The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘trauma’

Celebrating Stress

Celebrations and stress are not usually words we see together. However today they are. Because today, we made it!

It is officially November 30, 2014. Which means that this is the final day of the NaBloPoMo challenge, and our series on stress.

And the National Blog Posting Month has definitely been a challenge! Probably not in the way most people would think, though. I had no trouble at all coming up with the post ideas and writing the material. Stress is such a huge topic that we could easily go for another month without too much trouble!

Instead, the challenge for me was finding the time to get it all done with the other responsibilities in my life. But I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do it. The experience has stretched me to think about some things (including my own stress) in a different way.

It has drawn lots of new readers to our small corner of the internet and as they share their stories I find my passion for The Mindset Effect renewed. It’s people like you guys who keep me doing what I do. I love sharing my knowledge with the aim of supporting all of you to make positive, healthy changes in your life. At the end of this post, as a special something for all of you who have stuck with me throughout the month, I have a very special treat. I won’t tell you what it is right now (and no cheating by scrolling!); it will be waiting for you when you get to the end. 🙂

After such an intense month and 29 different articles on stress, I’d like to revisit some of the main concepts and bring it all together for you. I know that sometimes receiving so much information can be a little overwhelming and difficult to understand. So let’s see what we can do …

managing stress

We began the month with a few simple definitions of the different types of stress before we discussed the pretty grim impacts it has on our mind, body and emotions. With any type of force, strain or pressure, and the possibility of conditions such as weight gain, heart issues, diabetes and blood pressure, it becomes really important to be aware of your stress and to learn to manage it effectively.

I believe it’s equally important to understand how stress works. If you understand it, you’ll be armed with heaps of knowledge that supports you to implement the simple management strategies that we know really work. You’ll have the science behind why you do things like reach for the chocolate bar, cry for seemingly no reason or snap at your partner. And you’ll also have the reasons behind why you feel some pretty mean neck and shoulder tension or why you crash at the end of the day or week and can’t bring yourself to even get out of the chair.

The neurobiology behind stress is extremely complex. I won’t go into that here but you can go back and read any of those earlier posts on the Triune brain, trauma, hormones and the amygdala. Between them, they explain the workings of our inbuilt survival mechanism and why many of our reactions occur.

The stress response, or our fight/flight mechanism, is activated easily and frequently by all manner of life events, from watching someone you love draw their last breath, to dealing with screaming kids or seeing the bills pile up when you have a limited income. And with the buildup of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, managing the fallout from these events becomes even more important.

Children are also impacted by stress in the same way we are, but their experience is different due to the development of their brains being incomplete. They need guidance in some of the same simple techniques we use.

Probably the most important and effective management strategy is the use of breathing. My friend and colleague, Linda, did a great job of explaining how to utilise belly breathing to down-regulate the stress response.

We’ve also explored sleep, movement, food and laughter and how these are all related to or impact our stress. And we learned how simple routines and small changes can make a big difference in the way we experience it.

With such a complex system and so many things feeding into the impacts we feel, it’s important that we are able to break it all down into bite size pieces and make the way we manage stress work for us in our day to day life. Learning to listen to our mind and body and understanding the meaning of the signals they give out, means we can become more aware of how we respond to stress and this assists us to figure out how to manage it.

As a special treat to you all for your support this past month I would like to provide you with a bonus. I know from first-hand experience that listening to those stress signals is not always easy. In fact, it can be a downright nightmare! Especially given how chaotic our minds can be when we are in the midst of it all. So I would like to provide for you an audio file with 2 of the simple techniques we have discussed previously. This is called guided imagery. I’ll first take you through a simple breathing strategy similar to the belly breathing Linda talked about. I’ll then extend on this and guide you through a body scan, which will help you listen to, connect with and become more aware of the signals your body gives you.

To prepare to listen, find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable, preferably lying flat on your back with your hands loosely by your sides.

calm scenery picnic point

I’d love to hear how you go with it when you try it! Please feel free to let me know below.

Before I close up this series, I’d like to thank a few people. Firstly to my friend and colleague Linda, for sharing her passion and skill in the articles she provided on sleep and the role of breathing. I’d like to thank my friend Libby, for helping me brainstorm for the post on listening to our bodies. I’d also like to thank Julia and Carlie who provided articles on their personal experiences with stress. Hearing personal stories can help us understand that other people feel the way we do. We aren’t alone in feeling stressed. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of you who read my words and stick around to read more! Without you, there would be no point me writing and sharing all the stuff in my brain.

