Archives for category: PTSD

The Questions:

Quite a few people have asked me how I can love the people who hurt me so badly throughout the years.  Why don’t I hate them instead?  Don’t I feel resentment or hurt?  Don’t I feel angry?    And if I love them, why did I walk away?  Cut them out of my life?

The Answers:

Love, true love, is unconditional.  It is universal, all-encompassing, non-judgmental, compassionate, accepting, supportive, and freely given.  Love is inclusive instead of exclusive.

This kind of love is NOT the same as conditional love, romantic love, approval, or obligation.

Yes, I do feel anger, resentment, hurt, intense dislike, sometimes hate, guilt, and shame too.  But these emotions are pointed at words, thoughts, actions, reactions, choices, behaviors, and experiences; not the individual human beings.

Yes, those people made the choice to be abusive.  And maybe some of them enjoy being mean and hateful, etc., but I’m not responsible for their feelings.  All I can do is try to understand their perspectives and make choices to protect myself.

I’m learning to let go of the anger and resentment, the shame and guilt, because holding on to that negativity only hurts me in the end.

I can’t/won’t change anyone else; can’t/won’t make their choices for them; can’t/won’t be responsible for them or the consequences of those choices.

I can only make my own choices, live up to my own values, and be responsible for myself.

By doing that, I can open my heart enough to feel compassion, love, and acceptance for the people who hurt me.  And I can give them another chance to see if we can have a positive relationship as the people we are now.

The Why’s:

Every person has a story.  Every person has been through experiences (nurture/nature) that shaped who he was and who he is now.  Some of those experiences were her choices; others were not her choice.  Each experience, and how the person coped, influenced the person he or she is now and how that individual interacts with others.

The people who hurt me chose to treat me and talk to me that way.  I hold them responsible for their choices even as I can understand why.  That DOES NOT mean I have to spend time around people who chose to act and be abusive and hurtful to themselves and others.

So, as much as I love my family and feel a universal love toward the others, I still hold them responsible for what they said and did.  I forgive them without forgetting.  And I set my boundaries to protect myself even as I pray that someday they will stop hurting themselves and others.

Religious?  Spiritual?  Or something else?

I don’t know.  The religion I learned as a child taught me to fear and hate God, men, women, and life equally.  This life was advance payment for a glorious afterlife (if I was a man) or a lifetime of servitude without abuse (if I was a woman).  And maybe that’s not really what being a Mormon is about, but those are the lessons I learned.

These days, I choose to believe in a universal force/spirit/energy that works with nature to provide what’s needed.  Nature or nurture.  Science or religion or magic.  In my mind, all of these are different sides of the same coin.

Is saying “I love you” to people not family foolish?

No.  I’ve said those words to many people who are not family or close friends and meant them.  Those people may have brushed off the words or responded with condescension, thinking I’m naive and sappy, but I’d rather live in a world with love, compassion, empathy, resilience, and courage than one without those traits.

Conclusion

So I will keep on saying “thank you”, “I appreciate…”, “I love you”, “I apologize…”, “I’m sorry…”, “how can I help”, “no”, “not right now”, “I don’t know”, “Please respect my…” to people.  I will keep on treating them the way I want to be treated.  I will bounce back from the pain.  I will give second chances, but not third ones.  I will continue living life on my terms and cultivate friendships with like-minded people while accepting those with different mind-sets.

Thanks for reading

Fear keeps me awake.  Anxiety disturbs my thinking processes/cognitive ability.  Adrenaline gives an energy boost until the crash.

But anger???  Anger does two things:

  1. In the moment, I feel like I could take on a legion of warriors and win.  Energy is swirling around me and adding strength to my muscles.  Not so much aggression (although it looks like that to most outsiders) as battle-readiness
  2. After that, or if the anger lasts a long time, I feel exhausted.  Instead of waking up ready to take on the day, eating or doing chores, or enjoying myself with people and hobbies, I feel sleepy.  And if I don’t listen and sleep, I start to feel sleep deprivation even though I am not sleep deprived.

Why talk about it now?  Because I don’t want to feel tired when I am this angry.  I want to find a safe way to let it out so that my body/mind/spirit can feel some relief.  I want to listen and attend to the needs of my physical self through exercise, and yes, a punching bag or some kind of activity that involves self-defense/fighting.

