Knitting kept me calm and grounded.  My friends kept my secret and did not call me out on my white lie about meeting this person for the first time.

But after I stopped knitting, the body memories started.  Then the anxiety kept my body shaking and my voice rising/falling.  Adrenaline rushed through my system.  So I got out fast.  Took a commuter train home.  And used coping strategies to help me stay in the present.

I didn’t sleep that night.  My productivity at work the next two days was terrible.  But I survived.  And that time was better than previous ones.  My body did not shut down in a full-blown panic attack.  I still got to visit with my friends at the knitting circle.  My mind and body may have been distracted, but I did get some work done.

Lessons Learned

I used to be afraid of running into people from my past.  Now, I am more resigned to the fact that it will happen often as long as I stay in my current location.  But the best part is in knowing that some of the people I don’t want anything to do with work just as hard at avoiding me when they see me as I do them.

To clarify, not all of the people from my past are family or friends.  Some are classmates from high school and college too.  Others are teachers, former co-workers, parents of the children I taught as a tae kwon do instructor, students, medical and dental professionals, etc.  I don’t want to be part of that community or interact with those people.

Who I was then is not who I am now.  it’s like those coming of age books and movies, the troubled teen with a reputation (not always deserved) who is derided by the community leaves looking for a better life.  Only difference is that I do not intend to go back.  I have nothing to prove and no one to visit.

Conclusion

Sometimes a person has to go away in order to get better.  Sometimes a person has to say and do terrible things in order to survive.  It took us a long time, but we are learning not to feel shame and guilt about the things we said and did in order to survive.  Part of what helped is realizing that not everything will be or has to be remembered as long as the important information is acknowledged and remembered.

In honor of the egg donor’s birthday, and extra post this week.

What is Comorbidity?

I don’t usually trust Wikipedia as a primary source, but this definition fits my thoughts on multiple diagnoses.

“In medicinecomorbidity is the presence of one or more additional disorders (or diseases) co-occurring with a primary disease or disorder; or the effect of such additional disorders or diseases. The additional disorder may also be a behavioral or mental disorder.

In medicine, the term “comorbid” can be either medical condition(s) existing simultaneously but independently with another condition; or it can indicate a related medical condition or conditions. In psychiatric diagnoses it has been argued in part that this “‘use of imprecise language may lead to correspondingly imprecise thinking’, [and] this usage of the term ‘comorbidity’ should probably be avoided.”” – from Wikipedia

11+ Diagnoses Become 1 Primary with a Secondary diagnosis

Between 2004 and 2007, I was diagnosed with 11+ different mental illnesses including:
  • clinical depression
  • 5 different anxiety disorders
  • mild agoraphobia
  • anorexia nervosa
  • a variety of other phobias
  • panic attacks
  • obsessive/compulsive disorder
  • and an anger management issue.

I wish I could remember all of the names, but I can’t. What frustrated me the most at this time was that they kept giving me these labels because I did not fit any of the mental illness categories exactly.

Symptoms like hallucinations and dissociation were evidence of a psychotic disorder; but they couldn’t call me something I wasn’t.  And I wasn’t psychotic.  The psychologists and psychiatrists kept treating each condition as something separate.  I began to believe I really was crazy.

Between 2004 and 2014, I had visited 3 therapists (1 psychologist and 2 LISCWs), 2 partial programs with teams of mental health providers and 3 psychiatrists, and 11 private psychiatric professionals (psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse).  The therapists kept recommending medication to make the symptoms go away.  The psychiatrists kept giving me medication – increasing doses or changing medications – until they got frustrated and gave up on me because nothing worked.  I take the medication and get sick.  The symptoms go away, and I become a catatonic zombie.  I stop taking the medication and become independent again.  The symptoms come back worse than before.

Ironically, it was an academic advisor in graduate school who figured out my correct diagnosis: complex post traumatic stress disorder.  The academic advisor was a domestic violence survivor and in the process of getting out of the relationship when we met.  She recommended the book Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman to read.  That was the first turning point in my recovery.  I realized that everything I had remembered was the driving factor in my diagnoses.

