Mental health

My relationship with myself

This summer has been chock full of unexpected realizations, observations and shifts in my perception relating to my past traumas. As I continue to heal and incorporate new skills for coping, my therapist lent me a book entitled, “Unf*ck your brain”. It’s an easy read and I was able to read most of it on the plane during the recent visit with my family. Today I finished the last ten pages.

I’ve read many self help books but haven’t read anything in that category in years. Now that I’m solely focused on my own healing, I took this opportunity to really soak up the information this book presents. It’s a very common sense approach to understanding how your brain operates, reacts and handles trauma, the potential and possibilities for real change. Neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury. Each chapter is a break down of brain functions and the chemical responses to our emotions.

Awareness is more than 90% of the battle. Learning about and becoming aware of my triggers can help me slow the process of my reactors and responses to my emotions and behaviors. I’m not new at this but given my current circumstances this book was a good refresher. This is a long repetitive process because our brains love recognizing patterns and we become creatures of habit. Disrupting and challenging my thoughts can help rewire my brain’s ability to cope in a more productive way. I learned that emotions only last 90 seconds. They are meant to be temporary and when they persist longer than that, we have entered mood territory.

The best tool for rewiring the brain is meditation. The ability for my brain to recall a state of mindfulness and calm is extremely beneficial once I become triggered. It takes practice but it’s the best thing I have learned in self healing.

I expierienced many ah-ha moments reading this book. I made an important connection between my trauma and what is called “traumatic grief”. My brain displaced and delayed the grieving process in order for my survival at the time of my trauma. Our brains are hard wired for survival. Any feeling you don’t allow yourself to process, will keep reappearing until it is healed. If you feel it, you can heal it! I believe the disconnection I carried for so long of not feeling worthy enough to heal, not trusting or believing in myself created enormous amounts of guilt and shame. Then I was stuck in a pattern of feel, hurt, push aside and suffer. Over and over again throughout the years.

My patterns for a long time were centered around blocking and resisting painful and uncomfortable feelings. As a result of the traumatic grief I have been carrying, I believe much of it in my subconscious, has led my brain to establish this chronic cycle of depression and anxiety. A quote in the book that resonates with me is, ” no one ever told me that grief is so much like fear”. Our cultural expectation is to possess rather than release. We are conditioned to hold on to something rather than letting it go.

The expierience of traumatic grief is created when we don’t allow or aren’t allowed the necessary grieving process. My sexual abuse has a child was something so painful, uncomfortable, confusing and scary that I simply didn’t allow myself to feel it. It created this inside motor of fear that literally drove me. For so long I have thought my spirit animal is a rabbit. Always hypervigilant and nervous.

I’m reexamining the relationships within myself. That is the area I must attend to because it’s the foundation for everything. My ego, attachments, feelings of chronic abandonment and displaced emotions have created a disproportionate reaction in other situations. All of this has played a role in developing a constant trauma response to life. For example, keeping myself busy and always moving soothed my anxiety but further delayed my grieving process and once the memories came rushing back, I was thrown sideways.

This book explained the biochemical roots of my brain’s reactions to stress. Most of this is the perfect storm combination of genetics and triggers. It’s more validation that I’m not crazy. I’m giving myself permission to honor my grief and by accepting it I’m showing myself grace. I will have to develop a new spirit animal now!

Self compassion is something I never really thought about until recently. It’s the opposite of self esteem. Focusing on my insides rather than my outside successes and failures. It means forgiving myself. That which I wasn’t aware of, I didn’t have the opportunity to heal. Now that I’m so much more conscious of it, it helps me make sense of what happened in my past, how the fight/flight/freeze patterns developed in my brain.

My relationship with radically accepting not only myself at this moment but what has happened in my past to bring me to this point is now my main focus. I’m using this time wisely so that I can fully heal and let go. My trauma recovery timeline has been disrupted many times over the years. I will not do myself the disservice of over analyzing why but I now see that much of what happened to me was not given the proper amount of time and focus to heal. Researchers have found that ninety days is the basic timeline for reestablishing equilibrium after a trauma. Each trauma is unique to that individual. There is no cookie cutter, one size fits all for healing mental and emotional trauma.

