This week, especially, had all parts of me reflecting on the so-called rigidity and busyness of my life right now. Starting something new often brings up boatloads (and I mean cruise ship or air carrier sized) triggers and flashbacks. Enough that I used to get discouraged from trying something new or beginning a project outside of my comfort zone.
Uptight, Rigid, or Something Else?
Something I am often accused of (in my personal life more than professional these days) is being a rigid, uptight, type-A personality, stick-in-the-mud whose life is too regimented to ever be fun.
My face often lacks the appropriate facial expressions to show others I am enjoying myself, etc. Body language is the same way.
What these people don’t (or maybe can’t/refuse to) understand is that I relax when I feel safe and comfortable.
The less safe or comfortable I feel, the more tense and rigid my exterior self appears to people.
Structure, DID, and Meeting Basic Needs (aka functioning)
During the years when I would lose time or forget as part of my traumatic amnesia, an ingrained routine was all that kept me functioning moment to moment and day to day.
I might not wake up knowing where I was. Lunch time could turn into an adventure that left me on the other side of town in an unknown to me neighborhood and no public transportation. After work, I might get on the same commuter train as always (time and berth are correct) and end up in another city all together. Mirrors used to piss me off because I never recognized the face or body reflected back at me.
And those are some of the big items that get attention. Smaller stuff like walking into walls and furniture, forgetting a process for work, not being able to learn a dance routine or martial arts technique, were less obvious items affected by DID and traumatic amnesia while also more embarrassing. Adults often chastised me for being inattentive, forgetful, etc. because I was so “book smart” and yet so uncoordinated within my body. Peers used that as yet another excuse to bully and make fun of me when I lived as a “normal” little girl in public school or among blood family.
But that same structure allowed me to live both lives without mixing them up often. Punishment for mixing up my two lives included a lot of pain and sensory overload. When those triggers visit, all I remember is unbearable noise followed by feeling sensations of extreme pain throughout my head and body.
And so, even when I lose a weekend or wake up not remembering what happened for weeks at a time, the structured survival routine embedded in my muscle memory ensures that I and my alter personalities remember to meet our basic needs until awareness and memory comes back. Even for small things like:
- staring at a computer at work, getting triggered into a dissociative or alter personality switch for seconds or minutes, and coming back not remembering what happened in all that time. But the screen looks different and a quality check of my work shows errors I wouldn’t normally make…
And as I experience the pain again, I think to myself “well yes it hurts, but I’m still here. Alive, present, happy, busy doing what I enjoy.”
My life is not “typical” in any way, but it works for me. I get 99% of my work and personal stuff accomplished from within the relative safety of my apartment. Work is balanced with “fun-to-me” activities and hobbies. Communication with the outside world is often limited to email and phone or video chat, but that feels safe and comfortable.
I don’t feel busy, but people who hear about what’s going on right now often tell me I am exactly that. But maybe it doesn’t feel busy or negatively stressful because I chose each activity and feel joy working on each task?
And these activities are not substitutes for a “more active social life” either. They are how I like to fill my time and enjoy life. Socializing, for me, is a big trigger. When I need person-to-person contact, I check mail at the UPS store, go for a walk outside, get on public transit, or visit a store full of people. Maybe a restaurant or a park instead.
You might be wondering about these “activities”, so here is a short list not in any specific order:
- my day job with opportunities to learn new skills and utilize my existing ones in creative ways (aka job 1)
- aromatherapy, herbalism, incense, etc. certification or continuing education classes to develop a new business venture (aka job 2)
- this website and blog (aka job 3)
- my plants – talking to them, dancing with them, learning to enjoy having roommates again
- cooking – my memories are finally coming back so I feel more comfortable and confident here
- reading books, listening to music, or watching a funny movie
- bath time – never again will I compromise on renting an apartment without a bath tub. A good soak with epsom salt or essential oil based soap works wonders for self care and relaxing
So my questions to you are:
- how does structure (or lack of it) impact your life?
- what activities, work, or hobbies bring you joy and fulfillment?
- if you had a choice, would you include more joyful activities even though they will or could cause pain from triggers and flashbacks?
Thanks for reading