Then I learned that each diagnosis can be its own disorder or symptoms of a more complex mental illness like post traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders.

Lessons Learned from Multiple Diagnoses

Along with medicine, the therapists helped me by teaching me strategies to rebuild my internal sense of self – the foundations based on my values, beliefs, and self-trust.  My problem was and continues to be that I do not trust anyone until they have proven themselves to me with their actions.  This can take a while or not happen at all.  The trust issue and pressure to stop going from the sperm donor caused the first therapy relationship to break up.

I still go into every potential relationship knowing that, unless I feel both emotionally and physically safe, it’s going to be temporary.  I met my closest friend during my junior/senior year in college.  We reconnected a few years later through a mutual friend and have remained friends since then.  Up until 3 years ago, I waited for the moment when something one of us said or did would break up our friendship.  Even now, when I or one of my parts are having a particularly difficult time, we wonder when all of the people in our support network are going to stop being supportive – either they walk away or I walk away.

The voluntary programs taught me that everyone, even mental health providers, has an agenda.  Maybe not a conscious one, but definitely an agenda / purpose driving their approach to helping others.  The first time, a program helped for two reasons:

  • 1)I learned that I wasn’t alone
  • 2) there were people in the world who could accept an eccentric, weird, individual with “unique perspective of yourself and the world” (paraphrasing my program clinician)

The second program taught me that I wouldn’t get anything out of groups unless:

  • 1) I trusted the clinicians to do their jobs
  • 2) the people around me to be supportive, respectful, willing to speak up and help other clients in the group, and accepting of others.

And even though I didn’t get the same kind of assistance as the first time (different people working in the program), I learned to trust my instincts.  By observing the people in the program, I learned about my values and what I want in any kind of relationship.  The people in the program (clients and clinicians) reminded me of people in my family and circle of friends.  The same family and friends whom I was considering a permanent separation from.  Not knowing I had Dissociative Identity Disorder made things even more difficult.  I didn’t remember interactions with other clients or understand why they treated me different from moment to moment.

The other part was my “unique perspective” because I was in a different recovery place than the others.  I couldn’t relate to anyone.  And the more I talked, the more I felt separated from them.  The other clients started to resent me and avoid me – partly my fault because I was obviously cautious and had mood swings from dissociation/switching; partly theirs for feeling frustrated/angry/upset with me because they couldn’t be where I was – which caused tension whenever I was in a group or tried to connect with others.  The clinicians were not happy with me because I was too assertive and knew more about the coping techniques they tried to teach us than they did.  This was routinely said by clients in groups where the clinicians and moderators could hear.

That’s when the subtle condescension and shaming started.  And not just with me, but with other clients too.  The whole atmosphere made me uncomfortable.  And it was only after I learned about shame that I realized why I felt uncomfortable and not inclined to trust anyone in the program.  But the month off from work gave me time and perspective; two things I needed to make the final decision to walk away from my family and current relationships.

Conclusion

Anniversaries bring up a lot of stuff.  Remembering the past is not a waste of time if one learns from those experiences.  Today is my mother’s birthday.  Sometimes she is referred to as the egg donor.  Most of us prefer not to attribute the word “mother” to her, but old habits are hard to break.  I and my parts always get stuck in memories and feelings before, during, and after her birthday.

I think about her and get angry.  I think about her and promise myself not to spend time around people who act in similar ways towards themselves and others.  I think about her and feel proud that I am able to choose who to spend my time with even if that means having a very limited social circle.   I think about her and wonder if she can still hide her craziness without me there to take the blame.

Most important, I think about her and feel relief that we are not in each other’s lives.

When I think of now, I wish that all survivors and their connections are able to find supportive, compassionate, knowledgable mental health providers who can offer them the correct diagnosis and options for symptom management instead of having to go through what I did.

“Real Heroism comes from having the courage to openly acknowledge one’s experiences, not from suppressing or denying them.” Peter A. Levine Waking the Tiger

Brene Brown writes something similar about shame.  Many self-help authors and trauma specialists say the same thing to survivors.  Keeping the secrets means letting the abusers have power over us.  Sharing the truths, acknowledging what was experienced with compassionate and accepting supports, puts the power back in survivor’s hands.

