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DISCLAIMER: I (43f) am not a medical professional. I don’t guarantee any of these self-realizations, tools, routines, notes, words of advice will work for everyone. I don’t claim my philosophy to be academically accurate. I have used what I have learned -or interpreted- from six years of psychotherapy (twice a week), three levels of DBT, my own reading, research on the endocannabinoid system, from the experiences of others and from observing MY patterns of emotion and behavior. Whatever seems to work consistently / dependably for me, I keep notes on. But what works for me or makes sense to me, may not, for you.
Thank you for the gold✨!! It makes a huge, positive difference to not see ads for a while. Sincerely grateful ♥️ Please don’t grade this like a book report. Please don’t criticize me, or this in any way. It’s extremely triggering. Apologies for incomplete sentences, formatting, spelling errors, grammar, etc, especially since I’ve copy/pasted most of this text from my previous posts in cptsd and other similar subreddits.
here are the guidelines that literally save my life on a regular basis.
My CPTSD is very acute, and needs to be monitored vigilantly. But, I’ve had no suicidal attempts since 5/17/17, my last Semicolon day. And I’ve found a lot of moments of genuine joy since then.
Keeping A strict routine.
I mean, waking up, working, Netflix-ing, lazy time-ing around the same times of day or same days each week. Including eating the exact same thing the same day of the week. Exercising the same time and days each week. Eventually my metabolism and digestive system got really predictable.
It’s a HUGE feeling of relief and self-management that at least this
part of my existence is steady and predictable. Controllable.
I’ve had to learn what kinds of meals and what size of meals work best for ME and sticking to it.
And by “working for me” I do not
mean foods that give me a sense of relief or comfort, because I don’t want to create (or continue) an unhealthy relationship with food.
I have to stay conscious about where I am getting my oxytocin / serotonin / dopamine supply, so eating is extremely intentional. Things that take a long time for me to digest, like gluten, heavy casseroles, most dairy, it interrupts my serotonin production in my gut, causing a deficit that leads to suicidal ideation. (This took me years
to figure out. I don’t have a gluten or dairy allergy, I have a sensitivity.)
It’s effort not to give in to my guilt when someone offers me something I know is going to fuck me up (office birthday cake, potlucks, etc). But I have just gone thru too many cycles of wanting to slit my wrists because of Debbie’s birthday sheet cake at work two days prior that I’m actually kind of afraid of certain foods now. Literally poison that could kill me slowly.
Recently I got braver about this when I’m out in restaurants. One of my symptoms of CPTSD is I don’t get hungry, really. I can go three whole days without actually feeling hungry and getting a craving for something. So instead of pressuring myself to eat lavish, celebratory meals when I have to go out for dinner with friends, I practice checking in with my body and mental state to see what kind of sustenance I actually
need in the moment. For example, if I go to a steakhouse, And I see they have baked potatoes for sides, I’ll ask for a single baked potato. Or if it’s a brunch spot, one single egg. I know by now what works best for my mind and body. Every time I’ve tried to do the three-meals-a-day thing it has exacerbated my anxiety, my digestive issues and is a trigger for when my meals were weighed out for me, or I was forced to eat. Maybe someone will think I’m fussy, but I just can’t care because........ Link to notes on how I figured out my diet was affecting my serotonin production, leading to severe ideation: https://www.reddit.com/CPTSDNextSteps/comments/jp1fg0/this_is_my_personal_guide_to_managing_my_cptsd/gbdgefx/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf&context=3
I have stopped admonishing myself for having a “I don’t care” attitude. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I do not have the capability to care about about certain things to a certain degree anymore, because it’s detrimental to my mental health.
I have to be choosy about where I direct my attention. Friend: Did you hear about all those protests downtown? Me: Yeah, I did. And it’s not that I’m not concerned, I just can’t care about that right now. I’m in survival mode.
Dealing with Self-harm urges:
Ice water. In the throws of a panic attack, ice cold water to the face and hands redirects the brains attention. When we submerge our face and hands in ice-cold water (like in a kitchen sink) our brain thinks we’re drowning and an automatic survival mode starts up.
Hmm ... Isn’t that interesting. That the physical body wants to survive, even when our emotions tell us otherwise. Is it possible to live inside those split-second moments?
I’m having a panic attack, but there’s no actual threat. I just know I want to hurt myself, or knock myself out. Plunk
into the water. Thoughts slow down. Suddenly my body responds to what it perceives is
an actual threat. And its response is to survive.
