Category Archives: Tattoo

Dirty word of the day: Integration

I know this will be a controversial post for some people. Many medical professionals do not agree with my views… which is fine because I do not agree with  theirs. 😉 Joking aside, many doctors, therapists, and even some people within the dissociative identity disorder (DID) community feel that integration is the holy grail of healing persons from DID.
To me? Integration is a dirty word.

If you have not read this blog before, I call my “alters”, my Helpers. Hence the name of the blog. 😉

Even now while writing this, I can feel my inner world starting to freak out. Anxiety, worry, a wish to run away, feeling overwhelmed, getting angry… that is what my Helpers deal with every time this word is said. I feel it too. Big time. I feel totally in control today and I am always out front when writing but I can still feel the weight of inner feelings especially when they are shaken up.

I can not speak for everyone else out there but I can speak for myself and I will express how I personally feel about the issue of integration. If you disagree, I’d love for you to write a blog on it and forward it on to me. I’d love to read other opinions. 🙂

Having DID is not easy. Every situation that happens garners my own emotions but then the Helpers step in with theirs as well. Have you ever been at a big get-together and try to get everyone to stop and listen to you? Can you imagine trying to come to agreements about certain important issues? There will be as many opinions as their are people. DID is a lot like that every day.
That said? Some of the same people who may drive you batty would also rush to your aid if you suddenly collapsed or started having real troubles coping. DID is a lot like that too.

I believe that my Helpers started coming in to existence between the ages of 2 and 4. I know for sure there were several there when I was 4 and 5 but I have a feeling they were there earlier. For me? I’ve never had a life without my Helpers in it. For the purpose of this blog, I will set aside all the confusion and thinking I saw dead people and just discuss my view since being properly diagnosed.

As much as life with DID can get hectic, I am never bored and never lonely. I have company at all times and honestly? I am not sure I’d enjoy life so much without it. I was once on medication that made them almost silent (and made me a zombie) and that was a very sad and lonely time for me. I am also ALWAYS full of ideas for new things and ways to use things that I myself may have never thought of.

I also have a huge issue with integrating these people whom I have come to view as such a big part of my life. Who do I get rid of first? Little “Hannah Banana”? My ever faithful sidekick Rielyn? Old man Oscar? Tilly who helped me birth a baby when I was too young to mentally handle it on my own? I am sorry but full integration is never going to happen because each of these Helpers are important to me as individuals.

I am also very aware that each of them is a part of me. A very compartmentalized part of me but still essentially “me”. While it would be all neat and tidy to roll the Helpers and I in to one person, I honestly feel I would end up completely overwhelmed. At least right now there is separation between all these opinions and emotions.

So what do I want? What do I feel is healthy?
Teamwork.
Rather than working on getting each Helper to integrate, I spend that time trying to work out the kinks in our relationships and certain actions. I will use Jenna as an example. She was always having issues with self harm and quite often these “events” were incredibly scary. I still have many scars. Trying to integrate her causes panic, more dissociation and more self harm. Working out a deal between us was FAR more productive. Jenna admitted in writing and through art that she often used self harm not only as a release but also in trying to fix old scars. A deal was made that if there was no self harm for 6 months, we would get a tattoo to cover one set of scars. 6 months later was another tattoo to cover more. Jenna LOVES her tattoo’s and I love them too. She found a new strength during a year of no self harming that she still possesses today. Integration made her run away and refuse help but making a deal with her stopped the harmful behavior and allowed me to take care of her.

One by one, we work out deals. We make rules that certain age groups MUST follow. No one under 18 drives. No one under 18 signs important documents. Only I (Heather) goes to therapy. If anyone has a concern, they can write it down and I will take care of it or help them with it. There are a few other rules that are for safety, friendship, being creative and so forth. These rules are enough for me to feel good about my team of Helpers.

There will always be mess ups, uncomfortable situations, missing time, forgotten occasions and other issues that persons with DID have but would full integration solve all of these issues? And what about all the PTSD triggers they help me through? How often I would have fled out of a movie theater, ran my car off the road at a fright, been unable to function at social events before I was able to stay more present? My life would have been far worse. I am sure of it. My Helpers came in to being for excellent reasons and I do not wish to thank them by making them null and void.  Also, I am aware of 34 Helpers… integration could or would take FOREVER. I’d rather live my life with my team. They help me and I help them. For me personally? That is enough.

