Category: Stories of coping strategies

Miaow!

My houseguest would like to say hi:

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So, here I was reading up and planning to have guinea pigs, when this adorable guy arrived. He’s been a regular fixture for many weeks now since he first “dropped in” at the end of last year but I don’t think I’ve introduced him on my blog before.

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He has previously belonged to at least 2 other households in my block. He’s getting on in years for a cat – we think he’s about 10 years old – but he can still cause enough mischief, between naps that is! I started out agreeing to look after him and feed him over a weekend in the winter, when his owners had serious problems and couldn’t look after him. Circumstances were such that they didn’t collect him after the weekend. They didn’t come back for a fortnight and by this time he was growing used to my flat and, I think, to more regular food and playtimes than he’d been getting.

We have come to an arrangement where I am the main person to feed him and look after him but he goes between my flat and is previous / other home. The couple that had him before are still in difficulties and can’t care for him. So it helps us all, I hope.

I love him. He’s surprisingly affectionate. He loves cuddles. He loves playing with his toy mouse. He usually likes being combed. He even “holds hands” tapping me gently with his paw then letting me take it in my hand.

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He is enchanting to watch when he’s napping, curled up so comfortably and trustingly on the seat beside me, or even in my arms, purring softly, then snoring not so softly, body rising and falling with his breath, smiling (yes really), little pink paw pads uncurling as he stretches out from time to time.

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He is bringing me lots of happiness and I love that I can care for him and make him feel safe.

Ginny Xxx

 

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Self-care

Yesterday I put on makeup for the first time for a long time. It was an ordinary day. I used to always wear a lot of makeup and coordinate some of the colours to my outfit. Then I stopped. I was exhausted and down and couldn’t find any will to take care what I looked like. The emotions that would surface when I looked at myself in a mirror for any length of time were unbearable. I felt revulsion. I’d start scratching at my skin, the emotion seeming to creep there and take hold like a rotten, evil force that I wanted to cut away.

Yesterday I was motivated to begin to take better care of myself. I got out the mirror and for the first time in as long as I can remember, the hatred and revulsion didn’t come overwhelmingly to the fore. I started to put on makeup and actually once I’d got through starting, I enjoyed it. Somehow, I began to feel a bit better, more prepared and lifted from the pervading exhaustion.

I carried on. Later in the day I painted my nails red. I used some nice moisturiser. I began to try to think caring thoughts towards my body and come up with caring replies to counteract the shouting voice in my head telling me I’m disgusting.

It’s a tiny couple of steps but it’s a start and each time I can do something caring to myself, it reminds me and strengthens my resolve to come up with new images of myself and new answers to the voices.

Ginny xxx

We all got bruises

Two very different favourite songs I haven’t listened to in a while popped up on my playlist just now. Music and lyrics I can identify with have a powerful effect on my mood and sometimes I use it to cope with strong emotions and memories.

I’d never heard of Crystal Bowersox but felt an instant connection when I stumbled across this song about a journey out of abusive relationships. I like the imagery of the thread in the video – at the start the thread attached her to the abuse / her abuser and it does not disappear completely but she is able to bring from it something different, safe, even beautiful in her own life once she is free.

Here’s another song which lifts me up – “we all got bruises” but it doesn’t mean we will always be down on our knees and they can make for better things to come.

Ginny xxx

Bruises – by Train / Ashley Monroe

Farmer’s Daughter – by Crystal Bowersox

Thanks to VEVO / youtube for the videos

Laundry, hot dogs and tiny steps….

It is a day full of heat and summer. It’s a day of struggles inside my head too and it took me hours to force through the distress in my mind and even open the door and stand outside. I did it with the help of God. Perhaps it’s ridiculous that leaving the screaming and hurting going on in my head and the temptations to overdose and the fear of everything that is just too much and too forbidden to feel, had such a hold on me that it took the better part of the day to leave the one safe zone in my house. It may be stupid to anyone else but right now that’s how things are and the Lord took me in His hands and have me strength. For today that’s a little victory. I stepped outside. I smelt the grass in the sunshine, watched the flowers in my neighbour’s garden swaying in the breeze; I pegged out the washing and made myself concentrate and really feel the texture of the damp cloth, the warm stones under my feet and the air on my skin. It really is a beautiful day.

And that little victory continued and I have managed to walk down the street very slowl and come grocery shopping. I have promised myself to choose nourishing and healthful foods and not continue to punish myself with the binge-purge cycle that could numb some of the feelings I’m so afraid of now they don’t go away.

Right now before I do that, I’m just sitting with a cold drink and writing this to make my promises firmer. I’m watching the people passing in the street and letting this awareness ground me and draw me a little further out of my fear.

