Archive for March, 2012
In my last post on Hypervigilance, I talked about some tools to help you break it down, to question yourself, give yourself pep talks, witness your experience, and live in the now. I hope to do that this weekend to continue working on my current Epic Win to Bust Hypervigilance.
Some more of the SuperBetter Quests from the “Mind Master” Power Pack were quite fun to do in working to bust hypervigilance. A really good one was to write your “Side Kick”, which is that part of your brain doing that ultra-fast reactivity or working over time to over analyze everything, a Thank You note to tell it 10 reasons how it helps you both survive and enjoy life. Here’s my Thank You note to my Side Kick:
Dear Side Kick,
Thank you for helping me survive and enjoy life. There are a zillion things you do for me, but I want to thank you for the following 10 things today. Thank you for helping me:
1. Keep safe, by recognizing strange behavior and possible predators on the street
2. Do well at work
3. To understand what’s important to people
4. From saying things that I shouldn’t say
5. Make decisions about what I want
6. Identify my goals
7. Set boundaries that keep me comfortable
8. Identify what is normal and what’s not
9. Cope with things like nightmares or high stress
10. Be a great problem solver
Another thing I liked learning about this week from another SuperBetter Hero was to make a list of everything you like without any influence or thought of what someone else thinks of it. I think this is a good quest for Hypervigilance and Avoidance. One of the things I’ve been dealing with this past year is continually hearing when my abuser said things like “You shouldn’t like this. It sucks.” And then I felt like, I couldn’t like those things. Now I have no one to judge me for what I like and don’t like. I can like whatever I like and do whatever I please, whenever I want. So I’m going to give that a whirl.
I promised myself I’d at least check in on the Negative Self-Talk tracking I did over the past couple of weeks even if I have no real answers to work on it so that it goes down over time.
I am very sure I missed a lot of negative self-talk in this tracking, but what I did track does give me a clear picture of:
- My biggest offenders: I’m sorry and “should have”
- Times of day I say these the most: Not a big surprise here, but when I get up and commute to work in the morning and after work
It did help to track it or be consciously aware because I noticed when I was saying I’m sorry or “I should have” thinking “I could have prevented that from happening to you” versus when I’m saying sorry to just empathize with someone, such as “Oh that really sucks.”
My next steps to working on Negative Self-Talk is to pay more attention to the context of it and then to notice the consequences of it. What situations trigger the negative self-talk?
I finished the 7 Day Tiny Risk Taking Challenge! Each day I did something that scared me every day. Granted some of these things might seem small to others, but they helped me tackle some of the things I am dealing with like anxiety, hypervigilance, anticipation of being judged, not being my own self-advocate, and umm what seemed to be becoming an unhealthy smart phone addiction. So here are the results.
Day 1: Take 5 min to relax
How did I feel after I took that risk? Amazing. Why don’t I take the time to do this more often?
Day 2: Tell another person with PTSD my story and exchange ideas
How did I feel after I took that risk? I felt like I am not alone.
Day 3: Ask for something I will never get
How did I feel after I took that risk? I actually got what I asked for! When the heck does that ever happen? Maybe I should try asking for things more often and not let it get me down when someone says no. People won’t always say no.
Day 4: Share my win and progress with my friends
How did I feel after I took that risk? I was excited, but felt like no one cared except the person who was closest to me.
Day 5: Say no and stand up for something I needed
How did I feel after I took that risk? I felt horrible. Like a complete jerk.
Day 6: Turn off my phone for 4 hours
How did I feel after I took that risk? Strong. 🙂 And really, I didn’t miss anything.
Day 7: Write down 3 good things that happened the past 3 days and the reason why you think that event happened the way it did
How did I feel after I took that risk? Like I want to do more things that rock and usually those things happen when I make an effort to spend time with people or do something I enjoy.
Is my life better today that it was seven days ago?
One of the reasons I also picked up the workbook Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence was I noticed they had a whole section on controlling muscle tension. My entire life I have had muscle tension in my neck, shoulders, and shoulder blades. I also have lately noticed the tension in my triceps and jaw. I always thought that this was normal until I finally brought it up to someone and they just looked at me in horror and said, “That is not normal.” Tension and stress is definitely something I want to work on.