This is the strength they talk about in superhero origin stories. When all is lost, and something inside kicks in. It’s power. It’s courage. IT’S YOU. ♥️
Sometimes I yell and scream into the water, at everyone and everything who programmed me to flinch in this way.
[PERSONAL NOTE: I’m allowed to be angry at them, forever. I’m allowed to never, ever forgive the monsters in my life. Denying them my forgiveness has no bearing on my value, importance or worthiness as a person. Nor does it impede my ability to love others empathetically and sincerely.
I can hate my abusers and still be a good person. My hate for them is not going to rot me.]
Dealing with Panic attacks:
Grounding myself. From where I’m sitting, I try to name five things I can hear, four things I can smell, three things I can touch, etc. I change this up. Or sometimes, if I’m having a hard time switching from sense to sense in my panic, I’ll just count as many things as I can hear with my eyes closed. I say them out loud, to hear my voice outside of my skull for a change. My therapist and I made a self-soothe kit for me. It has something for each sense: a swatch of supersoft faux fur, a bottle of lavender oil, gin-gin ginger chews, a little music box thing, and a few really pretty clear blue marbles. I’ll go through each one mindfully. Remember holding marbles up to your eye as a kid? Neither did I until I tried it again. What would be in your Self-Soothe kit?
I got an elliptical machine on Craigslist for cheap. I don’t have to leave my house or deal with people when I need to burn off energy. 20 minutes of cardio helps me sleep through the night. And as I’ve posted in here before, I look and feel 15 years younger due to trauma and memory loss, so perhaps that’s the universe giving me a do-over! I want my physical health to keep up with how young I feel emotionally. My cat is my trainer.
Edit: My routine is more important to me than trying to top each workout with the next one. The other day I got on my elliptical machine for eleven minutes. Like, 0.3 miles. And I practiced being okay with that. I even made a point to post a victory post on IG about it with my ‘stats.’ 11 min / 0.3 mi / 170 cal. It’s important to me that I count these smaller steps as victories and progress, not just the big strides. It makes it easier to appreciate the tiny bits of progress in all other areas of my life.
Scaling down my social circle.
I used to work in theatre and performing arts, and was constantly trying to fit every party, every event and play, every coffee date, every vacation, every road trip, every camping weekend into every spare second of my life. I was a workaholic, topping out at about 80 hours a week sometimes. After my last suicidal attempt, I wasn’t well enough to meet up with anyone, or work more than 30 hours a week. 99% of my friends and family faded away, sometimes out of resentment towards me for being “flaky” or not reciprocating their friendship in a way I wish I could. Now that it’s been two years, I’m realizing that maybe I’ve gotten better because
I shouldn’t be working more than that. I feel a sense of stability because
I don’t socialize nearly as much as I used to. I have self-forgiveness for not being well enough or having the right programming to sustain many close friendships. SELF FORGIVENESS. The ones that stuck around are my fucking family
now. And it feels so good to understand what Family is supposed
to be, and that I have some. I’ve had some all along.
I wouldn’t have noticed the flowers, if I hadn’t gotten rid of all the weeds.
my timeline is unconventional.
At my age I’m obviously not going to have the traditional college-marriage-kids-career plan that so many of my peers do. Or ANY plan, for that matter. I’ve had to remove myself from friends, or social circles that cause me to have negative conversations with myself about this. This includes social media accounts.
It’s not that they are bad people. I just need to feel represented within my environment, and I realized that I get to choose that environment. Sure, I’ve had people not understand why I’m fading out of their group, but I can’t
care about what they think about me. It’s a slippery slope for me. (My truest friends have understood this, and do not write me off when I feel strong enough to hang out again. Unconditional love, yo.)
Dealing with feeling suicidal:
When I’m in the throes of it, I have to force myself into the reality of what is really
going on: I have an illness that causes me to see and feel things that aren’t real, INCLUDING MY ASSESSMENT OF MYSELF.
I am emotionally hallucinating.
I repeat this silently to myself. I’ll write it on something permanent, in Sharpie. I admit I’ve tagged bathroom stalls with this statement.
I think of people who are having a difficult night with their cancer, or lupus, or MS, or fibromyalgia: god damn it- this fucking illness wants me dead. Fuck this illness. It’s the illness not me that wants me dead.
This thought oscillates with I fucking wish I was dead
but the point is that it keeps oscillating. I fucking wish I was dead- no wait- it’s this illness that wants me dead and that should piss me off.
If I can move the feeling of deep shame into anger towards the things that’s making me feel the deep shame, I’ve leveled up. I’ve accepted it, but I’ve stepped just outside of it.
[PERSONAL NOTES] In moments when I’m violently suicidal, like, pretty much psychosis, I keep screens in front of me. Again, I know this is unconventional advice, lol. But I’m remembering back to when my ex husband first discarded me and how I literally couldn’t come out from under my bed for a week. I had my iPad playing twitch streams on one side of me, and reruns of Girls playing on my phone on the other side, at all times, for a week.
I must have texted someone to come help me, but I had no recollection of it until a friend of a friend who I barely knew showed up at my house with a small bag of groceries. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. If I tore my eyes away from tv for a second, the darkest most painful thoughts and images would creep in. I’d made this little fort under my loft bed that made it look like my room was empty, if anyone were to come in. I literally needed to disappear into a different space.
Before this last time, I would feel suicidal, but not to the point of being so physically drained. Before I could run to the bathroom and grab a box of pills, or get a box cutter and — before my suicidal moments had had energy. This last time, I felt like I had been in an MMA fight. I physically couldn’t move. I didn’t even make pee, I didn’t need to use the bathroom for days. I physically lost the ability to care for myself.
Like a baby. I had made myself a crib, complete with a mobile.
I needed to love myself like a baby. And you know what? THAT’S OKAY. It kept me alive. This was my first foray into self-forgiveness.
Because I got thru that, I knew it was very possible that it could happen again, and that if it did, I might not be as lucky. I’m only getting better and better at trying to die. I need treat my urge to hurt or kill myself like it’s an addiction.
This is why I sometimes say I’ve “been in recovery for three years.” The urges come up daily, and I have to acknowledge them without indulging them. It’s a conscious, step-by-step, one-day-at-a-time thing that is my priority. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
etc etc etc. That prayer applies here too.
Prepare for those dark times.
Put things you’d genuinely want to do if you weren’t feeling so low on a wall calendar. Write them in when you think of them when you’re feeling well, so they’re there when you’re too dissociated or sad-sick to brainstorm ideas. Treat Yo’self! When I was fresh out of the hospital, one of the things my therapist suggested is planning fun things for myself and literally write them on a physical calendar, where I’d have to see it all the time. This was in May 2017, so I remember getting online and looking up what bands were touring in my area. I bought a single Thundercat ticket, a single Bonobo ticket, a single tickets to see some stand up comedy, etc. The shows were all in SeptembeOctober, so whenever I had really dark moments I’d inevitably think to myself “Ok well you can’t die because then you’ll miss Thundercat.” And it doesn’t have to be things that cost money or required me to leave my home. I’ve written “bring lunch to the park”, “make a blanket fort and watch Interstellar in the dark”, “bake cookies” on a calendar, and somehow the anticipation makes it feel like an official event when that day arrives.
— Did you know you can still add dvds-in-the-mail like old school style? After the hospital and after I got into my new apartment, it was one of the first things I did for myself. Everyone loves getting mail. What better mail than a movie you’ve been wanting to see? And it’s automatic plans with yourself, a distraction if needed. The app that is used to queue the movies I want is now a detailed list of films, subjects, creative styles that I like. (More on the necessity of lists below.) I have to say, it’s a great feeling to see that red envelope sticking out of my mailbox.
It’s like having instant plans, with no pressure, no additional people needed.
-or a long hot shower at least once a day. Psychologically it feels like being hugged. Then you realize that this is a way you can hug yourself, and it’s kind of lonely and sad, but it’s also gratifying and self-sufficient. Remembering to shower seems like a given, but there are days when I don’t even have enough oxytocin to do that.
On that same note, making myself a cup of hot chocolate or tea with intention (like, drag the chair to the window, find the softest blanket, then
get the tea and bundle up with only the window to watch - oh what a good time for a grounding exercise. How many things can you hear? See?) If you had the perfectest mom or grandma, what would she do for you when you’re feeling small and sad? Do that for yourself. I am my own parent. I mean, I’ve been my own parent my whole life, I’m just not always mad about it anymore. Sometimes I’m grateful.
Making lists of things I like.
Just lists. Shows I’m currently into. Fashions. Books I should read. Movies I should watch. It helps so, so much when I’m dissociated. I just wander around my apartment, reading all my lists. My dissociation can often be so dense that I can’t remember any details about my own personality. I can’t remember favorite anythings
so my lists help bring me back to earth.
Making a permanent list of my favorite foods and keeping it on the fridge. Have you ever had to go grocery shopping while dissociated? Yeah. Super useful. Also great for when someone wants to help you out and shop for you.
Making different playlists for myself. For different moods or occasions or exercise, etc. I spent 20 years of my life having no idea what music I liked. I’d forget what bands or songs were my favorite. What was that album I played on repeat last month because I couldn’t get enough of it? Fuck if I know. Like with foods, I don’t retain this kind of self-knowledge about music. And I’m a musician!
Deep breath: SELF-FORGIVENESS. I can’t care that my brain doesn’t hold this stuff. That’s what post-it’s are for.
Accepting my depression.
I have friends who legitimately suffer from deep depression; some who (seem to) have ‘recovered’ from it. I do not compare their progress to my own.
At 43, I have accepted that I’m not going to recover from the kind I have. Mine is tangled in with CPTSD. So instead of beating myself up because my deep sadness is never really 100% gone, I just keep adding fun and happy things to my plate. I no longer spend so much energy trying to escape being sad. I just add more happy.
Accepting my depression in the moment.
If I’m sad, I let myself feel sad. I tell my work that I’m “sick” and call in, because I AM. If I had an autoimmune disease, I’d have to take extra measures to prevent getting a cold, because my cold could last weeks longer than an average person’s. So:
I have an autoimmune disease of the emotional mind. Therefore, I am prone to emotional illnesses more often than others, they can last longer than they do for others, and they can become lethal if not managed.
Explaining it this way to myself and to others has helped redefine my mental illness. I treat myself differently than I used to when my depression gets bad. I’m kinder
to myself, like when I have the flu. Trying to push through like normal is a definite trigger for shame becoming suicidal ideation for me. If I was in remission from a cancer that almost killed me, no one would judge me for not wanting to run a half-marathon.
I understand that i have a condition that literally keeps me from seeing all of myself accurately. So when someone tells me I’m amazing, I kind of have to believe them, even when I am in the depths of despair.
That feeling of worthlessness? Dispair? Self-hate? Wanting to fucking die?
I try to work on moving from feeling worthless to being pissed off that i have a disease that makes me feel worthless.
First I say it out loud, even if I don’t believe it yet. Then I think it internally, word for word. “I’m angry at this disease. I’m angry at my abusers for injuring me in this way. I’m angry.” That’s what working on it
means to me.
Shame has lethargy, but anger has energy.
Gets the blood pumping. I’ll go for a walk, clean my house, workout, or write a bunch, or take a sandwich to the park. I’ll go to a $5 movie alone (pre-pandemic). Or the library (also pre-pandemic). I’ll work an extra work shift. I’ll do some cardio. Something that uses physical energy. I use that energy in a positive way because that’s the ultimate revenge on my past abuse and subsequent illnesses. This might not be conventional advice, but the people who write the books of CPTSD usually don’t have it, so I’m dedicated to coming up with methods on my own.
Progress is not a straight line. Often, it’s not even a line, it’s a loopy-loop chutes-n-ladders path, and all my pieces are from candyland. But if I count one space at a time, and accept the setbacks as part of the journey, I know I’ll be okay.
For those with access to therapy, or similar I recommend DBT (dialectal behavioral therapy) courses to help sort out emotional reactions to past, present and future conditions. Originally designed for Borderline Personality Disorder, it has really helped me slow down my emotional “flinching,” and helped me prioritize my actual needs vs. my emotional needs. My reasonable reactions from my emotional reactions. For those who don’t, I started with free therapy programs thru the graduate programs at my local college. I discovered free trauma counseling through calling crisis lines as well, and I joined a few depression/anxiety groups on the MeetUp app. I also recommend the Mood Tracker app for self-observance and a great support system, and the Breathe Player app for focused breathing.
I will continue to add more to this as time goes by.
Please feel free to spread this around as needed. These are all things I wish I had started doing for myself decades ago.
I just add things to it as I come up with them, and I must be doing something right because at 43, I finally feel like I’m moving forward, I’m not stuck.
Kind of like.... I finally invented a bike that I can ride after having both legs blown off in a war. I’ll never be able to pretend I have legs, I’ll always look down and be reminded of my pain and trauma— if I decide to look down. The point is I’m moving forward, so I have to focus on that. And also, i made the bike
so I’m entitled to quietly feel like I’m a better at being a person than others who didn’t have to invent their own bikes. If that makes sense!
I hope this helps some of you find some love inside yourselves. I appreciate you guys so, so much, just for being able to relate. Just for being here and being you. Thank you ♥️♥️♥️