Mindful Dreaming

The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.
~ Sigmund Freud

What? Not everything he said was shite. Even a broken clock and all that, amirite?

I’ve written about my dreams a number of times (nice and vague, cuz i can’t be arsed to check), and the time has come ’round again. My dreaming life has generally been full and often intense. I was treated for night terrors when i was around 5/6, and i still remember the worst of them in stark detail. Knowing what i know now, it’s easy to see what my brain was trying to puzzle out, as my sexual abuse began before i could speak, and was frequent until i was around 6. Then it slowed down some until my mother’s on-and-off relationship with the man i called Daddy fell apart for good when i was around 8, at which point it became sporadic.

Once the regular sexual abuse stopped, my switching behaviour also slowed down dramatically, and my dreams toned down, too. I started puberty far later than average, but when i did, i was once again dealing with sexual abuse, and it’s my belief that the dual stress is what led to a return of brutal and disturbing dreams. The dreams persisted until i left home at 18, returning as i came back home briefly, and again faced sexual and physical assault. They’d come and go as i was triggered, or trying some new therapy. To this day they occasionally plague me; a red flag for which i’ve become grateful.

When i finally entertained the possibility that i was a multiple, and began the long journey of figuring out the who, what, where, and whens of my childhood, studying my dreams extensively, helped. It was there that i realised that i needn’t recover any memories – they were all there every night in my dreams. Their subject matter, the way they played out as i slept, how i felt the next morning looking back on them… I couldn’t know these things and survive my environment, so my brain disguised them as dreams; keeping them safe until i was able to process their content.
Home movies i’d hidden in my attic.
Confirmation that i wasn’t crazy without cause.
Once i knew what they truly were, they became a part of my daily experience of myself as a person, and the dreaming of these memories stopped.

I kept dreaming, though. My brain is marvelous, and takes as good care of me as it can. It still communicates to me as i sleep, dancing and singing for me, lovely and terrible. My dreams reflect where i’m at mentally and emotionally. They can alert me to the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes that may require my attention. Dreams are a great processing tool for my brain to help me figure my shit out. It keeps on grinding away at various problems while i’m recharging my body’s batteries.

I don’t hold with anyone else analysing my dreams for me. I can usually figure out my own dreams, thanks. (This is one of the places where Dr. Freud needs to back TF up.) I’ve done enough inner work to know myself, and so it’s usually obvious what my dreams are saying to me. On the rare occasion that i wake up nonplussed, i have a method for interpretation that works well. A nun taught it to me years ago when i was in a halfway house run by the RCC. I write out the dream in first person, then i read through it and underline any words that jump out at me. I then take the underlined words and give them a personal definition, one by one. Once that’s done i’ve usually found some clarity.

Over the course of my life my dreams have been highly thematic. When i was very young i dreamed of a house filled with death, being pursued by a faceless evil thing, and being covered in bugs. The bug dreams were so terrifying that bugs became a lifelong phobia, so intensely so that even thinking i might have seen a bug could trigger a petit mal seizure (now commonly referred to as an absence seizure).* My dreams during adolescence and young adulthood were mostly about getting lost, and becoming separated from loved ones. The worst though, were the ones that mixed sex and death. Those were guaranteed to be followed by 1 or more sleepless nights, depending on severity.**

The last 15yrs or so, my dreams are generally about 1 of 2 things: It’s either the getting lost/losing loved ones dreams, or cleaning house/taking care of children. That second one might sound innocuous, but i assure you that it’s not. They’re the most emotionally draining dreams i’ve ever had (which, admittedly, could be due in part to the fact that i’m not as dissociative as i used to be). I’m in someone else’s house –before my happy estrangement from my parents’  families– and it’s messy, so i start tidying up. Instead of things getting better, i keep discovering more and more clutter, and eventually there’s filth everywhere i look and nothing i do seems to lessen it. Anyone else in the house with me is either oblivious or uncaring. These dreams can involve children. I start out caring for babies and toddlers, and am quickly bogged down with cleaning them and cleaning the house.

I’m not much for kids, to be frank. I love mine, i love my grandchildren. It’s not that i don’t like kids, although i used to think that’s what it was. It’s that being around children is one big triggerfest for me; i spend my time with them bracing for the next unintentional potshot. When i’m actively working with my system to improve my life and level of daily functionality, it’s worse.
In my dreams though, i love all of them. I’m happy to take care of them, even when they’re crying or covered in crap and needing a bath or generally running wild and misbehaving. I’m filled with love and i can feel how invested i am in their care. If there are other people in the house, they never help with the kids – i’m on my own. Sometimes i lose track of them and i’m running around the house frantically, trying to find them. In my dreams, once i lose someone i never find them again. Sometimes they grow bigger as i’m caring for them, which is fine, but other times they morph into something not quite human, and those are the worst dreams. No matter what the children are doing, anyone around me that’s adult gives precisely zero fux.

These dreams may not be nightmarish, but they’re exhausting. I wake from these feeling like i haven’t slept at all. I’m wrung out emotionally, mentally, physically.
And knowing myself like i do, it wasn’t hard to understand why i was having such dreams, and why they’d affect me in such a way.

The doctor who treated my Night Terrors as a child taught me a skill that instantly became invaluable, one that’s saved me countless times since. He taught me all about lucid dreaming. He told me how to figure out if i was dreaming or awake, which is what led to my realisation that some of my dreams were actually memories. He showed me how to wake myself up. Ms T (my therapist) says that a multiple’s mutant superpower is her imagination, and i think she’s correct. Everything that doctor taught me i understood with little to no explanation. When he told me i could fly away from the bad things in my dreams, i did it the very next time a night terror gripped me; i flew away and woke myself up. The ability to recognise that i’m dreaming ebbs and flows according to how i’m doing mental health wise, but once i know i’m in a dream, at the very least i can pull myself out of it. Sometimes the best i can do is pull myself into another dream, but at least i got out of the one i was trying to get away from.

And lately my ability has drastically increased.
I’ve been doing and saying things that i never have before, and some of it isn’t even a lucid choice i’m making. I see it as confirmation that this work i’m doing is taking root, it’s becoming a part of me and how my brain works.
I AM HEALING.

**********

Some cool dream stuff i’ve been doing lately:

I’ve stood up for myself to people who were treating me badly.