The workbook discusses several reasons why it’s important to keep your tension level low including:
1. In order to decrease your tension you need to be able to detect what your tension is
2. It’s easier to relax and bring your tension down if it is already low
3. High levels of tension impair your ability to think clearly
4. Bad habits are more likely to be activated when your tension is high
5. Chronic tension and hyper arousal can weaken you physically, including higher resting heart rates and blood pressure
6. Higher muscle tension levels make you more vulnerable to losing control, including panicking, losing your temper or breaking down
Walking through the exercises really helps to bring the tension down in my body.
The tension exercises in the workbook has you score your level of tension from 0-100. My favorite exercise from the workbook is to do a body scan and walk through each of the major muscle groups where you experience the most tension and tense them then let go of the tension until you can bring your tension levels down to 30 or lower. You can do this at any time of the day or anywhere really.
Go ahead and try the body scan:
1. What’s your tension score (0 being the calmest and 100 being the worst you’ve ever been)?
2. Where do you feel the most tension?
3. Take a deep breath for 5-10 seconds, then breath out and breath normally for 5-10 seconds.
4. Over tense the muscles with the most tension and then let it go. For example…
“Close your eyes real tight. Feel the tension in, around and behind your eyes and then relax your eyes, keeping your eyes gently closed.”
- “Straighten your arms in front of you, reaching across the room, and tense your triceps … and then relax your arms.”
- “Clench your jaws and study the tension throughout your jaws… and relax your jaws and let your lips part slightly.”
“Shrug your shoulders up. Now bring your shoulders back so you feel the tension in your shoulders and back … and relax.”
5. What’s your tension score now?
Repeat until your tension score is lower than 30.
Now to try to remember to do this and breath more often. I also find rolling out on a foam roller helps big time! But, that’s probably because I over do it exercising as I talked about in my previous post on Battles Against the Bad Guys. 😉
The past couple of weeks I thought I did pretty well on my last quest to be my own self-advocate that I decided it was time to move onto a new quest, to work on hypervigilance or what I call “my broken babel fish” to channel Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
That’s a pretty tall order, so I decided to use one of SuperBetter‘s Power Packs, the Mind Master, to help me. First let’s explain what hypervigilance is, as I didn’t even know what it was before the workbook, Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence, the Internet, and therapy brought it to my attention.
Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. – Wikipedia.org
One of the Power Pack’s Quests did a pretty amazing job of demonstrating my hypervigilance or hyper arousal. It was to Track Internal Dialogue for 24 Hours! From just going to bed to commuting to work, I already saw how much negative internal dialogue I have and it’s mostly around how I think people are judging me. Here’s some examples:
10 PM Monday, March 19, 2012 through 7 PM Tuesday, March 20, 2012 Log:
- “coworkers perceive me negatively because of X”
- “I’m taking too long to do those things”
- “I feel like everything is just magically expected to happen”
- “I think they think I’m lying and that I’m the bad guy. I’d like people to acknowledge for just once that I didn’t do anything wrong. Why do I have to feel guilty?”
- “Afraid someone is upset at me for something I did”
- “Why are they being so backstabbing about needing more time to do this work?”
- “They think I’m ridiculous for playing this game and spending so much time on this”
- “No one is really supporting me so why am I bothering?”
That’s a whole lot of negative thought! So now how do I change my negative dialogue?
There seems to be a bunch of good tools to help you do this. Here’s a few I learned so far:
- Question yourself: In the workbook, they talk about in the chapter “The Power of Negative Thinking” to stop to think to ask yourself questions like, “Am I responsible?” “Am I obligated?” “Is that a feeling?” “Is that really how I feel?” Or what one of my allies asks me a lot, “Do you think that’s really true?”
- Give yourself a pep talk: And to stop to give yourself a pep talk “to help you sufficiently increase your commitment and determination to break your negative self-talk habits.” For example, say something like “I did it again! Darn. How frustrating. I’m going to break these habits if it’s the last thing I do. I know it’s not good for me!”