Helpers

Rules

Dissociative Identity Disorder – Making deals.

HK
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is not an easy disorder to deal with. The biggest issue in my opinion is the disconnect between my Helpers and I. When they are out front, I have no memory of what happened so actually getting to know them is a difficult process. In the past 2 1/2 years I have gone from not knowing I had DID to actually being able to speak to the main Helper Julie and having the others communicate to a much smaller degree by drawing me pictures or leaving notes while they are out. I work daily on trying to communicate with them as a group even on the days when I truly feel like I am talking to myself and may in fact truly be batsh*t crazy. 😉

WarningI have had great success with Helper Polly over the past 18 months or so. She is a very angry, self harming teenager and her self harm was at a very dangerous level. It was not just cuts and scrapes, it was seriously mutilating  and a LOT of blood. Arteries were cut at times not just skin or regular veins.

Polly and I were eventually able to make a deal through many pictures and journal entries to stop the self harming. In turn, she had certain needs that she needed to be filled. Her self harming was in response to anger that she had no way to let out or deal with. If I wanted it to stop, I needed to address that time in my life when Polly was formed and take over as the adult to deal with them. It took about 6 months to get her to stop and hasn’t been perfect but she hasn’t done any self harm now in well over a year. Closer to 2 I think. I am horrible with time so I hope you will forgive my guesses as to how long since something took place. I try my best. 🙂 Either way, there has been no self harm and I have even had tattoos done to cover many of the scars. There are a few more to go but for every 6 months or so with no harm, I am willing to have scars covered up by beautiful drawings that Polly has the power to veto if she doesn’t like them. It is a deal and we both keep our word.

So Polly was my first real success in dealing with a Helper to stop negative behaviour. More recently, I have been working with my therapist to deal with an issue caused by a few young adult Helpers. This is very hard for me to talk about and I feel very exposed by doing it but I have a feeling that I should try to be open about it because others may be able to relate and hopefully feel as though they are not alone in this.
Sex. It’s a HUGE issue for me and I am sure it is a huge issue for many persons with DID. Quite often, the host (main personality) is not able to deal with sexual issues or events even if they are within the confines of a loving and safe relationship. Jokes about sex, flirting, sexual advances, sexual discussions and such are nearly impossible for the host to deal with.  This is certainly true in my case. I dissociate at the mere mention of anything sexual and it is incredibly difficult for me to even write this without dissociating. I have to stop every minute (literally) and ground myself. Needless to say… without getting too personal, my Helpers handle that issue in my life.

The trouble began when my husband started getting older than the Helpers who share that time with him. At first it was only a minor issue but now they are still in their late teens and 20’s while my husband is 52. The biggest issue is that while they lose interest in an older man, they cause a great deal of risk to all of the Helpers and I by wanting to go find someone younger. This is not something that I can allow to happen so I’ve been trying desperately to find a solution.
Julie who is usually always helpful and supportive to me and deals with the Helpers in a very calm and efficient way seemed as stumped by this issue as I was. My therapist spoke directly to her twice and while she seems to have all the answers about everything else, she was stumped too. She is not a huge fan of Lenny so that doesn’t help. He is such a great man and an amazing husband to me but not every woman has the same taste in men right? Not much of a problem until you share a body!

Julie and I have been doing a LOT of inner talking over the past couple of months and this issue has been brought up each and every time with no forward movement until this past week. It finally occurred to me that she could get the younger Helpers who have been handling that part of my life to step back and not partake in that any longer. They surely have other things they can be doing with their time. 😉 I have a few Helpers in their 40’s and 50’s so I asked Julie if she could have them begin dealing with this issue as they are more age appropriate now. Sadly me staying out front is impossible. I’ve tried so many times but it causes a great deal of damage and my therapy suffers for months afterwards. 😦
Back to my idea of using older Helpers…
Why it took me 2 years to think of that as a solution? I have no idea. I think I was too focused on dealing with what was actually happening and my fears of adultery, sexual disease etc. to look outside of those particular Helpers and even think that others may be able to help. I am not blaming myself. Those are HUGE issues to find answers for even if it looks so incredibly obvious now.

