Archives for category: Coping Challenges

Trigger warning -this is a long post with potentially triggering words used in different sections.  Please read with care, skip through, skim etc.

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I learned more about one automatic defense mechanism that needs to be addressed or disabled during my vacation.

Switching and sounding like I am talking about myself all the time when all of us in the system feel anxious and safe with a person or group.

And the accompanying feelings of shame, anxiety, panic, guilt, and loss of reality that comes with it.

Two main challenges have previously gotten in the way of disabling this mechanism:

not being able to share about having Dissociative Identity disorder

Alters unwilling to identify themselves when talking to outsiders.

Lack of awareness when this happens so that I can reflect, process in therapy, and use known coping techniques and strategies to change the behavior.

Frustration when people give advice without understanding that I know what the problem is and amnstruggling with how to resolve it.  Behavior modification or change for trauma survivors requires a different approach than for “the average person”.

The first one is less of an issue now that I moved and live in a more open culture.

The second one is not so easy to figure out.

And the third one I try to address carefully, but sometimes fall back to negative strategies that work and avoid future communications.

But at least now I have words to describe to my therapist what challenge I want to work on for the present and near future.

thanks for reading.

I have a confession

My mind set has regressed into old patterns again.  I am back to feeling paranoid and unsafe in my own mind sometimes.  I am letting my family treat me like I was before and then stewing over it.  The stewing is triggering flashbacks and switching.  I am feeling less grounded and more like my old self before this blog.  A self that had more inner turmoil and less confidence in her/their ability to cope.

How I know this?

A good friend gave me a much needed kick in the ass today as she called me on my behavior and my thought process as verbalized in our conversations for the past 24 hours (for more on that read “Alter Post: feeling conflicted“)

What Behavior?

  • Switching alters and then talking or behaving different without awareness
    • Alters taking over are triggered and not present; could be victims still or experiencing flashbacks and speaking from that point of view
    • When this happens, the host personalities cannot take control long enough to implement coping strategies or explain that the “individual” talking is not who the other individual believes she is
    • Not being allowed to tell the person I/we are talking to that he or she is talking to the alters instead of the “usual” host personality
  • Talking about myself too much – something I do as a way to annoy other people and turn them away OR when I am switching without awareness and my alters are talking from their points of view
  • Over-apologizing – saying I am sorry for everything because I (or the alter in charge) feel shame for being myself around her
  • Making connections between ideas and experiences that could be coincidence
  • Thinking people are watching me again
  • Using therapy talk styles to understand what the problem is in conversation with my friend and not explaining in advance that what I am sharing with her is NOT how I will approach family members
  • Feeling insecure in my ability to communicate and be okay in my friend’s house so all of the topics I stored to talk with her about flew out of my mind
  • Not being assertive enough during conversations to ask her to stop interrupting me so I don’t lose my train of thought and start repeating myself
  • Allowing interruptions because the other person or persons assume they know what I am saying, but really don’t, and then moving on out of shame
    • The part of me talking knows what is happening, but can’t get the words right to verbalize with clarity and conciseness and feels unable to assert the self in conversations
    • Leads to anger, frustration, shame, and triggers
    • Leads to varying ways to display that irritation & more switching to find an alter who can verbalize what is happening

The advice & my reflections

  • Stop talking like I just left a therapy session or group session; it can annoy and turn other people way
    • Instead reframe the words into a more conversational style that gets the point across without turning the listener away – especially if it’s someone I care about
    • If I need help, call the hotline for assistance or tell the friend I am speaking with in advance what the conversation is about and why; then check in regularly to make sure we are on the same page
  • Remember that I am safe here and am not a child or a victim anymore.
  • Remember I have options to leave if necessary
  • Remember to practice self care even if that means I leave the room for privacy to do what is necessary
  • Remember we are all flawed and struggling to be polite to each other
  • Remember that my being there is as stressful on them as it is on me – we are all walking on eggshells around each other.
  • Use my grounding tools along with my physical armor – aka outfits & tattoos – to help all of us stay grounded in the present instead of switching and letting my alters use the automatic defenses.
  • When I get interrupted, stop tell the person that I have a point to what I might have repeated before and would like to finish all the way rough.
    • Ask the person not to make assumptions about what I intend to say.  Being interrupted makes me lose my train of thought and repeat myself.
  • Find a polite way to talk to my aunts about potential trips to visit me in my hometown.
  • And make sure I get some alone time.  I forgot what it was like living around them with the TV on all the time and someone always talking or playing on a mobile device.

