Our Sensory Toys

Over the years we’ve slowly accumulated a rather nice collection of sensory toys. These toys, often aimed at children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
and/or Sensory Processing Disorder, are also helpful for people with anxiety and trauma based disorders.

We have a complicated list of different diagnoses including both physiological and psychological. I’ve seen so many different doctors, specialists, therapists, and allied health professionals. All have given different advice and guidance on managing my symptoms.

When it comes to my mental health the things I’ve found most helpful are the ones I’ve discovered on my own, or suggestions from professionals that I’ve tweaked to better suit my needs.

No one every suggested sensory toys for grounding. Ever. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon them. Mostly they were fun toys. I knew I’d pick at skin, fingernails, and clothing when feeling anxious, so something to play with helped. Sometimes that meant taking a soft toy to therapy to hold and play with. Now I usually sit and run my fingers over the plastic bottle of Diet Vanilla Coke I have before/during therapy. It has raised bumps, lines, and the label, plus the lid. Lots of different textures.

At home I have more choice: a weighted soft toy, a fidget cube, two different tangle toys, and a weighted blanket with fiddle tags.

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Our collection of sensory toys: A weighted hedgehog soft toy, a fidget cube, two tangle toys (smooth, and textured), and our 8kg (17.5 pounds) weighted blanket with our DIY fiddle tags.

Different parts have preferred items. The pastel tangle toy is Miss 12 G’s, but not the textured tangle toy. That hasn’t been claimed by anyone yet, but I quite like it. I close my eyes and focus on the texture of each piece, try to describe it, then picture it. The fidget cube is relatively new, and liked by several of us – Miss 5 likes the colours, Miss 12 G likes pressing/touching different parts of it in order (all about patterns with her!).

The big weighted hedgehog toy belongs to all of us. Not only is it weighted (I think it’s 1-2kg), but the fabric it’s made of is all different textures that can be touched, rubbed, ruffled, and played with for all different sensations. It’s comforting (the weight), and distracting (the textures) for all of us.

That brings me to our 8kg (17.5 pounds) weighted blanket. I still have absolutely no regrets about buying it, and spending so much time sewing fiddle tags on. We still find the weight calming and reassuring, and the fiddle tags good for grounding like the sensory toys.
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Choosing To Spend Christmas Alone

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I’ve spent several months quietly pondering how I’ll spend Christmas this year. In previous years I’ve gone away with family, or visited friends. Last year I was in hospital for Christmas due to an Eating Disorder relapse – that sucked.

This year my family are going out of state for a family reunion. I’m not attending because this is a branch of the family that I’m completely unrelated to, and I don’t know at all. Multiple friends have invited me to spend Christmas day with them, but I’ve politely declined.

I want to stay at home. I want to have a special Christmas that’s as magical, exciting, and enjoyable as some of my childhood ones were. Despite ongoing abuse during my childhood Christmases were generally okay. There was no religious focus in my family. Instead of the focus was on gift giving, and feasting.

My mother was an excellent cook. Absolutely excellent! Christmas meant homemade sausage rolls, and fruit mince pies. All the potato chips, chocolate, lollies, and snacks you could imagine. Plus almost unlimited soft drink. There would be a late cooked lunch – an utterly amazing roast with all the trimmings. This in stark comparison to the rest of the year when there were strict rules around food and eating imposed by my mother.

So this year I’m creating my own feast. I’m making the fruit mince pies (just the way my mother did, and they’re absolutely brilliant!), and planning a roast lunch or dinner. I’m buying all the junk food I don’t usually eat. There will be soft drink, coffee, and perhaps a small amount of alcohol. I’m making cheesecake and/or trifle.

I intend to spend the day feasting and watching trashy Christmas movies I already own, or on Netflix. I’ve welcomed friends to visit if they choose, but this year I’m not going anywhere. I’m resting and relaxing.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Avoidance. Pushing internal stress away. Dissociating. Zoning out. Eating disorder behaviours. Self medicating.

That’s all avoidance. I’m the Queen of Avoidance. Ultimately I know that avoiding stressors instead of dealing with them isn’t helpful, but it’s still a trap I tend to fall in to. Avoidance is what lead to my hospital admission just recently.

It all began back in February. I went for some routine tests and received some very unexpected and worrying results. I was told to attend a specialist hospital emergency department as soon as possible for more tests and/or treatment. Although I was calm on the outside, I was an anxious, nervous, scared mess inside.

I had all the tests done, saw the relevant specialists, and was sent home with an outpatient appointment for follow up and hopefully a diagnosis. Then, due to sleep deprivation from the stress and anxiety of this first health issue, I experienced an episode of another severe health issue. This landed me in the local hospital emergency department for the evening until, after tests came back clear, I was allowed to go home.