So now we have a deal. Julie will bring out older Helpers for that part of our life and she will allow the younger ones to partake in more age appropriate ventures as the need arises. My husband will be in for a shock. I’ve thought of talking to him about the solutions we’ve found but I have this little devil on my shoulder that just wants to shock him. Right now (fun) badness is winning. *laugh*

My therapist and I agreed yesterday that my Helpers are a necessity in my life and always will be. He actually said that without the Helpers, I could not survive. I’ve known that almost since the beginning of this journey but it was a bit strange to hear him say that since he was always using that most hated word “Integration”. He now sees that integration is really not the solution that he thought it was. Far more important than integration is the ability to make deals with the Helpers and work with them to become or remain as Helpers rather than “Hinderers”.
By working as closely as possible with each Helper over time and dealing with whatever issues they were created to handle for me, I can begin to heal myself and eventually them too. They benefit as much as I do  by my healing.

Rather than focusing on Integration, this is my goal (and the eventually realized goal by my therapist too). To make deals, to find ways around our issues, to work together and respect each other no differently than a group of workmates all working together towards a common goal. Some agree, some disagree, some are easy to work with, some are stubborn, some are kind, some are mean… but in the end? A finished project that works and can accomplish what it was meant to accomplish is the goal.

I wonder what the next hurdle will be? I hope its something easy like a Helper who wants to learn how to bake. Any chance of that? 😉

MT

Dissociative Identity Disorder – Making Rules

I am in no way an expert and I am sure that other people have other ways of doing  things but I am going to explain how I made rules amongst my Helpers and hope my experience can help someone out there either with DID or loving/caring for someone with it.

Long before I knew that I had DID, I was having periods of severe self harm, issues with eating, therapy being very inconsistent, some extremely inappropriate behaviours, as well as flickering in and out of interactions with people as often as every minute or so.
I had all the diagnoseable issue of memory lapses/losses and such as well but it was these issues that either caused me personal harm or threatened my recovery that I felt I needed to tackle first.

I decided on a short list of really important rules. You can decide your own. I just chose what affected me the most.

  1. No self harm, suicide attempts or alcohol.
  2. Heather is the only one that goes to therapy. Julie (Head Honcho Helper) can be there too (co-conscious) but silent until the session is over.
  3. The children can not drive or engage in any other “adults only” activities.
  4. If asked your name, you must give it honestly.
  5. Heather needs to be present as much as possible.

The list is not long but these were the 5 most important issues for me to deal with right off the bat. I was frustrated by these 5 things the most.

For me, making rules felt weird. Who do I tell the rules to? How do I know they hear me or will respect what I say? Do I even HAVE DID for real?
My nurse at the time just said to start talking inwardly about the rules and why they are so important. I also found that getting someone else to tell me the rules or recording my own voice talking about the rules then listening to it was helpful as well.

I will be honest, nothing at all changed for a while but then I decided to start making some deals with them. I knew that a teenage Helper was doing the self harm so I tried to support her and care for her like you would any teenager. I finally started getting some contact with her through pictures (usually drawn in blood but hey… it was a start). She was hurting so badly and even though I don’t know exactly why, I asked her to give me the chance to start dealing with these things myself. That I am an adult now and I can solve some of the things that are likely troubling her.  I found out that she was a big fan of tattoo’s. Trees and owls being her most loved subject matter. I decided to try something…
I made her a deal that if she did not harm me for 3 months, I would get a tattoo similar to one of her drawings on the wrist with the most damage. I had no idea if that would work but suddenly the cutting stopped. One time a new location was found but then I added that to the rule. NO cutting anywhere for 3 months.
Eventually I went and got that tattoo. I added words that I really liked and some leaves but the actual design was mostly hers. Then the deal was not to cut the tattoo. It was beautiful and expensive. If no cutting continued, we’d do the other wrist too with an owl.
I am very happy to say that I have been harm/cut free now for 20 months.