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Stress and Trauma

Day 11 of our series on stress.

Wow, it feels like we’ve done heaps in such a short amount of time! But there is still so much to cover that it also feels like it will take forever to reach the end of the month! I have faith that we’ll get there though. We’re a resilient lot, really! We’re almost half way through the month and if you’re reading this, I’d like to thank you for sticking with us and hope you’re enjoying the series.

Today is all about trauma. Like we did in the first few days of the series, it’s probably a good idea to define what we’re dealing with here. So, according to the free dictionary, trauma is a noun:

    1. A body wound or shock produced by physical injury, as from an accident.
    2. The condition produced by this.
  1. Psychiatry. Psychological shock or severe distress from experiencing a disastrous event outside the range of usual experience, as rape or military combat.
  2. Any wrenching or distressing experience, esp. one causing a disturbance in normal functioning.

When I read this definition I am reminded of the simple definition that we learned about earlier in the month – stress is a force, pressure or strain.

Though it seems like it is an extreme form.

So, I’m going to connect the dots for you here and state that trauma is an extreme level of stress.

Like we did with our definition posts, let’s explore those things that create trauma. You’ll notice that many of the things on this list were also on the lists for physical, mental and emotional stress.

  • Abuse – physical, sexual, emotional/mental, financial etc
  • Bullying
  • Car accidents
  • Medical crises
  • Muggings
  • Physical fights
  • War
  • Yelling
  • Injury
  • Pregnancy or birth difficulties
  • Illness or medical crisis
  • Rape
  • Animal bites
  • Poisoning
  • Seeing a distressing news article
  • Drug taking
  • Watching a distressing movie (I won’t go near horror movies for this reason!!)
  • Witnessing someone else experience trauma
  • Hearing a story about someone else experiencing trauma

I’ll come back to these final two items as they deserve special mention.

Once again, this list is not exhaustive in its content. There are plenty of other items that need to be added but right now my brain isn’t providing me with what I need. And like stress, trauma is a very individual experience. One person will be impacted by watching a specific movie and another won’t. One person will be impacted by witnessing a car accident and another won’t. There are a lot of factors that come into play.

I feel that the majority of it comes down to the neurobiological stress response that we have already discussed in several posts. We introduced it with Stress and the Triune Brain and continued it with Stress and the Amygdala.

If we’ve identified that trauma is an extreme stress response, doesn’t it make sense that its impacts also come from the stress response?

Except that since trauma is an extreme level of stress, so too are the impacts. In addition to those mentioned previously, people who have been traumatised may also experience items from this list, which has been taken from the Beyond Blue site.

  • Re-living the traumatic event – The person relives the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. There may be intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.
  • Being overly alert or wound up – The person experiences sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event – The person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event because they bring back painful memories.
  • Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and detached from friends and family, or feels emotionally flat and numb.

trauma response

You’ll notice that some of these items are the same as those we came up with for stress, while others are different. One of the key things to remember about traumatic experiences is that these reactions are an absolutely normal response to a horrid, not normal event (or series of events). And it is possible that these responses can persist for a long period of time and can be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This is a serious mental health concern that can be treated, and yet often isn’t due to stigma and a fear of being thought of as weak. If you have been traumatised and recognise these symptoms as things you have experienced, please, please, please seek support from a medical or mental health professional. And if you come across a professional who doesn’t want to know, find another one who is willing to listen. If you know a friend or family member who has been exposed to trauma and who is not receiving any support, please encourage them to read this post.

It’s important that everyone understands that this response comes about from the violation of our in-built, biological need for survival. It’s not something we can control. That sense of safety can be regained – with support from professionals who understand where it comes from and who have the skills to treat it. If you or someone you know needs some guidance on finding professional support, you can email me at mindseteffect@optusnet.com.au

One more note I’d like to make here. Trauma doesn’t have to be experienced to occur. Witnessing it or simply hearing about it can produce the same results. It’s real and it has a name – vicarious trauma. Many emergency personnel and mental health professionals or those in other helping professions (nurses, social workers, doctors etc) experience it, as do family members caring for someone with a disability, illness or mental health condition. There is support available.

I’d like to leave you with one final thought. There is no shame in reaching out for help.

Warning: If reading this post triggers your stress response, please consider seeking support from your team of professionals.

Why I write …

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post and I feel bad for not posting more often. That said, there is a reason for it and I know that ultimately for my long-term vision, the delays now will translate to the freedom of expression that I yearn for later. I am hoping that this post will help clarify what is going on for me and where I am heading with my destiny.