- Witness your experience: In SuperBetter, in the “Mindfulness” Power Pack, they offer quite a few ideas for being mindful, including: “Witnessing your experience means you watch yourself with the same detached, neutral attention you’d use to glance out the window. Notice the thoughts or physical sensations in your body without labeling them as “good” or “bad.” Stay present to your experience without trying to stop it.”
- Live in the now: I read this article on the Tiny Buddha blog that just reminds me how I don’t take the time to really live in the now. My mind is running full steam often thinking all those negative thoughts I demonstrated above. I also don’t ever really take a few minutes to just relax. The SuperBetter “Mindfulness” Power Pack also has quests to take 5 minutes to just breathe.
And that brings me to a Quest I decided to pick up I learned from the Tiny Buddha blog “The Tiny Risk-Taking Challenge.” The author suggests you ask yourself the question, “What would my life be like if I did something that scared me every day?” And then to live that question for 7 days. So I decided to incorporate some of the quests I’ve given myself to tackle hypervigilance, anticipation, avoidance, and other symptoms of PTSD with this challenge. The first one starting with taking 5 minutes to relax and meditate. We’ll see how it goes by the end of the 7 days!
This week was for some reason tough. I had a nightmare every night about being attacked. One night the nightmare was about being attacked in my home again. I ended up leaving the house to the back yard and found all these dead bodies were strung up in the trees. One of the bodies fell down and I found she was actually still alive so I started to untie her and help her get to her feet as the perpetrator started to come towards us very angry that I was helping her and she was still alive. Then I woke up.
In the SuperBetter forum a little discussion came up about what qualifies as a Battle Win vs. a Battle Fail against our Bad Guys. Since you don’t really have control over having a nightmare or not, I considered that I didn’t wake up drenched in sweat and in tears, that this nightmare was a win. Just like if someone was experiencing pain from an injury, you can’t prevent the pain, but you can bare with it and get through it. As someone explained it best, “I think a win is you come face to face with the bad guy, but you don’t let it ruin your day. None of us can really expect to completely avoid our bad guys, but just not letting them take us over is a big win.”
This week I helped someone else through SuperBetter also. While being conscious about their thing that they need to quit worked for them, the more I thought about when I was saying something that was negative self talk (“I would have…”, “I could have…”, “I should have…”, “I’m sorry”, “I feel bad for…”), the more I ended up doing it. As I remember Jane McGonigal explaining in her book Reality is Broken, you can learn from and even enjoy failure. And it will help you get to the wins! So I’m not going to let a few losses get me down.
In therapy I talked about someone at work I find I’m standing up for more and more now that I understand why she does certain things. I need to do that for myself. The negative self-talk and guilt go hand in hand. I feel guilty about doing something for myself and standing up for myself because it may not benefit or interrupt someone else. But, I need to do things for myself and not worry about how it impacts someone else. I am human too and deserve to be treated like everyone else.
I also discussed how I use exercise as a way of coping or a way of avoiding dealing with things that bother me. It’s the one thing I feel like I have control over. And I may over do it sometimes. This week’s therapy session was probably the first time I just ranted for 5 minutes or so about things that bother me instead of just avoid them. I felt a little out of control, but also that it was a major break-through in some way.
I had set my first Quest in SuperBetter to “Track My Negative Self-Talk”. In the workbook, I remember reading that “to break any habit, you need to increase your awareness of that habit. Awareness precedes change. One way to do this is by carefully observing and documenting the habit when it occurs.” – Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence Workbook
So I made a form to help me track my negative self-talk. The only problem is, I can’t access it on my smart phone, which is the easiest place to go and track something that at any given time of the day. But, I will try to be dedicated!
Here’s the form. It’s simple, but keeps track of the types of negative self-talk I talked about earlier, when I’m saying them, and how often.
And the results so far this week.
A week ago after a month of debating back and forth, I sent out an email to my friends to tell them my plan of using SuperBetter, the workbook, and therapy to get better and ask them if they’d play the game with me. Luckily, quite a few said yes, they would help me, but how? I started to think of things I needed help with and who I could see helping me with what. These are the missions I came up with so far.