Another variable that I must recognize is my experience as an empath. We sensitives are the people that notice early on what is dark, broken and hidden in our society. For much of my journey I was an unrealized empath, meaning that I immediately took on the discomfort around me like it was my responsibility to feel all the dark brokenness around me. My vibration was lowered to match my environment. I didn’t acknowledge this or know how to talk about it. Now I’m shifting to allowing for a higher vibration by first aligning myself so that I may raise the vibration and offer solutions. Seeing the situation from my inner being. Pretty deep stuff.

This is hard work. I follow a couple of awesome profiles on Instagram that help by providing me daily reminders. Positive affirmations and guidance so that I can do the work. I’m challenging myself to allow and make room for change. It’s all part of the ever changing process of healing and growth. Becoming more aware and adjusting as is necessary. Following my inner guides so that my spirit can shine through unfiltered.

The definition of radical acceptance is this, Radical acceptancemeans completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and mind. I’m determined to keep moving forward by intensifying my ongoing relationship with acceptance which will allow myself continued healing. Namaste y’all🧘‍♀️

Mental health, Spirituality

Learning to see the forest for the trees

I’m a highly detail oriented person who naturally takes everything in without a filter. Certain things come easy to me while others are more of a work in progress. Emotional intelligence is an area that I have worked hard to understand and master at a young age and I feel is crucially important to one’s well being. Seven years ago while I was in the thick of dealing with many complications from Complex PTSD, I took part in an outpatient therapy called DBT or dialectical behavioral therapy. This psychotherapy is the creation of psychologist Marsha M. Linehan. I enjoyed it so much and (needing reinforcement) I attended it four times! I fondly refer to it as emotional college. I was in a classroom of sorts in a separate wing of the psychiatric hospital I did many inpatient stays at for an entire week, 9AM until 5 PM with only a break for lunch. Our class was small, only 6 or 7 other ladies. We had reading assignments as well as homework. After completing that week I was invited to join an aftercare support group for an entire year.

In many ways those ladies saved my life, helped me learn some tough life lessons about myself and aided me in realigning my mindset, body and soul. Taking an introspective look at oneself is difficult and the desire to change one’s behavior takes lots of patience and practice. At first it was confusing and awkward but after my fourth time going over the educational materials, reading some self help workbooks focused on DBT and spending 2 hours every Wednesday evening with my support group I reemerged with a fresh outlook.

I learned that my intense emotions can sometimes drive me into certain behaviors that are self harming and self defeating. Continuing down that path creates more suffering. Learning and incorporating DBT principles into my life has changed the game!

Like everything in life, it only works if you work it! Over the past few years I like to open that workbook up and give myself a refresher. The main principle that I work the hardest at is definitely Radical Acceptance. DBT uses both behavioral science and Buddist concepts like acceptance and mindfulness to teach better coping methods for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It has proven highly effective for many mental health disorders as well.

This is Google’s definition of dialetical behavioral therapy:

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy tries to identify and change negative thinking patterns and pushes for positive behavioral changes. DBT may be used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors.

In a nutshell it taught me that I can coexist between two mindsets, see both sides of an issue, be both comfortable and uncomfortable in any given situation. The definition of dialetic is this:

Dialectic or dialectics (Greek: διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ; related to dialogue), also known as the dialectical method, is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.

For me the bottom line is that one principle I mentioned earlier, Radical Acceptance, is the key to ending my suffering. On most days I can clearly and easily achieve the understanding that even though I may not like something or think it to be ok, it still is. It is what it is. I have the choice to respond or react, always taking my emotions into account.

In this last week I have been blessed with so many amazing opportunities. My fiance and I mingled with some A list former professional football player friends of his, had an overnight in a phenomenal luxurious lakehouse and on Sunday I met Mariel Hemingway at a small movie watching party and interview session.

