Work, life, mental health: coming out

Coming Out: Re-Defining What Success Looks Like

Disclaimer: I am not an expert by any means. Not a therapist, medical or mental health professional. I do not diagnose, treat, or tell people what to do. The main purpose of this website and blog is education and support. If you are unsure how the suggestions and resources here may affect you, please discuss any changes to your existing treatment plan with your medical and mental health providers first.

A Typical, Successful Adult?

From the outside in, I appear to be a successful, contributing adult member of society.
I’ve been working at Accruent for thirteen years: first as a temporary employee in graduate school; then as an independent contractor; and currently as a full time employee. My job titles have not changed much, but what I do for the company has. My specialization is in writing and communication, but I act as a generalist to support members of Accruent Capital Planning – specifically the Assessment Services project management team and the assessors – with different projects.

For 10 years, I lived in Massachusetts and used public transportation to work in the Boston office. My co-workers became friends, family, and mentors. Other members of (then VFA and/or Accruent) were colleagues I rarely interacted with or knew in passing from interdepartmental or company meetings. About 5 years ago, I wanted to volunteer and give back to the community even though work and commuting took up to 10 hours of my day five days a week. So I started a resource website and blog using WordPress under a pen name. That filled my need to serve others and allowed me stress relief from working at the other job.

As you can probably guess, I am financially independent, able to maintain an apartment, and enjoy a “typical” life with some conventional success – a stable job; an apartment; money in the bank; friends, family and hobbies.

But others will tell you I am a failure because I don’t have a typical social life, a boyfriend or husband, children, lots of money, and a large circle of friends inside and outside of social media. That I have to try harder to fit in and be acceptable – with my looks (bald, short, curvy, asian), my attitude, and my bookworm/nerd tendencies.

Secrets Revealed

What you don’t know is that I am a survivor of childhood abuse, racism, and bullying diagnosed with a primary and secondary mental illness: 1) complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD); and 2) Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

My “successes” and “failures” listed above are influenced by the so-called “mental illnesses” of CPTSD and DID. What seems like unsuitable and inappropriate or unconventional behavior to everyone else is absolutely suitable and appropriate, if not conventional, behavior for someone coping with traumatic experiences that left her having to re-learn how to live in the modern world.

TJ (Alterxpressions)

I am agoraphobic and still go outside and interact with people. Hyper-vigilance and triggers increase anxiety and paranoia making interactions with people difficult. My reactions seem over the top or aggressive sometimes. Other times confusion about “obvious” stuff makes others uncomfortable enough to avoid me or act condescendingly. Sometimes I talk too much about nothing when I feel anxious. Other times, I don’t say anything at all. My face and body language don’t give much away unless you really know me. 

Unlike many people with CPTSD and DID, I don’t take medication or see a psychiatrist. After a few years of trying different kinds and getting ill from side effects, I decided to go without. Yes, I do work with a mental health counselor I trust and have a strong support network that includes a toolbox full of coping strategies. For pain management, I visit a Chinese Medicine clinic for acupuncture, herbs, and body work. I also take classes in aromatherapy and Western Herbalism to use essential oils and custom tea blends to help with panic attacks, pain, and sleep. You can learn more about my copnig strategies and challenges Untangled Connections (www.untangledconnections.com) where all parts of me write as AlterXpressions.

Part 2: Coming Out at Work

My supervisor and many of the people who’ve worked with me longest know about the CPTSD and DID. Some know specific details of my past while others have generic information. Yet they accept me, work with me to be successful in spite of these challenges, and offer support when I struggle. More than that, my supervisor and co-workers encourage me to stay curious and keep on learning to expand my role and do more at work. I am blessed and grateful to work with such amazing people.

My mental illness, when I did finally share the details with them, didn’t matter because they knew and accepted me as I was. I proved that I could do my job and was a “good” person who could be trusted. Plus they helped me learn how to deal with co-workers who had opposite reactions to the news about my mental illness and odd habits with assertiveness, kindness, respect, and professionalism. That helped me learn how to effectively use a coping strategy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in triggering situations instead of reacting in ways that felt wrong and brought out feelings of shame.

I take responsibility for my part since anxiety and triggers combined with survival mode do not make for a pleasant personality or positive reactions to stress.

In spite of many negative experiences and challenges, these people became mentors and role models who taught me by example how to present my best self, interact positive or neutral with others, and improve verbal/face-to-face communication. 

Most important, interactions with different people at work taught me that I could be successful and stay safe in other social interactions. 

Part 2: Coming Out to Family

In the past 3 years, I moved across the country to start fresh: live an authentic, safe life and move forward in recovery. Before I left, I started the slow process of reconnecting with my birth family after 5-9 years (I have a large family with many relatives) of silence – enforced by me for my survival. One by one, I slowly started to trust different relatives and include them in my life. This year, I included my immediate family too.

Everyone in my family knows I struggle with mental illness. Very few know the exact details and their origins. The few times I did try and tell relatives, I was called a liar and shunned. Figuring out who to trust was difficult. 

Eventually mutual acquaintances led me to reconnect with my father’s side of the family first. Out of all of them, only 2 know the exact details and continue to accept me. With the rest, we have a cautious truce. The next year was about connecting with some relatives from my mother’s side of the family. We are slowly re-building relationships and trust. This year, I opened up the circle to my immediate family. It started slow and cautious. But dogs have a way of bringing people together and easing fear. So I started to share parts of my life with them too.

Around Christmas 2019, I finally opened up and told my parents about both the PTSD and the DID. Explained my struggles and the challenges that come with holiday season. They listened with acceptance and respect; some questions; and a lot of love.

I was finally ready to open up to the rest of the world with Scent Reflections.

Success Re-defined

I used to think I had to have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, a full time job in corporate or science or medicine, lots of money, a wide circle of friends, and approval from a loving family to be successful and happy. Then shamed myself because I didn’t have any of that. Didn’t think I deserved it or would ever be happy.

Recovery changed that.

The Recovery journey taught me about choices, self-empowerment, and intention – I can change if I want to change and believe I deserve love, laughter, joy, acceptance, prosperity…

Intention: the difference between proactive and reactive choices

My life is full of laughter, joy, unconditional love, respect, prosperity, and acceptance. Time is balanced with work I enjoy; volunteer work that fill my need to serve and help others; and self care that includes hobbies, continuing education, a toolbox full of coping strategies, and alone time. Friends, family, and loved ones are an email or phone call away. As we slowly rebuild the positive relationships, our love, respect, and acceptance for each other and ourselves deepen.

Scent Reflections – helping others re-define success

There are many people like me out in the world. We are successful and independent, hiding in plain sight to avoid the negative reactions associated with mental illness. 

Not everyone ends up an addict or homeless or a criminal or something else as bad. Not everyone struggling with trauma or mental illness or addiction has to be dependent on others or stay in unsafe situations because that’s all they know or think they deserve.

There are resources to help people and their connections cope with life after trauma. Because survival is hard, but re-adjusting to life after trauma is the real challenge.

  • More important, trauma exists because change exists.
  • Not everyone who experiences trauma develops a mental illness.
  • People who don’t experience trauma can develop a mental illness.
  • All people cope with stress in their lives.
  • How we (people) cope with stress defines whether or not it is
    • positive or negative
    • mental health or mental illness

Stress = human response to change

Lots of people focus on the trauma survivor, the victim, the addict. Who looks to that person’s friends/family/connections and offers them support too? They are just as traumatized; their lives permanently changed in trying to maintain relationships with each other and the survivor/victim/addict/(your label here).

I am not an expert by any means. Not a therapist, medical or mental health professional. I do not diagnose, treat, or tell people what to do.

I am a student of aromatherapy and western herbalism working to earn her certifications and credentials while working full time, starting a small business, running a resource blog and website, and living life.

What I can do, what I want to do is empower others manifest their health and wellness goals through aromatherapy, education, and support (aka consulting services). That is my goal with Scent Reflections.

THE STORE IS NOT OPEN YET, but check the blog for FREE content – DIY aromatherapy recipes, coping strategies, etc.

What is the difference between Scent Reflections and Untangled Connections?

Untangled Connections is a safe, anonymous place for people to find hope, get support, and access resources. But it is not a place conducive to running a business. Any time commerce, marketing, ads, etc. get involved, privacy and safety are compromised.

People and guests have asked me to dive deeper into some topics and offer more support through services and products. To that end, I created Scent Reflections to offer education, consulting services, and aromatherapy products that help people manifest their health and wellness goals from a trauma-informed perspective.

If you want to dive deeper into recovery, coping challenges, coping strategies, and trauma, visit Untangled Connections.

If you want to learn how to tailor existing coping strategies and techniques (or create your own based on them) and incorporate them into your daily routine so that you can manifest your goals, visit Scent Reflections.

Love and Rainbows ~ TJ

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