I’ve told my mom NO, and even told her off a few times. My mom! /mouth agape

I found my way back when i got lost in a mall. (Once i’m lost i’ve always stayed lost, wandering in maze-like places, never getting back to the place i wanted to be.)

And the children… I’m not losing them, they’re not getting dirtier or changing into something scary/gross. They stay with me and we have a good time. I’m suffused with love for them. Knowing i’m dreaming changes it not a whit.

Estranged/dead family members still pop into my dreams, but they don’t ruin me. Nothing they do goes unanswered. (I’ve always just taken it – in real life and in dreams.)

**********

I know this piece is a bit off the beaten path, even for me, but the way i see things, this is a big deal. My dream life has always been a huge part of who i am, and i find this change significant. It makes me feel good about the work i’ve done, and emboldens me to continue.
My dreams steadfastly refuse to forget what happened to me.
My dreams assure me that i’m not crazy for no reason.
My dreams keep telling me when there’s something terribly wrong, and t’isn’t me or my fault.

My precious, precious, marvelous, fantastical brain. I love it so.
Yes, it’s weird how i treat it like it’s my best friend and not quite me.
It’s weird and accurate.
Maybe one day i’ll be able to explain that, but for now, my brain art (dreams) is telling me i’m helping and all of me is feeling better.

Fanfreakingtastic.

They say that dreams are only real as long as they last. Couldn’t you say the same thing about life?
~ Waking Life (2001)

This freaky, overthinking weirdo wishes you the best of everything.
Hang in there.
Love and Peace,
~H~

*I was epileptic as a child; it’s now considered dormant.

**I’m not including the memories that came to me as dreams.

PICTURED: “Having a moment” in the movie, Waking Life.

Oh Look, Stars

Peter Pan:
Jack, Maggie, all you have to do is think one happy thought, and you’ll fly like me.

Maggie:
Mommy.

~ Hook (1991)

What does one do when they get insight about something that they don’t have the time or energy to act on?
I’ve got all i can handle and then some – no more. But why else am i continuing this work, in spite of the world doing us dirty, if not for these moments? Epiphanies are a gift for the hardworking seeker. An ointment for the wounded wanderer. A Turkish coffee on a Monday morning. Like a birthday sparkler, it illuminates but briefly. Its magnesium flash leaves an imprint behind my psychic lids; i shall write of it before it fades.

My therapist (whom i now call Ms T) pointed out that my #1, most developed and powerful alter, was born out of my brain as a child. This means, despite her purpose in being created and how she presents, she is a child herself. As are all my Bits N’ Pieces.
They’re a child’s idea of what a grownup should be, but they aren’t adults. They’re children created in a child’s mind.
A revelation.

I carried that with me after our therapy session ended. It was all i could think about for hours. It flooded me with compassion for my system – something i’ve struggled with over the years i’ve been consciously interacting with them. It’s been a challenge to know them, and then to foster trust in them, so that i might take my proper place as Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of this whole shebang.
My crazy kaleidoscope of a brain.

While i was deep in thought and processing what i’d learned, my son checked in with me.
He’s grown and has been through more than i’d wish for him.
I’m thinking about how my people are kids, and it softens my heart. I see them in a way i hadn’t, heretofore. My son approaches me, looking for connection.

I’ve known for most of my children’s lives that i struggle with affection. I love them so much, but the abuse made me avoid touch.
I only figured that out through therapy, in retrospect.

So my youngest son is approaching me for physical contact. A hug. He’s my huggy bear. My older 2 weren’t as touchy. I don’t know if it’s the way they are or the way i made them. I will accept responsibility for whatever they discern…
The thing is, he’s always been affectionate with me, and has helped me overcome my fear of touch with his innocent, open, and consistent reaching out to me for connection.

I knew it was my job to meet him where he was at. This latest round of therapy has taught me how important that is to a child’s development. I’m learning that connection is everything. Whether good or bad develops from it is not the lesson for me. My children will be, regardless of my influence, who they choose to be. It doesn’t matter if their choices are conscious and informed or not. I don’t know if it’s fair or not, either.
I’m just here –in all my glorious imperfection– to help where i can. That involves acknowledging my flaws and shortcomings.

My mother never said sorry to me, not one time.
Years ago i figured out how much an apology would’ve meant to me.
I’d have let it all go in an instant. I just wanted her to love me. I’d have forgiven her anything and everything.
It dawned on me, and i saw how children need to connect as much as they need to eat. More, even.
And then i saw my greatest failing as a parent.

I was unable to meet my children in their most vulnerable place. The place inside them where they needed my touch: loving touch, comforting touch, supportive touch, playful touch, healing touch. I couldn’t touch my children often enough, or deeply enough, or meaningfully enough. And i wonder what that’s done to them. I think on their personalities, and i must consider that their common threads may be because they needed more touch from me than i gave them. None of them are an open-book type – just like me. They are all intensely private and somewhat introverted – like me. They’re guarded, they have a somewhat negative view of humans, they aren’t terribly surprised by the darker sides of human nature, they all enjoy gallows humour, they bond with only a very select few.
Just like me.

Look, i’m not saying these qualities are good or bad ones.
I’m also not saying i was a terrible parent. I neglected them in ways, and i failed them utterly in others. I think most parents do to some degree. None of us are perfect. I think our job as parents is to be good enough. That’s it; we’re all flawed humans who bring our baggage into all our relationships. I know that i did my best. Unfortunately, i’m not sure my best was good enough.
That’s for my children to judge though, not me.

The thing is, as i learn and grow and heal from the terror i lived through as a child, i would be remiss if i didn’t also cast a critical eye on my own parenting. I’m still their mom and will always be, even when we are separated by death. I will be as good a mom as i can be, and as i become more this/less that and just a better and more useful human, so too will that include my role as mother.
As i put myself back together after being torn apart by my own parents, my capacity to fulfill that role for my precious boys will expand, and i will fill all the new spaces inside me with love and light.

I may not have been a terrible mom, but i will be a better and better mom until the day i cease to be anything but a memory.

That now includes being physically available to them, whenever they want it from me. Not just hugs, but physical warmth. Consoling and soothing touch. Play, too.
I may be late addressing the need, but my hope is that it’s not too late.
I will be physically available to meet them where they’re at, and i will provide motherly connection.