I have been invited to participate in a blog hop by a lovely lady named Leanda. She writes over at Write to Heal. To find out more about her work please visit her site and check out the incredible work she does. I guess the easiest way to explain a blog hop is to say that it is a tool to assist bloggers and writers to link and network with each other. Readers are also given a chance to learn more about the blogger/writer and what makes them tick. The topic I have been challenged with is “why I write” …

What am I working on?

I work as a counsellor and have been doing so for 10 years. My current job has provided me with the opportunity to transform from a new counsellor with raw talent to a professional clinician. Part of my job is to write and develop group workshops. I have recently launched a range of half-day workshops to help people with a variety of issues that are relevant for our client base. The response to these has been nothing short of amazing and the outcomes have been powerful.

I am also studying a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology. I’ve been performing practicum requirements in a placement workplace whilst simultaneously attending classes on campus, learning about neuroscience (what happens inside the brain when it is impacted by issues such as trauma, addictions and mental health) and how this translates into the day-to-day practice of psychology. This has given me invaluable information in how to utilise my skills with clients.

In the little spare time I have, I am also working on my first book; a small how-to, easy to understand guide on how people can prevent others’ issues impacting on them.

When I look at how much I have been doing at work and what I’ve been doing at university, and when I consider that the university campus is a 4 hour round trip each week, I wonder how I have remained sane. But, both work and study are providing me with some exceptional skills that I can use in my professional life after graduation. I have a clear vision of where I want to be and as much as I want to make it happen now, I have discovered that for the moment, I need to prioritise self-care above the vision, because ultimately to reach the vision I need to get through the qualifications.

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?

I try to impart knowledge of psychology and the mind. Much of the information out there in this niche seems to be quite technical and can be difficult to understand for people who have no experience with it. I pride myself on my ability to write for people who have no understanding in how the mind works and how changing small things can help them transform their lives in big ways.

Why do I write what I do?

I want to educate, inform, inspire and lead people to live their best lives. I want people to love who they are, to accept and embrace themselves fully and unconditionally. And if I am to support others in their journey, I need to be able to practice what I preach. So I also use my writing as a way to process the stuff in my head and get clarity in my own mind of the direction I am heading and the future awaiting me.

How does my writing process work?

I began writing originally as a way to vent and process the turmoil in my head. I used it as an act of self-care. It has undergone a transformation over the past twelve months or so; from a personal method of self-care to a professional means of communication to impart knowledge and education.

The process is much the same whichever goal I have (personal or professional). An idea will spark in my mind. I’ll often let it simmer for a while, formulating a vision for the final product. When I sit down to write I simply allow my fingers to do what they do. I find that if I just go with the flow and allow my instinct to lead; my writing is strong and powerful. When the words naturally taper off I go back to edit for spelling, grammar and sentence structure, sometimes leaving it a while before doing so to get a fresh perspective.

 

The final part of this blog hop is to introduce you all to three people who will be hopping right behind me and taking their turn in sharing why they write.

 

Glenda Bishop Healthy StoriesGlenda Bishop helps people to live a healthier life by inspiring them to eat better, become stronger, and live a calmer and more content life. She is a Registered Nutritionist, neuroscientist, and personal trainer, who is particularly interested in how your physical health strengthens your mental wellbeing. After becoming frustrated by the mixed health messages that abound across the internet, Glenda founded Healthy Stories to create a place where the science of health meets real life. At Healthy Stories you will find tips for healthy eating and living, delicious healthy recipes, and practical ways to improve your wellbeing.

 

 

Kate MooreKate Moore is passionate about life. She coaches others in work, life and health to master and love what they do, live intentionally, design the life they want, build a healthy lifestyle and feel at their best. You can find Kate over at Lift Coaching where she blogs about all things life, love, health, work, motivation, mastery, passion, values, gratitude and inspiration related. Kate takes a very practical and action-driven approach to … well, everything and loves helping others get ‘unstuck’ by identifying their personal strengths and using real life skills and tools to change habits and behaviour, and get people where they want to go. You can also find Kate on Facebook where she shares daily quotes, interesting reads, recipes, workouts and lots of other bits of pieces to brighten your day.