I have admired her life and career for a long time. I even gave her my poetry book, “Emotional Musings” that she asked me to sign! A real “pinch me” moment that I will cherish forever. To be able to meet such a kindred and emotional spirit is so profoundly powerful.

Despite the years of psychotherapy, DBT classes, numerous sessions of EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) and reading shelves of self help books I still struggle with my core belief that I’m not good enough. I do however understand that I can chose to change that tape that plays relentlessly on repeat through my mind, unpack that emotion from that invisible backpack I wear daily along with the other intense emotions I cope with or I can suffer. Intellectually and logically I get it. Sometimes the disconnect is to my soul. The memories, the flashbacks and unfortunate nightmares that will plague me for life.

At the end of the day, I am growing and evolving everyday. I am blessed and humbled. I have people around me who love and understand me. I’m able to see the many miracles of humanity being an empath. Life is good ❤

Mental health, Spirituality

A small tear in the microcosm

Today was definitely one of those days. I woke up knowing I was going to shed tears at some point. I woke up before my alarm which has been happening lately and is annoying because I feel cheated out of my much needed sleep. A strange feeling had taken over my body all morning while I was getting ready for work. I couldn’t quite grasp what was wrong, but something sure was.

I ended up getting very angry over something at work. So much so that I was shaking and my blood pressure was on the rise. My heart was beating so fast and I felt uncomfortable, my mind started flipping through thoughts faster than usual. I felt a bit dizzy and in a fog for more than a few minutes. I immediately started an inner dialogue in my head commanding myself to take mental breaths to calm down. All of these feelings trigger my C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for fight or flight. Only my family gets me feeling to this intensity. I do a very thorough job of blocking out others with boundaries that I set up in my daily meditations. This whole situation threw me for a loop. I have never been comfortable with anger and I’m uneasy with expressing it. I went in the back room and cried it out.

As an empath staying safe, balanced and grounded is so crucial to my mental health. I have worked so hard at establishing healthy boundaries and protecting myself from toxic and negative energy from people over the last few years. I know I need to check in with myself often to assess my own feelings and to be mindful and present. The energies I can pick up from others can be so strong and overwhelming leaving me exhausted, sick to my stomach and even disoriented. It wasn’t until I was 35 that I learned of my gifts and how to preserve myself to ward off from outside forces. I always thought I was just plain crazy up until receiving this vital and life changing information. I have written about that time in my life in previous posts.

After it was all said and over and I had arrived back home, I sat down to do some soul searching. It was then that I realized I had neglected to get two light therapy sessions in. Last night and this morning’s were skipped leaving me more open to the energy vampires attacks because my level of anxiety is higher. In addition to missing those, I remembered I had not had enough alone quiet time yesterday. It was my day off from work and I had a lot of errands to run. Usually I like to have at least 45 minutes of quiet me time. This special time consists of no technology, no talking, eyes closed and laying under my weighted blanket. Afterwards I always feel rebalanced and peaceful. I visualize the weights in the blanket to be anchors that pull all the unnecessary thoughts, feelings and energies off of me. Laying under it allows me to feel safe and grounded again. Sometimes it feels like having C-PTSD is like being an exposed nerve that is constantly being bumped.

I wasn’t as vigilant with my own self care like I need to be and when I arrived at this conclusion it hit me. I have been getting too caught up and my mind was overflowing not allowing me any down time. The hours and days spill out so quickly and I just got carried away. It’s a good lesson finally (maybe) learned for me. I used to feel selfish about taking me time but then I realized that if I don’t recharge my own life force and energy I will burn out. Becoming no good for anybody but especially for myself.