In the middle of all this I’ve actually smiled too, at happy children and at this chilled-out (though rather warm)guy waiting for his owner outside the health food shop. Seems they do their own hot dogs:

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So I guess what I’m saying in this strange rambling post is, it is very hard but I am trying to choose thankfulness and presence – thankfulness for feeling, presence with our God who does not leave us for a moment – rather than fear, self-punishment and numbing escapes. One tiny step at a time I’m asking God to give me strength to continue to look outward and be present, however much it hurts.

Ginny xxx

 

Cards and crafts

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I’ve been trying to devote a bit of time each week to something creative. I find it’s encouraging to be able to make something pretty even when you’re not feeling good. I’ve been making some greetings cards again. A colleague is fundraising for the charity Tommy’s , which does amazing work and research to help those who have suffered with a miscarriage or stillbirth, and I’m going to sell the cards for donations to this cause.

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Not very good images I’m afraid;  I should try to get some better snaps.

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I took the pictures used in the photographic cards. As I think I’ve posted about before, taking photos is another activity I enjoy and it helps me focus on all the good things in the here and now. So it’s nice to be able to use the images this way.

Ginny xxx

The garden of souls

Lots of lovely wildflowers are coming into bloom this time of year, sometimes in unexpected places.

I found some especially bright poppies by the supermarket:

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Where I grew up we called this one cow parsley!
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The other day I stumbled across this stunning rose in an otherwise unkempt garden.

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I love how sometimes you find brilliantly coloured, delicate flowers growing in the most unlikely places, like little purple blossoms growing across a stone wall or this poppy springing up from arid, grey, hardened soil.

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The little blooms are not as fragile as they appear. They thrive in barren conditions. They draw their life and water much deeper than we see.

Perhaps it’s the same with our hearts and souls when we have travelled a hard road of suffering and abandonment and pain and are trying to find the way to recovery. Gradually  or suddenly the path bears fruit and something beautiful comes to life at the most unexpected time. As we draw deeper and deeper strength we bloom like that poppy in arid, unstable soil, finding something unshakeable that lets us flourish. Exactly what it is, is probably different for each of us. Then we can even inspire and strengthen others.

Ginny xxx

….

“Every flower created by [God] is beautiful; the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its loveliness. And so it is in the world of souls, which is the living garden of the Lord.” – St Therese of Lisieux

No hands,  no feet on earth but yours – these broken paths

No hands, no feet on earth but yours – these broken paths

On my way home from work I cross a park. The other day on the footpath, I noticed that the little cracks in the path’s surface had curved round to form a heart shape. (Hopefully you can just about see in the photo.)

There are plenty of breaks and cracks to stumble through on our lifes’ paths and there’s no escaping the hurt. Yet I try to remember, we need not fear the pain and confusion and our weakness. When we look back at what we have travelled through and what we leave behind for others, perhaps we will see it was love that remained through the very hardest times, love that grew in our hearts and that we left in the good we did, unknowingly.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” – St Teresa of Avila

Walking this Borderland #11: ice and lemon?

[Warning: the last 2 paragraphs under the *** contain discussion of self harm]

I know I’ve banged on about this technique elsewhere  in this blog but I just realised it may be a useful tip to add to the collection of coping strategies I’m trying to build up  in this Borderland series. Also, last week I learnt another similar very effective tip which I’d like to share. Thank you for bearing with me through the first two paragraphs if you’ve read my previous posts mentioning this topic.

In Borderline, regulation of emotions is difficult. States of emotional arousal shift quickly. Emotions and the intensity with which they are experienced can change rapidly and yet quickly become all consuming. The instability doesn’t make the emotions less real. Emotions may rise more quickly than they do in people without Borderline PD and stay at the higher level for longer. Equally, those of us with Borderline may suddenly enter emotionally numb or cut off states.

Both extremes can be dangerous, in my experience. Both can quickly tip into dangerous impulsivity, recklessbehaviour and decisions, self harm, suicidal intentions, explosive emotions and higher and higher states of distress. In either state we can’t explore our feelings and thoughts or other people’s feelings and intentions. Most coping strategies or systems of value that keep us strong, or protective factors like caring about other people, or religious faith or other beliefs that give us hope, become inaccessible in these states.

We need something that changes or emotional state so that we are able to reach again for these strengths and beliefs and strategies. One thing that can do this is giving the body a (non harmful) shock or surprise. We can only experience a certain number of sensations at once. A sudden strong physical sensation can serve enough to slightly bring our emotions away from the extreme. Once our emotions are coming away from the extreme, and only then, can we access other thought processes and coping strategies such as self soothing or the rescue box.