 

Emma Fahy Davis is a journo who turned to blogging as a way of exorcising the words in her head while taking a break from the media to raise her five daughters. She blogs at Five Degrees of Chaos about the chaos that comes with having a big family, her experiences with mental illness and living with the legacy of addiction, and about the challenges of parenting a chronically ill child. In between refereeing sibling squabbles and moonlighting as a taxi driver to a relentless army of small people, she can be found hanging out on Facebook and Twitter.

Kaye and BPD

Please join Kaye as she shares her story of living with Borderline Personality Disorder and other mental health concerns. Please be aware that her experiences may trigger some emotions for you as you read her story. If you find yourself triggered, please take care of yourself and seek support. If you need to talk with someone please call Lifeline on 13 1114.

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My name is Kaye and I am a 38 year old married mother of 5 beautiful girls. Like most people, I have a story, one that I am not always proud of but it is mine just the same.  Also, like many people, my story involves a long term battle with mental illness, suicidal ideologies and self-injurious behaviours. In the hopes of reaching one person and making them feel that they are not alone, I would like to share my story with you all.

story to tell

My childhood consisted of a rather insecure family unit, my father died in a tragic accident just after my third birthday and my mother never really recovered from this which left her looking to fill her own void, and in doing so she never really noticed how affected I was by the instability of my family or that I desperately craved her attention and affection. My mother eventually settled down with a man who was wonderful to both her and us kids, however this all changed when they had a baby girl who passed away at six weeks old from SIDS. From then on, my stepdad would beat my mother severely and he would do it in front of us. This continued from the time I was about 7 years old right up until I was about 14 years old. My stepdad decided at that point, that for things to change, he had to leave as my mother would not leave him because she loved him.

I thought that this event would make my life better, but it did not… in fact it got worse. I was constantly feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless and sad to the point that I began to see suicide as my only way out. I also began to burn myself with cigarettes to try and squash the emotional pain and replace it with physical pain.  I pushed away all the friends that I used to enjoy being around, I stopped going out or leaving the house, I couldn’t eat and I slept endlessly but still felt tired when I did get out of bed. I started seeing a psychologist and was given numerous medications by numerous doctors, so I used them alongside alcohol to slip into that beautiful world of carefree serenity, where the pain and the hurt could not intrude.

sad sun face

Naturally it didn’t take long before my first suicide attempt because I found that I needed more and more medication to reach that happy place. It was all just too much. This little venture landed me in a psychiatric unit on a 72 hour court order, for observation and investigation. I hated the hospitalisation but there was also a sense of relief for a while, relief that I was safe from myself and the demons that seemed to be growing stronger inside me every day. I was released two weeks later and continued to see my regular doctors as well as a psychiatrist who prescribed me much more medication! I was having the time of my life slipping in and out of consciousness on the chemical cocktails I was provided with. Eventually after ending up back in the psychiatric unit after another suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with what was called manic depression and borderline personality disorder with dissociative tendencies. I had no idea what this meant and I honestly did not care, all I knew is that I was getting worse and nothing mental health self harm personalityseemed to help me.

Eventually I married and had 2 daughters but the marriage lasted less than a year and I was devastated. Now I was on my own, battling the breakdown of my marriage, my own monsters were rising up to greet me again and on top of that, I was responsible for two little girls. I tried so many things to squash the bad thoughts and desire to self-harm and over medicate. I tried working but I couldn’t get out of bed. I found that socialising was too demanding and extremely tiring; I just wanted to curl up into a ball and die. Then I decided to try study but I couldn’t concentrate and pulled out with only one module left to complete a diploma in counselling (yeah, ironic huh?). No matter what I tried, I found a reason not to follow through with it. My ability to self-sabotage appeared to be endless. Again I fell back into old habits and began to over medicate and self-harm. But I did manage to quell the urge to attempt suicide.broken mirror

When my girls were 5 and 7, I remarried. I found a man who seemed to be everything I had always wanted in a partner, he was honest, caring, reliable and he had the same values and beliefs around marriage and commitments as I did. The honeymoon didn’t last long though, our relationship became volatile and there was so much fighting, name calling and eventually physical threats. However, I hung in there, determined to make it work because I didn’t want another failed marriage and I desperately loved him. My instability began to show again and the old habits returned in spades, adding to the stress on our marriage. On top of this the 3 daughters I had with my husband all had special needs and one in particular was very difficult to handle. Again I started drinking and over-medicating so it was no surprise when I was admitted to the psychiatric ward again. This time I was determined to make the most of it and sort myself out. Luckily I was being treated by a psychiatrist who really looked at my mental health history and took the time to study what I was doing and what he could do about it. When I was released, he arranged for my medication to be supplied to me on a weekly basis from my chemist and he also kept in close contact with them to make sure that I was picking it up regularly. This man really cared about getting me on track and keeping me there. Things seemed to pick up a little after that. My demons still stirred but I finally had a doctor I trusted and who I believed could help me. I also found that I had a growing support network for my kids’ special needs, which helped all of us to cope.