All of that happened over a one week period. The stress of having to deal with serious physical health issues made me push my mental health to the back burner. I just needed to go to appointments, have tests done, get answers etc.

Bad move. It turns out that, for me, pushing mental health to the back burner sets me on a slippery slope to chaos and despair. From February to June my symptoms slowly increased. The most noticeable was the avoidance of everything inside – alters/parts were silenced, and I gradually lost all connection with everything happening inside.

At some point that avoidance started bubbling away like a volcano getting ready to explode. Others memories and emotions began leaking through. The flashbacks started and became gradually worse. Eventually I was becoming anxious at 5pm because bedtime was in four to five hours, and bedtime meant flashbacks. I tried to avoid sleeping, but that didn’t work. I switched to increasing one of my medications so that I could manage the bedtime anxiety better, and fall asleep more easily.

That’s where I was at when I went in to hospital. An anxious, stressed, emotionally worn out, nearly falling in a heap mess.

Mini Flashbacks

I think of a flashback as a scene of past trauma replaying in my head along with all the emotions from that time, and sometimes physical sensations, smells, tastes, and sounds. I usually say that I don’t really experience flashbacks because they’re never a full scene.

Wikipedia define a flashback as ‘a psychological phenomenon in which an individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience.’ It goes on to explain that it can be of any experience, happy or sad, although we tend to think of flashbacks of being negative and of a traumatic origin.

Last night I struggled to fall asleep. I’d taken my medication, and followed my usual sleep routine. Once the light was off the fear and panic kept increasing. I turned the light back on and played a game on my phone to distract myself before trying to sleep again.

Then it started. The terror. The panic. Not knowing where I was. Not being able to see anything. The urge to curl up under the covers to stay hidden. No full scenes of abuse or traumatic experience were being replayed in my head, just one tiny moment of fear and terror as a child. I turned our night light on which helped. I could open my eyes, see where we were, remind us that we’re safe, and try to sleep again.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Sometimes we’ll be triggered by small things – a word, a smell, the sight of specific jewellery that a relative wore, nearly anything. Sometimes it’s someone touching us,  which could just be a work colleague tapping our shoulder to get our attention. So many different triggers.

Being an adult, and being scared of the dark is embarrassing. Explaining that you need to keep your bedroom door open, or a light on in order to sleep is embarrassing. I’m hoping everything will settle, and falling asleep tonight will go more smoothly.

Weighted Blankets for DID and PTSD: Three Years On

The title is a lie, it’s been three and a half years since I bought my weighted blankets, and then reviewed them. I still do not regret buying the blankets. I can’t remember how much the 4kg lap blanket, and 8kg single blanket cost. It was several hundred Australian dollars.

Last year, between multiple hospital admissions, I finally finished sewing all the fiddle tags onto my single 8kg weighted blanket.IMG_4981

There’s lace, chain, cord, zips, velcro, elastic, corduroy, buttons, sequins, and more! When I’m dissociated and need to ground myself I feel each one, and try to describe it to myself. I focus on what it feels like, how I’d describe it to someone who has never heard of, seen, or felt anything like it. Most of the time ding that is enough to lessen the dissociation to a point where I can move and talk. It’s not a magical quick fix that works instantly, or every time, but it does help.

Whilst the fiddle tags help with grounding and lessening dissociation, the weight of the blanket seems to help most with anxiety, and flashbacks. My anxiety is often tied in with the relentless worrying that I do, and sometimes spirals out of control. The flashbacks tend to come with some anxiety, but a lot of fear, even terror. Either way, intense emotions.

The weight of the blanket helps me calm down and settle. Usually I double up the blanket, and try to make sure all of it is on me, and not hanging over the sides of my body. The relief is instant. It’s almost like flicking a switch. I go from feeling distressed, anxious, and terrified, to calmer and more relaxed. My body relaxes as soon as the weight is on me. I liken the experience to holding your breath for as long as you can, then finally being able to take a breath. Instant relief. There’s also a sense of calm, safety, and security. Under that blanket I know I’m okay, I know I’m safe.

How often do we use it? Honestly, not very often now. Maybe once a month, but it depends how we’re feeling and what’s going on. It’s actually one of our most forgotten grounding skills. As much as it’s useful, we still forget and need to be reminded to use it by friends or our treating team.

The other use we’ve found for the weighted blanket is to help manage pain. I have ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) which causes, at times, severe pain. I’m not sure how the weighted blanket helps, but at a guess I think the weight helps my muscles to relax, which in turn helps lessen some of my muscle pain. Again, not a quick fix, and not something that will help everyone, but something I’ve found useful.