Archives for category: Survival Mode

Survival Mode

All parts of me still feel drained and off center right now.  Some unexpected challenges and expenditures for my new apartment combined with scheduling appointments around work and the owner’s schedule made this week rather interesting.

Home

general spaces:
I love the energy in this building.  In spite of the old windows that stick and have a hard time opening, quirky sliding doors, and electrical outlets that are not always grounded or placed in ideal locations, this studio apartment really does feel like home.  My neighbors are friendly, respectful, and quiet.  The owner and her management team are respectful, responsible, and responsive too.

Unexpected challenges

  • Changing home decorating and budget plans
  • Multiple panic attacks because I am changing my budget plans
  • Learning more about myself and my unique (but unacknowledged) skills
  • Understanding why strategies that worked before are not so helpful this time

The Coping Strategies for Self Care

After a session with my intern Chinese medicine/acupuncture practitioner this week, I decided to try and learn more about empaths and empathy.  She physically felt some of the problems I was experiencing during treatment and shared that information with me with calm acceptance.

It was the first time anyone had ever acknowledged and used extrasensory skills in a professional setting around me.  And it brought me back to face some facts about myself. I am an empath too.  What kind, I’m not sure exactly.  I don’t always or often experience physical symptoms of other people in my own body.  But I can and do experience energy changes, emotions, and other information about people and living beings through my senses.

All of this led me to a psychiatrist and self-proclaimed empath named Judith Orloff.  I’ve been listening to her book called The Empath’s Survival Guide and learning about my extrasensory skills.  This includes coping strategies and skills like – sleep, meditation, water, and food.

While I don’t subscribe to everything she’s talked about so far, her unique perspective helped me understand why these four strategies are always part of my “Back to Basics” plan.

Sleep
Before reading this book, I knew that sleep was essential – my body would knock me out if I overextended myself – but didn’t understand how or why it was so much more effective than taking a pill or using an energy drink to recalibrate like everyone else.  Now I understand that sleep is a time for reconnecting with all parts of myself and allowing those parts to relax and replenish energy levels while also healing themselves.

Food
Anorexia and almost a decade of severe food allergies/sensitivities taught me to be mindful of what I eat, how much I consume, and when I eat (frequency of meals) to stay healthy, energetic, and balanced.  While following these personal guidelines helped me maintain a healthy weight and feel strong, they sometimes frustrated me too.  After reading about how physical sensitivities are part of being an empath and why, I am practicing more self-acceptance and less shame about my unique eating habits & dietary needs.

Showers – aka baths, water, etc. (swimming not so much)
I love water.  I love being near water, smelling water in the air, drinking water, taking warm/hot baths & showers, and surrounding myself with the colors of water.  Swimming – not so much.  Being in the ocean, a river, or a pool – not so much.  Being on the water in a boat – absolutely fine.  But I’m also ashamed of this love for water.  The why is still unclear, but it exists.  The book offers an explanation about why I (as an empath) love water so much.  I am skeptical and keeping an open mind.  Some experimentation is required.  But I always feel amazing after a warm/hot shower with my favorite soap.

Meditation
I’ve practiced different types of meditation since I was 6 years old.  Maybe even earlier than that as the martial arts some of my relatives practiced fascinated me.  Our relationship has been rocky at times, but meditation never failed me when I needed help.  Now meditation helps me sleep better and wake up grounded in the present instead of stuck between the present and the past.  On public transportation or in crowds, a simple mediation practice helps me breathe easier and cope until I am alone again.  Throughout the day, meditation sometimes replaces my need for a nap or helps me get some physical activity (mindful walk or mindful washing dishes).

Conclusion

The next steps on my healing journey are to explore, grow with, and accept my empathic abilities and how they are influencing my current recovery practices.  I don’t know a lot about being an empath or an intuitive; what skills one might have; how to use  the skills without draining myself; or how to protect myself from sensory overload.  Before now, I couldn’t even acknowledge that my mind, spirit, body self even had these skills.

My parts and I chalked it up to having great instincts.  And suffered the mood swings, outbursts, and energy drains from certain people in shamed silence.

Now, it’s time to step out of the closet and learn.  Knowledge is power.  Power offers protection, insight, and opportunities.  Plus, maybe this will help us all integrate and align ourselves better.  And we can move forward with our goal for a second career sooner instead of later.

Thanks for reading.

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Like the title says, enough is enough right now.

Present State of Being

Emotionally, everyone in the system feels happy, grounded, steady, and excited about our new home.

Spiritually, we all feel reflective and a little stressed out as bits and pieces of recent experiences add perspective to confusing past memories of family time.  And also that some friends turn out to be somewhat different than expected.

Physically, all tired and experiencing backlash – physical panic attacks, migraines, back pain, and exhaustion to go with nausea and cramps from that time of the month – from all of the changes.

I almost fell asleep without posting today :/

Plans for this week and two weeks into the future

So the next few weeks will feel like Survival Mode again – lots of self care; lots of self-soothing; coping with backlash and physical panic attacks; more sleep and less activity.

I have a resource post coming up this month, but not sure when.  Need to find some resources to link to for tapping.  Maybe YouTube videos this time?  Either way, I want to try out some of the tutorials before sharing here.

Also, some quick reminders:

Sometimes falling into old patterns is okay – many times it happens as part of an automatic defense mechanism without awareness until the experience is finished.  Other times, it takes a safe person (friend, therapist, loved one, significant other) to point out what is happening.

As my previous therapist and a friend later pointed out, sometimes our subconscious self is more aware of the reality of a situation than the conscious self and takes steps to protect everyone – i.e. implementing the automatic defense mechanisms.

Therapy does not make a person more selfish or self-centered.  Therapy encourages the individual or group to open up and be more authentic while also learning strategies to cope with internal struggles in healthy safe ways.  That includes “I” statements, being assertive, setting boundaries, and changing.

Finally, change scares a lot of people especially when they are struggling with their own demons and not happy when a pattern changes.  If someone accuses you of  a negative behavior or something similar unexpectedly, please remember that individual might be triggered by the changes and projecting her or his fears on to you without realizing it.

Takes a lot of resilience and strength to maintain your own boundaries during the conversation and then reflect on the experience to process it properly.  

You didn’t do anything wrong.

You are growing, changing, and becoming more you.

It’s something I have to remind myself of often this month.  I hope the reminder helps you stay strong too.

Thanks for reading.

This last post in the series is in essay or story-telling format.  The Q&A doesn’t work this time.

Introduction

I hear voices.  Lots of voices from different parts of my mind.  Not all of them are from my alters.  In fact, most of the time, my alters choose video, images, story-telling, play-acting, music, writing, and sensation to communicate with me.  They only talk when the other communication formats don’t work.   That is how I learned to tell the difference.  Most of the time.  My alters learned to recognize when the voices are triggering them by realizing we only talk to each other when nothing else works.  The rest of the time, we find other ways to show love, respect, acceptance, affection, and information.

The Voices

The voices are different from my hallucinations because they sound real to me; they are the voices of my family members, abusers, bullies, and fake friends telling me to hurt and punish myself because I am worthless.  They insult me; verbally abuse me; taunt me; and constantly tell me ways to hurt myself; then urge me to act on those thoughts.  And if the voices are not working on me, they work on my alters.  It’s a mental loop of negativity that seems impossible to break, let alone stop or ignore.

Sometimes the voices sound like me talking to myself.  Sometimes they sound like a parent or sibling or relative.  Sometimes they sound like a medical professional or an authority figure.  The voices play on my weaknesses, insecurities, and fears.  They use those insecurities and fears to persuade me  to hurt myself and others.  Sabotage my plans for going forward.  Or freeze up so that I can’t study or pass a test or complete assignments or put myself in situations where I will be emotionally hurt and shamed.

Then the voices hit me with shame and guilt for not accomplishing my goals.  They reaffirm my inability to do anything right.

And they don’t stop.  The voices speak to me, to my alters, waking and sleeping.

Why and when and how they appear, none of us know.  My therapist thinks it is a symptom of increased anxiety and a form of backlash or flashbacks or nightmares.  I tend to agree with this.  But that’s not the only time the voices visit.

Only one successful way to stop the voices permanently: give in and hurt myself.

Other less successful ways to stop the voices: take a knock out pill; watch a funny or feel good movie; distract myself; listen to music; use affirmations and positive self talk; reality test my thoughts and fears

 

Obsessions

 

When I don’t give in to the voices, I start to obsess about ways to make them stop talking to me.  And then I think about what the voices are saying and remember all or many past experiences where their predictions of current outcomes came true.  And I get anxious; start to doubt myself.  Then try to use coping strategies to get myself out of the mental loop.  And when the strategies don’t work, feel more angry and depressed.

 

Compulsions

 

One way I learned to deal with the obsessive thoughts and feelings of anxiety from hearing voices was giving in to compulsions or compulsive routines.  I try not to give in to the compulsions because they tend to take over my life.  I get so caught up in using the activity or routine that the rest of my life suffers; not going to work, missing deadlines, procrastinating, feeling shame for doing something I don’t want to do, etc.  Not all compulsions are bad ones, but even safe ones can become problems when I can’t do anything or go anywhere until I finish my compulsion first.  It’s one reason why I am so careful with my habits and routines.  I don’t want them to become compulsions.

 

Giving In

 

Sometimes, when nothing else works and I absolutely need temporary relief, I give in to the voices, obsessions, and compulsions.  I try to find the least harmful behavior or activity that will also soothe the anxiety and do it.  I am not proud of this.  I prefer to find alternatives instead.  The backlash is painful.  But worse, the temptation to give in gets stronger every time I use a negative coping strategy.  And when I am coming off of an adrenaline high with the voices in my mind telling me to use this energy for revenge or punishment, the temptation to get relief instead of waiting it out is strong.

“Waiting it out” means: going without sleep or rest; listening to the voices fighting us (our internal system); experiencing all of the headaches, migraines, physical pain that comes with the internal fighting; not dissociating or switching and forgetting for a while; living with the memories and experiences all of this brings back; and continuing with life and work while coping with it all.

One Moment at a time

Sometimes the best strategy is also the hardest concept to understand.  When I first started therapy/recovery, I was in crisis mode aka survival mode.  Every moment felt like a thousand years.  So I learned to live one moment at a time.  Dissociation and daydreaming helped a lot here.  But that doesn’t help as much now because all of my parts and I have different daydreams.  And lack of focus in the outside world is dangerous.  So now it’s time to find another version of “one moment at a time”  that works for us.  I guess that means going back to basic survival strategies.

I hope anyone else caught in some form of survival mode makes through this round too.

Late again.  Unexpected business with taxes and such yesterday.  Will try to be more on time this week.

Introduction

Last post discussed how survival mode affects my PTSD.  This post discusses how it affects the DID and alters in the system.  Survival mode feels different to children, adolsecents, and adults.  Each group reacts and responds to the stress differently.  Now imagine all that in the same body happening at the same time.

A word of warning…my therpaist tells me that my experience of DID is different from many because I “grew up” with my alters so to speak.  They were my playmates and imaginary friends; then appeared in my day dreams; finally began to take over and manage some parts of life without my realizing it until we reunited four years ago.  This can make our co-consciousness and ability to cooperate/integrate much easier and more frustrating for others to read about or understand.

The rest of the blog is Q&A from here.

Questions & Answers

Q: do all of the alters have PTSD?

A: yes.

Q: is everyone good at coping and handling triggers?

A: no.  Everyone is at different levels of recovery and has different skill sets to pull from.  Some strategies work better for adults while otherd work better for children, adolescents, toddlers, babies.

Q: how does everyone react to survival mode?

A: not sleeping; increased hyper-vigilance and feeling suspicious of everything; increased sensitivity to anxiety; confusion; coordination and concentration problems; use less cognitive and more instinctive defense mechanisms; feeling over-protective and worrying about hurting others with reactions to triggers; sleep in shifts or not at all; feel scared all the time; decreased appetite; increased switching and headaches/face pain; finally inability to relax and lower the adrenaline levels back to our normal.

Q: what triggers this kind of survival mode?  How is it different from before?

A: CAUSES: floods of memories; increased body memories; mind and body making connections between memory fragments to recall past experiences as nighhtmares and flashbacks; encpuntering people from the past who trigger overwhelming feelings; all of the above without any down time to process and move through the remembered experiences in a safe way.

DIFFERENCES: before, some alters were still hiding and unable to join with the rest of the system.  They were caught in the past; trapped and unable to reach out for help.  When the experiences they held came as nighhtmares, these alters switched and caused dissociation to protect us; the result being traumatic memory loss or amnesia for extended periods of time.  Could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes longer.

Now, all of us are free and valued members of the system.  When these memories come back, they stay.  No one switches.  No one dissociates.  No one forgets again.  Everyone relives or re-experiences the memories as they cascade through mind and body.  This is especially hard for the child and adolescent alters who are also growing/maturing through missed developmental stages as part of their recovery.  These “growing pains” and sexual feelings/thoughts/sensations triggger anxiety, fear, wonder, and past memories at the same time.

It is an endless cycle feeding into itself.

Q: how do you cope?

A:By learning to be a good caretaker/guardian for ourselves and each other.  That includes self care, boundaries, safe spaces, and coping strategies for every age group, developmental stage, and gender in the system.  Sometimes it means being a parent.  Sometimes it means being parented.  Sometimes I take care of the alters.  Sometimes they take care of me.  And ALWAYS we do our best not to use the negative, but guaranteed to work, harmful coping strategies of the past.

Q: any last words?

A: yes.  It really sucks when all of the reliable routines and strategies stop working or are less effective.  Worse is trying to use something that goes against what the mind and body are doing to protect us by trying to use the coping skills anyways.

Just remember you are not alone.

some experiences are kid only experiences; some are adolsecent only; some are adult only.  My alters and I constantly wort that we are going to hurt or trigger others in the system by letting our memories out, so we try to protect by repressing them.  This causes untold levels of pain amd distress and triggers.

Now we try to use boundaries and safe spaces instead.  It’s a work in prgogress that is less than 10% effective right now.  But we keep on trying to make it work.  Also, it helps to figure out some good parenting skills and comforting techniques; they help calm child and adolescent parts to lower adrenaline like nothing else we have tried so far.

This will pass like it always does.  No matter how difficult it feels right now, we all will survive.

Introduction

I’m late with this week’s post.  The last few days have been difficult with high anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and an adrenaline high that wouldn’t stop; my reactions to recovered memories involving physical violence combined with seasonal body memory pain.  It’s a different kind of survival mode for me and one that I struggle with a lot.  Instead of typical essay format, I’m using a Q&A interview style for this series

Questions and Answers

Q: What is an adrenaline high?

A: I get triggered into panic without having a panic attack.  Adrenaline surges through my system.  I suddenly have extra acute senses, strength, mental clarity, etc. in order to run, fight, or freeze until I can escape.  But once I realize the threat is over, the adrenaline keeps on flowing.  The hyper-vigilance stays and increases over time.  I am jumpy and anxious and unable to concentrate.  I can’t relax.  The adrenaline does not stop.

Q: Why doesn’t the adrenaline stop?  Isn’t there a physiological on/off switch built into our bodies/minds?

A:  My on/off switch was permanently disabled because of past experiences.  Yes most people have an on/off switch that automatically controls how, when, and for what length of time the adrenaline flows and then slows down without crashing too hard.  I have to find ways to manually turn the adrenaline off without causing harm to myself and (potentially) others.

Q: How does it relate to PTSD specifically?

A: Symptoms of PTSD get exacerbated.  Agitation, irritability, anger easily, frustration, lack of focus, increased anxiety, panic attacks, etc.  PTSD is considered an anxiety disorder.  For me that means all of my “natural” alertness and environmental sensitivity get put on steroids to make flashbacks, nightmares, and triggers both more likely to occur and more intense with each occurrence.  That sends more adrenaline into my system until I am flying on super high energy levels and awareness even as I start to crash from being physically and emotionally drained of energy from the last wave.  No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I want to relax, the adrenaline and hyper-vigilance won’t let me because my brain senses a threat that doesn’t exist anymore.  Once I identify the cause of this state (that I call Adrenaline High), I have to find ways to slow down the adrenaline until it stops.

Q: How do I know when my adrenaline starts/stays on/stops?

A:  My first signs are physiological.  As in my body reacts to the adrenaline first.  Sweating, chills, shaking/trembling limbs, chest tightness, muscle tension, headaches, face pain, joint pain, extra saliva in my mouth, skin feels itchy, flushed or pale skin/skin changes color.  Then comes acute senses: everything is more sensitive and reactive; I jump at noises, can smell or scent objects from longer distances, flavors increase or decrease – taste too much or nothing at all, etc.  And then comes the distraction, loss of vision (everything is blurry), and an increase in mental static/confusion caused by the “hearing voices” that are not my alters trying to convince me that the past is reality and present is a dumb fantasy that will get me (put your idea of a threat here).

Q: Do automatic defenses and coping strategies kick in during adrenaline?

A:  Yes.  I try everything in my arsenal first.  All of positive, healthy, healing coping strategies and techniques from therapy, programs, hotlines, books, etc. get used and reused until I get frustrated.  Then I try last resort strategies.  Hopefully they work.  And if not, there are the strategies I refuse to consciously use: my past automatic coping and defense mechanisms: chemical help (something stronger than Tylenol like prescription anti-anxiety meds); inducing a panic attack that causes me to pass out; self harm (emotional, verbal, physical, spiritual).  As I’ve mentioned before, self-harm comes in many forms and is not always noticeable.  Luckily for me, I have caring friends and co-workers who gently point out and remind me when this happens so that I know it happened and can be more careful next time.

Q: What are some ways to make the adrenaline stop?  Are they positive/neutral/negative?

A:  I don’t know.  This is where I am still experimenting and learning.  The only ways I know for me to successfully make the adrenaline stop are negative (see question above).  Some neutral ones suggested by others include: exercise; deep breathing; hobbies and activities that allow adrenaline-based energy to be released and do not require a lot of focus; listening to music or lullabies; distractions like favorite books, TV, and movies.  I call those neutral because they can be triggering to some and not to others.  As for positive, I am still working on that.

Q: Is there anything else you want to share?

A: Yes.  The backlash from using what’s necessary to come down from an adrenaline high can be worse than the adrenaline itself.  It can cause guilt and shame and more triggers or memories to resurface.

If you can ride it all out with minimal harm to self and others, you have won.  That is the attitude I have to take or else I’d be swimming in shame and guilt every time it happens.  Instead of healing, I’d be back in the downward spiral.  So, when nothing works, ask for help.  Reach out to supports if you can.  Help comes in many forms.  Sometimes I ask myself for help and support to get  through the next (time period varies).  Or I ask for spiritual help.

If you can’t reach out, do what you have to do to stay safe and protect yourself. 

And always remember: this is not going to last.  You got through it last time.  You will get through it again.