The other rules were dealt with the same way. Just gentle and respectful talk. There has to be something in for them to though in my experience. I’ve made deals like…

  • If someone takes over or arrives in therapy, they can speak for 5 minutes but they must admit who they are. After 5 minutes, they must give the session back to me. Therapy is Heathers time but often (almost always) these takeovers have a reason. They need to say something and it often ends up helping me.
  • I will allow the young ones time to colour when I can because I know they enjoy it.
  • Certain decisions are made as a group if at all possible. We have a journal together that notes may be left. They are often nasty but I overlook that. I know they are hurting. It is what they say they need that is important. Big decisions like leaving the therapist that I wrote about awhile ago were made this way.
  • I promise to NEVER discuss integration. If other parts choose to become closer to me, allow me their memories and want to be more of a part of my life? That is great but NO ONE is going to be “erased”.

It is not an exact science and you need to try to do what will work for you but eventually you will find some little pathways in to their hearts and minds.

One last and really important note. This matters a lot to me.
Try not to be afraid of your other parts. They are all you and they were all created to protect you as the host. They are not hurtful people with horrible agendas. They are hurt, sad and very often in a lot of pain. They act out quite often in inappropriate ways but that is what people in pain do. They need compassion and care just as we do. So many are young too. At least for me. Remembering these young Helpers need time to play, colour and be children. They never got to be children and neither did I so colouring and play time is important.

My Helpers total 24 (that I know of) and each one of us is important. We all have our own opinions, memories, gifts and challenges. With respect, calmness, and caring, we work better and better as a team. I hope the years that follow will bring us even closer. I wish the same for you and yours. ❤

Yellow Rose

Love, loss, and learning to live again.

MoonRemember to breathe.
I must remind myself to breathe right now as my stomach clenches in to a ball and I feel ill.
Keep breathing and keep moving forwards.

I was only 11 years old when my first baby boy was born. I was far too young to know what was going on with my body and I had no support system to help explain it. The details are best left out of this blog and there are very few people (professionals only) that I have shared the details with. I think it is more than enough to say that it was a horribly confusing and lonely birth followed by a very violent death. The people responsible should be in prison but at 11 years old that is not something you even see as a possibility. 34 years have passed now and I have sadly come to realize that true justice is something I will never get. Not in this world anyway.
Justice is not what is important here though. The one and only important fact was that this little boy lived. His life was cut horribly short but it was still a life and he deserves to be celebrated even if his death is so very far in the past.

This year is a special year for that baby boy. It was only just over a year ago that I spoke of him for the first time to others. I was so afraid that if I ever mentioned a thing about it that I would fall apart and never recover. The only people who always knew about him were the people that were there at that time in my life and none of them are in my life any longer.
A few months after talking about him to a fantastic and caring nurse, I had the chance to do some grief work and was asked if I’d ever given him a name. I hadn’t. I do remember though that all those years ago, Helper Tilly (who lived most of this time in my life for me and holds many of the memories) had wanted to call him Mark or Marcus so that was the name I gave him. Marcus.

Some time with someone who specializes in grief helped me plan and hold a small memorial for him as well. I was in hospital at the time and they have a special tree there that is for all sorts of memories and wishes. It is right beside a beautiful labyrinth as well so I made a pair of silver “ornaments”. One for Marcus and one for Tilly and I to keep. We walked through the layrynth slowly and we thought of nothing but him. Our sweet little boy. In the very centre is a large stone “alter” and we stayed there until it was time to go back to the tree.
While back at the memorial tree, I read something I had written and then tied his ornament to a tall tree branch. I left my letter under a large stone. Hopefully it is still there.
I found a small stick that had broken off the tree and was laying there on the ground so I picked it up and brought it home so that I could wrap my ornament on the “same” tree. I now have it all displayed on a small shelf dedicated to our baby boy. A beautiful wood block saying from a friend, some bubbles from my nieces wedding (every baby loves bubbles right?), and a “Hope” candle given to me at Homewood adorn his shelf.
DSCN1872
If you can see here, The ornament I made has two owls. One larger, one smaller. The larger one has two stones in it and for me that symbolizes both Tilly and I. Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy.
DSCN1875
The only detail of his life that I never attended to was choosing a date for it. I was far too young, too confused and often too dissociated to recall exactly which date everything happened and for some reason I just couldn’t choose one. It felt wrong somehow. I finally decided about 6 months ago when I was getting a tattoo that would include a flower for each of my children done in the colour of their birthstone. At this point I had to choose.