Growing up, I didn’t like sparring, but I also didn’t fear it.  Sparring taught me a lot and helped me feel confident I could protect myself.  Not until the teachers and classmates started criticizing and humiliating me on purpose did I start to fear classes.  And when the flashbacks started in college, I couldn’t stop the rage from taking over and making me more aggressive during sparring and practice sessions.  Something that did not go over well with my teacher, younger brother, friends, or other classmates.

Eventually, I got so scared of hurting someone that I stopped all together.  When you can’t tell what’s real and what’s not, it’s hard to feel in control and able to spar without hurting someone.  And when everyone around you is talking about you behind your back and watching you like you’re going to “lose it” and hurt someone, you just want to get out and leave.  Or at least, we felt that way.

I want to not be afraid of going into the “zone” of rage and dissociation whenever I feel angry or scared.  I’d like those parts of me to come out into the light and be an active part of our system.  I am proud of them.  The other parts in our system are proud of them.  We want to feel what they feel when they defend us.  We want to participate in learning self-defense and protection.  We want them to be able to use our body and experience the endorphins and happiness that comes from physical activity too.

But enough of that for now.  I am tired.  My parts are tired.  Yesterday at therapy was intense.  And the self care we did after our morning session was even more tiring.  So a nap is in order for now.  Then following up on our new routine and some more self-care to get ready for work tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

This is not properly formatted…using the app annoys me so I avoid using it as often as possible…sorry if it’s confusing or difficult to follow
This month, I pared down my apartment to less than the basics.  Most of my stuff has been given away or put in the dumpster.  What I kept has been boxed and shipped to the new apartment.  

My clothes are in suitcases. I got rid of my cooking utensils and stopped cooking a little over a week ago.  And because of the “not cooking” part I have had to confront many of my food fears, body anxiety, and personal biases about skinny versus fat in terms of health and my body.

Many people in my circle think I am a healthy eater and lucky not to be addicted to junk food or fat and overweight like they are.  I am a little less than my ideal weight right now because of stress, but not terribly so.  And sure, I prefer eating real food with lofs of nutrients.  But I also love chocolate and cheese; eat way too much chocolate; and get lots of discomfort from eating cheese.

But the easiest kinds of food to prepare without pots, pans, and a microwave are the same foods that being back bad memories and trigger fear.  Even typical snacks do that to me.  But I wanted this time to be different.  I wanted to stay healthy and grounded and present for this entire move.

So I started wondering why eating or even thinking about eating sandwiches, canned/spreadable meats on crackers, salads, wraps, granola and energy bars or drinks, chips, dip, jerky, deli meat and so on made me feel sick and lose my apetite.  Also certain kinds of trail mix, bagels, english muffins, and spreads like hummus can be added to the list.

Sadly, my avoidance of these foods stems from childhood.

I spent a lot of time at home with my mom for a variety of reasons.  I was “her little helper” from a young age and spent most of my days cleaning, doing laundry, and playing by myself.  Mom was sick a lot; she slept often and forgot to cook or prepare food.  And waking her up was impossible sometimes. If I did wake her up, I got smacked and punished.

So I learned to feed myself with what was available in the cabinets I could reach.  The refrigerator was too heavy to open, so a lot of what I ate came from boxes, cans, and bags.  I still can’t eat cereal with milk or toasted bread without feeling queasy.

And often, mom would wake up and find me eating “her” snacks or pastries because that’s what I could reach.  My punishment for stealing: no dinner or lunch, etc.  If I showed a preference for certain food, they never reappeared in the house.  So I started sneaking in food and snacks when no one paid attention.  Plus: I never gained much weight.  Minus: I never had enough nutrients to grow and get strong either.

And then I would hit growth spurts that made me “hungry all the tine” my mom complained.  And I “ate like a bird” and was “too picky” about my food.  Oh, and I was getting fat from eating to much even though I was “on the go” all the time between school, activities, and being “mom’s helper”.  “Mom’s helper” included letting the babysitters and other people picking me up, take me away for hours, and bring me home again. During those times as “mom’s helper”, the people gave me lots of sweets and soda and other stuff filled with drugs and alcohol to make me compliant.  Eventually, though, that stuff made me sick instead.  Then the people couldn’t use me or make money off of me.

I guess that makes me lucky in one way because I never got addicted to the illegal drugs they forced into me.  Between my mom putting me on diets to keep her company or because I was getting fat and my worry that whatever food I ate was going to make me sick, I started restricting myself to only eating foods I knew were safe and only other foods in relatively safe places.

Fast forward to now.  My body hates any kind of chemical and synthetic foodlike substances.  I can smell and taste the chemicals long before the food reaches my plate.  All that time spent eating those foods and watching my parents/sibling get sicker and sicker from those habits scarred me.  Made me think all fat people are evil and unhealthy and not safe for a long time.  But then seeing skinny people or average people or muscle bound fit people did the same.  My perpetrators came in all shapes and sizes, both genders, and a variety of religions and sexual orientations.  All they had in common were pedophilia, sadism, and a love of mind-altering substances.

And eating many of these foods makes my body hurt later.  Sometimes to the point where I don’t realize the food brought back body memories.  And then I wonder why massage and other coping strategies aren’t working or how I got triggered.  

At least now I know that food fearscan trigger   body memories and panic attacks.  And that I can survive on triggering foods without getting sick or fat or turning into my mom.  My weight has mostly stabilized now that the end is close.
And next week I hope to start posting 2x a week again.

Thanks for reading.

Introduction

I was talking with a friend of mine over dinner earlier this week, and she mentioned not wanting to take meds for depression.  Another male friend of mine said the same thing a few months ago.  Both said that the medicine makes them foggy and feel numb, so preferred not taking the psychiatric prescriptions.  And during my final visit with my dietitian yesterday, depression and stress related food issues came up.

So I thought this would be a good time to share some facts I’ve learned about depression and anorexia as related to (symptoms of) my PTSD.  You see, the complex posttraumatic stress disorder sometimes includes symptoms and side effects that can also be standalone diagnoses.  Depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, self-harm, phobias, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and dissociation to name a few.

Depression

I struggle with depression often.  It comes and goes in waves depending on a schedule of personal holidays and anniversaries embedded in my mind and body.  For a long time, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses tried to give me all kinds of pills.  Sometimes they gave me the same ones my mother was on; this made sense to them as our supposed symptoms of anxiety and depression were similar.

Then they started giving me other pills to help with the psychotic symptoms: hearing voices; hallucinations, sleep issues, and so on.  The pills were supposed to make the symptoms go away – i.e. I wouldn’t hear voices or hallucinate anymore.  The nightmares would disappear.  And I’d sleep through the night.

Well I did start sleeping a lot.  And for a few months at a time, my mind would be quiet.  But, I felt numb and spent most of my time living in a fog.  Nothing penetrated the fog.  And my coordination problems got worse.  Concentration became difficult.  I started to get sick often.

So I stopped taking medicine and tried to find other coping strategies.  But I kept wondering what was wrong with me that the medicine couldn’t fix a biological/chemical problem like depression the way it did for others.  If I had depression, then it was a chemical imbalance.  Medicine fixed chemical imbalances.  Right?

Not exactly…my last psychiatrist explained to me that people who have experienced severe trauma do have problems with depression.  But their depression is not biological or chemical based.  It comes from having been traumatized; only therapy modalities that focus on healing from trauma can help with that kind of depression.

He said that about anxiety too; the symptoms of anxiety can be masked by medicine, but the cause of the anxiety cannot.  So when the medicine wears off, I will experience all of the symptoms of anxiety and/or depression that were masked.  Sometimes, the symptoms will be worse because they were repressed (backlash).  It’s a risk I would take every time I took one of the pills.

These days, the only time I take one of those pills is if I haven’t slept for more than 24 hours and need to knock myself out.  Hence the nickname “knockout pills”.

Final Thoughts

Find a mental health provider who understands trauma (trauma-informed or trauma trained).  Not all of them understand trauma or how it affects mental health.  Then discuss symptoms and past experiences with medication with this person and see if medication is the right path.  If it’s not, ask for other suggestions and options.  If medicine does seem like a good path, keep a journal of the different symptoms and side effects that occur or not occur when on and off the pills.

I am not opposed to taking medicine or pills.  I am opposed to having my mental clarity and independence compromised.  So if ever there comes out an FDA approved pill that can help with my symptoms without making me foggy or so tired I sleep 20 hours a day for weeks or sick to my stomach, I will try it.  Until then, I am better off without the pills.

Thanks for reading

An extra post today 🙂

Background

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

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

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

Issue 1: feeling safe in my neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was a Friday night.

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

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

Issue 2: Feeling safe in my workplace

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

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

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

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

So what am I doing to feel safe again?

I am going back to basics.

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

Thanks for reading

Introduction

I started this blog eleven years into my recovery.  Many of the worst symptoms were reduced to manageable levels or stopped.  It felt good because I was emotionally stable and grounded in spite of constant physical pain.  Being grounded meant being able to take a look at my life and examine the true causes of my issues with perspective.  Then I could to make concrete changes about my beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors so that my lifestyle and my personality matched my values.

On one hand, I made myself stronger and safer.  On the other hand, the pressure to go back to what I was before got worse.   Overt actions and behaviors legitimized the thoughts and fears that I had (before) dismissed as false lies.  The actual lies were me believing my family and connections loved, protected, respected, accepted, and did not abuse me.  Denial had been a great coping strategy for many years, but not so much as I moved forward.  I needed tools to help me face my past and present then safely cope with the sensations so that my past did not control my present or future anymore.

Relapse and Circle Back

The trauma specialist helped me learn other ways to process recovered memories and keep myself safe during bad flashbacks, nightmares, and panic attacks.  One significant breakthrough was acknowledging my alters as real.  That happened after a relatively unhelpful month-long stay in a partial program.  It had been my first experience being a conscious observer when I switched personalities (even though I don’t know what I or anyone else said), and I was scared.  I thought I was truly going crazy and that my symptoms had increased again to the point of not being able to follow through on my escape plans.

2011 was the year I decided to leave my current life and disappear (as much as one can while living in the same small state).  But family and connections wouldn’t leave me alone.  They found ways to bring me back in (including death of a family member) and try to control me.  I thought I could disappear on my own.  Had planned very carefully where to move, etc.  But then I relapsed with anorexia; my nightmares increased; I stopped sleeping; lost weight; had more panic attacks and hallucinations; heard voices and lost control of my body sometimes.  And got scared every time I saw my grandmother’s name pop up on my phone screen.

Try Again

Eventually, I moved into a different space.  That apartment was exactly what I wanted except for the mice and the noise.  I tried using a self-trained service animal to help with PTSD.  They are legitimate and helpful with the right training, resources, and support network.  Mine was a disaster waiting to happen because I lacked the resources and support network.  The puppy went to a new home and is very happy now.  I learned valuable lessons about my own strengths, weaknesses, ability to trust, and symptom management.

The mice were something I just couldn’t live with.  My apartment didn’t feel safe anymore.  If mice could enter my apartment any time, who knows what else could get in or be there.  And I learned that many of my neighbors were either friends of my sibling/cousins/relations or not safe to be around; they set off my instincts in a bad way.  And so started my three years of moving as I tried to find a safe place to live that was also on public transportation.

Each new place I moved to taught me about resilience and self-reliance.  For a little while (usually a few months at a time), I felt safe enough to relax and show my real self.  It’s not a self that many people were comfortable with and refused to accept.  That taught me to examine my relationships with the rest of the people in my life and the types of people I was drawn to at the time.  I realized I sought out relationships with people who treated me like my family did.  That disturbed me a lot.  The trauma specialist understood my concern; she provided me with terms and book references so that I could learn more on my own.  Those references were handy distractions from nightmares while also teaching me new coping strategies.

I was still under weight and having panic attacks, but not relapsed anymore.  The anxiety was lessening, and I was sleeping more.  Until one day I got a message from a mutual friend or maybe my godfather (hard to remember) told me my only living grandparent was in the hospital. A few phone calls through the hospital switchboard made me feel so unsafe I stopped sleeping for days.  Then came nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, dissociation, a cold, and many weekends of lost time when I passed out and slept from exhaustion or overload.

Reaching Out

That’s when I realized I needed more help.  I had to face some more hard truths and then take action.  One was telling my god father that I couldn’t maintain contact with him anymore.  Another was acknowledging I was a victim of domestic violence before and am both a victim and a survivor now.  Finally, I wasn’t helping myself by keeping quiet when I felt like someone was treating me poorly.  All it did was trigger anger, flashbacks, and self-harm.  So I did what I always do in times like this: read and research information.

That is when I rediscovered the hotline and the relocation project.  Both resources helped me find emotional stability and physical safety as I started the process to change my name, move someplace in the state no one would think to look for me, and get away from the people from my past harassing me on behalf of their relationship with past connections.  That was 2014.  And I was finally safe.

My alters and I had learned to communicate and cooperate enough that daily life was more tolerable.  The nightmares and flashbacks lessened.  I was eating normally and healthy again.  Only had issues when I went to work; and most of those were because of location not the workplace.

Having a safe haven to go to at the end of the combined with asking my supervisor for help with work issues made all the difference in feeling safe.  For the last two years, I have felt happier than I can remember.  Safe, content, and only having to deal with triggering people in the city made life so much better.  Enough that I started reaching for dreams (like this website and blog) again.

Going Back

After three months of documenting different coping challenges and experiences here on the blog, I realized that I wasn’t just “sick with a cold”.  The symptoms I felt: chest pain, sinus pain and stuffiness, sleep deprivation, ears clogged, headaches and migraines were exactly what I lived with until 2009/2010 when I went to my first partial program and then started seeing a trauma specialist.

It was caused by what I call a cascade of stressful and triggering events or experiences that cause adrenaline rushes and crashes without leaving any recovery time to process what happened (or a cascade).

On the good side, I know this will go away.  My alters know this will go away too.  On the bad side, none of us remember or know how to cope with this unless we use negative coping.  And that is not an option.  So here I am with my alters in a relatively happy and safe place full of positive changes and experiences suffering from physical reactions to stress again.

Conclusion

Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, reminds the reader of this throughout her book.  Neither I nor my alters are sure how to cope.  We do the best we can and are transparent with each other when one is having more difficulty than others.  The ones who work are transparent with the supervisor and co-workers, letting them know that symptoms have increased and we might need some temporary accommodations until they pass.  Best we can do is practice self-care, self-soothing, reclaim our personal time, and try to re-establish emotional/physical/spiritual safety on the inside and outside.

Anniversaries Coming Up

  • Labor Day: In the US almost everyone has Monday off to celebrate the holiday.  Except for retail, transportation, and a few other jobs where employees get a half day or reduced hours day instead.  For me, it means barbecues with family; going out to activities and events; getting bullied by cousins and shamed or ignored by everyone else; sometimes abusers found me and did stuff too.
  • Sperm Donor’s Birthday: He is 30 years older than me and does not like to celebrate his birthday.  My memories as a little girl are warm and fuzzy – I was the quintessential Daddy’s girl until I started school.  Probably because I filled two important roles: 1) kept the egg donor occupied and out of trouble; and 2) easily controlled and dominated (never physical abuse, but everything else for sure).  Then I started school.  The egg donor was left alone to her own devices.  And he started sexually abusing me.  But once I hit puberty, I was persona non grata.
  • School Starts: Every year, I looked forward to escaping my home life by going to school; even if that meant I would get bullied by my peers and teachers.  At least they weren’t physically or sexually abusing me.  Except for the principal, but that’s another story.  And at school, the other abusers (not related by blood or marriage) couldn’t get to me either.  But being ridiculed, bullied, the victim of racism and prejudice, etc. wasn’t easy either.  And then came middle school/high school with all that angst on top of everything else.  By then, everyone ignored me because I was “rude and annoying” to many, but also set up by the egg donor who worked in the juniors department at a department store and told my female classmates stories about me.
  • Moving to College and/or Apartments: September 1st is the most popular moving day for everyone where I live.  The first few moves, my donors coordinated and organized everything.  Then I had the responsibility of doing it myself.  They hated my going to college.  They hated more when I moved out and took every chance to bash me about those choices.  Then they complained enough to have the rest of the blood relatives and other connections harass me about it too.

Weekend Coping Strategies

This year is different in a lot of ways.  Here are a few:

  • I am safe – living in a place where they can’t find me that is all mine
  • I can stay home or go out on my terms
  • I do not have to move this year
  • My mental and emotional self is in a healthier, happier place than it was before
  • I have weekend projects to keep me busy
    • My favorite is making shades for hard-to-fit windows
    • Cooking and baking at home
    • Laundry and dying some of my white t-shirts a less bright white
    • Knitting – finish a scar for my friend
    • Write Monday’s blog post
  • I have movies to listen to in the background
  • Three days means I can make my own hours and not have to worry about lack of sleep and having to work on Monday

My goal is to not sleep the weekend away.  I might not be able to leave home – that gets difficult because of the fear and anxiety that comes from going out (all of us feel this way) – but at least there is plenty to do at home.

Here are my coping strategies that utilize the list above.  I am using them starting end of work today:

  • Redirect thoughts by stating facts about the present, future plans, solving problems or getting answers to questions
  • Go shopping and have everything in place for the weekend
  • Practice emotion regulation and distraction by doing the activities on my list
  • Making sure I also stop and take regular breaks – either by doing something fun and relaxing or by not doing anything at all (includes naps)
  • Use my self-care compulsion rituals to help relieve the OCD stress that comes from triggers sometimes
  • And if I don’t end up doing anything on my “Want to do” list, then that’s okay too.

I’m ending this post with one of my favorite Lin Yutang quotes

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.

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.

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!