My top two ways to create this shift are as follows:

  • Lemon juice: lemon juice is a sharp sour taste. Take a couple of mouthfuls of neat lemon juice. You can even keep a small container of lemon juice in your bag when you’re out (easily available in supermarkets, eg the plastic “Jif” lemons).
  • Instant ice packs: I just discovered these! A really helpful nurse have me one when I was getting panicky in hospital last week after my op. I find this more effective and more practical than holding ice cubes, which is another alternative. Instant ice packs are really small and light, containing little crystals which activate to become cold when you squeeze and shake the packet. The tactile aspect is another helpful distraction too. I’m going to try to get some more. They appear to be available online from about 50p each, though I haven’t tried and tested any sources yet.

It sounds crazy, but the sudden ice and lemon shock does work. (Note to self, don’t follow the ice and lemon with the gin every time 😉 ! Remember to stick to Cola. Joke. No offence intended.)

Other potential ways of achieving the same effect include chewing small pieces of chilli (not too much and make sure you aren’t allergic first!), putting mustard on your tongue, or putting your head under a cold shower. The lemon and the ice are just the ones that work best for me and that I find most practical. I can use them even when I’m out or away from home.

This isn’t intended to be a long term solution but a short term way to keep safe and regain some stability. After you’ve used one of these techniques, you may then find you’re in a position to use other coping strategies once your level of distress is reduced (self soothing or mentalisation, for instance).

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Incidentally, I wonder if there’s ever a link between why these techniques work and the drive to self harm. I say this with caution because it’s a sensitive and painful thing and what drives someone to self harm will be different for each person. For me, sometimes there’s pain, loss, need, anger, or self hate, or needing to hurt myself so I don’t hurt anyone else, or needing the physical pain to numb and quiet the noise in my head and voices, or to know what the physical pain will almost faithfully be as it stills some of the much more unbearable mental pain for just a little while. For the next person it’ll be different.

One CPN I talked to describes the ice pack and lemon type techniques as safe self-harm. It’s a shock, a not pleasant, over powering physical sensation. Personally I don’t see it as similar to self harm or at all a way of self harming safely. Nor do I think it has in itself directly reduced my self harming. I don’t think it’s yet something I could do to avoid self harming once I’m at the point I’m about to self harm, although perhaps it does stop me reaching that point in the first place. However I think perhaps I see some of the point the nurse was making, in that the ice or lemon shock serves to still and control the emotion a little bit. Maybe part of why I started to self harm was needing to control unbearable emotion.

Anyhow.  When life gives you lemons, as the saying goes. …

Ginny xxx

 

My rescue box – update

A while ago I posted about making up a “rescue box” as a tool to help me cope in times of crisis. You can read more about the principle and how the box helps here and I’d strongly recommend reading that before reading this post. In brief, the Box is a way of putting together in one place, easily visible and quickly accessible, the things that will help you cope when you are feeling bad. For me feeling bad tends to mean very upset, crying, struggling with voices and other hallucinations, and re-experiencing traumatic memories. The Box is not a cure for how you are feeling and is not meant to make the emotions go away. It isn’t intended to be a way to suppress them. Having said that, it is to some extent distraction, and a way to access tools to lower your very heightened emotional state so that you can then be more able to cope, to think, or to avoid impulsive actions that may be harmful to you. The CPN who explained the idea to me recommends it as a tool for BPD sufferers. I would imagine it could help people dealing with a variety of other situations / conditions too.

I promised an update about my box once I had put it together, so here goes. I’m new to this technique and I’m sharing updates as I go along.

I made my Box by covering a cardboard packaging box in gift wrap. I’ve started to stick some pretty things to the outside of it as well – a flower, some Hello Kitty stickers because they make me smile, a few little snippets of encouraging text – and I’ve put a little plastic pouch on top with a pretty card and a message from a dear friend. I’ll continue decorating the box with more sensory, pretty, attractive things and things that have a meaning for me and remind me of good times. I think this increases the likelihood the Box will be in my mind and be an appealing thing. (Half the problem with coping strategies, I find, is remembering to use them when the hard times come – often the distress can be so consuming I just don’t think of how to access helpful tools and techniques! Anything that helps me call them to mind has to be a plus!)

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The contents of the Box is very much a personal thing, of course, as different things will be important to each of us. In case it’s of interest, here are some of the things I keep in mine (you can see them in the picture).

  • A couple of little stuffed animals – I’ll freely admit I am very childish! 🙂 I find them comforting and have quite a collection. To be honest, Bunny is usually next to me on the sofa, not in the box 🙂 and I collect “ty” Beanie owls and my-little-ponies. I guess stuffed toys also give a soothing tactile experience when you hold them, which can be useful for BPD sufferers. As a soothing sensation increases, the unpleasant sensation of very heightened emotion may reduce (again, I explain this better in my earlier post).
  • For similar reasons, a little bottle of scent. It’s soothing and distracting and if you are trying to control your breathing, the pleasant aroma can help you be aware of exhaling and inhaling.
  • A coaster, to remind me – make a soothing cup of tea! Drink it really focussing on the warmth and taste.
  • A special smooth, flat pebble from the beach, which is calming to hold (feeling the cool, polished surface) and which reminds me of the happy day on which I collected it.
  • A CD – at the moment it’s a CD I like with songs that lift my mood. This is a new one for me to try and I’m not sure which way it will go. When I am not in crisis, I enjoy listening to music. Putting on particular kinds of music and even dancing to it (well okay that’s a strong word – bouncing, at least!) can really pick me up. I’m not sure what kind of effect listening to upbeat music when I feel absolutely dreadful will have, but I’ll give it a go! It’s a way of trying to take an “opposite action” i.e. forcing yourself to do something “happy” or good for you when you are feeling sad and bad about yourself. The idea is this may in turn lift your thoughts. So listening to happy music and making myself move around to it might help lift my thoughts and feelings. Equally, at times music that expresses some of the anger or sadness I’m feeling can help as a way of “letting it out”.  I think I am going to trial both and then put together a playlist of favourite tracks specially for times I’m feeling down. Good job I live alone so there’s nobody to suffer for the fact that if I sing along I sound like a mouse with a particularly bad chest cold 😉
  • A favourite book I know well, which encourages me at the very hardest times, and some prayer cards with very short prayers. I can read over passages of the book, or say the prayers in my head, to repeat a hopeful and loving message to take the place of spiralling panicky thoughts, or the voices I hear telling me that I’m evil.
  • A few cards and a pen, to remind me – could I write a note to a friend? I.E., something nice to take me “out of” my own mixed up head, to force myself to do something positive, thus acting against the negative thoughts in my head, and making somebody else happy too?
  • A ball of wool – could I do something creative? Make pom poms? Do some cross stitch embroidery? Colouring?

I’ve tried to include a mixture of things that are happy and soothing of themselves (eg the stuffed animals, the scent) and things to encourage me to do something positive (eg the cards or the music). I’m also going to add to the box some pictures of my family and my close friends and my godchildren, basically people that matter to me, as a reminder of reasons to keep going and all the good things and good times that I can be thankful for – all things that can so easily be eclipsed in times of extreme distress.

So, that’s my Box! I hope perhaps this might be of interest…. I’m new to this and I will post another update about whether / how I find that it helps me.

Do you use any kind of toolkit like this to help you in the hard times? What would you put in your rescue box?

Ginny xxx

 

Did I actually just enjoy something?!

Since I came back from my lovely weekend stay with my friend L and her family a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been thinking back to it thankfully and often. In that weekend I felt genuinely positive emotions that have been absent for me for a long time (we’re talking years). Things like happiness at my goddaughters’ interest and excitement at our little activities and projects.  Their unboundedly curious questions showing perspectives so different from mine, especially different from my exhausted autopilot. Time with L. and real thankfulness for the strength and comfort her non-judgmental empathy gave me and really wanting to be there for her too, glad to be able to talk and share in her life, worries, joys, and so on.

Yes, the hard things were still there too. Voices, doubts, exhaustion, anxiety, it doesn’t magically go away. But the good experiences were so unusual for me that they particularly give me pause and I am all the more grateful for them.

Their good is lasting beyond the days I spent with L (nearly 2 weeks so now) in a way that’s more than just a happy memory. Perhaps it’s because it isn’t just a memory in my factual thought; it’s an emotional memory too. That’s stronger and more active and has a more continously creative effect on how I feel. I’m enjoying it and trying to nurture it, in thought and in prayer and in trying to build up some more creative, good experiences, especially where I can give or share something to someone else in even a small way. One thing I’ve been doing in recent days is making greetings cards, which I used to love but had completely lost all motivation or creativity to do. And I’m actually enjoying it, even looking forward to it. I can’t think when I last genuinely looked forward to an activity like this.

Maybe I’m starting to understand what a doctor told me when I was an inpatient in 2014 – that the more good experiences and memories you create, they can slowly begin to replace the terrible re-experiencing of traumatic past events and the automatic nature of obsessional thoughts and the power of the voices. I could not understand how this could work at the time though I really wanted to believe it. Later, in the most desperate times I was furious if anyone began to suggest anything like it. The suggestion seemed to trivialise the terror I was locked into. Yet now, I think I might be beginning to understand it.

Ginny xxx