So… Marcus was my first child. The 1st is a nice date.
For the month I decided to choose the month of March. My incredible sister-in-law Zita who passed away over a year ago was born in March and I am positive that if there is a world beyond this one, she is taking care of Marcus for me until I get there. I can picture Zita and my sisters all fighting over who gets to hold him next. It’s a comforting picture to hang on to.
So March 1st, 1981 is his birthday and today marks the 34th anniversary of his short life.
TattooI am the red butterfly 🙂 and my 4 children in order starting at the bottom. March, February, September, and December.

I will admit there is a huge upside to all of these decisions. I feel like I have honoured Marcus as a life that mattered.
The downside is what I am facing this year. I’ve never really had a date so the thought of mourning his death on a particular date never happened. My sadness was always there but on “the day” my sisters and my friends have died, they are always a day that I really remember them more than on most other days.
This year is a really hard one because of that. For past two weeks I have felt anxious, sick to my stomach, and have had a sense of foreboding while waiting for this day to arrive.  Now I just feel really, really sad. I wish I could have watched him grow up and see what sort of man he’d be.
Next year won’t be so tough but for today I am sad and that is okay.

So Marcus. You mattered. Your life was important and you will always be remembered. Happy Birthday sweetheart. Until we meet again. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Creativity

I have a funny little story to tell you about a craft room and I.
It was January 2013 and I had been admitted (voluntarily) to an 8 week in-patient program for PTSD. Being hospitalized is not cheap so I vowed to make use of every second. I was quite excited when I got my schedule and saw all the classes I woudl take. I wasn’t nearly so thrilled to see “Crafts” on there several times as well. We won’t even go in to my reaction to “Horticulture” and “Mindfulness”.
Let’s just say I did not think hundreds of dollars a day were going to be well spent in a craft room.
There were 2 men that had arrived with me. One gentleman from the army and  high ranking police officer. “Crafts” didn’t thrill them either and we all whined and complained the whole way there. Even once inside the room we were still very skeptical but we had time to “waste” and had to be there so we might as well make something right?
I got in to painting a small elephant figurine and the guys went over to the leather making area. We were all sure to choose things that could be done in one session to prevent the need to return.
Well… I am not wrong often (just ask my husband!) 😉 but I was sure wrong about crafts. My mind steadied and became so calm. The time just floated by in a stress free way that time never passed for me before. I also turned out to be quite the detail painter and puffed up like a peacock as others looked at my work.
Needless to say, the boys and I overstayed our welcome that day and went to almost every available craft session for the remaining 8 weeks.
When things got really rough and my mind was spinning at a million miles a second, crafts was a very welcome break. I soon became almost dependant on that time to calm myself throughout each week. It was an oasis.
Just in case my husband is reading this I will say it again. “I was wrong”. See sweetie? I CAN say it! 😉

Since that time I have become a bit of an addict. To crafts I mean. 🙂
I have a nice large table in my office that is perpetually covered in craft supplies. Paints, pencils, coloured markers, pencil crayons, wooden shapes… I said addicted right?!
I even have a weekly craft day with my wonderful friend Mary. We don’t always do the same things but taking that time to sit, chat and be creative is good for us both.

Perhaps this will sound silly or like it can not possibly help but doing something so simple as colouring in a colouring book, drawing a sketch that looks like a house but was supposed to be a self portrait, crochet, bead work, needle crafts of any sort, painting, truly anything at all that you find enjoyable. Try to make time for it at least once a week. Far more would be better but if you are anything like me? It might all seem like a big waste of time at first.
Pay attention to how you feel beforehand and check in with yourself again afterwards. See if there is a marked difference. I am almost positive their will be. Enjoy!