I have since put in an hour long light therapy session, listened to an empath clearing meditation, rebalanced my chakras and wrote this post. Once again, writing helps me put everything into perspective so I can properly process my intense emotions. I’m so grateful for the reprieve and to be able to distance myself emotionally while putting every paragraph together. Returning to a more wise mind state of being. What happened today was empath overload. All my circuits got fried and I broke down. The important thing is that I’m ok. All my energy is right back at neutral now and I’m more aware of needing to step up my routines.

It’s all still a work in progress. The ebbs and flows,the ying and yang my dear readers. In end I must let it go…..

Mental health, Spirituality

Having myself a Merry little Christmas

This time of year used to bring me such joy and happiness. From November through early January I dove head first into decorating my home, visiting with friends, baking cookies, seeking out the best Christmas lights displays and watching my favorite Christmas movies. Since my divorce six years ago and my move away from where my children live, each holiday season has gotten tougher and I don’t participate in any of my traditional holiday activities. It’s simply too painful and I can’t bear the memories of being with my children in years past. The breakfasts with Santa, the shopping for presents, decorating the tree etc. just make me sad and yearn for those happier times.

At the request of both of my boys, they don’t want me involved in their lives any longer. We haven’t had any communication in over eighteen months. I also haven’t seen their sweet faces in over two years. Just typing these two sentences leave tears running down my face. Despite the swirling of my emotions, I get up everyday and go to work, smile and engage with my customers. Lead my co-workers and try my best to lend a hand where I am needed. This is something I’m deeply proud of because in the past I would’ve let this destroy me. I would have crawled under my covers and quit. This year I have decided to overcome my sadness by living my life to the fullest. Writing about it too is completely liberating because of the tremendous guilt this entire situation brings.

I’m also proud that however I have been feeling over these past six years, I have never once uttered a bad word to my boys about their father. I refuse to destroy their image of him. He is a huge part of who they are as people and I understand that. My own mother would tear into us as children with negative comparisons to our father and it used to make me feel so terrible about myself. I believe it’s emotional child abuse to purposely alienate a child from one of their parents. I have tremendous faith that one day my boys will see the truth and want to know me again. We have an unbreakable bond and no matter how many miles separate us I will always be there for them. They are the two souls on this journey that I love the most.

Recently I came across some of my old journals. I have used writing as an emotional outlet for processing and healing since I was a young girl. I’m so thankful that no matter how many times I have moved I always keep my old writings intact. I enjoy looking back and rereading my work because it’s a great way to assess how much I have grown and evolved emotionally from the things that cause me distress and pain.

This week has hit me harder than any of the last six years. I have recently taken on more responsibilities at work and that is a welcome distraction emotionally. I haven’t been sleeping well the past few nights because my mind is in overdrive between work stuff and all these memories. I don’t feel creative and I’m concerned that my passions will be neglected because of it.

I do however have this weekend off because I will be working both Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I’m actually looking forward to it. Making others smile and feel joy even though inside I’m crying. It’s opposite action for sure (a DBT principle coping skill) and my former therapist would be proud of my choice to triumph on over my feelings.

Here are the three poems that I found in that journal stuffed into an old bag under a chair in my apartment. I have come a long way emotionally from where I was when I wrote them. I’m stronger. I’m a survivor. I’m a fucking WARRIOR. Happy holidays dear readers. If I can do it, believe in yourself and you can too ✌💖

Anxiety, Mental health, Spirituality, Women's self care

Friend in the mirror

A few months ago in August I did something I never thought I would do. I fearlessly posted a no make-up selfie with words on it that represent me and who I am. My words are sushi lover, dancer, Complex PTSD, movie buff, humanitarian, ❤ car trips, fiesty, writer, book lover and suicide survivor. It’s posted on the i_weigh movement page on Instagram founded by multi-talented actress Jameela Jamil.cropped-20180828_1017001.png Ms. Jamil herself battled anorexia as a teen and struggled with self image. She noticed and began questioning the distubing trend of what determines beauty messaging and how it has brainwashed our society. Why every magazine and commercial are always pushing the idea that only being thin was beautiful and desirable. She is quoted by saying,”I was bombarded with a narrative that had no alternative. There were never any women who were celebrated for their intellect … and all of my magazines were selling me weight loss products or telling me to be thin. Otherwise, I wasn’t worth anything.” In an effort to raise the middle finger to entire industries that are complicit in perpetuating these ideas she started the i_weigh movement. Proving we are all more than a mere number on the scale. I fell in love with it and messaged my picture to be included.

