About, Creating Change

A Little Faith Goes a Long Way: changing perspective

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 Story in Three Parts

Faith. Belief. Will – Something Greater than oneself

There once was a girl who gave up on everything. Herself. Life. Humanity. All of it.

She existed in a place between worlds, deep inside her mind where only dreams and nightmares could penetrate the shield separating her from every day reality. On the outside, she was a typical, shy little girl who was alternately kind and stubborn. Polite and rude. Contradictory in all aspects and confounding to the people around her. On the inside, she was always scared, always angry and always unable to feel these emotions or any other sensations in her body and spirit.

This girl learned how to be a chameleon and present a perfect facade of herself at any time to any one in any situation. She could do this multiple times in one place and be believed as long as each individual or group met with her separately (development of alternate personalities?). The people who trained her in this art (not quite acting, but close), often supervised her at the events. They had a plan and a timetable to follow. No deviations. No surprises. Not unless the girl wanted to be punished with more intensive training sessions and additional work. The downside being this girl never learned who she truly was.

This occurred throughout the girl’s childhood and adolescence. She split time in two worlds while living safely within the dreams inside her head. She existed and learned the survival skills necessary to stay alive in one world while acting like a nerdy, moody, but “normal” girl among family and school people. This girl struggled with fitting in to both worlds with such extreme and different social rules to the point where she eventually gave up and stopped talking out loud – except to push people away from her.

It often surprises many people to learn that this girl graduated high school and college in spite of her difficult beginnings and social awkwardness. But she did. The dreams kept her going. No matter how hard they tried, the trainers, teachers, and other people couldn’t stop her from dreaming. They couldn’t stop guests from visiting this girl in her dreams and offering hope. Or unconditional love. Or support. Or guidance. Or faith.

This girl never spoke about these dreams out loud, not after so many people punished her for sharing them. But some part of her remembered. Maintained faith that she could escape this life and become the person she wanted to be.

Perspective. Reflection. Change – Self care is not the same as prioritizing oneself

And it all started with an almost successful suicide attempt a couple months before college graduation. As she passed out from the combination of anaphylactic allergic reaction + Sudafed in her college dorm, this girl fell into her dream world. The dream world where other beings spoke to her, healed her, and sent her back into the world.

But not this time.

College was supposed to show this girl perspectives and horizons about life, culture, and society that were different from her experiences. Give her hope and renew her faith that she could be like her mentors – the professors and other adults she looked up to and emulated alone in her dorm room.

Instead, it only brought more pain. Physical pain. Emotional pain. Spiritual pain. Her body was breaking down. Her mind was fighting itself. Her spirit missing in action. The beings couldn’t help her this time. Not unless she was willing to do the hard work required to keep on living.

And so, before she blacked out, her body shaking and trembling as she lay on the bed, the girl whispered this promise in her mind:

if you let me live, I will live every moment of every day with gratitude, ask for help to learn these skills, and work hard to value my second chance at life.

She woke up gritty-eyed the next day – all signs of an allergic reaction gone – as whole as possible and clearheaded for first time ever. That same day the girl told her parents she wanted to go to counseling because there was something going on inside her that required more help than family could provide. Mid-semester break, the girl met with a private therapist for the first time in years. They started after the girl’s college graduation and worked together for over a year before life took them in different directions.

And while the girl took the medication and went to therapy, she never really learned how to prioritize herself. She continued to be at her family’s beck and call. She continued to let people walk all over her in her part time job during gap year. She continued to spend time with people who made fun of her and didn’t value her unless her words and actions made them feel superior to her.

The physical problems got worse. She lived in constant pain and moved like an old person with joint problems while in her early twenties. But she learned about perspective. And reflection – self and other – through sessions with the therapist. They were often painful and confusing, but necessary to undo all the cognitive distortions this girl believed about herself. The therapist provided a safe learning environment and ways to practice these new Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tools + meditation.

But when the nightmares and flashbacks increased, when the symptoms changed from clinical depression and multiple iterations of anxiety disorders to something deeper, when the medications stopped working, the therapist and the girl had to part ways. The girl stopped trusting the therapist when the therapist refused to acknowledge these changes and differences and tried to reject/deny/discard them as important instead. And so they parted ways.

The girl moved on in her journey. She used her intelligence, curiosity, and resourcefulness to learn about a new term that came up – trauma – and how that affected a person’s life on her own. She delved deeper into learning about eating disorders. And eventually started working with other counselors again – this time interviewing them before committing to a long term relationship.

The girl found her voice again through reflection and perspective. She learned to communicate with her counselors in more effective ways so they could do the same for her. She faced her inner fears and challenged the negative self-talk inside her mind with CBT and eventually Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) too. And the oddest thing happened. Without realizing it, the girl started changing from the inside out.

The shields lowered (eventually dissolving to nothing) on their own, and people got to see the real girl, now a woman, behind the masks.

By changing her inner self – thoughts, emotions, behavior – through perspective, reflection, gratitude, and coping techniques, this girl took the first steps to reclaiming her authentic self without realizing it. Her innate kindness and consideration for others reasserted itself. She became more self-aware and was able to stop herself from reacting to triggers in the moment.

Instead, the counselors helped her identify triggers and potential triggering situations so that she could plan to stop, think, and act instead of react during those times.

Then reflect on the situation without shame or judgement so she could improve her identification skills – i.e. recognize if she is reacting to the past or the present and not take out past feelings (aka over react) on present situations.

Her family noticed this. Her peers from the past noticed, and so did their social circles. And they didn’t like it at all. This new version of the young woman was confident, assertive, and powerful in ways they couldn’t understand and didn’t respect. So they did everything possible to tear her down, shame her, shun her, punish her into going back to what she was before. Someone they could control and manipulate. A girl/woman/child who was biddable and fit their ideas of who she was supposed to be.

So this woman did one of the hardest things in her life. She cut all ties, changed her name, and walked away from her old life because she couldn’t move forward with the chains of her past holding her down.

Eventually, the woman re-connected with her family. She works hard to re-build and maintain healthy relationships some of them. With others, she doesn’t talk them other than to pass on a hello or hear news in passing. It’s better for everyone that way because talking with those people only further damages the tatters of their existing relationship.

And as she did all this, the woman worked hard to re-build a professional reputation and good working relationships with coworkers and other employees where she worked. She re-built her life from the ground up by being curious, open, and accepting of people, perspective, and change. She made herself vulnerable, tried making and breaking friendships, and learned to embrace her own shadows and darkness without becoming mean or evil.

Eventually, the woman learned what self care meant and how to provide that for herself. But she still didn’t often prioritize herself above others (human, plant, animal, work, etc.) in times of stress. She often focused on the other, outside of herself, and making sure that went perfectly at the expense of her own health and well-being. People would take advantage of that and then shame/shun/guilt/discard her like a used tissue when she started prioritizing herself first and accomplishing/supporting/helping others next.

Some people call it boundaries. Others call it limits. Still others have other terms for it. What the woman called “prioritizing me” others called “me time” or “down time” or “do nothing time” or “laziness” or “sloth”. And it’s something looked down on in many aspects of US culture. But the woman – who learned how to survive on 10 hours of sleep or less a week for the first 20+ years of her life – realized she couldn’t sustain this kind of living long term and needed to make physical and spiritual health changes as well as mental/emotional ones.

And that is how the woman discovered different spiritual and alternative medicine practices that allowed her choices, support, guidance, and connection without having to conform to any specific path.

Self Care is the action and intention. Prioritizing oneself means making the time, putting in the effort, and persisting to put the action and intention to practice in life.

Gratitude. Kindness. Persistence – A perfect recipe for giving and receiving every day miracles aka culture of abundance

As spiritual practice and physical body awareness became integrated into the woman’s coping strategies, she discovered how to communicate with her body and connect “physical sensations” with “mental emotions” and “spiritual experiences” – aka miracles. Every day miracles all around her. Her ability to cope with body memories, physical pain, nightmares, and flashbacks increased through this kind of integration.

That brought another perspective change. One where the woman chose to embrace unconditional love instead of fear. Hope instead of regret. Joy and laughter instead of anger and humiliation. Kindness instead of meanness. Abundance, prosperity, and bounty instead of scarcity, poverty, and lack of anything in this world.

All this towards herself and all other living beings. At all times. As much as possible. And forgive herself for making mistakes. Because she is only human.

Life showed her the value of gratitude and faith at an early age. Survival mode kept her living in fear and hurting herself and others until she found a sanctuary that provided her the tools to change her path. Now the woman uses her skills to find miracles and blessings in every moment of every day. Here are a few for 1/26/2020:

  • Woke up feeling safe and warm in a new apartment
  • Electricity and internet continue to work
  • Food delivery came on time and with an unexpected bonus
  • Non dairy yogurt tastes delicious and doesn’t cause gas
  • Has clean clothes to wear and can find them among the packing boxes
  • Feels happy and relaxed
  • Feels gratitude that she has a steady job and loved ones in her life again
  • Acccepts she is not a “people person” and prefers to create community/connection with other living beings insteadEnjoys connections and community with plants, animals and other living beings; not a substitute, but an alternative to connections/community with humans
  • Is alive, relatively healthy, and filled with unconditional love from the inside out through her faith in Spirit (aka universe, god, goddess, buddha, {your label here})

Now a grown woman, she works hard to live an authentic life on her terms.

Story Inspiration

On Friday, I didn’t have my laptop set up and used the iPad to write and publish the blog posts. One of them was originally titled “Prioritizing Me” as part of the Self Care challenge. It deliberately did not include tags or an excerpt. Nor did the title expand on details.

That was a test to see how people would react to a post with buzzwords that have potential negative connotations in the title. Would they move past their instinctive response and allow curiosity to rule – then read the post? Or would they ignore it?

Well, people ignored it. I learned that yesterday as I prepped the last Self Care challenge post for the week.

Next question: would people read or “like” or view the post if I changed the title, added tags, and an excerpt?

Answer, yes someone did “like” the post. By the way, likes are appreciated and valued as at the gifts they are so thank you for doing that.

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson about titles and and posts from last week’s challenge and am grateful for the new knowledge. It will help me provide better content in the future.

But I still believe people deserve to prioritize themselves and their self care before helping others as often as possible.

That doesn’t mean being selfish or not helping others when they can.

It means take care of yourself/myself/ourselves first to that you/I/we can show up healthy, happy and able to assist others.

And that’s why I shared these opinions as a story.

Reflection question: How can/does/will storytelling help you learn from your life experiences?

Love and Rainbows ~ TJ

About

Work, life, mental health: coming out

Coming Out: Re-Defining What Success Looks Like

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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