Im Going Outward Bound Once Again- Well, Sort of

Im Going Outward Bound Once Again- Well, Sort of

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Emotional Regulation....

Well, I am a week or two late with this blog post. I do get frustrated that I am unable to be consistent, but it’s not for lack of wanting. This is how my brain works.  I have posted in previous blogs about the frustration with this, and it is, for me, one of my biggest challenges. Between this and my memory issues it is pretty frustrating.

But, I am doing better than I have in the past.

It has been a busy few weeks. 

Three weeks ago I did a presentation on Dissociative Identity Disorder to a grade 11 psychology class at one of the local high schools. The teacher also allowed people from outside the school system to attend the presentation. People from my dragon boat team, (as well as one of their husbands)-and my therapist attended. It was an amazing experience and from all accounts I did a pretty good job.  Not only did I stay in the present I can also remember pretty much the whole presentation. 

Then there was the busyness of getting ready for Christmas and all that can go with it. I worked hard to not get caught up in the craziness of it all, and remain in the present and stay grounded during this time. When I could feel my anxiety creeping up I would drink vanilla steamers instead of coffee when I met friends at the coffee shop, go for walks and be mindful of my feet moving on the ground, stop and listen to the birds etc.  Not go shopping on the crazy busy days and things like that. 

While I tried to not get caught up in the craziness of it all and relax and enjoy the season, why was I so tired? The answer came to me today.

Growing up, Christmas was craziness, mom hated it as it was added pressures, and more craziness to the already crazy home life, and if we had a good Christmas then that meant we had money and that meant there would be alcohol, and there was never any good that came with that. So while I knew all these triggers, - which are more memories then triggers now-would be front and center and I did tons of self-care and was careful with not overdoing it and mindful  of my energy level, I was still finding myself tired.

On the outside it looked like I was calm and collected on the outside,  on the inside I was working my butt of trying to regulate my emotions so they would not get either high energy which looks like mania, or bottom out, which looks like depression, but to stay in the "mid-range" of emotions. Imagine a piece of paper divided horizontally in three sections. The hyper mania is the top third. The bottoming out is the bottom third, and the mid range is the middle third.

What is emotional regulation? Emotional regulations are something we, as children, learn from our parents and the adults around us. Good parents, and even “good enough parents- (a topic for another time) - show us how to watch, recognize, acknowledge and deal with emotions.  As an infant we have many emotions and needs. A tuned in parent can usually tell the difference between a hungry cry, a tired cry and a cry of pain and will act accordingly. As the parent is acting accordingly and seeing to our needs there is positive verbally and physically communication. There is eye to eye contact between the baby and parent and we learn to trust the parent and know they will meet our needs and help us if we let them know we are in distress. If we are tired they put us to bed, if hungry they feed us, if in pain help alleviate that and if comfort is needed they hold and comfort us. If we are getting too excited and hyper,  the parent will not let us get to the point of where we are “off the rails”,- ( the top third portion of the paper)- meaning a place where the child is not able to regulate themselves. If this does happen the caregiver will usually find a quiet activity, remove the child from the stimuli and help the child settle back down. If the child bottoms out and disconnects-( bottom third of the paper)- the parent will interact with the child and bring the child to the present moment.

As we get older the parent slowly slides the responsibility of regulating our emotions to ourselves, so that by the time we are adults, we have a pretty good idea of how to do this.

In my case, as a child this never happened. I lived in chaos. I was surrounded by adults who themselves could not self-regulate their emotions and they could not show me how to do it. I remember one Christmas morning being woken up at 2:30 am so that we- the kids- could open our presents. The adults were not able to self-regulate their emotions-(their excitement about Christmas) - and wait until at least day break before getting us up. They, at that point in time needed instant gratification. These adults could not put a “stopper” on their emotions of excitement and would get more and more wound up. Children learn by example.

We have all seen kids who are so overtired they become hyper and cannot stop running around, or being active and over stimulated that they are “wired”.  This does happen to most kids occasionally, but for me, this happened all the time and let me tell you this is not a fun place to be. I had no idea how to pull myself away from the chaos, neither did the adults. The only way they knew was to drink, bottom out-(surrender and give up) - and be disconnected with what was going on around them or dissociate. Once again children learn by example. I learned at a very, very early age to surrender and dissociate. At the age of twelve I started drinking.

It was not until I was diagnosed with D.I.D. and able to understand my coping mechanisms and how much they cost me in the long run, that I  was  able to learn new ways to cope and learn to self-regulate my emotions.  It took time and hard work but it sure was worth it. In the past I would dissociate outright,with no memory,  then I got to the point where I would notice after the fact when I dissociated, then I was able to notice the emotions and not dissociate, but would still be hyper/manic, or bottom out. I am now able- for the most part -to notice when my emotions are getting to hyper / excited  or bottoming out and adjust accordingly. I now know how to self sooth and relax without the need to dissociate or drink alcohol.

That being said it takes a lot of energy to do this, especially this time of the year. But, the benefits outweigh the cost.

This year I asked Santa to give me some magic pixie dust so that when I skate I would be able to do cross overs and when skating forward, pivot, so I could skate backwards without stopping, but there was no pixie dust in my stocking.

But what I did receive was more  magical and precious .

This Christmas I was able to enjoy the time with my family and friends, and feel the connections I have with them. I enjoyed the lights and music, the cheerful greetings, the excitement of the season and all the magic it brings. I had the energy to go play ringette and hockey and golf and marvel at the Trumpeter Swans as they flew overhead.  I had made time for myself to go for quiet walks in the woods.  I can remember it all.

For me, that truly is a gift of wonder.

Until next time cheers and be well and hopefully it will not be so long between blogs.


PS- when I say the energy it takes to self regulate I mean the energy it takes me  to re wire my brain. Think of some stroke patients and the energy it takes them to re wire their brain and get it working again after a stroke. everyone knows it takes energy and makes them tired. The same is for me when I am re wiring my brain.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Dissociation Affects All Levels of Emotions.

Later this week, I will be giving a presentation about Dissociative identity Disorder to a grade 12 psychology class. I am very excited about this and looking forward to it.

This all came together on Thursday, so I have not had a lot of time to think about what I am going to say, which is probably a good thing as I do not want to be to clinical about it. I want to be able to give the students a different perspective, a perspective form “the front lines” as they say. I want to give them an idea of how it has affected my life and what this condition is really about.  It is about a very effective defensive mechanism the brain uses to allow the individual to survive extreme situations. If there was any danger or perceived danger I would dissociate.

This afternoon I had a meeting with my mentor, to get some ideas and have a general talk with him  about what I want to present and how best to do it.  I was discussing about how to start the presentation. I told him I was thinking of asking the students three questions and that if they feel comfortable enough, put your hand up if any of the following has happened to you…

  • ·         How many of us in this room have gone to a movie or read a book and have been so immersed in the movie that we had lost track of time? – I imagine everyone’s  hands will go up, as well as my own

  • ·         Who in this room have driven home from somewhere, having something on our mind only to find ourselves safely parked in our driveway with no recollection of the drive home?- once again some hands, as well as my own will be up

  • ·         Have any of you experienced an accident or seen a fire or been involved in some other event  and found that you have either felt as if the incident was happening in slow motion or to someone else?- I imagine maybe a couple hands will be up- as well as my own

  • ·         Has anyone in this room been involved in an accident or seen an accident or some traumatic experience and found you have lost some memory or time, or have  little recall of the incident?- Maybe only one hand will be up as well as my own

  • ·         Has anyone in this room sat down and started to play the drums with a group at a party, and the group starts to end the jam and you have only been playing for a few minutes the slowly realize you have been playing for 3 ½ hours but have no recollection of that time. This is not due to any drinking or taking of drug? - (As I posted in a previous blog) -- The chances are that I will be the only one with their hand up.

It was when I was talking of this that it came to me that I didn’t only dissociate when I was afraid or felt fear, I dissociated when I felt any emotion, Fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, joy, shame, guilt, etc.  I could not believe the clarity of this realization.  I knew that I dissociated, that I have huge gaps of memory in my life. I had assumed I dissociated at those times because of danger or a threat of danger.

But as I was talking about dissociating when I was playing the drums I wondered why would I do that. Why would I dissociate when I was having fun and was doing something that I enjoyed?

 It then occurred to me that as a young child there were times I felt sadness and I was vulnerable and some took advantage of that.  When this happened I would once again dissociate and I created an altar or persona. This alter would deal with emotions. From this time forward, anytime I felt any form of emotion this persona would deal with them while at the same time the “core” me would be able to stay on hyper alert and keep an eye out for any form of danger.

While this was a very effective defense mechanism for a moment of danger or to deal with growing up in a very chaotic, abusive and neglectful household, it has interfered immensely in my life. As a child I always felt that I didn’t fit in, like there was this glass partition between me and the rest of the world. I just could not seem to connect with others or fit in.

Sure I had friendships and emotions but it was the alters, other parts of me that had formed the friendships with others. The core me could not have friendships, because for friendships one need to have emotions and be able to make connections.

Here is an example..

This afternoon I went to a friend’s house and had tea. My friend asked me if I had my Christmas tree up yet and I told her no, that I had seen some at the local grocery store but have not put one up yet as it’s a bit early. I then talked about maybe going to cut one down and where to get one and wondering where to do that. . My friend then mentioned to me of a time the two of us went and cut down some trees. I asked her where and when as I have no recollection of this. She told me where we went and when. She then mentioned to me of a year that I got a permit from the forestry permit and my son and I went and cut one down. Once again, I have no recollection of this.

I then jokingly told her that I don’t come up for a visit and tea; I just come visit her so that she can remind me what I have done.

It was not until I got into therapy and had the supports in place that I could learn how to deal with emotions.  I learned how to stay with and feel the emotions and process them, instead of dissociating. This has helped me to stay more in the present and have a linear memory. For example, I do remember the visit to my friends this afternoon and the conversation we had. I am now able to form connections and emotional relationships that enrich one’s life.

Life is full of surprises. I am so looking forward to presenting to the students and hoping that I can teach them something. Little did I know that preparing for the presentation – the students would inadvertently teach me about myself.  For this I am grateful.

Until next time
Feel those emotions, they help one grow.

Cheers and be well


Friday, 2 December 2011

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

The last few days I have been thinking about how far I have come with my dissociation. I guess I was thinking about it because Christmas is coming and in some ways  it’s a tough time of the year for me. For me, there are many triggers around this season and I have been working on creating new traditions and new memories. So, I thought about how far I have come and about the times I was hospitalized on the psychiatric unit.

When I was first admitted, I was in crisis mode and my doctor came to see me the next morning. I could hardly talk to him, I thought I was going crazy and I was terrified. I didn’t say much to the nurses either.  When my psychiatrist came to see me he asked me if I was angry with him. I was not; he then informed me that my body language was saying otherwise. It was then that I started to learn  what my body language was saying and what I was feeling inside were two different things, often they were total polar opposites.

This issue is twofold. First, I was so disconnected from my body that I did not even notice what message I was giving the world.  Second, often it was a persona that the world was seeing.

A few years later, during another visit to the hospital one of the nurses and I were talking about how far I had come since the first time I was admitted. She told me “when you first came in here you were so angry and had a huge chip on your shoulder.” I told her that I was not angry, I was terrified. That growing up, if I showed that I was scared I would be in a vulnerable position and this could possible put me in danger. Whenever I  was scared I had a persona that came out and she could be bigger, badder and angrier than anyone could be. This protected me.

At times during therapy, what I was saying and what I was feeling were at odds.  I started writing my psychiatrist letters after the session to let him know what was going on inside of me during the session. These would be things such as emotions, physical sensations and “cognitive errors” or false beliefs that we were struggling with. Slowly through time the defenses were no longer needed and eventually my emotions and body language started to be on the same page.

I have been thinking about how often I must have given the world the wrong signals. As if being dissociative wasn’t enough of a problem, what the world saw and what I was really feeling created more problems. 

I have worked really hard to stay connected to myself and be aware of my body language. I still have times when my body language gives off a different message to how I am feeling. My son is great at pointing this out to me, as are some friends and family, but it is still a struggle. I am now aware that this happens more when I get stressed, tired or have too much on my plate.

There are times my body and I are on different pages, different chapters and hell, even in different books.  That’s OK, because in the past we were not even in the same universe.

It is getting better, and being mindful helps me keep an eye on it. My friends and family have learned to ask me how I am doing and if I say fine, but I look angry they will question it. I am fortunate to have friends and family who feel comfortable enough to ask me, for every time they do it helps me get re acquainted with myself.

They have learned that when it comes to me, they cannot always  judge the book by its cover.

Until the next chapter
Cheers and be well