It took me a long time to believe this.  Some parts of me still do not believe.

But now I do believe.  And many of my parts do too.  The rest are skeptical and heading toward belief.

This is part of the reason my first family shunned me.  I spoke out about what was done to me.  I faced the truths and held the people who hurt me explicitly and implicitly responsible.  And I tried to talk to them about it.  Until I realized that nothing I said or did would change their attitudes and treatment of me (unless you consider behaving worse a change).

Considering my role as the family scapegoat and the subjects I brought up, parts of me can understand why the family members circled around the egg and sperm donors (mom and dad to everyone else) and supported them instead of me.  The ones who wanted to support me also told me to just get over it; to deal with it and move on.  My “crazy reactions” and “strange behaviors” disgusted and embarrassed them.

And to the cousins and others who saw me as a role model, my obedience and flexibility (i.e. letting them walk all over me) disgusted and angered them.  They didn’t want anything to do with me either.  Of course, the obedience and flexibility were illusions that I used to survive family events.  And when I did show my true colors, I got shunned and put down in obvious and intimidating (to them) ways.

The egg donor set these traps often towards the end of my time with them to show me that I would never have family support against her.  The sperm donor and younger sibling did the same thing by ignoring my requests, stealing my ideas, and perpetuating the belief that I am an unreliable liar.

I got the message. 

And then sent one of my own by leaving.

“Most modern cultures, including ours, fall victim to the prevailing attitude that strength means endurance; that it is somehow heroic to be able to carry on regardless of the severity of our symptoms.” – Peter A. Levine Waking the Tiger

When I first started remembering, I was a junior in high school.  It felt like a dam burst inside of me after my aunt died.  Or maybe a volcano erupting is more accurate.  Either way, a monster was freed.  An angry, raging monster that took over and caused wild mood swings with random bursts of violence.

The verbal violence and emotional violence was triggered and used against everyone including myself.  But the physical violence was only used against my body unless I was triggered into dissociation.  Then I blacked out, not remembering anything that happened during the time I raged.  A lot of people got mad at me for raging against them; they thought the level of anger and what I said to them was insulting and unwarranted.

Especially my cousins and relatives because they weren’t used to me fighting back.  So to punish me for doing that, they pretended I didn’t exist and expected me to grovel and beg them for attention and approval.  But I stopped doing that after my last years in college.  Some part of me understood that those rages did two things:

  1. Told me who actually supported me and accepted me without reservation – respect and direct communication would have resolved many of the hurts
  2. Protected those same people by keeping them away from me when I was a target for more abuse by people outside of the family; I was beyond the ideal age of the egg donor and her circle, but my cousins weren’t

Maybe the reaction were warranted, maybe not.  All we know is that those reactions kept us safe in an unsafe environment.

The first two therapists and almost anyone who I tried to share my secrets with back at the beginning told me the same thing: get over it.  Move on.  It didn’t really happen.  Accept that you’re crazy and useless and stupid.  You are what your mother and father made you.  And you will never get better.

Sounds a lot like what the second quote asserts, yes?

Maybe that’s why my parts and I are still searching for answers.

Psychotherapy with my current therapist combined with lessons from previous mental health providers have helped me work through the worst of my emotional and mental symptoms.  My parts and I can manage those mostly on our own now.  But the psychotherapy does not help so much with the body memories and physical symptoms.

We are reading Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine now.  His approach makes a lot of sense because body memories are physical sensations that scare us.  At this point, anything will help.

Today’s Quote

I learned a lesson about doubt this week.

As mentioned in previous posts, August is a trigger month for me.  The first half of the month has to do with family reunions, get togethers with friends and connections, and camps.  The second half of the month is birthdays – egg donor and her mother’s birthdays to be exact.  With my therapist on vacation and an unusual increase in remembering, I and my alters doubted we would be able to get through the last week on our own.

But, I forgot about all of the wonderful people in my life now.  And my alters forgot about the toolbox of shared coping strategies in our memory banks.  But most important, we forgot about how far we’ve come since those first baby steps.  Doubt, fear, shame, and pain clouded our senses and distorted reality for a while.  So we hope this quote helps you the way it helped us.

