The Priceless Gifts Of October!

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic Violence Awareness Month (Photo credit: U.S. Army Korea (Historical Image Archive))

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pink In Honor Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink In Honor Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello my WordPress friends and family. I have not posted in longer than I had planned, but felt compelled to write tonight. It’s October…..a month of great significance in my life. First, there are many campaigns for awareness this month that are near and dear to my heart. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This past July, I had my third breast surgery for an annoying, uncomfortable, and somewhat disfiguring form of cancer commonly called DCIS. As cancer goes… is one of the “best” cancers to get as it is considered by most experts to be stage 0 and non-metastasizing in most cases. But is still surgery…….to my breast……which tends to mess with my head a bit as I happen to like my “girls” and am saddened each time a bit more of them is cut away. Ladies….and all gentlemen who love ladies…..spread the word! Get a mammogram and do your self exams. And if something seems wrong…..if you are bleeding from your nipples…..get it checked out because ignorance in this case in NOT bliss.

Next, October is Mental Health Awareness month…..another subject I am intimately familiar with. Official diagnosis on my records from respected psychiatrists list Dissociative Identity Disorder, Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Acute Anxiety. Full disclosure here…..I have not seen a psychiatrist for an independent evaluation since the release of the new DSM-V……so there would probably be a few more items added to my laundry list of diagnoses if I had.

October is also National Domestic Violence Awareness month. This particular cause is the closest to my heart of all. I used to say I am a survivor of domestic violence…..not anymore. Dare I say so boldly, I now consider myself a thriver. Yep, i still have challenges that affect my daily life as a result of the abuse I endured, but now I am not only functioning…..I am giving back. i completed my Domestic Violence Counselor certification at the end of July and got connected with a local women’s group that advocates for abuse victims. And I have to tell you……it has been a life changer for me. So many brave women come to me and say thank you for my help…..and the directors and non-profit staff members thank me and my reply to them is always the same. Your welcome, but the truth is You are saving My life. The volunteer work I am doing as a legal advocate at the county courthouse for those filing for protection orders and the community events where I get to speak to people and let them know about the shocking statistics surrounding this issue…..educating them and opening their eyes…..well this work has given me a purpose. Purpose is priceless! Purpose helps heal your wounded soul, empowers you, improves your self-esteem, and forbids you to isolate yourself. I will say it once more…..purpose is priceless. Purpose is saving me everyday… me a reason to keep on going! So to those who thank me…..again all I can say is thank you! You are literally helping me save my life!

Finally, last month was Suicide Prevention Month. I have been down that dark, deep pit myself. I know the stigma and shame associated with it. I have felt the sting of being called selfish and attention seeking. I even admit that I still have dark days where the thought of ” i really wouldn’t mind if i went to sleep tonight and didn’t wake up” crosses my mind. But today…..I have better tools. Today….. I have better coping skills. Today…..I have a small bur growing support group of regular people who care in addition to the paid professionals that have been at my side for the past few years. Today…..I am doing okay. Today…..I can keep going

And on top of all that…..Monday is going to be my birthday. And this year…..this year I am going to celebrate it! Ah, the priceless gifts of October.

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)



Blog For Mental Health 2013

1.) Take the pledge by copying and pasting the following into a post featuring “Blog for Mental Health 2013″.

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

2.) Link back to the person who pledged you.

You can consider this an open pledge, so feel free to link to A Canvas Of The Minds andthis post!

3.) Write a short biography of your mental health, and what this means to you.

I literally lost my mind a decade ago this month. Problem is, I didn’t know it. After a series of traumatic events, life changing surgeries, and pharmaceutical bombardment of my system, I began to lose time. In addition to losing ever increasing chunks of time, I had great difficulty regulating my sleep….sleeping away most of the day, not sleeping at night, finally catching sleep only to experience horrific nightmares. I was suddenly uncharacteristically anxious, complete lack of commonsense or sense to be aware of my own physical safety, and reckless. Four years and tons of medications, surgeries, and doctors…..I finally got an answer. I have DID…..dissociative identity disorder with an AXIS 2 diagnosis of  Chronic PTSD and major depressive disorder. The impact on my life has been enormous, and my journey to recovery a monumental effort unlike anything I have done before. I am so happy to report that I have been free of all psych medications for over 18 months now. I still take a 15mg dose of morphine everyday for pain management but hope to be free of that in the future as well. My road to recovery means everything to me, and I pledge to continue to help others in their journey in any way that I can.

This pledge is my opportunity to commit to mental health awareness. I can publicly display this badge to instantly tell my audience what this is all about. And, I can encourage others within the mental health community that have a Dx to do the same.

4.) Pledge five others, and be sure to let them know!

I am pledging all of my fellow bloggers who have stood with me, and have proven their mettle in my eyes as mental health bloggers.

Out of respect for all of you and your own wishes, If you follow my blog and want this opportunity, you are nominated. If not, I respect and admire you still.

As mentioned above, if you happen upon this without being pledged,I still pledge you.  Feel free to take the pledge!  Promote awareness!

5.) And, as something novel for 2013, Lulu and I ask one more thing of you.

As you may have noticed, Canvas does not keep an official blogroll, outside of links to our authors’ personal blogs.  For something new and special to introduce Blog For Mental Health 2013, and really build a sense of community — and show everyone how many of us there are, and how strong we are, coming together — we are launching a Blog For Mental Health 2013 Official Blogroll!  So, in addition to linking back to the person who pledged you, please include the link to this original post in your piece.  As this gets passed along, link back or click here and leave a comment containing the link to your pledge, and we will put you on our Blog For Mental Health 2013 Official Blogroll page!  Show the world our strength, show them our solidarity, show them what we are made of.  Take the Blog for Mental Health pledge and proudly display the badge on your blog!


The Do’s And Dont’s Of Dealing With DID

This next post was written by Lola of Who Needs Normal? , a unique WordPress site I recently nominated for One Lovely Blog award. It is, in my opinion, a guide that is a must read by anyone dealing with dissociative identity disorder…..but mainly by those who support a loved one or friend with this diagnosis. I find the innocence, honesty, and straightforward way in which Lola conveys information on what works for her, as she struggles with symptoms, very refreshing. I think all of you will agree. And even though Lola wrote this post about dealing with dissociative issues, I think her helpful tips are applicable when dealing with most mental health issues. The theme that carries throughout her message… gentle. Stop by her blog and be sure you click on her disclaimer page.  May I present the fabulous Lola.

Ideas for Dealing With Dissociative Symptoms – What Helps Me and What Doesn’t

05DEC20123 Comments

by Lola in Mental HealthPosttraumatic Stress Disorder Tags: ,


Dissociative Symptoms are something I am continually struggling with. For me they most frequently include

  • emotionally disengaging from situations – I am present and notice what’s going on, can talk or do something, but I have no emotional response other than “whatever” about anything. Or, if it’s more extreme, I feel not even “whatever”, but absolutely numb, like a robot just reacting mechanically when prompted in the way it’s been programmed to. When the disengagement is more extreme, I still kind of notice what’s going on, but my talking or other reactions slow down or stop altogether.
  • staring off into space – I am losing track of whatever I am doing and just stare. Sometimes it’s conscious and I know I’m doing it, but can’t look away from that invisible point or I don’t want to stop staring. Other times I’m not aware of doing it while I’m doing it, kind of like you are not usually aware of being asleep while you are asleep.
  • feeling disconnected from myself – I stop being convinced that my body really belongs to me, that I am really me, that this is my voice I am hearing, or that it is even me doing the speaking.
  • daydreaming – I am away in my mind, entertaining thoughts of whatever. It’s similar to the staring. Sometimes I am aware that I am daydreaming but can not or do not want to stop it, other times I am unaware that it’s happening.
  • partially disconnecting with the world around me – I am notorious for temporarily losing my senses, like genuinely not hearing someone when they talk to me, not seeing something I should be seeing, etc. It happens especially often when I get only one single sensory cue. For example I will be more likely to hear what my mom says if I can see her talking to me, too. But if she’s outside my field of vision and hearing is the only source of telling that something is even going on, I often don’t hear anything.
  • forgetting things right after they happened – I am equally notorious for this one. It happens all the time that my mom tells me I that I had just answered her, but I have no memory of having said anything or what we were even talking about. Or that I look down at my hands holding something and I have no idea I ever picked that up or why I did and what I wanted to do with it. Often I find myself in some place around the house and have no idea why I went there. For example mom sends me to get the mail and tell her okay, and then I suddenly find myself at the door and have no idea why I am at the door, if it was for a certain reason, or how I even got there and certainly no memory of having talked about getting the mail.
  • blank spells – I lose entire chunks of memory at once. I have blank spells for most of my childhood abuse, but also perfectly ordinary seeming things. For example I just discovered that I have next to no memory of the day I went hiking in the mountains with my family last summer. Nothing obviously bad happened, mom says I seemed to have enjoyed the trip, there are pictures of smiling me in hiking clothes on the mountain, but while I have a vague sense that yes, it could have happened, I lost the memory.

Dealing with those dissociative symptoms is an ongoing challenge. That’s why I thought I’d make a collection of my thoughts regarding what I find helpful and what doesn’t help me at all. Here goes. I’ll do the unhelpful ones first – they’re easier. ;)

 What I find UNHELPFUL in dealing with dissociation:DissociationN

  •  others trying to get me to “snap out of it” – I have had people touching me, shaking me, speaking loudly or even yelling at me and I found all of that extremely disturbing. Imagine someone letting a police siren blare right into your ear to rouse you from sleep. It stresses me, and feels like catastrophe is about to strike. So it’s a big bad fucking idea.
  • others becoming scared by it – I suppose it can look creepy, especially when I get an empty stare or my reactions slow down or stop altogether. I have had people get really nervous about it, unable to stand watching me be like this, and the more scared fuss they make, the more it feels safe to stay the heck away.
  • others getting mad and acting like I do it on purpose – I can’t count the times when people have been upset with me over not having heard something, forgetting things or not giving them the reaction they desire. I can’t count the times I have been told to “get my act together” and stop acting dumb/silly/whatever. It’s not helpful. I often have no control over it and getting mad at me for something I can’t control is stupid. How would you feel if someone got repeatedly mad at you because your hair is too short for their liking? I can understand that it’s annoying to deal with me dissociating, but getting mad at me for it, for something I can’t just change, is not going to help.
  • punishing me for dissociating – I have had people tell me “tough shit” or “forget it” when I had no memory of something that had happened, probably thinking that if they didn’t indulge in enlightening me or something I’d pay better attention next time. Not working. Again, it’s not something I do on purpose.
  • getting left alone with good advice – A lot of the time I was taught a technique (counting things, naming x number of things I could perceive with my various senses, giving my senses strong input…)  and then told to use it and that’s it. But it’s not that easy. Having a tool is good, but being left alone with operating it is a bit much.
  • making me stay in distressing situations – often I dissociate more severely in response to something stressful. I have had my share of people thinking I should “brave it”, thinking it would desensitize me and help me see that the situation is not threatening or something, but instead of doing that it only reinforces that staying dissociated is needed in order to stay safe.
  • beating myself up over dissociating – I used to get angry at myself or disappointed or discouraged over dissociating. Suffice it to say that that’s not helpful at all.

What I find HELPFUL in dealing with dissociation:DissociationY

  • present, calm and no-fuss reactions – dissociation might have become a habitual reaction and can happen without any obvious current outside stress, but it is a stress reaction nonetheless. The calmer and safer my environment, the easier it is to get out of it.
  • patience and understanding – I know it’s annoying when I dissociate in inconvenient moments, when others need to tell me the same things again because I didn’t hear it the first time(s) around, when I can’t remember something that just happened or when I become absent in situations where you’d rather I stay present. It’s annoying for me, too, and I am working on dissociating less frequently. It’s helpful when I meet patience and the understanding that this is a hard task.
  • being made aware in a respectful way – I am often not aware I am dissociating, and getting asked “honey, are you listening to me?” or “Are your feelings there?” can help. In the same way it helps if someone notifies me of dissociative behavior. A simple: “You are staring into space. Are you okay?” or “Can you look at me, so I can see if you are registering what we talk about?” can make a difference.
  • gentle orientation – when I am more severely out of touch with the world and try to come back, I often have trouble getting my facts straight. What reality do I go back to? In my case there’s often a certain insecurity about where I am, how old I am, who I am with etc. In those cases getting casually told and affirmed of what reality I am seeing and returning back to helps.
  • help with applying helpful strategies – I can do the counting or naming sensory input or giving myself strong sensory input, but I can’t always do it on my own. Gentle prompts – if some situation stressed me into dissociation, I need to get away from that situation. I need to feel physically safe and emotionally safe.
  • engaging activities – sometimes the most helpful thing my mom does is engaging me in something fun, something energetic or something that is likely to elicit a positive emotional response. Music works well. When I am having a longer period of time when I repeatedly slip away from the here and now, she’ll often put on music for us to dance to, or suggest a game of playing tag, or anything else that helps me be more involved with what’s actually going on.
  • reassurance that someone wants me back – this one is very simple, but really helpful for me. My mom keeps on telling me that she wants me there with her, all of me. That she wants to have me back. I struggle with feeling wanted, so this makes a big difference, even when I can’t immediately react to it in the situation.
  • learning to read the internal signs – nobody can help me do that one, because it’s only about me using the cues I get from the outside to take notice of what’s going on inside when I am starting to dissociate, so that I get better at telling that it’s happening.
  • wanting to remain present – this one is also something I can only do on my own, obviously, but it’s very helpful. Actively fighting dissociation when I notice it, actively wanting to remain present, actively wanting to remain in touch with what I feel and being motivated to keep on working towards remaining present is one of THE most helpful things for me.
  • actively creating safety – this is an important and very effective one for me. Noticing what’s going on and wanting to remain present are good and well, but I need to feel safe in the situation I want to remain present in as well. For me creating safety often means to seek out mom. Or it means to talk to her about something that is bothering me. Or it means to remove something that is bothering me. And of course looking for ways out of situations that are more than I can take.
  • becoming aware of and actively trying to hold on to feelings and to expand what I can take – this ties in a lot with safety. The safer I feel, the more I can consciously try to stay connected with what I am feeling and to tolerate the presence of the feeling.
  • keeping calm, being patient and tolerant of failure – this is the one I struggle most with. In trying I will obviously slip up and fail a lot and if I am not tolerant of that and of setbacks, I will not be getting anywhere. That one is so easy to write down and so hard to do. But I’m still trying, so I guess I’m still good.

Phew, long post, and that’s all for now. For all of you who are struggling with dissociation, I’ll be happy to hear what you find helpful or unhelpful for yourself

The View From The Rabbit Hole

Jessie Willcox Smith's illustration of Alice s...

Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration of Alice surrounded by the characters of Wonderland. (1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

dissociative identity disorder 2

dissociative identity disorder 2 (Photo credit: hunnnterrr)

It’s 2:04 AM where I live. Just pulling out/coming around from the scary part of dealing with Dissociative Identity Disorder. When I first accepted this diagnosis, it came after several months of denial. I had lost time here and there, chalked it up to my body’s response to trauma and physical ailments that would just “shut me down”. I thought I would fall asleep at inopportune times and wake with little or no memory of what had happened. I was being treated at the time with antidepressants and some anti-anxiety meds and was aware of anecdotal tales of other people who had similar time lapses during their days. But then something happened that made me reevaluate all that….and scared me to death.

I live in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. One late afternoon I woke up/ came too in an unfamiliar place. I found myself sitting on a bench in Chicago O’Hare airport departure area. One problem…..three days of my life were missing, I  dressed for Philly weather and not the October chill of Chicago, I had a ticket stub in my pocket, and I had NO IDEA how I had gotten there. Family members back home had no idea where I was, and I had no idea how I had gotten to Chicago….or why. Fear gripped my heart and soul. My thinking was still a bit muddled. I managed to make it back home and immediately started on a quest for answers. I won’t bore you with all the details along the way, but then it happened again. This time, I had a witness who provided me and my health professional team with a first hand account of my bizarre behavior, physical transformation, personality change, and his impression as well as his fear. He at first thought I had been invaded by some “evil spirit” and my behavior from his point of view just defied logical explanation.

Well, this was my first confirmed and verified account of DID…..although in hindsight there had been others.  Since then, I have transitioned/ dissociated many times. It took a good two years for me and my treatment team to find an approach that showed hope for recovery…..after much trial and error. I do not have many of these extended episodes of losing time anymore, but it still happens. The number one trigger that I am still trying to  find ways to cope with in a healthy way is that of direct or perceived violence directed towards me.

It’s not perfect. I am not cured. But I have made real strides toward recovery with the goal of integration or coöperation within the distinct and unique personalities residing in my physical body. Conventional psychology states that severe trauma from early childhood… so horrible that they produce emotions that are truly too overwhelming for the preschooler to handle, cause a split in the development of self…..allowing for alternate personalities to emerge as a protective mechanism for the one being abused.

It has been a humbling experience, dealing with this diagnosis. It also comes with a whole host of personal, medical, career, relationship issues that i never dreamed were possible before I actually lived them.  And there is no ONE treatment plan that works for all people… is the case with most psychological issues, it is trial and error.

So, I have made real progress in my recovery. But I know I am not out of the woods yet. My recent surgery and interaction with the traditional medical system sent me into a brief relapse, And for anyone out there who has never experienced this emotional illness,  the best analogy I have for it comes from Alice in Wonderland. It truly feels like I fall down a rabbit hole and enter an alternate world that cannot be rectified with my view of reality…..yet it happens.

Imagine waking in the morning, going about the routine of you day, and then somewhere along the way your entire memory just goes blank. You think this has lasted for few minutes, but everything else in the real world shows you that it has been days. Terro then sets in…..what did i do, where did I go, did i do something to hurt myself or others. In a word Terror.

So dear friends, I recently fell down that rabbit hole again. And I am trying to quickly resume my recovery and get back on track. But it takes time, and support. I do not have a history of drug abuse or alcoholism. I held a six figure salary job as a female home builder developing new home communities up and down the East coast of America, I raised my children, and gave much time, knowledge, and inspiration to the young women around the country competing in élite level gymnastics. But all that is all on hold now.

As scary as this sounds, and believe me it terrified me at first, I am determined to move forward and creating a second adulthood on my terms in a way that allows me to give back… contribute. Thanks for hanging in there, reading this post, and trying to understand. I am here as a source of support and information for all people dealing with mental illness of any kind. I appreciate all the support I have received along the way, and wish to pay it forward.