Connection with my children.
I have the time and energy for that, FOR THEM, no matter what.

So I know I’m not alone
When I’m here on my own
Isn’t that a wonder?
When you’re alone
You’re not alone
Not really alone

~ John Williams, When You’re Alone (Hook)

Baby Stepping

I’m doing the work, I’m baby-stepping, I’m not a slacker! Just look, I’m in really bad shape!
~ Bob Wiley, What About Bob? (1991)

When i’m in the weeds, you know, down the rabbit hole, neck deep in shit, whatever you wanna call it – i’m learning to make temporary changes to accommodate whatever it is i’m currently dealing with.

This body work has, at times, been all-consuming, as in, it’s all i can do, and i have nothing left for anything else. When that’s happened, i’ve built a circle of support around me to help get things done that must be done, like cooking and light housekeeping and pet care. There are times in between though, where i’m capable of doing a few things, but i’m still not able to function at the level i could when i wasn’t dealing with body memories and pain, and the panic and chaos that can cause.

I’m fortunate that i’ve been able to create the kind of life where i can just stop everything and focus on myself – i know not everyone can do that. It was hard work and i made some good life choices, but i know that for some people, what i’ve been able to achieve simply isn’t possible. That’s made me both proud of myself, and so grateful for the opportunities life’s thrown my way.

What my life looks like right now is not what it looked like a few months ago. There are days where my body’s so wracked with pain that i can barely get my ass out of bed to the bathroom or the couch. I’m not able to shower, cook, or clean house. Those are the times when loved ones step in to help with the basics. And no one minds if i’m unkempt and stinky for a couple of days. Most days though, i’m able to accomplish a few basic, maintenance-type activities, but it’s taken time, and a lot of experimentation to figure out what works best for me.

The key for me is baby steps. (If you’ve seen the movie What About Bob?, you may chuckle now – i am.) I drop anchor and take a look at what i can reasonably get done. I’m going to need to sail eventually, but can i proceed now, or are the conditions too dangerous, and my best bet is to wait. If it’s something i can navigate if i’m careful, then i’ll weigh anchor. I’m sailing. I’m sailing! I’m saaaailing!
Okay, done with the movie reference. Heh.

I get up in the morning with my husband at 5am, if i can, and i’ll make him breakfast. Sometimes all i can manage is cereal and juice for his meds, sometimes i can get a hot meal on the table. If i can get his breakfast together, his lunch is a cinch. All i need to do is make a sandwich. He’s not a picky guy, so whether it’s PB&J on white or turkey and swiss on rye w/lettuce and dijon, he’s satisfied. Everything else that goes in his lunchbox is prepackaged, so i just grab it and throw it in there.

Once that’s done, i can go back to bed if i want/need to. Sometimes i need to, because i haven’t slept well, or i’m in pain, or both. Sometimes i want to, because he watches the news in the morning and i don’t want to, or i just want to shnuggle up under the covers, or that’s all the peopling and activity i can handle for the moment. Some days i can stay up with him and see him off to work, which is nice for both of us.
Speaking of him watching the news…

I can’t handle it lately – at all. I’ve tried, because i like to be up on world events, but over these last few weeks any little bit that i take in has had a detrimental effect on my mental health. I get angry and anxious and i’m too easily triggered right now. So if i can stay up with him and see him off to work, i listen to music on my headphones and surf the web while sitting beside him. I trust him to tell me world events that he knows i would want to know. The last few days i got sucked back into the news due to COVID-19, and yesterday i realised that wasn’t good for me. I know what to do to best protect myself and i’m doing that, and there is nothing that i can reasonably do for what’s going on for people in the rest of the world. It may seem coldhearted, but it is self-preservation. I must cut the emotional baggage wherever possible; what’s happening is breaking my heart and i need all of my heart for myself at this time. Politics is an absolute NO, full stop. Take out “breaking my heart” and insert “scaring the shit outta me”. Again, i need my thoughts and emotions for myself, to get through this work. Selfish? Perhaps, but i know that once this work is done, i’ll be a far more functional and capable human, with a lot more to give. My well-being will increase the world’s well-being.
I don’t have many spoons in my drawer, and i’m going to need them all before this is done. The earth will continue to turn with or without me, and people will continue to do good or bad as they choose.

Bit of a side note here: A couple of years ago, i cut out entertainment industry gossip, talk shows, and fashion magazines. I’ve been amazed how much better i feel. I used to be envious of the rich and famous, and disgusted by their conspicuous consumption. I used to get pulled into the staged talk show “discussions”, get sucked into the belief that i must be an us or a them, and get swept along with the waves of outrage, rhetoric, and vitriol. Do i even need to say why i feel better now that i don’t read fashion mags or watch red carpet events? I’m gonna go with Hell no! and leave it at that.

If i’ve gone back to bed in the morning, and sometimes i do even after i’ve seen my husband off to work, i get up as soon as i can.
The rest of my day is fairly easy to describe. I do some something productive, and then i take at least as much time to rest and do something that’s not work. The productive things in the morning usually involve stuff like making my bed, tidying my room, personal hygiene, washing dishes from the night before (by the end of the day, i’m often too tired to do anything but scrape the dishes off and place them in the sink), cleaning the countertops, and even planning supper can use up some energy. I’m careful to only do 1 or 2 things at a time, and then i get to sit down and surf the net or watch some telly or read. In the afternoons, i’ll try to get at least 1 larger chore done, like vacuuming or sweeping, or cleaning a bathroom. There are times all i can do in the bathroom is a basic wipe down, other times i can do a proper scrubbing with cleaning products. Often the tub and tile are too much for me, so i just spray with the foam that’s supposed to do it for you – you know the one, right? Then i squeegee it off and that has to be good enough.

With hygiene, again, i do what i can. I like to use an electric toothbrush, do the full 2mins, floss, but sometimes all i can do is scrub the fur off with a regular toothbrush and call it done. I have a very intensive skin care regime for morning and night, but if all i can manage is to wipe my face with a warm cloth and slap on a dab of cream, then Yay for me. Some days the shower is too much energy and some days it’s too much of a trigger, so then i just do a quick gas station wipe down of the pits and the bits. If i can’t even do that, i put on clean underwear, and use extra pit-stick. If i’m that low energy, chances are i’m not leaving the house anyway, and my people love me even when i reek.

Fresh air is good for me, and i love to walk, so i’ll try to get out for a bit. Some days i’ll get in a solid hour w/the dogs too, sometimes i just walk down the road to meet my husband as he comes home from work, and there are days it’s a triumph if i can stand on the front steps and do some yogic breathing for 10mins.
I listen to my inner thoughts, i pay attention to my body and try to minister to its needs. I do what i can and i take lots of breaks in between.

As you can probably imagine, sometimes supper is at the table, with something i’ve made myself, but there have been many times recently, when my husband’s brought take-away and we sit in front of the telly and eat crap.
I have to let that go and be okay with it.

Just for the record, some days writing is my reward, and sometimes it is my chore. And too many times for my liking, lately it’s been too much to even try, and even trying i’ve found my well dry.
I have to let that go, too.

I know this post may be a bit mundane and boring, but i wanted to share it anyway. I want for readers to see my process, to see how i figure things out, to see how my brain works. There are plenty of gurus and self-help books out there, full of advice on how to manage one’s life, and some of it is pretty good. All it ever did for me was make me feel pressured and judged if i didn’t do it or didn’t do it right, or did it and it didn’t work. It mostly just caused me more stress and anxiety, but i did collect enough information from all of it that helped me to carve out my own way to do things.
And that’s why i’m sharing this today –not to tell anyone how to do it– only to show that i’ve done it, and i”m doing it, and i’m learning more and tweaking my routines and getting better results, and having more of the kind of life i want for myself.
I share this to extend hope that if i can, maybe you can, too.

Hang in there. Do what you can. Try not to worry about the rest.

Love and Peace,
~H~

Dancing Elephants

Even 10 years ago i would have told you that anxiety wasn’t that much of an issue for me.

HAAAA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA
*gaspsforair*
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

I think being a multiple hid it from me, because i’d just dissociate/slide/switch to cope when the feeling came up. As i learned more about myself and my system, i became more conscious of my thoughts and emotions, and more aware of my physical body and my “presence” in it. I discovered that –ZOUNDS!– anxiety is a huge issue for me. It slows down my personal progress, it limits my opportunities, it stifles my creativity, it thins my skin, it uses spoons that would be far better used elsewhere.

Fuck anxiety, man.

Over the last few years i’ve intentionally endeavoured to cut as much of this heartache-y bullshit stress out of my life as i can. I thought this morning that i might share with you a list of things i’ve done to hike this old piano off of my chest.

Let me be very clear here: This is not a step-by-step. This is my list, based on who i am and how i work. This is a personal list, specific to me. I share this list to share my process, which is a big part of what i do on this blog, and to stand as evidence that it can be done. Some of what i do or don’t do to reduce/remove anxiety might have precisely the opposite affect on you. You have your own past, your own personality, your own burdens, your own path. You do you, Boo. I am. here. for it. 100%

Things I Have Done To Reduce Anxiety

1) Stopped watching talk shows,
lifestyle programs,
nighttime news,
anything to do with celebrities:
This is a big one for a few reasons. Talk shows triggered envy, lifestyle programs triggered guilt, and nighttime news supported catastrophising. I also figured out that learning more about the celebrities/artists i like, jeopardised my enjoyment of them/their art. I’m all for killing your heroes, but sometimes not listening to them chat is enough;

2) Put down fashion, gossip, and lifestyle magazines:
See above for reasons. The lifestyle and celebrity gossip rags were easy to put down, the fashion died a little harder. It’s not just that i wished i was slim and beautiful and young and glamourous like the models, it’s also that fashion is art, to me. I’ve discovered that, like sports, i can love the thing itself, and shun the machine that surrounds it;

3) No shopping alone, not even online:
Too many choices causes me to freeze up. If there were two ice cream shops, and one was 100 flavours and one was 3, i would go to the store with three. If i went to the store with 100, i’d stand there for an hour, hemming and hawing, stress over which would be the best flavour, and either pick one and regret it, wondering if i shouldn’t have picked a different one instead –OR– i’d get completely overwhelmed and end up picking one i could have gotten in 5 minutes at the other store.

If i shop alone, a version of this happens every time. This is why i limit the amount of time i spend in a store, and don’t even enter certain stores, like Sephora, for instance, because there’s just too many choices. I wind up walking out with nothing, and so stressed i could cry. When i shop online i’ve either got my husband or a kid beside me, or i shop where they let me narrow my search (and boy oh boy, do i narrow).

4) Walk my doggos every day:
Dogs and exercise are great relievers of stress. E’erybody know dat.

5) Keep To-Do lists loose, and rarely on paper:
If i write down a list, it becomes too important and too rigid.* If it’s in my head, it’s easier for me to make amendments when and where appropriate, and not kick myself if it all doesn’t get done;

6) Share all anxiety-producing thoughts with a safe person:
Truth is, i share most of my thoughts with a safe person. The negative or stress-producing ones so that they don’t get a chance to get bigger and badder, but even the positive, happyhappy stuffs. I want to remember the good ones, and sharing the words is like planting them as seeds and giving them a chance to grow and bear good fruit;

7) See my GP every 3mos:
I have both mental and physical health issues that are important to monitor. Also, i can be obsessive, and have a tendency to imagine worst case scenarious. Oh yeah, and i’m terrified of dying. I don’t think i qualify as a hypochondriac, but i can take a pimple and WebMD it into cancer in about 3mins flat. I always bring a list to my doctor appointments, so she can address all my causes for concern, and i never lie to her or hide things from her;

8) Biweekly therapy:
‘Nuff said;

9) Stopped weighing myself:
The number on the scale has only ever caused me anxiety, even when i think it’s a good number. I keep track based on how my clothes fit, and how i look in the mirror after a shower, naked. I get weighed every 3mos at my doctor’s office. I don’t look at the number, and the nurse doesn’t tell me, she only tells my doctor;

10) Become particular about who i hang out with:
I love people, but always find it somewhat stressful, and sometimes even painful to be around them. I only have so much energy and a few spoons a day, so i’ve had to get selective. Basing it on this reasoning also relieved some anxiety, because this is about me and for my wellbeing. Sometimes the reason isn’t personal, and sometimes it IS;

11) Watch telly less – read more:
I was a latchkey kid, so the television was regularly my only companion. My whole adult life i’ve switched on the tv in the morning, and not turned it off until i go to bed at night. I didn’t always watch it, but i liked the background noise. These last few months the tv’s barely on during the day. Television was a great distraction for my system when things got busy and/or stressful up in my brain. These days i’m learning to listen to what’s going on, rather than trying to tune it all out. And the quiet is actually kinda nice;

12) One hit of caffeine in the morning only, if home all day:
I like some to get me going, but after that first mug of black tea, i switch to herbal ones. I struggle with sleep and anxiety, and too much caffeine only amplifies those issues. If i’m out and about in the city or visiting with friends, i do allow myself to indulge, though. And i feel fine about that;

13) Limit socialisation:
I don’t want to cut it out entirely (although sometimes i NEED to do that), but i’m easily overwhelmed and human interaction can bleed my energy dry in a matter of hours. I’m talking about people i choose to be social with, here;

14) BLOG:
Yeah. Dumping thoughts is important for my wellbeing. I may have said this once or twice before. Heh;

15) Take stock of the day with hubby each evening:
More thought-dumping sure, but also helps to keep me on track, gives me a chance to problem-solve, and affords opportunities for encouragement, support, and human connection. Invaluable for managing my most typical anxieties;

16) Take breaks between tasks, and/or limit amount of time spent on tasks:
All that happens when i push too hard and get a whole bunch of shit done is i feel like it wasn’t enough and i need to beat my last score the next day, if that makes sense. Respite gives me a chance for checking in and self-talk, too.
e.g. I did the dishes, yay! Now i can play online Scrabble for half an hour, then maybe i’ll scrub the toilets… Ah, w00t?

17) Reduce house-clutter:
The less i have to take care of besides myself and my dog – the better;

18) Set time to obsess:
I struggle with obsessive thinking. To date, i haven’t found a way to eliminate it. In the past i would kick myself over not being able to control it. Now, i work within my capabilities. So maybe i can’t quit obsessing, but i can give myself a half hour to gnaw it like a dog on a bone. I have something to do to distract me when the time to obsess is over. It can be very hard to stop, so i’ll schedule an obsess-sesh say, right before i meet a friend for coffee;

19) Use 4-7-8 breathing method:
While i do simple yoga, i’m a nonbeliever and i just like this particular method of breathing. It calms me, it brings my focus down into my body and relieves that heavy, squinchy feeling in my chest that anxiety brings. It’s occasionally helped me get to sleep, too. Not magic, but still awesome;

20) Reduce volume:
When things are quieter on the outside of me, things are often quieter on the inside of me;

21) Walk away from toxic associations:
I’m just gonna say it. Family. I walked away from family (and not a few friends). To be fair, i think i could be pretty toxic myself, when i was around them;

22) Be conscious, be cautious when sharing opinions:
I was raised with a finely tuned sense of tribalism. I also learned that being considered 1 of the gang made me far less likely to be hurt. I’d figure out what the group dynamic and their values were, and promptly reflect them. When i broke free of that programming, i wanted to tell everyone what i thought about everything, all the time. I’ve got that t-shirt now, thanks. I don’t require anyone’s agreement or approval of my opinions because, well, they’re opinions. I share my opinions with safe and loved people. I’m supportive of those who want to stand up and shout theirs from the rooftops, and i’m also supportive of those like me, who want to go far away from the rooftops;

23) Stay home:
Socialising takes a lot out of me; too much, right now;

24) Shnuggle pets:
For those who love and have pets, explanations are unnecessary;

25) Consume comedy (shows, books, podcasts, conversations):
There’s nothing quite like laughter, to give that elephant sitting on my chest a chance to get up and do some pirouettes, maybe even grand jetés!

26) Ask, “Is this any of my business?” regularly:
Cuts down on brain clutter, and keeps me from stressing over what other people think and do. You be you and i be me;

27) Say “I’m sorry” less:
This is mostly concerning my upbringing. As the scapegoat, i was the reason shit went south. I’m always apologising, and i know it drives my loved ones bonkers. I’m learning that most of the time when i say sorry it’s unconscious, reflexive programming. I don’t have to apologise for who i am. Any apologies still remaining from my past will be dealt with as they present themselves. I’m not in constant danger of being harmed anymore, like i was when i was a child. Offering unnecessary sorries just brings up old wounds and reinforces the lies my mother told me about myself in order to control me;

28) Say “I don’t know” more:
Same original motivators as above. Not knowing things as a child left me more open to harm, so i tried to know everything. And my family was the very model of knowitallishness. I don’t have to protect myself that way anymore. Plus, it’s annoying AF, and nobody likes a smarty-pants;

29) Be more physically affectionate with husband and children:
Touch is difficult for me. While it’s been a relief to put no-touch boundaries up, i’m a human animal who does better in life with some physical connection. My husband and children are safe. I reinforce that i’m safe and they won’t hurt me, when i touch them. I experience love and healthy attachment. It calms me, grounds me, makes me feel more normal, strengthens bonds and heals old hurts;

30) Strictly limit and curate social media exposure:
Do i need to go into how anxiety-producing social media can be? If you’re reading my blog, probably not. You already know;

31) Don’t compare myself to others:
A biiiig one, and one that’s proven hard to master. Different nature, different nurture, different choices, different paths. It makes for different people, H. Duh. I do sometimes use others as a general metric, but only to keep myself honest and on track. An example would be when i thought i might be overreacting to a certain person’s behaviour. I compared my reactions to those of other people around him, and quickly figured out NOPE.

One more time for the people in the back:

This is my list. There’s more, and i’ll probably make alterations, additions and subtractions to this list over time.
My point is, anxiety is awful and takes energy i need for other stuff that feels better, or at least yields good fruit. Anxiety produces nothing for me but pain, poor choices, and more anxiety.

And what you think about this post and my list is entirely your business. Heh.

Try to enjoy your weekend, if you can. I will too.

*Wait a second, is this irony?

Yo, Knock It Off!

Growing up, i learned not to complain about anything. There was no point, unless i was looking for a beating. A lot of my circumstances i didn’t even recognise as abusive or neglectful,  and any time i did, i was adept at putting it away somewhere inside myself and never thinking about it again.

When i got away and out on my own, that changed a little. I became hypersensitive to some low-level wrongs (the value i’m placing on these may not be anyone else’s), like being misunderstood, spoken to harshly, feeling excluded or ignored. I had no idea how to address these issues, but i had a great deal of experience with passive-aggressive behaviours, and that became my routine method of handling them. I was the stereotypical wife who slammed kitchen cupboards and furiously cleaned the house. When my husband would ask me what was wrong, i’d snap Nothing, stonefaced.

My second way to express it, was to GTFO; i’d leave the situation immediately, sometimes even end the relationship (if there was one) entirely. My past is probably littered with dead relationships with people who have no idea why i left. I’m a pro at ghosting. When the person who gave you life treats you the way my mother treated me, i think it can create a hard, twisted, dead part inside you.* I have the ability to cut off contact, completely, utterly, and immediately, with a loved one. I close a door between us and it is done. It’s only been in the last couple of years that i’ve been addressing this practise of mine, and it’s been quite the sticky wicket.

More than a few times i’ve heard from friends that there is an uncrossable line inside me, a place where none can come. That one can only know me so well, before approaching the locked door. Implacable me. The big fat NOPE. Reading my blog, you might find that strange, but let me assure you that the observation is correct and well-earned. I was raised in hiddenness, taught that i was bad and dirty, drank down a steady draught of shame until it spilled out of my body and filled the space around me and i had to grow gills to breathe in it. Until only a few short years ago, i believed that if you really knew me, you’d leave me. Immediately, and in disgust. And so i learned tricks to manipulate people into sticking with me. I didn’t think it out as consciously as i share this. Heh. No, i knew i was a sneak and a fake –my mother had told me these things since i can remember– but i didn’t think clearly that i must control the flow of information about me in order to have relationships with anyone. It was the subconscious impetus that guided all my interactions with other humans that i desired to have in my life. I was the Beast who’d give access to anywhere in the castle, save the wing that houses his dying rose. And if i caught you sniffing around, you’d likely get a similar reaction to his; a lot of roaring and throwing things.

If you really knew me, you would leave me.

I have a speckled, rocky, treacherous, traitorous history with friendship. I’ve spent decades now trying to unravel and decipher what i did, what they did, where my culpability lies and where it actuallyseriouslynoreally wasn’t me, it was them. I want to know the truth. One thing i’m not afraid of is truth. Okay, that’s not entirely true, as it is also not totally true that lies are pain. But the lie i was forced to live as truth caused me nothing but pain and suffering and separated me from life and those around me who were truly living it. So, in this particular instance i am not at all afraid (anymore, cuz laws yes, was i ever!) to know what i did wrong and where and to whom.

This need to control every aspect of how i present myself to various loved ones and sundry, has bled into every interaction i have. Just day-to-days, it’s not necessarily a high price to pay, or even wrong. I’m of the opinion that when the cashier asks me how i am today, it’s okay for me to respond Fine, even if i’m far from it, for various reasons. they’re just doing they’re job, i don’t feel like mentioning how much my day sucks, there’s a bunch of people in line behind me and they ain’t here for that, etc. There are times though, when my fear and shame-based tightlipped interactions and forced joviality have cost me too much. I’ve come away hurt and diminished.

All this to relate something that happened to me yesterday.

I went to see a movie with my husband. The last time we went to a theatre we were with one of our sons, and the person sitting behind him kept kicking his seat. He wanted to handle it on his own, and so i had to sit back and watch him do it in a way that i wouldn’t have. Grrr, but he’s grown and he gets to, and that’s good for both of us. I’m excellent at standing up for other people, known and loved or not. But last night my son wasn’t there and the seat-kicking was happening to me, and it wasn’t just 1 person, it was half the row, and it wasn’t just any group, it was a group of teenagers. Ugh.

Teenagers are a tough group for me. Not because i don’t like them – i like them very much. I have a patience, understanding, and tolerance for them that i don’t see often enough. It’s a good quality, but it comes from a bad place, and has required some understanding and some tempering to know when to use it and to what degree. My teen years were hell, and a lot of my peers were awful to me, and if they weren’t awful, they stood by and watched or ignored while i was teased and bullied every single day. So i carried unresolved pain and anger into my adulthood, and when you add in some of my teenage parts, this created an unhealthy need in me for teenager’s approval. I wanted them to like me and think i’m cool. I used them as bandages for old wounds. When mania had hold of me, i’d gravitate towards younger people. I was trying to relive those years; to fix the loneliness, the exclusion, the mean girls who made sport of me, the cute boys who didn’t want me, the parties and crazy adventures to which i was never invited. The fat, dirty, dishevelled, poor, weird girl.

These kids were just being kids, sure, but we were watching a horror movie. I love horror movies, i love being startled, freaked out, and have the everloving crap scared outta me (in a movie – IRL i hate these things because i often lose control of the face). I couldn’t get any buildup of suspense because my chair was being jiggled by giggly teenagers every 30 seconds or less. I consciously decided to handle it. I thought about it and figured they might not respond like i’d want, and briefly went over in my mind what i was willing to do about it. I asked myself how far i’d go, and quickly ran over a few likely scenarios, but not too deeply, because movie.

I started with a polite request for them to stop kicking my seat. It resumed after mere minutes, at which time i looked pointedly back at them, raised 2 of my fingers and said, That’s twice. It only stopped for a few minutes, but i gave them a break while they went and got more snacks and used the washroom. After a couple of minutes of settle-back-in-your-seats time, i looked back at them and said, loudly enough for the entire theatre to hear, Yo, knock it off! When i received more chair jiggling less than 2mins later, i got up and complained to management, who followed me back to my seat, taking note while i pointed out the 6 or so teens that were causing my problem.

I sat back down and was hit with intense body reaction. I was shaking and had to bring my breathing under control… But it wasn’t hard, and i settled quickly. I decided that if it didn’t stop at that point, i was prepared to go and ask for a refund and try again tonight. There were a couple of minor jiggles in the first 2 or 3mins after they were warned, but nothing after that. When the movie was nearly over and it was mushy, tying-up-loose-ends stuff, i asked myself what i’d do if they came for me in any way as we were leaving. I decided i didn’t need to even look at them. If they had words for me, i might ignore or i might engage, depending on what they said, but i found i wasn’t angry at them. I bore no ill will at all. They were just kids being kids, but i had the right to enjoy my movie undisturbed, and part of growing up is realising it’s not just about you.

I didn’t even need to process it with my husband on the way home, which is a wow kinda thing. I’m very introspective (hahaha, no kidding, H) and will often go over human interactions somewhat *ah* obsessively. This happened, i handled it, and it was no big deal. They may understand or not – it doesn’t matter. They may talk about me and what a bitch i was – not my business. I have a circle of friends who know me and care about me and they are more than enough. I don’t need everyone to like me. It’s an unhealthy and impossible goal, and it doesn’t shield me from pain and abandonment anyway. Plus, i’m not a teenager anymore and they are not my peers.

It’s not a big deal, but it is. To hide who i am and to take the shit some people will heap on me was what i was born to do. Standing up for myself, even in small ways like this one, saying No, or Stop! don’t come naturally to me. In fact, it goes against my entire upbringing. That is to say, it’s a helluva thing for me to do, and i’m a bit pleased with myself right now.

Thought i’d share.

Therapy tomorrow. Yeehaw.

I’ll post again soon.
Love and Peace,
~H~

*”Can”, not “will” or “must”.

Sometimes I’m Just Wrong

As people with a history like mine often do, i’ve had severe dental phobia most of my life. To have to hang my mouth open and have someone poking around in there, sometimes causing me pain, can be a brutal trigger. As a child, my mother stopped caring about my dental health around the time she was committed; i was in grade one. The only time she’d bring me in was for an emergency, which happened occasionally. I wasn’t much for brushing, which resulted in a few abscesses and a couple of pulled teeth.

Once on my own i just dodged the dentist. I finally paid attention when i found an excellent family physician during my pregnancy with my second child. She urged me to attend to my teeth, which were becoming problematic.
I required many appointments to get my teeth cleaned and a number of fillings followed. Neither the hygienist nor the dentist seemed to realise or care about my severe anxiety, and i was shamed and lectured every visit, guaranteeing more avoidant behaviour. It wasn’t until i was well into therapy with my current counsellor that i finally dealt with my fear head-on.

I found a nice lady dentist who’d been doing it for decades, and i went to talk to her. No cleaning, just x-rays, and a chat about what i was looking at to get my teeth shipshape. I told her of my phobia. (No, really? Like my huge, watering eyes and clenched fists didn’t already announce it.) I indicated as delicately as i could that it was trauma-based. She was immediately receptive, kind and gentle in her response, and assured me that i wasn’t her only patient with these issues. She said she’d work with me, to help me overcome my anxiety as much as possible (at my pace), and to attain and maintain healthy teeth and gums.

I know a fair number of people who use sedation dentistry to handle this issue, but i wanted to at least try to do it without drugs of any kind. I prepared as best i could; going over what was going to happen in my head, looking at pictures i’d taken of the dentist’s office, and the chair that i’d be sitting in, the ceiling that i’d be looking at (they have tellies up there – how smart is that?), i thought of how i feel in a dentist’s chair, and went over the different methods i could use to cope:

– focused breathing,
– body mindfulness,
– reminding myself that the intensity of the feelings are a response to trauma that’s no longer happening,
– stopping the hygienist and asking for a break,
– stopping the hygienist and talking briefly about the feelings,
– stopping the hygienist and rescheduling,
– using an anti-anxiety med beforehand,
– sedation dentistry,
– maintain dental health as best i can on my own, do more therapy around the issue, and try again at a later date.

I was stiff as a board the first time i sat for a cleaning; eyes as big as saucers, hands and feet clenched hard enough to cramp. The hygienist had a soft, soothing voice, and she calmed my jangled nerves with banter about her children, a recent move, a holiday. Her demeanor was quiet and kind, and i knew she wasn’t going to hurt me. Cleaning my teeth properly would take a few visits, they’d already told me, but i never sensed any disapproval from her, and there was never the slightest hint of a tsk or a tut-tut in her voice.

Then it’s time for my dentist to do some fillings, some caps, and even a root canal, to preserve my teeth for as long as possible. Her voice is also soft (i think dentists may cultivate this voice – also smart) but her vibe is jovial, even goofy. Her assistant is sarcastic, with a deadpan delivery, and between the 2 of them, they provide a great service and a show besides, which distracted and delighted me so much that i came to look forward to seeing them. Not even kidding.

I settled in to regular maintenance, and then the recession hit. We had to let go of our dental insurance, and i didn’t want to stress our already squeaky budget, when i knew my teeth were in good shape, and i was now diligent and conscientious with care. We still had a son at home who required extensive orthodontic work, and so i stopped going for a couple of years. When our financial situation improved,  i went back, thinking there’d be no problem.

Oh, but there was.

I missed a number of appointments, for which i provided lame excuses, and i’d call after and reschedule with a self-deprecating chuckle. Six months later i did the same thing, i missed my first appointment and called, saying it had totally slipped my mind and i’d be there for sure next time. The receptionist fixed another time with me, but i noted something in her voice before we hung up – a hesitancy. I felt uneasy.

She called me mid-morning the next day.
She told me that they wanted very much to continue providing me with dental care, but in order for that to happen they were going to require the cost of the appointment up front. She explained that my dentist couldn’t continue losing money when i didn’t show up, that it wasn’t fair for her or anyone.
I bristled. Feelings flooded my body, and i reacted with offense.

“This feels like i’m being punished for being mentally ill,” i said.
“I’m going to have to discuss this with my husband and i’ll get back to you,” i said.

To my credit, before the end of the phone call, i knew she had me dead to rights. But shame is a massive trigger, and i was dissociated and edgy for the rest of the day. It took me a while to bring it up with my husband, but not too long, and he understood right away. I called the receptionist back within a day or 2, and told her i knew they had to do what they were doing. And then i paid them.

I was anxious about the cleaning. I thought about why. It wasn’t just being embarrassed – it was a few things. There’d been a break in my association with them, one where i wasn’t in therapy, and i hadn’t had to deal with some of the triggers that dentistry touches on. I was now back in therapy, and learning to stay in my body during times when i feel emotions and/or physical sensations that i don’t want to feel. I understood why i was dodging. I knew i was setting myself up to miss my dates with my dentist.
I was trying to avoid all the feelings.

I showed up on time, and prepared. I knew i was going to feel awkward and embarrassed, which was normal and appropriate to feel, because i’d done them wrong. I hadn’t meant to, and i knew that. I knew they would all be gracious and kind, as they had always been, and they were. When the cleaning was done, my dentist was there at reception, and she gently asked me, “Do you understand that we had to do what we did?”

I told her that i did, and i told them all that i was sorry. I told them that it hadn’t occurred to me that i was costing her money, or inconveniencing anyone – but it should have, and i was ashamed about it.

She said, “You know, we just wouldn’t have had you back if we didn’t like you so much, eh?” And i could see that that was true.

I could also see that, while i’d fucked up, i’d also done some things right.

I’d been honest about my mental illness and my fears and anxieties from the jump.
I’d carefully built relationship with them, so much so that when i started behaving poorly, they tolerated that behaviour for as long as they could – perhaps longer than they should have done, and only for my benefit.
And when they finally called me out, i accepted responsibility for my actions.
Yes, for the briefest of moments -the space of a phone call- i reacted badly, but i knew almost immediately that i was in the wrong, and why, and that i could and would put it right and it was going to be okay.

I got caught doing something shitty, and i reacted by trying to avoid taking the blame. To assuage my chagrin by haughtily providing an excuse.

I’m not bad – i’m sick!

While that is true in a way, it’s neither appropriate nor is it helpful to apply that in this instance. After i hung up the phone i felt it right away – i was convicted in my heart by a jury of me. I’ve identified myself to these people as someone who lives with serious, multiple diagnosis mental illness. I’ve done so first for my benefit, but also for others like me. I want to bring awareness and exposure to those around us, in service to us and apart from that, who have little or no experience with us (or knowledge that they’re having such – because they certainly are, am i right?), and by so doing, help pave a way for fellow neuroatypicals and those living with mental illness to do the same. To see that it can be done, and perhaps they might do it, too.

I feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s a good weight, one i’ve willingly and purposefully shouldered, and it’s a right thing and a steadying force in my life. It gives meaning and provides balance and even serendipity. I would not so inadequately, so boorishly represent a community that has my love so easily, and needs help and understanding so desperately.

The love and life that i’ve found there made my path clear, and set my shoulders squarely towards it.
Yes, part of the reason why i behaved the way i did was the way i was raised and the way my brain responded to try and save me, to help me cope and to perhaps spare me some of the worst of it, that i might survive. And survive i did – and in these last years, even more and better.
Yes, there are reasons -childhood causations- for my behaviour, but in the end, today, right now, at this moment, i am as free and autonomous and aware as i can possibly be, and i am happy and grateful and relieved indeed, to be solely responsible for my choices and actions.

And sometimes i’m just wrong. And i was.
I accepted the consequences, which were fair, and no one abused me and i didn’t die.

I can hardly wait to screw up again.
Heh.

The Tide

I have lost my safe space. It took me years to create and it’s gone. Getting acknowledgment of this has been difficult. Creating change can’t happen without it, nor can the work to make things right again be done by only one person. I cannot do the work that i’ve begun in therapy unless i get my safe space back. I must have a place where i can decompress, where i can be broken, where i can be vulnerable with no (reasonable*) fear.

It never rains but it pours.
I was berating myself for the issues people i love have, but i pulled myself out of it relatively quickly, thanks to some recent work i wrote about a couple of posts ago.

Things have been at such a crisis level that i considered putting therapy aside for a while. In crisis, it is my old pattern to dissociate and do what i think i should do. What i was taught to do was care for everyone else’s needs and to only have thoughts and feelings for others. Well, i can think of myself, but only how i’m not good at helping and i’ve caused my loved ones’ troubles. I’m allowed to think about how i’m bad and i’m a failure.

Fortunately, the personal work i’ve done and am currently doing, made stopping therapy like trying to hold back the tide. Can’t nobody do that, not any of me and not any of them.
That tide rushed in and washed it all away like so many children’s sandcastles.
No stopping. No old ways. Clean salt spray and pristine beaches.

My family is involved, so i won’t be going into specifics, only to say that i’ve been asking for change, but alone in the fight for it for a long time. I’ve been feeling so hopeless after therapy, and up until a few days ago, i didn’t connect the 2 things. Here i will point out that all the work i’ve done to learn about myself, to figure out how i work, and how to get healing and happiness, is invaluable. All the credit for figuring this shit out is mine.

Noticing my distress – that part was easy. Heh. Crying, feeling physically numb and emotionally disconnected (dissociating), switching, drinking, taking off, not eating or sleeping.
Looking at how that upset was manifesting, and then turning my eyes and ears inward, to see what my system would show me and hear what my body is trying to tell me. That second part is not so easy for me. It’s terrifying to me and therefore pretty goddamn hard.
My parts feel threatened and don’t like the atmosphere, and my legs want to get me the fuck outta there. It was so simple once i did those things; checked in to my body and was present and fully conscious of my own thoughts. It came pouring out of me in a rush. A relieved, grateful rush. A tidal wave.

Telling my loved ones what i need and calling out things that are unacceptable to me has helped tremendously.
I think i’m coming into the part of my healing where i refuse to tolerate shit anymore. This is a scary, awful time, but i also feel stronger, more powerful. EMPOWERED by my own actions. As soon as i stood up for myself i felt better. Less scared.

Less scared not to be heard.
Less scared not to be understood.
Less scared to be rejected.
LESS SCARED TO BE ALONE.

My loved ones will hear me, and they will work with me until we understand each other. They won’t reject me nor will they leave me. I know that, i truly do, but when i’m not PRESENT and CONSCIOUS and checking in with my system and more importantly now, CHECKING IN WITH MY BODY… Things can get fucked up mighty fast.

I need my safe space back.
My Bits N’ Pieces need my safe space back.
My body needs my safe space back.
I built this space with my heart and my mind and all my hard work and commitment to my love of my family and my desperate desire to love myself. This place is mine and no one can take it from me, and i know no one actually wants to, but it is an incredible feeling for me to be all fired up like this:

No one, whether dear to me or not, can have this space.
I’ll fight any motherfucker.

Until next time, take as good care as you’re able, and i promise to do the same.
Love and Peace,
~H~
* I say “reasonable” because being vulnerable is probably the hardest, most scary thing i have ever done.