Body Memories

With remembering comes pain.  Sometimes the pain is physical; other times it is emotional or spiritual.  Often the pain is a combination of sensations that trigger other memories, thoughts, or feelings.  I am always in pain; what level of pain I experience determines how functional I will be throughout the day.  My body hurts from the damage I did with anorexia and from the damage done to me when I was abused.  Pain management without drugs, alcohol, and other chemicals has been one of my long-standing quests.

Working with my therapist and reading about trauma has taught me that trauma lives in my body as much as or more than it lives in my mind.  Talk therapy helps with my emotional and spiritual (mental) symptoms – i.e. nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety, feeling emotionally unsafe, dissociation – but not so much with my physical symptoms – i.e. panic attacks, body memories, somatic symptoms masking as colds, allergies, asthma, muscle pain, migraines, joint stiffness, lack of coordination. We have both been searching for more resources to help cope with the body memories and physical pain that worsens or lessens depending on the amount of triggers and anxiety occurring at the time.

Pain

Pain is our constant companion.  It comes in many forms: soreness; aches in muscles and joints; discomfort; bruises; tendon and cartilage stiffness; cramps, etc.  And it manifests in different places at different times.  The scary part comes when the pain is triggered by body memories.  For anyone who is not comfortable reading descriptions about physical or sexual body memories, please skip to the next section.


Some of our best friends are of varied and different sexual orientations.  That does not matter to us.  What matters is that they are amazing, unique, compassionate, wonderful, reliable friends and connections.  Please remember that we strive to celebrate and accept all individuals as they are as you read this section.

I’ve been plagued with body memories where I relive sexual abuse.  My body gets aroused, flushed, goes cold, calms down, feels sensitive in places I did not know could feel sensitive, and so on when I am asleep or get triggered by a sensation that reminds me of past experiences.  It scares different alters, wakes everyone up, causes sleep paralysis, nightmares, night sweats, and a whole host of other problems.

During the day, at work or outside the home, it gets embarrassing sometimes because my body re-enacts the trauma when triggered.  I and my parts are not homosexual, but we were sexually abused by many females.  So when certain kinds of interactions between us and other females take place, triggers occur and sexual feelings get aroused.  Sexual behaviors sometimes get expressed even though none of us are experiencing sexual interest in the female(s).  That causes misinterpretations and other problems along with feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion.  We are heterosexual; this was discovered late in high school and in college.  But arousal feelings scare us because were sexually abused by males.  They trigger similar memories as described earlier and cause us to panic and hide or get angry to push the interested / interesting males away.

These conclusions came at a high cost of working through many tangled memories and fragments.  And now, we struggle to cope with the memories as they come together to narrate mind/body experiences that deserved to be honored and understood in order to move forward.


Alternative Coping Techniques and Strategies

I added a new Pinterest link with images and videos of some alternative coping techniques you might be interested in learning about to my Resources page.  Yes, the page still says it is under construction.  We have decided to leave it up there for now because the page will be evolving as more links and information gets added.

Some of the coping techniques on the Pinterest page are:

  • Qigong
  • Tai Chi
  • Sound healing
  • Chiropractic
  • Massage therapy with trauma trained professionals
  • Bodywork therapy with trauma trained professionals
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture

I have tried almost all of these with different degrees of success.  The ones I go back to most are qigong, sound healing, massage, and acupuncture.  Chiropractic helped me at the beginning of my recovery when I stopped being able to exercise because of serious knee pain that physical therapy couldn’t fix and the specialist said required knee replacement surgery; the MRIs, X-rays, etc. couldn’t find anything wrong.  But I was 22 at the time, and no one wanted me to have replacement surgery; instead the specialist told me I had to stop exercising and live with the limited movement caused by the pain.

Yoga is amazing and wonderful in so many ways.  I wish I could practice it, but my body memories surface and cause panic attacks/flashbacks that make me physically and emotionally ill.  Someday, when I am more comfortable in my body, I will practice yoga on a regular basis.  Not everyone has this strong a reaction to yoga.  And I tried yoga in regular classes, not trauma-sensitive classes.  So please do not be discouraged.  It may work for someone in similar situation with different body reactions.