I started ballet when I was 2 and I continued to dance competitively into my teens. My passion for dance led me to want to become a professional someday. I studied ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and modern from some of the best instructors and choreographers  in the dance world.  It became my life and my main focus. It also served as a catalyst for my eating disorder. I’m 5’2 and have been the same height since 7th grade. I was always told I was too small and I would never make it as a dancer. I didn’t have the long legs of a ballerina, I needed to lose weight (I didn’t), my skin is too olive(I’m Italian and Puerto Rican) and a list of other physical appearance critiques. I started restricting my food at the age of 13 or 14. I also abused laxatives, water pills and diet pills. I would spit into cups for hours before dance class in hopes of losing a pound, utterly ridiculous I know! At 16, I finally got fed up and lost my drive and self esteem about dancing. I quit and thought I would never take another class. Thankfully,  I rediscovered my love for dance as adult at 25 when my oldest son was 2. My new love is for tap and contemporary style classes. I have also enjoyed teaching little ones creative movement and beginner ballet but those are topics for another post.

My eating disorder however grew worse now that I wasn’t getting the extreme exercise from dancing daily for hours. I began an intensive workout routine and started running. The combination of restricting my food and my exercise routine bore behaviors that then turned me into an exercise anorexic. It was like a high, my newly discovered drug. I was able to control something because my home life was so chaotic and dysfunctional. My thinking became very obsessive and I was developing strange ideas about food. What I would eat and what I would avoid. It was a full time job mentally and utterly exhausting. Those patterns lasted on and off for years and I really didn’t confront it until five years ago. I have body dysmorphia as a result in addition to my many conditions and I still hold some of those beliefs that tell me I’m ugly in my core. I can absolutely agree with Ms. Jamil that negative body image is ruining people’s lives.

As a result of having my picture posted on i_weigh I met an extraordinary woman. She lives in Australia, we have never met in real life yet we have a kindered spirit bond like few are blessed to know. We have so much in common with our life experiences and we are both empaths. Currently we are trying to schedule a time to video chat with each other so we can “meet” face to face. I credit my new friend for inspiring me to get back to my writing and to share it online. She gives me so much support and artisitc suggestions.  I have even nicknamed her my pseudo creative director on this blog! Her spirit and soul are exquisitely beautiful. I look forward to our message chats because we uplift each other so much. We discuss anything and everything and I feel truly blessed to call her my friend.

Seven years ago during the height of my mental breakdowns and recovery after my suicide attempt, I was introduced to mirrorwork therapy. I stand in front of a mirror and tell myself  positive affirmations and I recite mantras. I know what you’re thinking, sounds weird right, talking to yourself in the mirror? I always say that I’m my own best audience and it’s a scientific fact that positive self talk is a sign of good mental health. At first I started to read off of the sticky notes that I had put up next to the mirror, I couldn’t even look at myself directly in the eye for awhile. Once I got more comfortable and with practice I can now stare right at myself and have an intimate conversation. The main two mantras I use are, I am a beautiful and capable woman. I am a child of God and I am loved. These are two statements I had the hardest time believing about myself especially after attempting suicide. Part of my therapy included examining my core beliefs, the things I tell myself and completely rewriting them. That tape we all have running through our minds constantly. At times we can carry our negatives thoughts and ideas about ourselves in an invisible but very real backpack. During my many years in therapy I have learned to stop the tape and take the backpack off.