The Honest Truth

I love and respect my aunts, uncle, and grandmother a lot.  I enjoy being here and visiting my friends and co-workers.  But I can’t wait to go back home.

Being here is too stressful and triggering.  Even though I have access to resources, I still struggle to remember to use them along with everything I’ve learned in the past year.  Especially when my alters are in charge.

What next?

Right now, many of the alters are struggling with shame for something that happened this weekend.  They have some individual processing and coping to deal with and then need to discuss what happened with the rest of the system to share support & brainstorm a strategy for future experiences.

The rest are struggling to find balance and a way to express themselves/cope/feel acknowledged around a group of people who don’t know/struggle to understand them and that they exist.  Mental Health issues aside, it’s necessary to utilize more grounding and self-soothing techniques to help us all find our balance instead of splitting off again.

Finally, all 88 of us need to have a discussion about how to explain to friends what is happening, why, and how to address the issue when alters who don’t normally talk to outsiders start taking over and talking over themselves through constant and seamless switching.

thanks for reading

 

 

Trigger warning: Please take care of yourself and only read if as long as you feel safe/comfortable

Objectification

For most of my life, I’ve been objectified.  First as chattel, then as a sexual vessel, a soldier, a toy, an extension of my mother, a skinny girl/woman, a curvy/feminine/sexy object, a doormat, a “nice girl”, delicate, weak, etc.  People looked at me, listened to my voice, and made assumptions.  Hardly anyone ever took me seriously, and someone always tried to take advantage.

Years of therapy and spending time with positive, supportive people have helped me realize I am more than an object.  Part of my recovery is changing the objectification into a positive sense of self – including positive body image and healthy self-esteem – where people see me first instead of my body.   I used to think that body shaming and negative self-image was only connected to my eating disorder.

Now I know the truth.

That a negative body image and body shaming are separate, but related issues and do not always have anything to do with an eating disorder.

Negative Body Image

I used to hate my body, my face, my appearance.   I blamed my face and body shape as the reason for past traumatic experiences.  So I hurt myself – starvation, self-harm, compulsive exercising, not sleeping, making myself sick, reckless/dangerous activities, not caring for physical or mental health – often and in various ways for decades.

These days, I love my face and my body.  I accept all of its quirks and am grateful to be whole and healthy in spite of the pain.  I dress according to my personal style, comfort needs, and daily tasks.  The colors, the fabrics, the shapes, and the accessories help me feel safe, confident, grounded, and happy.  The textures and weights act as self-soothing and grounding objects.

Even though wearing clothes that fit and flatter shows off my feminine body shape and draws attention, I feel secure enough in who I am to ignore all that and enjoy myself.  Most of the time, I can ignore people criticizing my clothing choices or commenting on my weight changes.

But sometimes, the comments hurt or bring out anger.

Body Shaming

Have you ever been told you are too short or tall?  Maybe your eyes bug out or are slanted?  Your hips too wide?  Your butt too big?  Your chest not muscular enough?  Your body stick-like?  You look too masculine/feminine/boyish/girlish for your age/gender/size?  You are flat-chested or large breasted?  Your man-boobs are too prominent?  You stomach is not flat enough?  Skin too flabby?

Has anyone ever criticized your clothing choices?  Your accessories?  Your posture?  Shoes?

These are all examples of body shaming.  Many of them I personally experienced.  Some I have heard told to people I care about.  Others from comments made about celebrities.  The comments from my parents, sibling, cousins, and relatives are the ones that hurt most.  Second place goes to friends, co-workers, mentors, supervisors, and other people in authority positions.  Finally, the random hate from strangers and people posturing for acceptance were the least harmful.  It’s hard to take people who don’t know me seriously.

What brings this up now?

Summer time means wearing less clothes for one thing.  July 1st is a double anniversary with lots of meaning.  July 4th is another anniversary.  I remember spending most of my summers locked up and away from friends, relatives, etc. except on certain occasions for most of my pre-adult life.

Added to all that, I’ve been talking with my aunts more often to coordinate my 2-week visit back home later this month.  During a conversation, one of my aunts proceeded to body shame me, criticize me, and then act like she forgot I was visiting.  No, I am not sure why she decided to cross my boundaries and talk to me this way.  I could speculate, but why bother?  She is who she is, and I should have expected something like this to happen at some point.