Allies Mission Ideas
Mission #1: Encouragement and Remind me to Power Up – Weekly check in
I have one friend in particular who always inspires me whenever he talks about his day-to-day stuff. One of my most favorite Power-Ups is to learn something new. Undoubtedly I almost always learn something new around him.
Mission #2: Work on Social Anxiety and Isolation – Discuss when I anticipate and worry rather than do – Weekly check in
I have a group of friends who I often feel isolated from. I think it’s because of some of my behavior. I’ve heard they often think I don’t really sync with them or I don’t have the same sense of humor as them. I find that kind of funny, but I get it. And despite that, I really like this group of people and want to continue growing stronger relationships with them. The person from this group who I am thinking about for this mission is actually one of my heroes. She is an amazing person who has accomplished so much, is hardworking, goal oriented, adventurous, fun, introspective, kind, caring, hilarious, and inspiring. All the things that come natural for her, don’t come natural for me. I could learn a lot from this person.
Mission #3: Help Fix My Broken Babel fish – Every other week
This mission got turned down already! But, I think it would still be fun.
I have what I like to call a broken Babel fish. I hear people say something and think they mean something else, which is usually something negative. I almost see drawings being involved here with what was said, what was heard, what they really meant. Then I’d figure out why I thought they meant something negative and stop doing that. This is something we could do once a week or every other week.
Mission #4: Work on Avoidance
I have one friend who asks me how things are going at work, with music, and with other stuff on a regular basis. I don’t know how he can help me work on this yet though. Maybe help me set small goals and check-ins to get me to be able to work on music and go to the dentist.
Mission #5: Stop Negative Self-Talk
I have two friends who are already great at calling me out on this. When I first started dating my boyfriend, he actually made me say two positive things about myself every time I said something negative. I hated doing that so much, that surely the negative put-downs came to a halt.
But, the sorry’s, should have’s, could have’s, forgot to’s, supposed to’s, and “I feel” statements ending with words that are not emotions just keep on coming. And once and a while a negative statement slips out. He has gotten pretty good at countering them with the following statements, which is pretty much what the Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence workbook tells you to think of when you go to say these things.
- “Why are you saying you’re sorry? Could you have stopped X from happening?”
- “You’re not supposed to do anything. You can do whatever you want.”
- “Are you responsible for that?” Or “Do you have any power over that?”
Mission #6: Self-Advocacy – Every two weeks check in
I have one friend who already is pretty attentive to when I don’t ask for something or take something I want. We could check in and tally up my battles for when I was my own self-advocate and where I may have lost, and learn from there. I hope over time I learn to be my own self-advocate.
Mission #7: Goal Check Ins – Every two weeks check in
I have one friend, like me, who is really big on goals. On one hike we talked a lot about goals and I really liked learning about her goals as well. I think she would be a great person to check in with and keep each other motivated on our goals.
Here’s my Quest ideas so far for the game SuperBetter to help work on some of the problems I identified in my previous post. Next I will write about my Allies Mission ideas.
Track Negative Self-Talk – Daily
Track your negative self-talk on a daily basis using a Negative Self-Talk Tracking Form. I created an online form using Adobe Forms to make it easier to track to see my results over time. The form tracks how often and what times and days you say phrases of concern such as:
- “should…” “should have…” “I could have…”
- Self-Put-Downs of your entire personality or character (e.g. I’m stupid, I’m retarded, I’m such a fuck up, etc.)
- “I feel…” statements ending with words that are not emotions (e.g. “I feel obligated…” “I feel overwhelmed…” “I feel sorry for…”
- And my greatest offender, “I’m sorry” (Apologies for no reason)
Avoidance: Track when I won’t ask questions to avoid conflict
After one therapy session, I got the assignment to identify when I’m ok with communicating and when I’m not and what the correlation is to conflict. In what I did test this out on, almost everything was because I was afraid of conflict and I was afraid of being judged.