Qigong is a form of energy healing that combines sound healing, meditation, and movement.  I am not sure how to describe it.  All I can tell you is that the meditation practices combined with standing and moving exercises are not as triggering as yoga and still effective at calming my internal systems when I can use them.  Tai Chi is a martial art that has its roots in qigong and is good for people who want something more like yoga – a routine and set of movements in a pattern and rhythm that also teach individuals how to protect themselves physically.

Acupuncture is relatively new to all of us.  When we tried it, the needling helped manage the pain and anxiety so that everything was calm and quiet for a time.  But the backlash was too hard to handle.  And the commute after work was very triggering.  So we stopped for now.

If any of you readers and guest suffer from body memories or pain, I hope some of these resources offer you some new avenues to explore.  Be well.

A lightly edited post; still with errors

This weekend, all I wanted to do was stay home and safe.  Going out reminded me of leaving my apartment to visit family for reunions and events.  Instead, I stayed home and took care of to-do items I’ve been ignoring in between sleep and meditation.

Friday night, I was so wound up after getting exciting news that I couldn’t bring myself down from the adrenaline high.  My system does not have an “off switch” for adrenaline anymore, so I have to find ways to manually dial it down.  My alters are the same way.  So we called the hotline (link here) and spoke to someone who helped us redirect the overwhelming feelings and learn to cope with the happy feelings so that adrenaline is not triggered.

Happy List Coping Strategy

The hotline counselor suggested a happy list.  I don’t know about you readers, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have felt genuinely happy.  And each time scared the s***t out of me.  The list is to remind me of why I am happy and do not have to be scared.  Then the next time I feel this way, I can go back to the list and remember that feeling happy does not have to be scary or triggering.

Today’s Affirmation

Today’s affirmation comes from Louise Hay.  My life is full of change and transition right now.  Many positive experiences in the present and the future are taking place as I work through recovery.  My therapist would say parallel tracks.  I sometimes call it living two lives at the same time.  Both work.

Today, in this moment, I am exactly where I am supposed to be in order to move forward with my goals and dreams.  Louise Hay’s affirmation is a reminder of that.  The written words and colorful background help all of us remember not to regret our past and to feel gratitude for the positives in life now.  Reading the words helps us feel grounded and reminds us of all the ways we can feel physically and emotionally safe.

Hope this helps you too!

What is a Quiet Rebel?

This is what we call each other when someone needs to be reminded to keep on fighting.  If you ever met me in person, you would not think of me as a rebel.  I am quiet, self-possessed, and solitary among most people.  Around my friends, some co-workers, and people I trust, my personality comes out to show humor, intelligence, etc.  In general, though, I prefer not to stand out and draw attention to myself.  I speak up when I have something to say; and listen when I don’t.  My opinions are kept inside except around people I trust and here on this blog.

Instead of talking, I let my actions speak for me.  Or I find other ways to communicate – a letter, an email, a quiet conversation with the individual in private instead of a knock-down, drag-out altercation in public.  Experience has taught everyone in the system that talking is not an effective way for us to advocate for ourselves and get things done.  Silence was our best ally growing up.  We worked in the background and found ways to act on our beliefs in ways that the abusers couldn’t take away.

They hurt our mind and body.  They tried to take away our spirit.  To crush us down into nothing with words and violence.  Silent treatment and shunning occurred when one of us spoke.  So we stopped talking.  But they couldn’t take what we wouldn’t give up.  And that is how the internal world was created.  Here we could say and do anything we pleased without fear of punishment.  We could be as smart and stupid and funny and loud and sad as we wanted.  And no matter how depressed or hopeless the rest of us felt, at least one alter always fought for life.

On the outside, whoever was in charge displayed the approved behaviors.  Inside and in private, the rest of us plotted and dreamed of vengeance, escape, etc.  The only times one or all of us acted were when physical fighting was a matter of safety and self-defense.  And even then, the consequences of visibly fighting back made this option one rarely chosen.  If I fought for myself (we alters fighting for us in one body), I was hurt and shamed worse than the original reason for fighting back.  If I fought for someone else, sometimes I did not get punished.  Can you say “crapshoot”?