Why is this time more of a challenge than past experiences?

My reaction was different.  My feelings were different.  My perspective had changed too.

Instead of feeling hurt or guilt or shame, I felt outrage like “how dare you treat me this way” and pushed back instead of retreating or defending myself.  My response was simple, non-aggressive, and direct.  Then I told her that these days are available if she wants to spend time with me when I visit.

But I still felt angry.  The anger scared me for many reasons.  Different feelings bring out different reactions and impulses.  Anger tends to bring out my rebellious and reckless sides.  It also clouds my thinking.

During that phone call I realized the body shaming and criticism did not trigger any negative feelings about my body.  It did however knock at my self-esteem a little and bring on some nasty flashbacks complete with physical pain.  I felt defensive and uncertain about wearing dresses again.  And part of me was justifying my clothing choice for the day on the inside.  So I made a plan.  When I realized I couldn’t execute the plan on my own, I asked for help.

That was Friday.

The Plan

Go out for a walk in my neighborhood.  Play with friendly dogs.  Eat good food.  Go home and watch a movie or sleep.  Go to counseling the next day.  Have fun and enjoy my 4-day weekend even if that means spending a lot of time sleeping.  Do some packing for the future move.  But most important: RELAX

Thanks for reading.

Too many flashbacks.  Too much remembering.  OCD compels me to do something I don’t want to do, yet I give in sometimes.  Obsessions continue.

I hate feeling helpless.

I hate what happens in April.

Winter is over.  Spring is in the air.

I wish for inspiration.  I hope for inspiration.  I ask for inspiration.

you-may-not-control-all-the-events-that-happen-to-you-but-you-can-decide-not-to-be-reduce-by-them-struggle-quote

What works?  How to cope?  Moment by moment.  Minute by minute.

Sleep.  Wake.  Eat.  Drink.  Ground in the present.  Breathe.  Meditate.  Distract.  Do everything I can to protect myself.  Backup all documentation.  Feel.  Let go.  Call the hotline.  Give in to the compulsions.

Did all  that.  Once.  Twice.  Over and over again.

Please inspire me to cope for:

  • One more day of work
  • One religious holiday
  • One weekend morning before therapy

I hate remembering.  Yet remembering helps me heal.  If I didn’t need to know, I wouldn’t remember.

Who am I?  Is the monster real?

NO.

Not. A. Monster.

Just me.  parts of me leading a not-so-secret life anymore.

Out of the dark, and into the gray.

Please universe inspire me.

I love writing.  Many parts of me also love writing.  I use “many” because some of my parts are too young to be able to write – they draw and color instead.

Like talking with a safe person, journaling or writing a post and sharing it with guests allows me (as the representative for all of us) to break silence.  I express and make concrete what is asking to be acknowledged inside.

What is asking?  Memories, feelings, thoughts, experiences, information, sensations, and secrets.

Sometimes the need to share those secrets feels like a compulsion; it becomes an obsession that creates mental loops pushing and pushing me to do something (compulsion) to make the anxiety go away.

Other times, the need to share those secrets is overwhelmed by the feelings of fear and shame that the monsters/punishers (alters who are stuck in the past and trying to protect everyone from the inevitable punishment for disobeying).  Then the compulsion to hurt myself in some way becomes stronger as I struggle to decide whether or not to write down that specific experience or story.

Most often, though, the problem I have with journaling and writing posts when I feel overwhelmed with the compulsion to share is more comes out than what I intended to write.  And that “more” is triggering – brings up other memories, feelings, thoughts, and sensations no one in the system is ready or able to cope with.

So I’m sorry for the late post.  We are all sorry for the late post.  But no one was in a good mind state to write a post yesterday.  And even with this post, the anxiety is rising.

I’m off to make my favorite drink of hot water with honey.

Thanks for reading.

Going back to school was amazing in some ways – I felt so comfortable and accepted there.  Socializing was a lot easier than I anticipated, and I had so much fun in spite of the stress from lack of self-care time.  But I realized that my concern about self care masked the real challenge.

The real challenge was a flood of memories about my struggles trying to socialize and fit in with peers or attain meaningful goals.  My body started reacting first.  But not in the same way it usually does.  The Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatments have been helping a lot, so the cramping pain, nausea, and rapid breathing changed to something I didn’t recognize.  My sleeping was okay, but the dreams changed.

My anxiety increased every day as I got closer and closer to the last class.  Up until Friday in class, I debated whether or not to not follow through the rest of the application process.  There is still an email telling my admissions counselor I don’t want to continue waiting in my draft box.  It explains that maybe I am not sure I feel ready to start school in September.  My alters and I do worry that our body is not ready for that kind of stress yet.

Earlier in the day, I texted my counselor about my worries.  She got back to me while I was in the last class and convinced me to wait until after our session to decide about the email.  My counselor and I talked about it in session, but what came out of my mouth wasn’t what either of us expected.  My parts started talking.  They shared what each of us had been told throughout the years without providing context first.  By the time I came back, the session was over.  I felt really mad at myself, upset, and confused.

  • What I wanted to share has to wait until the next session.  But right now, we have to cope with the fallout symptoms from being triggered on multiple levels.
  • Memories of shame and humiliation with regards to socializing, participating in class, and enjoying myself in crowds
  • Memories of what my parents, brother, relatives, so-called friends, and other people said to shame and discourage me from achieving my school-related dreams
  • Coping with the fact that my body and mind are not reacting to these triggers in the “typical” way – and none of us know what to do

So now life has calmed down.  Work schedule is getting back to normal.  And I have an essay to write.  But this weekend was busy with work.  And I finally had some warm, sunny days to enjoy outside.  It was fun hanging out with neighborhood friends and seeing the crowds of people on the street again.

Thanks for reading

 

Background

Last week I was very tired.  My muscles hurt.  My brain was fuzzy, i.e. I lacked mental clarity.  Wasn’t hungry or thirsty.  Coped with 1 birthday, 1 holiday, and over time at work.

The nightmares started Thursday.  Waking up frozen in fear and unable to breathe started late Friday/early Saturday.  Waking up in the middle of the night for no reason started late Wednesday/early Thursday.  The gas and abdominal pain decreased after acupuncture treatment on Tuesday, but flared up again on Friday.

The Challenges

I have to say that rubbing my tummy in a clockwise position really does help to get things moving in there and relieve some of the pain.  Hard to imagine, but gas really does hurt until the body lets it out.  So does everything else that gets stuck in there.  Cause pain I mean.

And abdominal pain causes pain in other places too.  For me, it causes low back pain and pain further up my chest.  Then breathing deep becomes a challenge.  Then breathing shallow becomes a challenge.  Finally, I have to consciously remember to breathe.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.

Waking up Saturday morning, I felt fine in bed.  Going down the ladder was slightly uncomfortable because I felt off balance.  Then I go to the floor.

My body rebelled.  Said: “Get me to the bathroom ASAP”

In I went.  And so started the panic attack with my body in pain as it tried to eliminate waste.

Normally, this is not a big deal.  Panic attacks like this have eased up a lot with coping strategies in place.

But this time was different.  We had a time limit.  By we, I mean all of us mental alters and our body (considers itself an alter too).  And the time limit caused even more  triggers.  Caused a regression back to those times when nothing but passing out into unconsciousness made the pain stop.  Without the time limit, maybe we could have made it to therapy.

But with less than an hour to work through the panic attack, everything quickly got worse instead of better.  Not until I texted the counselor to tell her that we couldn’t go because of a panic attack did the pain ease.  50 minutes later, the panic attack was over.

And I missed counseling.  Takes about 10 minutes to dress and leave.  Takes about 15 minutes to walk  there on a good day.  By  the time I arrived, the session would be mostly over.

Coping Strategies that worked:

  • Repeating the following mantra: “I love you.  You love you.  We love you.  I love us.  You love us.  We love us.  I trust you.  You trust you.  We trust you.  We trust our body.  I am safe.  You are safe.  We are safe.” to start.
  • Reminding ourselves: “We are safe at home.  This is our bathroom.  We can stay as long as we want.  We can leave and come back any time.”
  • Finally: “Pain is a warning system and reminder. Pain eases as our body does its job.  We trust our body to do what is necesssary to keep us safe.”
  • Belly rubs and back massage to help stuff on the inside move out.
  • Removing any layers that felt uncomfortable against the skin.
  • Breathing and changing position as needed to ease physical discomfort.
  • Cleaning up; putting on clothes or not; taking care of other needs like food and water; sleeping again.

Conclusion

Staying at home was  the best thing to do.  Following the panic attack, I had a light meal and slept for about 5 hours straight.  During that sleep, my mind and body waged war with whatever was causing the heightened anxiety and panic attack symptoms.

Woke up feeling refreshed and hungry for the first time all week.

Was it my grandmother’s birthday?  Was it Chinese New Year and my conscious choice not to celebrate?  Was it working over time?  Was it an email from my cousin?  Was it an email from the college admissions team requesting a call next week to inform me of their decision?

I honestly don’t know.  All I do know it that I’m tired and grumpy.  Today, for the first time in over a week, I actually woke up feeling rested and like myself.  I worked some more; did laundry; cooked a few meals.  And now I’m exhausted.

Also a little worried.  Missing appointments is a big deal and something I work hard not to do.

How do you handle missed appointments?

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Introduction

During certain times of the year, the pain gets worse and the memories overwhelm my logical thinking abilities.  I start to feel vulnerable outside of my apartment.  Too vulnerable and my brain automatically starts sending out “not safe” signals to the rest of my parts.  So I stop leaving my apartment building.  And then I stop leaving my apartment except when absolutely necessary.

Description

And even the “absolutely necessary” going out causes a problem sometimes.  But then I go outside and feel confused.  Being out of my apartment feels good at first.  I enjoy the scents and sounds from trees, restaurants, people, and dogs.  But the further I get from my building, the more vulnerable I feel.  What if the pain escalates?  What if I can’t get home?  What if I embarrass myself by having a panic attack in front of these strangers?

The questions, the fears crowd my mind and stiffen my body.  My hips start to ache.  My spine curves.  And I focus one step at a time to the counselor’s office.  Potential treat: a hot chocolate (regular or peppermint) from Starbucks before the appointment.  Potential treat: brunch/lunch on the way home.

Since I love food and hardly ever eat breakfast before my morning appointments, the reward sometimes helps me get from A to B.  Hot chocolate that I don’t have to make also helps.  Other days, visiting some stores to window shop works better.

But sometimes not even a reward for going out or meeting needs like laundry or grocery shopping can get me out of the apartment.

Challenge

Eventually, the agoraphobia passes.

While I experience the agoraphobia, I also feel frustration and shame.  Frustration because I want to be outside.  Shame because my fear and vulnerability prevent me from doing what I want.  Triggers occur.  Panic takes over.  And the only safe place feels like home.

Nothing I’ve tried helps.  Nothing makes the agoraphobia go away.

The trigger causing agoraphobia hasn’t revealed itself.  The trigger to make it go away hasn’t revealed itself either.

Conclusion

I wait out the periods of agoraphobia and hope that this one ends sooner instead of later.  But I still hate it.  I still struggle.

I still persist.

Remembering and pain will not stop me anymore now than it has before.

Thanks for reading.

 

Since Christmas, I have been struggling with really bad anxiety.  Flashbacks, nightmares, changes in sleep and eating patterns, etc.

The body pain increased too.  That made me wonder what exactly triggered this round of escalation?

two things: letting down barriers and being emotionally supportive of an aunt who is still stuck in the abuse cycle I walked away from.

the barriers: I opened my heart and friendship to a neighbor whose little dog wrapped himself around my heart with one look at his big, dark eyes and some very loud barks.  I walked him a couple times last week to help my neighbor out.  She needed some help since her second job required a schedule change.

This brought back fond memories of when I used to exercise without pain and enjoy it.  Also memories of my puppy from a disastrous attempt at service dog training s couple years ago.  From there, came a tumble of other memories and feelings – some good, others not so great.

Emotional support: I reconnected with family on my father’s side this year.  It has been slow and careful because I don’t want to get sucked back into the toxic system that still exists.  They know that and (for the most part) respect my boundaries.  But I have an older aunt who still gets targeted for the emotional and verbal abuse/bullying/scapegoating by the rest of the family.  We had a conversation about that when she called earlier this week.  The call brought back other memories and familiar pain in my back the next day.  I want to be supportive, but not much else I can do until she is ready to take the steps to protect herself.  Where and how to I set boundaries to protect myself and support her?

I don’t know.  But yesterday was hard to concentrate at work.  I missed my deadline here by falling asleep 1 hour after work finished.

Today, I am taking a mental health day.  Have to because the anxiety is so bad I need to do some serious self care.  Sleep is #1 priority.  Followed by real food and hydration.  Getting outside for the first time in 4 days.  And trying to regain my sense of safety through grounding, soothing, and DBT strategies.

thanks for reading