Currently I’m on a therapy hiatus. I began taking part in therapy when I was seven years old. Mostly it was family therapy and sometimes it was individual. I have successfully completed a ton of different therapy programs over the last thirty years. That’s a lot of expressing and pain shedding and I’m to a point now that it has become uneccessary to continue on a regular basis. At the height of my time in therapy, I was seeing a DBT certified therapist four times a week. I have been in psychiatric hospitals over ten times and have completed numerous outpatient programs. I have been a member of different support groups with varying topics surrounding my mental health. I have read countless books about mental illness both non-fiction and fiction and listened to as many audio self-help books. I’m therapied out (I think I made that word up) and I need a darn break.

I used everything I have described here as my inspiration for this poem. Take notice of how I started describing my new Australian mate and then my subject morphed into discovering myself as my friend. It is hugely important to be friends with yourself. We are so loving and generous with our friends and at times we can be our own worst enemies and treat ourselves like dirt. The golden rule of treat everyone has you would like to be treated needs to also include, and especially yourself! We can all use that reminder sometimes!

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Anxiety, Dissociative disorder, Domestic violence, Mental health, Spirituality, Women's self care

People say

I’m the kind of person that when I encounter negative energy it makes me nervous. Whenever I feel nervous I tend to talk a lot. For those who know me in life that’s saying something because I’m an outgoing and talkative person in general. I’m also a good listener and I relish my quiet time. For those who know me well, it’s hard to ever believe I used to be painfully shy until I entered high school. I think I was just trying to understand all the energies and feelings I was picking up on.

I can admit that I have emotionally vomitting on people and not in a healthy and positive way. By nature I’m an optimistic person but we all have our moments. I also have a huge tolerance for bullshit and my patience level can tolerate more than most. One of the perks of being a middle child. I’m a true peacekeeper and the glue in my relationships.

I also have worked really hard on Radical Acceptance and the ability to let things go. Let go and let God. That’s one of tbe reasons I pray, is to give up my worries to God. When I was studying DBT my the certified instructor liked to use the phrase, “fake it till you make it”. I must admit, I loathe that saying. It goes against my authenticity and character. I understand it’s meant to be motivating to try and put yourself out there even when you don’t want to. In DBT we call it opposite action. The idea of applying opposite action to painful or overwhelming emotions seems confusing but it’s to help me make a more appropriate choice with my behavior. For example when I feel fear, I use this technique to asses my feelings and whether or not the facts fit the situation.

This poem is inspired by my need to regulate an overwhelming emotion and look within myself for the answers. All my poems come to me as visions. I can just be daydreaming about something and it pops into my head. They come across like words written on a page.

Mental health, Spirituality, Uncategorized

What’s real and me

I have a very discerning eye for genuineness. Society has been so impacted by social media and the 24 hour cycle of news we live in today. The desire to be famous and thirst for other people’s drama is driving our culture into questionable morality extremes. I’m also an intuitive empath and have instinctively been curious about the human condition. When I was going through many of my battles with C-PTSD, psychiatric hospitalizations, outpatient programs and self examinations I was always hinting for answers. Why am I like this? How can I get better? Will I ever feel “normal” again? I learned many helpful things about myself and gained so much insight into the human psyche. Here are some facts about me

1. I am a highly sensitive person and so much in life triggers me

2. Learning how to compartmentalize my thoughts has helped me immensely

3. Using visualization and meditation techniques keeps me grounded and present. The more I practice that the more automatic it becomes as my response to stressful situations.

4. I’m a free spirit and very open minded. I’m honest and trusting to a fault sometimes.

5. Balance and boundaries are two areas I struggle with, always a work in progress. I start my day with a Radical Acceptance mantra (my favorite DBT principle) reminding myself to be mindful of not only my actions and motives but those of others.

5. Learning and implementing DBT has changed my life in such a meaningful way. I am so grateful for Marsha Linehan, the creator of the behavioral modification therapy.

I hope to impart more pearls of wisdom that I have gathered on my journey with this blog. This poem is inspired by my feelings and musings on what’s real, truthful, honest and geniune. Contrasting with what’s fake, fraudulent, dishonest or a sham.