This one I would like to most certainly use SuperBetter’s Battles to work on it. I’m not good at doing this one yet in my day to day. So maybe something like reflecting on situations afterwards will help me start being more aware.
Avoidance: Work on doing things or going places that I associate with my abuser
There are some places and things I would love to do that I just clam up about when I’m even just thinking about it. Some are going to certain restaurants, eating eggs, potatoes and spaghetti, working on music, drawing and working on creative projects, and going to the dentist.
I will eat eggs, potatoes, and spaghetti, but I feel completely nauseated when I do.
Last week I went to a bar and restaurant because I wanted to spend time with my friends. But, I felt really uneasy about going there. I dug deeper to figure out why and remembered both times that I went to that place resulted in some pretty bad nights when I went home. The first time I went there resulted in such a violent fight that I was covered in bruises for two weeks. That night was also significant because I almost got out of there and I think I would have gotten help then like the night that I did finally leave. But, I went back. I didn’t want to tell my friends I felt uneasy about the place and why, and I decided I was strong enough to disassociate the place with my ex. It is an irrational fear. I can go there as long as he is not there to hurt me.
I hope I can continue to break through these things and be able to do them again in the future. Some might take more work than others.
Self-Advocacy: Treat myself like I treat others and how I want to be treated
One thing I discussed in therapy is how I have no problem at work identifying if something is a waste of time, money or resources. But, when it comes to something I want or need, I spend an endless amount of time anticipating judgment or worrying about it rather than just asking and reacting. If I treat things I want the same way I treat a problem at work, I will ask for what I want and spend a whole lot less time, money, and energy on it. I also find it takes a whole lot less time to react to someone than anticipating what will happen if I ask for something. I don’t think this exact way of thinking will work for everyone, but it helps me act in my best interest better.
When I started therapy last year I set the following goals:
- To have closure
- To build confidence
- Not to repeat the same mistakes
- To change my relationships by having good communication and strong friendships
I had no idea what I was dealing with. Through therapy I found I was:
- Doing a lot of anticipating for fear of being judged
- Doing a lot of negative self talk
- Saying a lot of “Supposed to’s”
- Having a lot of nightmares
- Having a lot of irrational anxiety for unknown reasons
- Doing a lot of avoiding of conflict by not asking questions
- Not being my self-advocate by not asking for things I want or need or putting my foot down for myself
I chose the workbook Healing the Trauma of Domestic Violence: A Workbook for Women because the chapters spoke exactly to the things I wanted to work on. It covers:
- Strategies for Letting Go
- How to Stop Negative Self Talk in the chapters “Feel Better by Changing the Way You Talk to Yourself” and “the Power of Nonnegative Thinking”
- How to manage stress by controlling Muscle Tension
- How to get rid of your guilt
- How to get rid of “Supposed to” beliefs
- How to be assertive
- How to overcome fear
- How to identify potential perpetrators
I’m not that far through it, but I already see it gives you some great tools to help you get better, such as a Negative Self-Talk Tracking Form. But, it can be hard to get through it. It is also difficult to deal with PTSD because I often feel very isolated. And I think I know that some of the reasons why I am isolated is because of the behavior I have adapted over the years from being abused.
Now that brings me to SuperBetter!
With SuperBetter you can:
- Identify your goals
- It is probably better for these to be broken down into smaller missions that you can accomplish in a day or week
- Identify your “Bad Guys”
- These are the things I listed above like anticipating or saying a lot of “Supposed to’s”
- Identify your “Power Ups”, the things that make you feel better
- Power Ups can be anything as small as “look at pictures of kittens” to “go for a walk at a park” to as a big as “going to some place new and foreign”, whatever makes you happy and feel empowered or excited about life
- Invite Allies, your close friends and family members, to join you in the game and assign them a mission
- Your Allies can also assign you missions
I already see some immediate benefits here to playing the game.
- It can make getting better fun
- It helps break down isolation
- You are more likely to put the effort in to meet your goals
- You can check in daily or weekly and see immediate results
Here is a story of a person with Crohn’s disease who played a game similar to SuperBetter for more information on how it works: