Archives for category: Coping Strategy

Spring triggers

End of April brings out my “allergies” and many head colds.  My sleeping patterns and eating habits change too.  Beginning of May equals many family birthdays and Mother’s Day combined with Memorial Day and end of spring semester in college.  Dissociation is common.  Nightmares get worse.  The usual stuff.

Here, though, the sun rises around 7:00 AM and sets around 8:00 PM.  I can sleep late on weekends and still have plenty of time to go out for a walk in the sun.  Taking the trash and recycling out feels like less of a chore and more of a task on my to-do list.  With the weather in the high 40s or 50s (Fahrenheit), my big window can stay open while my loft remains warm and cozy.  Love fresh air.

A new pillow

Pillows have been a burden for many years.  Between chemical sensitivities and night sweats, I have yet to find a pillow that lasts more than a year or two.  Even the wool-filled ones from the last few years flattened out and stopped being supportive.  It’s hard to get comfortable and stay asleep, especially when the night sweats manifest.

But this weekend I found a new alternative.  There’s a local store that specializes in chemical free, natural & home furniture and bedding.   Last night, I slept easier and longer than I have in a while.  Not exactly nightmare free, but also not a night filled with bad dreams and sweat waking me up.  I hope investing in a new pillow continues to help with my sleep hygiene.

Knitting

Knitting is something I and my alters enjoy, but can also be triggering.  It’s also physically intensive and can be calming with repetitive action.  But this weekend, I feel happy, calm, proud, and accomplished.  My first infinity scarf is almost finished.  My arms and shoulders got some decent exercise, and no triggering this time.  It was a great distraction from my other discomfort and worry because still not feeling hungry or eating like I’m supposed to.

Walking – exercise & moving meditation

After some self massage and lying down meditation this morning, I felt good enough to do some apartment cleaning.  Picked up trash, collected recycling, and did some vacuuming.  Still have some laundry sorting to do, but that can wait a bit longer.  By treating these tasks as a moving meditation, I calmed down enough to go outside for a short walk and get a real meal at the grocery store.

That gave me a chance to check out new store products, eat outside, and enjoy the fresh air while thinking about what kinds of food and drinks to put together this week.  Being outside felt good and helped me feel better about myself.  Getting out the door isn’t easy this time of year, so any advantage to help me leave the building is welcome.

Conclusion

Sometimes changing seasons can affect mood and triggers.  Many people ask me if lack of sunlight or changing seasons increases my chance of depression.  The short answer is no.  The long answer is, not depression but my anxiety and hyper-vigilance get triggered.  I start to fear going outside and interacting with the world while also feeling angry with myself because I want to be outside enjoying the spring weather.

These coping strategies are hit or miss, but ones I love to put into practice as often as possible.  My young alter personalities enjoy the knitting as much as the teens and adults.  The moving meditation helps all of us relax and connect mind/body/spirit while also getting chores done.  Replaces scary or negative experiences with positive ones.  Finally, anything that helps us all sleep better is worth saving up the money to purchase and use.

I and my alters hope these examples might help you find a way to cope with unexpected triggers or seasonal changes too.

Thanks for reading.

I don’t have much to write today.  Panic attacks this weekend.

This one seems to fit my mood

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I hope it helps you too.

 

Thanks for reading

A quick post tonight.  Lots going on and not much to share at the moment – still processing.

Last week, I went back to school for the first time in over 10 years.  It’s part of my graduate school application to help me and the admissions board decide if I should be accepted into the program this fall.

I have 5 more classes to sit in on over the next two weeks.  During the first class, I stayed mostly clearheaded and did not get overwhelmed.  But I did react to the loud noise/talking when students finished their work early and waited for the rest to finish.  Also, I discovered that I have to move around in my seat, sitting still in a classroom made my body hurt.  Finally, I have to be wary of my hyper-vigilance and try to relax instead.

The day after I sat in on a class, I experienced some confusion during reflection time.  The confusion led to anxiety because I wasn’t sure I had the coping tools available to help with these “new” experiences.  A call to the hotline and a conversation with the counselor helped me realize I had plenty of applicable coping strategies and techniques in my toolbox.  I just had to figure out which ones worked or didn’t work and how to apply them in this new setting.

My list so far:

  • acupressure for pain management
  • water or a drink for grounding
  • bracelet to play with
  • deep breathing or “tree” exercise in my chair
  • Chocolate or something similar for taste grounding
  • magic bag??
  • extra battery/charger for my phone

What is on your list?

hanks for reading

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Henry David Thoreau is one of my favorite authors from school.  He inspired me to keep going in high school and college.  Somehow, his essays and books always made their way into course curriculum or research for papers whenever the stress threatened to overwhelm me.

This weekend, except for some promises to keep, I am staying inside and focusing on reflection.  Too much has been revealed  in the past few weeks.  Not enough sleep.  Not enough rest.  Wanting some procrastination, I decided to take advantage of the long weekend and stay inside.

Tomorrow is back to normal and some chores…

And maybe, just maybe my equilibrium will come back.

Thanks for reading.

This is the first year Christmas has come on a post day.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Usually, I write a post in advance to avoid any commitments or interruptions.

But not this time.

Shame & Anxiety filled holidays

In the past, I struggled with shame about how I preferred to spend my Christmas holidays. So I would evade questions or give breezy answers until people stopped asking me.  It’s easier than getting the pitying looks and having to face the whispers and concern about being lonely or alone for the holidays.  Or feeling the need to explain why I enjoy solitary Christmas days full of quiet and relaxation.  Or having to answer questions about why I choose not to spend time with family or friends.

Rest & Relaxation filled holidays

But this year, I’ve embraced my Christmas experience.  It’s been shaped by past and present memories, by personal values and preferences, and by my choice to honor the spirit of Christmas and Thanksgiving.  It also appeals to the practical side of my nature.

I want to be present as much as possible.  I want to remember what scares me about the holidays and why so that I can reclaim Christmas for myself.  I want to learn how to cope with the trauma and triggers so that some future Christmases can be spent with family and friends too.

This year’s holiday plan:

  • Send holiday cards to friends and family
  • Make a shopping list of grounding/comfort food and items for holiday meals
  • Cook food on Christmas eve
  • Connect with friends and family to say Merry Christmas
  • Do some things that feel good on Christmas eve
  • Download some e-books and borrow others from the library
  • Try to sleep on Christmas Eve night
  • Sleep in/relax on Christmas day
  • Wake up when I feel like it; eat when I feel like it
  • Sleep some more (and let the memories flow in and out)
  • Read, relax, enjoy the quiet so opposite to past holidays

Future holiday plan (for when I stop moving and settle in):

  • Decorate for Christmas with a tree and some wreaths, maybe plants too
  • Go out and enjoy some holiday cheer at community events
  • Maybe spend Christmas Eve/Day with people
  • And almost everything on the other holiday plan

Conclusion

A plan doesn’t always work for everyone.  But having some activities or tools in mind for when the triggers hit helps a lot.  So does dreaming or having hope.

I am not ashamed of how I spend my Christmases anymore.  I relish the idea of rest & relaxation in a time when everyone else is burdened with “have to do” lists that cause more negative stress than pleasure.

If ever there came a time when I did choose to be busy, that would be because I CHOSE to include entertaining and socializing into the holiday.  Not for any other reason.

Whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate, I/We all wish you a happy, healthy, safe seasons’s greetings.

Thanks for reading

Sorry I am late.  Yesterday was rough, and I spent most of it working on self-care.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy or ACT is new to me.  What is so hard about ACT?  Doing the opposite of what I’ve learned to cope with feelings.  There’s more to it, but my learning curve is just starting.

Instead, I’m going to provide a link to a reputable source: Good Therapy (www.goodtherapy.org) and let you discover the information on your own.

Beyond that, I’m finding a lot of comfort in gratitude practice lately.  One thing I am most grateful for is the guests who visit here and inspire me to keep on going.

Thanks for reading

Not much to say today.  I am still sick and practicing self-care.  What seems counter-intuitive is sometimes the best self-care of all.

For me, that means taking time to rest & sleep.  Movie and TV (streaming) marathons with my alters.  Forgoing active hobbies for passive ones.  Eating less, hydrating as needed.  Lying down instead of sitting or walking around.

Being careful who I speak with and what I say helps too.  And with that introduction, I bring to you today’s affirmation.

No matter your intentions or the words you speak, the other person will only hear and remember what she or he wants to hear and remember.

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A quick review of my thoughts about and experience with meditation

I started meditating as a child in Taekwondo classes.  We had 5-15 minutes of meditation every class 2-3 times a week.  The purpose of that meditation was to practice focus and calmness – we focused on breathing in and out, sitting quietly, not moving.  As we got older, the focus transitioned to clearing our minds and letting thoughts flow in and out while focusing on our breath.  It was a sitting meditation with our eyes closed, posture straight.

As I got older and went to college, I learned about yoga and moving meditation too.  This was more like mindfulness meditation where the focus was on being present and acknowledging the sensations brought on by moving slow (yoga) or by the environment (walking meditation).  We let our feelings and thoughts flow in and out, acknowledging each bit while focusing on the deliberate, slow movement our bodies made with each position.

Then I started learning about Buddhism and meditation to clear my mind or free myself from the clutter of incessant thoughts and feelings.  This meditation was the most difficult for me as an adult because every time I started to clear my mind, my past memories (blocked by amnesia) would surface and cause flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  That kind of ruined the whole clear-my-mind and look into the emptiness goal.  Visualization worked better for me because I got to “paint a picture” with my imagination; less scary than looking into clear water or dark nothing.

Different kinds of meditation suit different purposes

The meditation taught in most therapy groups, sessions, and programs is mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness can help keep an individual grounded in the present while also teaching how to slow down and be more aware of self/surroundings.  Mindfulness teaches individuals how to be more aware of one’s internal landscape and offer tools to cope with overwhelming feelings.

Focused meditation is about learning mental and emotional self control by letting go of feelings and staying calm.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps build clarity of thought, compassion, and resilience depending on the goal of each session.  The hardest part about focused meditation is clearing one’s mind of stray thoughts and focusing on breathing or emptiness.

When I was in the partial programs, many of the moderators skipped meditation and dismissed it as too hard and not useful because of their failures to achieve positive mediation practice.  I felt angry when I heard this repeated; it made me rethink everything they taught.  Meditation helped me get to where I am and was my frame of reference so I could understand their emotion regulation concepts.

I use focused meditation to help with my shame and compassion work more than any other type.  It helps all of us (my alters and I) get in touch with the scary feelings from a safe and grounded place inside of ourselves.  The mindfulness meditation helps with the severe physical pain that comes from anxiety and body memories; we use this most often during panic attacks, nightmares, and insomnia.  And the moving meditation helps us cope with too much energy or compulsion to over exercise.  It offers a stretch and tone without a lot of exertion.

Lessons from almost 2o years of meditation practice

  • Meditation is hard
  • Meditation takes practice, persistence, and patience to learn
  • Trying to practice a focused meditation with DID and many alters is scary, confusing, and frustrating because the thoughts and feelings of other alters enter and flow through the same consciousness as the one trying to meditate.
  • Maintaining a level of physical stillness for some meditation practices with DID might be a big challenge
    • So far I have not found a way to stop my eyes from moving (sign of switching alters) when I practice a focused standing or sitting meditation with my eyes open.
  • Remember that meditation practice can be fluid and flexible to a degree
    • Try to accommodate personal quirks like alters or injuries in ways that still allow for beneficial practice
  • Clearing one’s mind is not exactly the goal – calming one’s mind is a better option
  • Calming one’s mind is scary for everyone because once you calm down, you can see everything you’ve been hiding from or ignoring or denying about yourself
  • The goal is not to attain emptiness or numbness, but to be able to  observe and acknowledge your internal feelings and sensations without having them take over your life.
  • The goal is to feel and let feelings/thoughts/sensations inform you and help make choices in every day life
  • Meditation helps me pause and step back when I feel overwhelmed, confused, or stressed out so that I can calm down and make choice based on emotion and logic instead of only emotion or only logic

Conclusion

Meditation is a skill worth learning.  There are many ways to learn, but I think that in-person lessons with an experienced practitioner are the best option for anyone with doubts and questions.  Instructors have experienced many of the barriers that frustrate people on all levels and can help students work through them one-on-one.

As with any strategy discussed here, practice, patience, and persistence make the difference between a useful and a not-helpful tool in the tool box.  Please take your time and go into each experiment with an open mind if you try out any of these options.  Then, if the strategy still doesn’t feel right, please move on or tweak the strategy in ways to make it useful to you.

Thanks for reading.

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Not every time, but often I wish this could be true.  I wish there was at least one safe person in my life who could see inside and offer me this.

This time I am offering a virtual hug to my guests through the quote.  We are not alone.

May we all find that special someone when we are ready.

Thanks for reading

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