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.

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