 One of my favourite meditative drawings.
Crafts2

A Safer World

Have you ever been sitting in front of your TV or listening to a radio when some breaking news comes on and your attention is immediately focused on the latest tragedy? I sure have! I remember spending DAYS watching CNN after 9/11. I just couldn’t turn away for fear that I’d miss something. Looking back now I realize that i was traumatizing myself but back then I had no clue.
It’s not only news stations that bring these events in to our lives. Many popular TV shows are centered around the latest most gruesome murder.
After my 4 months of treatment I made a decision to stop watching the news, listening to radio reports or allowing any violent TV to be played in my home.
It didn’t take me very long to begin to notice something. I started feeling safer. It wasn’t what I had learned while I was in treatment that was making this particular change. It was my purposeful avoidance of any type of unnecessary negativity.
Without hearing the news, I didn’t really miss out on anything of any importance. I could get general news stories online from sites like “The Good News Network” where you can still hear the stories but hear the GOOD side as well. An example. The Ebola outbreak. The news will be giving you how many people have it, how many will likely get it, how many are dying and how seemingly hopeless catching it appears to be. I don;t need to watch the news to know how they will present this topic. It will be presented in the most fearful, attention grabbing fashion possible. Not to educate you but rather to gain viewers and make money. Educating you is not their real business.
On The Good News Network, I still hear about the outbreak but they tell of towns where the locals have worked together to eradicate Ebola from their area. How quick and out of the box thinking has worked. Will the town that managed this incredible feat be on the news? Not likely!
I am picking on the news but it really holds true for all media. They make people feel as though the world is less safe, more horrible and far more out of control than it really is. There is bad. I can’t argue that at all but there is FAR more good. I found a terrific video today online that has cemented my belief that this world is a safer, healthier, more educated place. I hope you will take some time to watch it as well and I hope it allows you to feel the same way I did.
This truly is a safer world. Breathe a sigh of relief and shut the news off. 🙂

The Amygdala and the Breath

I thought I woudl go a little further with our chat about the amygdala since people seem to be so much like me and really appreciate knowing WHY things happen the way they do. If you never read the first blog on the amygdala or want a refresher, you can find it here.
The Amygdala

So remember how I was saying that the amygdala is like a half on/half off switch and with almost any trigger that switch can be switched on VERY quickly? To me it feels like something happens and I have reacted before I have even had a chance to know what is going on. That is the amygdala talking to my reptilian brain and saying “FREEZE!”. For some it’s “RUN!” and for others it is “FIGHT!” but it happens before conscious thought has had time to form.  It actually doesn’t only feel like this, it can be exactly like that at times if the trigger is big enough.
TRIGGER/REACT!………. think
So how do we get that thinking brain involved? Rather than just reacting and ruining our day, how do we actively engage the thinking brain and have a chance to remind it that you are safe, you are in 2014, you are no longer living in your past?
It is actually a beautifully simple answer.
You breathe.
By the time you have taken the time for a nice, slow, deep, in through the nose and back out through the mouth breath, you have given your brain a chance to switch from its reptilian re-activeness in to a mindset where you can stop, think, and make better decisions.
Remember it was
TRIGGER/REACT!………. think
Now we are going to try
TRIGGER/breathe…… think… react
I assure you that your reaction will be a great deal more appropriate and you will feel good about yourself for not being as reactive as you once were.

It is a very simple answer but not at all easy to put in to practice when you are not accustomed to doing it.
So I will offer a suggestion here if I may?
Start by using little upsets throughout your day to practice. When someone cuts you off in traffic, the line at the store is long and you are in a rush, someone scares you accidentally, you trip and almost fall… all those little times when your reaction tends to be negative and quick.
Take that deep breath.
In through your nose nice and slow. Pay attention to it filling your lungs then release it slowly  through your mouth. If you are calmer? GREAT! If not? Try it again. You will find that your “switch” will start going back to its halfway point quicker and quicker with practice.
Eventually I hope you will start to notice what i do. My reactions come slower and slower now. I am able to take the breath and actually think most of the time. I like that because my reactions are more acceptable to me and I am happier with myself. It was a bit like this..
TRIGGER/breathe… think… react
TRIGGER…breathe… think……… react
TRIGGER…breathe… think…………… react
TRIGGER……breathe… think…………………. react
TRIGGER……breathe… think…………………………. react

I wish the same for you.