A few years later I suffered what my psychiatrist said was a psychotic break after my marriage hit the rocks in a big way. I don’t recall what happened or anything that I did, but I ‘came to’ in hospital with both my arms bandaged from wrist to elbow and 2 police officers guarding me. This resulted in almost 3 months in the psychiatric unit and over a dozen doses of ECT. I was well and truly a mess this time and my demons were having a ball. It felt like my mind had split and I was two people fighting with each other inside my own head, one trying to tell me to keep fighting and the other telling me to just succumb to the endless abyss of what I am sure was insanity.  It is difficult to put into words what I felt or thought but the one thing I can say is that I was so close to giving up and letting the darkness swallow me forever. I had nothing left; I was so empty and was in constant pain. I didn’t want to leave the ward, I didn’t want visitors and if the phone rang, I just let it keep ringing. Social interaction was just too much, even having to exchange words with the staff and other patients was exhausting. I think it’s fair to say that that was the lowest and blackest point in my life.living with BPD

Eventually I returned home to try to resume some semblance of a life, but I wasn’t living, I was simply surviving. It took me a while to realise that surviving for me at that point, was living. If I didn’t focus on surviving I would end up dead, so I just kept surviving from one day to the next. My husband and I continued to try and work through our marriage and we kept going but things were never the same and neither was I. It is now just over 2 years since that breakdown and I am still surviving, one day at a time and sometimes one hour at a time. My demons constantly lurk in the recesses of my mind and I still have the eternal inner battle with myself over living or dying. I continue to take my medication and see my psychiatrist and psychologist regularly. With their firm support and the overwhelming love my family and friends have given me, I have redefined my life and have set myself some goals and a back-up plan for when things get rocky. I am currently studying a university degree in human services and I struggle with it every single day. Not just the workload but with the urge to self-sabotage because I feel that I am not worthy of doing something with my life. Whenever I think about throwing in the towel, I think about why I am doing this. I want to help others like myself who may not be as fortunate as I was in finding a support network that works, or someone that cares. I want to make a difference to them and help them to see that they are worthy and they can be and do whatever they want to do. Everyone deserves that and I intend to tell them so!

Mental health has seeped into every aspect of my life; personal, social, occupational and otherwise. I think the scariest thing about my illness is how my own mind can and has, betrayed me. This demon has twisted my thinking, taken my self-respect, left me powerless and torn me to pieces but it has also given me something. It has given me strength and purpose. No matter how vicious my illness has been, it has not beaten me yet and I am determined not to let it.

overcoming adversity

The Realities of BPD

Following the focus this week on Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Tegan Churchill has kindly put together her own experiences living with this illness. She explains how it has impacted on her life and now how she copes with a young family. Very brave and resilient woman!

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 I remember the first time I knew that a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder was on the cards. I was sitting in the waiting room of my small town doctor, my chart on my lap because there was no computer system yet. Curiosity got the better of me and I flicked through the pages. Nestled in the back was a letter from the psychologist I was seeing at the time, in bold letters were the words Borderline Personality Disorder. I was confused, on the borderline of what? I committed the term to memory so that I could look it up on the internet when I got home.

I didn’t like what I saw, the checklist of symptoms read like a list of ‘how to suck at life’. I knew that I ticked most of those boxes and I was ashamed. I was 15 at the time but a definite diagnosis was not made until I was 18. Doctors decided that I had, had enough time to grow into my personality and this was how it was going to be for the rest of my life.

I sought out support in online forums, losing myself in an online world. All around me my life was falling to pieces. I dropped out of university, I was living with my grandmother and spending most of my days in bed. My GP told me that I was a 9 year old trapped in an adult’s body. I was horrified at the time, unable to process the comment. Looking back now, it’s true.

BPD

I was on a destructive path. A suicide attempt lead to my mother moving with me to a larger center with more mental health services. It didn’t matter, I was hell bent on destroying myself. I was reckless and failed to see the consequences. After ending up in jail for 2 months, my mother moved back to our hometown. I stayed in the city and moved into single’s accommodation for women. I had everything I wanted; I lived in a large town where nobody knew me.

I didn’t know what to do with my thoughts. They were all consuming, every emotion felt like a thousand knives were piercing my skin. I didn’t know how to express my feelings. I lashed out at anyone who tried to help me. I was like a stubborn child. The professionals who were supposed to help me wrote me off as an attention seeker. Therapy was stopped after another suicide attempt and I found myself floating through a system that seemed hell bent on keeping me unwell.

Having Borderline makes making and maintaining relationships difficult. I find myself going between loving a person more than anything and hating them with everything in my being. I often turn people off without a second thought to repair the relationship. I find myself in screaming matches with people who I love, feeling a rage that is so all consuming that I worry that my veins will burst through my skin. I turn into the hulk and it takes me days to calm down.

For years I turned to self-harm to help fight the feelings. I self-harmed to make me feel and to stop feeling too much. Each time I cut it had to be deeper than the last time. I didn’t want to die; I just wanted to destroy myself, to punish myself for the perceived wrongs that I had committed.

bpd 3rd deg burns

Now I have a child to consider. He is counting on me to be there, and he is the reason that I looked into better therapy. I let my moods and my coping skills get a lot worse again before I admitted I needed help. I had put on a mask, hidden behind a wall and didn’t let my feelings out anymore. I was afraid that I would lose my son. The mask was so good that my current psychologist was skeptical that I had Borderline at all.

I have recently completed a course of Dialectal Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and found it immensely helpful. It was a relief to have someone take me seriously, who saw that I was someone worthy of treatment and had the time to spend working on my issues.

I’m a different person to when I first received the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. I still struggle to express my feelings, and to interpret others’ intentions but I am making progress. I still catch myself wandering down the destructive path, but I know that I have so much more to live for. I still feel like I’m walking around with no skin, taking in every slight, every glance, every word but I am getting better at processing the thoughts.

Borderline may be something that I will always struggle with but I am happy that I am filling my toolbox so the good days begin to outweigh the bad.

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tegan churchillBlurb: Tegan can be found at http://www.musingsofthemisguided.com where she talks about mental illness, parenting and everything in between. She hopes that by sharing her story and knowledge that she can do her part to help rid the world of stigma. Joining her on the journey is her partner Paul, a 4 year old bundle of energy and a puppy with an attitude.

Personality and Disorders – Part 2

BPD by numbersIn the search for people to write posts on their lived experiences with mental illness, one of the ladies who agreed to share her story is Tegan. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and describes the experience as feeling her emotions without her skin on. If you’ve ever had a wound on your arm where the skin has been torn off, you’ll know how tender, raw and painful it feels. Now imagine all of your emotions without their skin. You get hit with everything at once. It’s really intense, and you don’t have any skills to deal with it. You get so many emotions that you can’t even decipher or make sense of them.

So how do you cope?

I would imagine that your survival instincts (remember that Neanderthal man who Sam talked about in the anxiety posts) would kick in. Your brain would narrow your focus to one simple thing. Survival. All those emotions at once would be really overwhelming. You’d probably panic. And then do anything that you could possibly think of to stop it all. You’d feel so overwhelmed and panicked that you’d choose the first thing to enter your head, whatever that may be.

BPD 2

As I mentioned in the last post, it is very common for people with personality disorders to have had a history of trauma or abuse. So it is very likely that you would feel really crappy about yourself. You might even hate yourself so much that you feel like you need to be punished. So the strategies you’re likely to turn to will be things like hurting yourself. It could be with food or it could be with alcohol. Or even with drugs, cigarettes or razor blades (burning or cutting yourself). Anything to relieve the pain you feel inside. Even suicide.need help dont want it

And when people try to help, you reject their advances because you feel like you need to push them away before they abandon you (which is what you feel you deserve). And this confirms your belief so you push people away even more, by using any means necessary. You argue with people, yell, scream, insult, push, shove, steal. And so on.

And then you feel even worse about yourself because you know that kind of behaviour isn’t what you should be doing. So you increase your efforts to punish yourself. You would be unlikely to recognise much good in your life. You might meet someone and marry, but because of how you feel about yourself, the relationship is likely to be full of arguments and bad feelings. Parenting would also be a huge challenge. As would your work relationships.

symptoms of BPD

If you’re lucky though, you will reach a point, like Tegan, where you acknowledge that you can no longer live that way. And so, after many false starts, you begin a very long, slow journey to make changes in your life. You seek professional support from a psychiatrist and psychologist skilled in working with BPD.

Stay tuned to hear from two very brave women, Tegan and Kaye, about what it is like to really live with BPD.

BPD

When someone you love dies

grief no timeline

We are born, we live, we learn, we grow.

And then we die.

Death is a part of life.

Like a lot of people, I am no stranger to grief. Three of my grandparents died when I was a child and as an adult this has been followed by a step grandmother (paternal), my parents, my older brother, a favourite cousin, a grandmother (maternal) and the son of my best friend. Each of those people has meant something different to me and my experience with coping with each death has also been very different.

When somebody dies it is natural for us to feel like there has been a hole left in our lives and hearts. We get used to a person being a huge part of our lives. We depend on them. We feel safe with them. We feel comfortable. We look forward to being with them. We love them and connect with them. We often spend an entire lifetime with them. And one day we turn around and they aren’t there any longer.

So then what?

We need to get used to an entirely different way of living. Of being. Not only do we miss the person and grieve for them, we also need to learn how to live our life without them in it. This can be a huge undertaking, especially if we have lived our entire life with them. Spouse. Son. Daughter. Mother. Father. Grandparent. Aunt. Uncle. Best friend. Whatever that person’s role was in your life, making adjustments to live a different life can be seriously tough.

Common grief responses

One of the key things to note is that every person’s grief experience is different. Your way of grieving is going to be different to the person sitting next to you, even if that person is a close family member. There are however, some commonalities. There has been a lot of research into these common responses, which have resulted in several models being developed to describe how grief “works”.

Grief_Wheel

One model of the stages of grief

There are several “stages” that people usually experience. Shock & numbness occurs immediately following the death. There may be denial. You then go into a protest stage where the shock becomes heightened, you feel angry, you yearn for the person who died and you are preoccupied with thoughts of them. This is followed by disorganisation, where there is a loss of interest in normal daily activities, depression, apathy, lethargy, restlessness, aimlessness, confusion, withdrawal. Sleep disturbances, crying, irritability are also seen. Eventually there is reorganisation, where things start to come together again. You start to look forward to doing some of the activities you used to enjoy. You start to try new things and find meaning in the death. You may experience guilt in here too. Many people feel like they shouldn’t be enjoying themselves because their loved one isn’t here to share in those moments. Then you move into recovery, where a new “normal” comes about. At any one of these stages we could move into deterioration. We may be going along fine, and something will trigger us and we end up “going backward”. We get cranky, we cry, criticize ourselves, feel guilty, experience sleep and appetite disturbances. Physical symptoms may include sweating, breathing difficulties, nausea etc.

GrievingWheellarge

Another model of the grief wheel. Note the similarities.

A couple of important notes to consider.

Firstly, this process is not a linear one. We don’t move from one stage to the next and the next and the next. As already mentioned, we may be triggered at any time and feel like we are back where we started. If we graphed what actually happens to us we would have a curvy line jumping up and down, back and forward all over the place.

Secondly, I am giving a very brief, basic outline here on grief and a general picture of how it looks. Many people experience an intensified, long-term grief process that may be considered out of the ordinary. Symptoms are experienced as very intense and long-lasting. Grief is supposed to ease over several weeks and months. If this does not happen, it could be that this is an experience of complicated grief. There are several risk factors that make some people more prone to complicated grief, including having had a very close relationship to the person who died, the death being unexpected, and an inability to adapt to change (lack of resilience), among other things. For more details on complicated grief, the Mayo Clinic in the USA has some good information. Please note that there are several pages to digest, which can be navigated by clicking the links on the left side of the page. It includes what to look for and how to get some help. Here in Australia I would recommend seeking help from a grief counsellor or psychologist.

Ways to cope

It’s important to understand that unfortunately, the only way to the other side of grief is to go through the process. You can’t go around, under or over it, and you can’t avoid it. Ever. You must go through it.

  • Allow yourself to feel the emotions, whatever they are. Sadness, sorrow, shock, numbness, listlessness. All of these are a normal, understandable reaction to the circumstances and it is ok to feel them. We often push these feelings down because they hurt, but the more we do that the longer the process takes. Those feelings will always come back.grief miss talking
  • Most people find that what they really want is to bring back the person who died. So why not do that? Yes, I know that you can’t bring them back in person, but you can bring their memory alive. A lot of grief counsellors will encourage the person to talk about their loved one. To describe them. Talk about what they love and miss about them. This may bring up a lot of emotion, and that is ok. I understand that a lot of people get nervous around emotions, and that’s fine too. If you can allow yourself to sit with it, even a little bit at a time, it does get a little easier. Eventually.
  • If you feel like the people you are talking to are getting impatient with your never-ending talk about the person who died, try either talking to somebody different or writing things down instead. Write a letter or a story. Or even talk into a voice recorder. You can erase it if you don’t want to keep it, but it may give you an outlet without feeling like you’re being a burden on the people closest to you.
  • Talk to the person who died. This is especially helpful if it was a long, intense or close relationship. Tell them about your day, about how the kids are doing, about how much you miss them.
  • There is no right or wrong way to feel when you are grieving. The stages described in the wheel can come and go in a seemingly random pattern. You might think you are getting through the worst of it and then you’ll be right back in the middle of all those intense feelings. This is normal.
  • Honour the person who died in some way. You could try planting a tree, creating some artwork or craft, a memory box, write a letter to the person, write some poetry or a song. Even go to visit their grave and talk to them. There is no right or wrong with this. Go with your instinct and do something that feels right for you.
  • grief individualI know this one could sound a little harsh, but I am going to say it anyway. Ignore the people who tell you that you “should be over it by now” (or some variation on the theme). Grief is not something that has a timetable. It is different for everyone and is a very individual experience. What works for one person may not work for another.
  • Try not to force yourself to do things you’re not ready for. Sometimes you may feel like you’re never going to be the same again and you’ll feel like staying in bed all day every day. I’m not suggesting that you spend the rest of your life in bed, and sometimes it can help you feel a little better to force yourself to get out of the house. Sometimes though, it is ok to allow yourself some time to be with your memories.
  • Find a support group in your area. Sometimes it helps to know that there are others out there who are going through the same thing you are. You don’t have to do this on your own.
  • If you don’t start feeling more like your old self within a few months, please consider seeking professional support. A grief counsellor or psychologist may be able to help you to sort through some of the feelings you’re having. This can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing complicated grief. It’s hard, and not everyone understands what it is like. A professional can help you to gain some understanding of what is happening for you. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be you sitting there spilling your guts. Sometimes you can do other things. I know someone who had a counsellor help them edit a book of poetry that had been written to help with the grief. Others will do art or craft work, or something completely different. If you have something in mind that you feel would help you, but feel uncertain about it, discuss it with your professional. You may be able to do it in session.

grief myths facts

Helping someone through their grief

If you have a family member or a friend who is grieving, remember that everyone grieves differently. Even if that person is your spouse, brother, sister, daughter or son (or whoever).

  • Honour and respect the grief process for the individual, personal experience it is.
  • Never (EVER) tell a person to “snap out of it”. There is no such thing as getting over the person who has died and moving on with your life. The person who has died will always be a part of treasured memories. They will always be missed. It’s simply the intensity that varies.
  • Grief has no timeline. Some people can reach the stage of acceptance within a few weeks, while others take years. Sometimes feelings of sadness will hit you out of the blue, triggered by simple things such as hearing a song on the radio or smelling a favourite meal cooking on the stove.
  • Grief is a process that upsets everything you have known in your life. Grieving people benefit from sameness, familiarity and routine. It can be comforting to have the same neighbours, the same furniture, and the same house. In some cases, such as with the death of one half of a long-standing elderly couple, the surviving partner may not be able to remain in the familiarity of the home they have been used to (e.g., if they require care). These changes require a lot more adjustment than would otherwise be required. If at all possible, allow some time to make the transition. Allow them to sort through treasured possessions and to gather anything that will help them gain comfort. Clothing, furniture (if possible), photographs and so on. The more familiarity they have around them, the better their transition is likely to be.
  • Sometimes it can seem like this grief lasts forever and you can feel impatient with the person who continues to talk while grief one at a timeyou want to move forward. This is common if you are also grieving the same person. You could try suggesting something different to do, or maybe respectfully suggest that they talk with a professional instead. You need to honour your own needs in dealing with your grief and have every right to do so. If you are uncertain, please consider talking with a professional to get some advice on what you can do to balance your own needs and helping this person with their grief.

I know this post has been quite wordy and very lengthy, but I think to do it justice it has needed to be. One of the biggest things I have found in working with grieving people, is the knowledge that you are not on your own. Grief can sometimes feel like a very isolating experience and knowing that there are others out there who are going through the same thing can help ease that for you. I would encourage you to share your experiences here in the comments. Let’s see if we can create a small community of support right here.

I hope this post has helped in some small way.

 grief hugs

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