Yet, even knowing this, none of us could ever stop the instinctive (for us) impulse to fight back; to defend and protect ourselves and others.

Passive Resistance as Part of the Rebellion

What stands out in my mind are lessons from Black History Month in elementary school.  Reading about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.  Before Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and the Dali Lama, we learned about passive resistance from Civil Rights leaders in the United States.  I always felt connected to Rosa Parks with her quiet resistance and soft-spoken ways.  Martin Luther King Jr. dazzled me with his outspoken leadership, but I always felt uncomfortable imagining myself in situations like his.  Being recognized and acknowledged is truly appreciated and valued by us.  Having to stand in the spotlight and draw attention to ourselves in order to get that recognition is not.  But these lessons and conversations with my favorite uncle taught me how to fight back without reprisal.

Resistance of any kind was not allowed in my family – immediate and extended.  If you chose to fight back you were punished.  When that didn’t work, you were shunned.  At birth, you were accorded a specific status within the family based on your gender and parents.  With that status came a set of rules and assumptions about your intelligence, character, behavior, and expected level of obedience.  I broke the mold – too smart, too arrogant, too beautiful (as a child), too outspoken, too showy,  too stubborn, too embarrassing, not obedient enough, not fast enough, not good enough, always causing problems, etc.

So I learned to pretend.  On the outside, I was exactly what they wanted.  On the inside, I was confused.  They monitored everything about my existence; randomly searched my belongings and took anything they disapproved of or wanted for themselves; and consistently put me down to make sure I knew my place – less than nothing.

But they couldn’t stop me from learning and using my brain, not without forcing me out of school.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

By the time college started, I was lost and confused.  My foundations had cracks big enough for giants to trip over.  Parts were rotted and turned to dust.  Self confidence was an illusion that couldn’t be sustained anymore.  Most of us had given up the dream of freedom.  Some had completely forgotten it existed.

And only in dreams and nightmares did they reappear.  And when the first therapist tried to make the voices disappear, everything in me rebelled.  When the psychiatrist tried to give me medicine that made everything quiet and my emotions disappear, something inside made me sick.  A part of the system wrested control of the body and refused to give back control until the impulse to take the pills went away.

No one noticed except us.  And after we weaned ourselves off of the medicine, we confessed to the providers.  Better to ask forgiveness than approval in this case.  They were unhappy about my/our choice.  But could not say no because being off the medicine improved a lot of symptoms.  That is when the memories about passive resistance resurfaced.

Our therapist recommended reading books about Buddhism and Eastern philosophy since that is where my faith instinctively reached.  Between that and the memories, our quiet rebellion was reborn.  Moving out offered the opportunity to expand the secret life.  And so it continued until the time to choose between our life and their life for us had to be made.

Final Thoughts

I truly believe that every human is born with a natural instinct to fight for survival.  It is stronger in some than others, but that rebellious need to live exists in all of us.  It took us a long time to trust that gut feeling and longer to embrace its wisdom.  We, all of us in the Alter Xpressions system, hope you readers can do the same if you have not already.

Have you ever felt under stress while shopping, especially for clothes or shoes or something you need but involved a lot of triggers?  Does the anxiety creep up on you?  Or does it build up and explode into “strange” reactions at odd moments?

If so, you are not alone.  This happens to us all the time.

When one or more of us are feeling anxious and stressed out or nervous about tasks and events that have to get done, our main reaction is to switch personalities so that the one most capable of handling the situation is in charge.

So here is a short story about how other people sometimes react to multiple alters holding a conversation out loud with each other while also trying to involve a sales person at a retail store.


Part 1: Work

My name is Angora.  I will be narrating since the others are not comfortable sharing on the blog at this time.  And while I did not participate in the actual conversation, I did observe the whole experience – including what happened afterwards.

Tuesday, the weather was rainy and humid.  All of us were uncomfortable because we recently did a closet purge and do not have a lot of clothes at the moment.  On top of that, most clothes do not fit because of recent weight loss due to stress and an increase in symptoms – not a relapse in anorexia (story for another time).  There was manager training at the office the last two days; the managers in my department and higher-ups from the parent company came to the office and spent a lot of time in our area.  To say I and the other alters who worked at the office felt self-conscious is an understatement.

I also felt angry and frustrated because my internet service provider has been causing problems with returning equipment and changing service.  Tuesday was the day we planned to address these issues and return soon-to-be late library books.  And since we were in the area and had time why not try on some clothes and see if there is anything worth buying?

At work, the important people (ones I work with regularly) know about the PTSD and DID so are not offended or shocked when my symptoms appear during interactions.  If it gets too awkward for them, we part ways until both of us can interact and communicate without misunderstandings.  Email is a wonderful tool for this.

They know that I and the alters who work there feel more anxious with guests in the office and higher traffic going through our area.  I told them; so did others.  They leave us alone except to say hi or ask questions.  So work was ok.  The monsters in our mind were not so lenient.  Very critical of our appearance and wardrobe choices Monday and Tuesday.

Part 2: Shopping

Decided to try out some items one of us saw online and liked.  Went to the store.  It was relatively empty, and not many sales people around to assist.  No one said where to put clothes after trying them on.  Frustrating because the items I liked did not fit as expected from the photos; and others were not in store yet.

So went to another part of the store to check out t-shirt selection there.  A sales woman walked up and greeted us.  She was young, maybe mid to late twenties, and some part of me decided not to trust her.  Maybe it was the way she looked at us.  Or maybe it was her body language; she was not a petite or slender like I am.  And sometimes people with her shape and size make assumptions or hold grudges against people with ours.

Don’t know; don’t care now.  The important part is that she triggered more anxiety in the system.  We started switching and became co-conscious.  The dominant alter stepped back to observe with me.  The others, ones who had been doing the actual shopping, came out to chat with each other and her.  We held a verbal conversation with each other out loud and included the sales person.

She was not interested.  I think she got scared and nervous because she turned away and started speaking into her headset.  We tried to ask her our questions, but she kept turning away and talking into her headset.  Eventually, we waited.  She walked away and disappeared into the fitting room.  We waited to see what she would do next.

This time, none of us felt shame or guilt about being ourselves and switching in front of a stranger.  We came to get answers and did not plan on leaving until we got them.  Especially not from a rude sales person who walked away and then gave us dirty look for still being there when she came back. 

The sales woman same back out with a stack of clothes in her arms, but paused when she saw me.  I looked her straight in the eye and waited to see what she would do.  With a wary, closed look on her face, she approached us.  Her tone of voice was cold, and her words clipped as she answered the questions. She used as few words as possible and kept her body turned partly away this time.

I thanked her and left.  All the while, the rest of us were feeling unhappy and frustrated at not finding what we wanted.  Tried another store, but did not see anything there.  Went to one last store.  Tried on some basics that could be combined as outfits.  The shoppers were excited because these clothes fit better than the last ones and were in colors that worked for us.  The children and adolescents were happy because they got to help pick out items.

The adults were nervous about buying anything tonight after the trauma of earlier shopping.  The sales women were not pushy.  And they were more respectful than the other one.  We took photos of the different outfits to share with our style group and asked for the items to be put on hold.  The ladies agreed to hold them until the next day.

Part 3: The End

As I write this post on a delayed commuter train, my parts and I are wondering whether or not to write to the Gap and complain about the sales woman’s rudeness.  No one wants to do this, but we all agree that in order to feel safe about shopping there again, we have to speak up in some way.

Called the corporate office from work.  Then called the store later.  Spoke with a manager.  Got the promise from manager that issue will be addressed with sales woman.  Also got an apology – a sincere one – and a promise that they will work hard to ensure something like that does not happen again.

Before, we might have slunk away in shame and seethed inside until temper exploded later.  Deep down believing that we deserved that treatment because of early life lessons.  Now, we know better.  No one deserves to be treated that way.  And speaking up about it is not just acceptable; it is beneficial to self and future customers.

If only we could just remember that and believe if all the time…

Introduction

Recovery and coping are two paths intertwined with the same end goal.  The path changes as I change, as my parts change, and move closer to healing the damage to mind, body, spirit.

The effectiveness of resources changes too.  What works now, might not work next time.  Or it could work consistently for years until something changes on the inside.  Then that resources is too much or not enough as is and needs to adapt to the current situation.

Each alter has a purpose in our system and has developed strategies for coping with the memories.  Problem is, what worked then does not always work now – not if we want to participate as active members within society.

All of us used to think we had to get rid of this strategies because they were harmful in some way.  That led some alters to feel scared and unwanted.  They reacted with anger and defiance – lashing out at the rest of the alters and themselves with varied and creative punishments.

We know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.  We know which buttons to push to get certain reactions.  And we know how to help, soothe, and support each other.  Compromises benefit everyone; fighting hurts everyone.

Compromise

The language to describe different alters in a system uses words like dominant and submissive.  To clarify, dominant does not mean aggressive or bullying or strong.  Dominant means these alters are protective personalities who happen to be strong enough and willing to take charge and manage the daily tasks necessary for functioning and living.  Submissive does not mean push-over or weak or any similar words.  Some atters work in the foreground while others work in the background.  All are protective, strong, resilient, intelligent.  What matters is how these characteristics are expressed.

Some alters are dominant outside – they are in control most of the time and interact with outside people.  They drive cars, work, buy groceries, manage the budget, etc.

Others are dominant inside – they are in charge of caring for the alters in the family system to ensure that everyone feels safe, works together, communicates and participates in choices, keeps the body healthy, etc.

Then there are the quieter alters, the ones who prefer to work in the background and not interact with outsiders.  They are not more or less dominant than the ones who take charge.  They are as strong and important because they facilitate communication among all alters, help with coping strategies, and work hard to find compromises to keep the system working.

Communication

My system has four dominant alters, 3 females and one male, who grew up together and seamlessly switch from one to another when interacting with the outside world.  Two alters speak, and two do not.  Together, the 4 of us work hard to keep our mind and body grounded in the present and functioning in spite of body memories and anxiety.

But the 4 do not work alone.  Between 15 and 20 alters switch and work together throughout a typical day to ensure everything gets done while also caring for the child alters, teenage alters, and others who prefer not to be classified.  We work outside at our job and inside to manage symptoms and promote self-care / health at the same time.  Parallel tracks and two different lives going on at the same time in the same body.

I am lucky that my alters and I do not hate and blame each other.  The first few years after the official diagnosis and learning about different coping styles for DID were chaotic, painful, and confusing.  A lot of fear and mistrust caused alters to go mute or hide instead of asking for help.  No one wanted to listen, and everyone wanted their own way.  Each of us had coping strategies that worked and were afraid to try something different…to trust themselves, each other, the system as a whole.

Present time

In the last two weeks, our trust in each other and the system as a whole has been tested with symptoms that have not appeared in more than five years.  In trying to remember the coping strategies that worked before, memories were recovered.  Scary, traumatic memories that flooded everyone and everything inside.  The onslaught threatened to spin us inside out and tip the fragile balance of recovery on its side.

One year ago, something like this would have put us on short-term disability and into a partial program.  Six months ago, it would have caused a major relapse in self-harm coping and enough sleepless nights to force the use of a knockout pill.  This time faith, meditation, calls to the hotline, positive affirmations and mantras (I like to think of them as prayers and reminders) to establish safety, DBT, lots of sleep, writing this blog, and sessions with my therapist have kept all of us grounded in the present instead of falling into the past.

Final Word

One psychiatrist told me that recovery is a long, hard road for survivors.  It can take as long as or longer than the expedience(s) that caused the symptoms.  I am lucky to be naturally rebellious – a born fighter – whose parts are the same way.  For those who aren’t natural fighters, please don’t give up.  The symptoms never truly go away, but the future life you want is possible.

Busy focusing on self-care and staying grounded.  August is a tough month, so no posts this week.  Hopefully will have something ready for next Monday.

Here is one of my favorite quotes instead: