Category Archives: Anxiety

Abusive Internal Messages

I’ve been doing a lot of care-taking lately. I fix people’s problems at work, I’m supporting my partner as he is dealing with his own personal issues, trying to support family through their stuff, and modding the /r/DID subreddit.

Phew.

Oh, yeah, and then there’s my own mental health.

One of my responses to the abuse, particularly as an adolescent, was to busy myself with as much extracurricular activities I could get my hands on, so as to be out of the house/neighborhood. My happiness became dependent on achieving tasks and receiving praise for all the hard work.

Today, I recognize I’m still stuck in the same pattern. Yet, I know I can do things that actually take care of my mind and body, like mindfulness and meditation. Why don’t I? I feel strange doing it. I’m not used to feeling calm and serene. It actually makes me more anxious!

Then, part of me comes forward, being judgmental. Telling me I should be able to do this by now. I should be able to manage my anxiety and my chores and my friends and my family and my work. “What is wrong with you?!”

And I realize that quote is not really this parts’ words. I’ve heard this before from my abuser, always trying to make me feel like I, a small child, was the problem. Which, of course, all small children tend to think when there is a problem.

My abuser reinforced that, and I learned to not trust my own instincts.

One of the things I forget is that I don’t need to argue with my selves anymore. I may not agree with this judgmental part, but I’m sure whatever she took on for me, it would likely help me realize, “oh, that’s why she is that way.”

I can discuss with them today. I can hold internal meetings where I can hear her thoughts and feelings. I can give her empathy.

I can do guided meditation or mindfulness, to even just give me a minute of serenity.

I don’t need to push away or avoid my parts.

And I recognize I am human. If I do slip back into avoidance, I can be brave enough to genuinely say, “I’m sorry.”

By doing this, I finally allow my mind its freedom.

Advertisements

Tinnitus and DID

Trigger Warning: Mention some medical procedure from when I was in the NICU as a baby.

I’ve had a high pitched ringing in my ears for as long as I can remember. I remember being very little and having it.

I’m fairly certain that the originating cause was my very low weight, premature birth. They say the NICU is quite traumatic for infants because babies (especially preterm/newborn) cannot distinguish between good/bad stimuli. It’s all overwhelming. And now here’s a baby getting stuck with IVs all over her body, heel sticks, and spinal tap with no sedation. Lots of noise, pain, and stimuli.

For most of my life, I have dealt with it well. I mean, it’s always been there, so what difference does it make?

But for one of my parts, the ringing gets louder for her and it drives her nuts. She gets so distracted by it and angry because she feels helpless because you can’t get away from it.

That helpless feeling triggers fear in another part who is ridiculously terrified all the time. So she’s easily switching forward and I can feel the terror.

Sigh. I went to an audiologist 5 years ago and he basically said there’s nothing you can do but play music or a sound machine to try to distract you from the noise. Sounds great except when (for work) I have to go to a meeting, or the prison, or the courthouse, I can’t bring anything like that around.

Well I’m not sure what to do about this one. I’ll have to explain this to K. on Monday.

Doing Memory Work with No Memory

After my last post, I lost about 36 hours of time.  The good thing is, whoever was fronting didn’t jet off or go anywhere.  During this blank period of time, I apparently self-harmed, forgot how a cell phone works, and even talked to my therapist on said forgotten-how-this-works cell phone.

I had a 2nd session with our therapist, K. after coming out of this dissociative episode on Thursday evening.  I don’t remember much of this session   It’s really vague.  I just remember going back and forth with her on intense feelings of suicide and depression.  She kept trying to remind me that these thoughts are from a time in the past when I was being hurt, and I am safe today.

Yesterday (Friday), I stayed home from work.  I was exhausted, probably from all the switching.  Around 2pm my cell phone rang, and it woke me up.  K’s name is on the caller ID, so I answer.

“Good Afternoon, Nel, it’s K.” She cheerily says.  “Where are you?”

“Ah…hi, K.  At home.”  I groggily answer.

“And you were sleeping.” She states.

“Yah.” It doesn’t surprise me by now that she can read me through the phone.

“Then, I’m glad I called.  I was thinking you could have your regular Monday session early tomorrow (Saturday).” She says.

“What? Why?” Now I’m confused. Why is she calling me?  Why does she want me to come in early?

“Well, because now you’re missing work.  I think we should meet before Monday, so we can work a little on what’s going on, to increase the probability you won’t call out sick on Monday, too.” She responds.

“Oh.” I say, flatly.  “I guess, ok.”

“We could meet on Sunday, if you prefer.” She waits but I don’t respond, “Or if you’d rather keep your Monday session, that’s fine, too.  I just thought I’d offer.”

“No, it’s ok.  I’ll come in tomorrow.”  I say.  “I trust your opinion, so if you think coming in before Monday is important, I’ll do it.”

“Great! Since I know you’ve been sleeping so much, how about we meet in the morning tomorrow?”

I sigh, “Ok.”

“And you’ll bring your homework.” She adds.

“My homework? What homework?” I’m totally confused.  Not even a vague, ohhh yeah, she assigned homework.

“Mm-hm.” K. says. “You were going to invite Clara to do some collaging.”

“I don’t remember.”

“I know.” K. says seriously.

“This is what I hate about dissociation.  It makes me scared when I can’t remember what I’ve done.  Like, it’s not there at all.  Not even a vague recollection.”  My stomach is now curled up in knots due to the anxiety.

“Nel, I’m sorry you’re so scared.  I can only imagine how frightening it must be to not remember things you’ve done.”  She says empathetically.

As always, I’m uncomfortable receiving kind words, so I move to end the phone call.  Surprisingly, she allows me to direct the conversation this way.  But not without repeating she will see me tomorrow with homework in hand.

After the phone call, I dig up an envelope full of magazine cut-outs that I brought home from Sheppard Pratt.  I internally ask Clara if she would like to help choose some things for the collage.  I don’t get any verbal response.  I don’t even feel like she’s there.  But it’s not hard to start picking out things.

I go through 2 more magazines and pull out some more things.

Then, someone pulls out our acrylic paints.  Pink, blue, and purple gets dropped on a blank canvas page, and we go to town.  Someone makes an imaginary landscape of brightly colored trees alongside some water.  The cutouts are purposely placed above or below the water.

When we’re done, Mina and I come back forward.  I’m floored.  I have no idea who has done it, but the artwork is both beautiful and frightening.  It draws you in with its beauty and then floods you with fear.  It’s like a deception.

As if to purposely trigger.

I know I should put it away, but I want to keep looking at it.  Eventually, after a couple hours, I do place it aside.

We went to therapy this morning at 10am as promised.  We brought in the painting/collage, hugging it to our chest.  Switching is all over the place.  I switch to Clara, which I believe is in System 3, but a different layer of the system.  I switch to an O—- part in System 5, or maybe a T—- part in System 4, I’m not sure.  There’s so much deception and flooding going on, and it’s all vague to me at best.

I’m not sure what work got done, if any, and now I’m co-conscious with Mina and Meg (Meg is one of our teen protector parts).  We were so tired when we came home from the session, we managed to each a bit of rice and passed out.

I wonder if she gave me any homework.

Finding Tranquility Amidst Distress

Recovery isn’t perfect.  You can be going along, doing well, and even feel like you’re making awesome progress.  Then, a trigger seemingly hits out of nowhere, or a switch happens with no warning, throwing internal harmony out the window.

Last night, one of my child parts, C., who our therapist, K., has been spending several consecutive sessions working with, was experiencing severe panic as we were trying to fall asleep.  C. often tends to be compelled to focus on the perception of danger, even when there is no danger present.  She is always looking for things to prove we are still in trauma time.

C. also appears to be impacted by RA-related traumas (we’re not yet sure exactly how).  Therefore, our internal communication with each other is inconsistent.  Mina and I try to talk to her often. I can count on one hand how many times we seem to reach C.

As the night wore on, both Mina and I became less and less capable of practicing grounding skills and staying forward.  As C. became more forward, she acted just like someone would in an emergency.  Fear and terror kicked in along with a lot of freeze, flight, and collapse behaviors.  

This continued on into the morning.  It was significant.  We hadn’t been in such an extended, overwhelming crisis since being inpatient.

“Do you need to call K?” [The Fiance] asked this morning.

C., who does not yet trust K., of course shook her head. “No. no. no.” She was crying hysterically, hiccupping, and didn’t want to accept any of his help, even going so far as pushing away tissues he offered.

Fortunately, [The Fiance] remained calm.  He respected her wishes for boundaries, but stayed attentive and listened to her.  Empathy was key here.  There was a moment when he said, “I know you’re upset, but remember that it’s all in your mind. It’s all in the past.”

As you can imagine, that made absolutely no sense to a part stuck in trauma time.  It only made her cry more and insist that this was all real.

Eventually, he started to understand how what he said had been offensive.  He acknowledged, “Ok, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.  Yes, what you are feeling and what happened is real.  But what is equally real is I am not going to hurt you.  I believe you.”

Eventually, his empathy and cooperation allowed for Mina and I to be more forward.  He did exactly what we could not do for C.  We’re all feeling much more secure now, and it has made us stop and reflect tonight.

Internal communication, empathy, and internal cooperation are always the main goals.  But what can we do as a system when internal communication isn’t up to speed yet with new parts, and symptoms are off the scale?

Here is what we learned…

  1. A basic attitude of mutual empathy is #1 in understanding other parts and helping them make effective decisions (e.g. grounding instead of compelled to to focus on danger).  Listen to parts and try to reassure or comfort.  Even a little bit goes a long way.
  2. Once C. felt heard and respected, she was able to calm down.  This allowed us to move in and begin grounding and self-soothing skills to help the whole system move forward from this event safely.
  3. Once grounding is established and parts are in their safe spaces, we can fall back on the skills we learned inpatient like…
  4. Orientation Messages – There are several ways to orient parts to the present.  In therapy, K. often verbalizes to them where they are and the current year. She provides examples, like the name of the President, or shows them around her office.  Orientation Cards are Index Cards we keep with us (taped to the front a of journal, or kept inside our Grounding Kit.  They contain a quick message about the current place and time and explain we are safe.  They explain that the person we live with is safe and share [The Fiance’s] name.  This is all done in bright colors which are appealing to children.  Sometimes, if we know which part is struggling, we re-create the Orientation Card with quotes they like or messages they think are helpful.  All parts are not helped by the same Orientation technique, so it’s important we have them help us.  If we don’t have internal communication yet, we have discovered using imagery with present-day technology (not around during the abuse) helps us bypass programming to get safety messages to subsystems.  For example, we may use a drone which is capable of providing a safe audio message about the place and time and can fly over traps.
  5. Distraction Techniques – Conscious, voluntary distraction can give our parts a “reset” button on feeling overwhelmed.  Today, we took some time to focus on a video game which a lot of the kids enjoy.  This allowed us to take some deep breaths and enjoy the music in the game.
  6. Containment – Tonight, we will be carving out some time in our internal meeting to focus on containment.  Just in case C. is listening, we will remind everyone containment is not ignoring anyone’s feelings, but acknowledging it, putting it in a safe place, and promising to review it tomorrow in therapy with K.

Lastly, we will be enacting a BDA (Before-During-After) Plan.  Tomorrow is Monday, which means we have to report to our Full Time job.  It is likely we will be sensitive to triggers right now, and in order to be grounded and present at work, it is imperative to create a plan ahead of time.  Hopefully, work is smooth sailing tomorrow and nothing happens, but it’s always good to go in with a plan.

Having a BDA not only helps improve internal communication in our system, but it gives us a sense of a “safety measure” and we have control over a situation where C. feels largely powerless.

Note: Part of the “Before” and “After” parts of the plan, I have written elsewhere which I call the “Morning Routine” and “Night Routine.”  As they sound, they are set routines incorporating skills to assist parts have a good morning and fall asleep easily at night.

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 7.19.02 pm

Worry and Fear: My constant companions

This morning, I was reading a daily affirmation about excessive worrying.  In a nutshell, the affirmation said excessive worrying is a common trait of survivors.  That it’s okay to feel worry–but that we can work towards being grounded and present in the moment and feel positive about ourselves.

Meg, one of my teen parts, snorted, slammed the book shut, and shoved it to the side of our kitchen table. What a bunch of crap. She folded her arms across her chest. Like it’s that easy.

I could see where she was coming from.  In working with many of my child parts, it’s super hard to decrease their anxiety.  Some of my parts are so firmly locked in “trauma time” that they’re in a perpetual state of terror. Even those parts that are grounded in the present balk at K., our therapist, and her attempt to ground us: “It’s 2018. You’re safe.” What happened to us is real. It happened many times. It could happen again!

To be clear, we aren’t in any danger of being abused. It’s just so hard for my parts and I sometimes–even when we know we’re okay–to truly feel safe.

Within the ritually abused parts, there are some who still throw out programming and flood us with terror on purpose (for talking in therapy). I haven’t the slightest idea how to even begin with those parts.

I have this baseline of anxiety all the time, and I guess we have a lot to be anxious about. Besides going about being a “normal” adult with a full time job, a fiance, a family, friends…I’ve got a second full time job and family inside that constantly needs redirecting that we are safe. We are nowhere near perpetrators. Then the backlash comes when parts who want to be near perpetrators trigger off programming.

In my last session, I was crying to K. (which I rarely do–actually cry in front of her). “I haven’t been in my body in months.” I sobbed. “I hate this feeling. I hate only being half-present. The last time I felt in my body was at Sheppard Pratt.  What do I have to do? Go inpatient every time I want to feel grounded again? I can’t keep going inpatient.”

“What do you do?” K. paused. She waited until I looked up at her again. “Internal communication.”