Jan 17

How to Reduce Stress When Reducing Stress Causes Anxiety

Reducing stress is healthy, but not when reducing stress causes anxiety. Here's how you can fear stress relief yet do it anyway to enhance your wellbeing.

 

It’s perhaps surprising, but true: the idea of reducing stress can actually cause anxiety rather than alleviate it. We do have legitimate reasons for clinging to stress despite wanting relief from it. Sometimes the mere idea of relaxing causes anxiety because we’re afraid that our performance will decline or that seeking stress relief will cause us to be judged as weak. Stress can come to be a badge of honor, too. High degrees of stress can show the world, and ourselves, how much we are achieving or how much we care about loved ones, and more.

Yes, we have reasons for clinging to stress, and feeling anxious about reducing it is normal and legitimate. That doesn’t mean, however, that stress isn’t harming our mental- and physical health. This list is just a sampling of what stress does to us. Stress can cause:

  • • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • High blood pressure
    • Heart disease
    • Angina (chest pain)
    • Obesity
    • Diabetes
    • Headaches
    • Fatigue
    • Digestive problems
    • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia

Additionally, stress exacerbates almost all existing mental disorders and physical illnesses.

You know that stress is harmful and preventing you from fully living the quality life you want to live. You know that it’s compromising your mental health, physical health, relationships, and general enjoyment of life. Yet just thinking about reducing stress causes (or increases) anxiety and fear. How on Earth do you deal with this conundrum?

Fixing the Stress Conundrum

Getting out of this trap will likely take some effort, but it is absolutely possible to reduce your stress in spite of being afraid to do so. Not only that, in the process, you can even begin to perform better than ever—which in turn will reduce stress even more.

The process of moving past your anxiety and reducing stress can involve these steps:

1. List what stress reduction means to you, both positive and negative possible outcomes. What are your goals, and what are your fears and anxieties? Be specific, and list all that comes to mind. No holding back.

Positive Outcomes That Could Come When I Reduce Stress

Example: I’ll feel great and will be able to bike long distances again.

 

Negative Outcomes that Might Happen When I Reduce Stress

Example: I wouldn’t be able to ride anyway because I’d lose my job and wouldn’t be able to afford the bike and all other equipment.

 

2. Explore your anxieties and fears about reducing stress. If they happen, what will it mean for you (what is the worst that can happen)

My Worries About the Consequences of Reducing Stress

Example: I’ll lose my job and won’t be able to afford any of the fun things that I could do.

 

What This Means To Me/The Worst that Can Happen

Example: Everyone would know that I had failed and that I don’t even have enough money for a stupid bike. I couldn’t show my face around people that know me as successful. 

 

3. Meet your fears where they are. Assume they come true. How can you use the result to work toward the positive goals/outcomes you listed above? Use the negative as an opportunity to achieve the positive.

Because This Happened (or Might Happen)…

Example: I lost my job and people are judging me as a failure.

 

…I Can Now…

Example: …pursue a different job or even a new career, something that I like better and actually would be less stressful. I might feel good enough to enjoy my life, and I really don’t have to buy $2000 worth of equipment to do so. Life isn’t all or nothing. 

 

By doing these exercises, you come to meet your anxiety about stress reduction right where it is: in your way. This helps you accept different possible outcomes, and it can also help you see that some of your worst case scenarios aren’t likely to happen. Will you really lose your job because you’re making time for a nightly walk? Will that stress-reducing activity make you perform less well? Or will it possibly make you do your job even better? Either way, you can see that you can create positive outcomes. This knowledge alone is an excellent wellbeing enhancer.

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Jan 13

Do Simple Things to Boost Long-Term Wellbeing

Our wellbeing—physical, mental, and the rest of the package that embodies who we are at our very core—is a lifelong journey. We make changes and choices that gradually increase it, and we take action to maintain it. Wellbeing isn’t a one-time deal. There are no shortcuts to wellbeing, mental health, and physical health.

While there aren’t shortcuts and cheat codes, there are steps and techniques. You can do simple things throughout your day, every day, to increase your wellbeing. When you choose to do such things regularly, you’ll notice positive changes in your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Challenges like anxiety and depression will decrease, and your enjoyment of yourself and your life will increase.

Just because wellbeing has no quick-fix solutions doesn’t mean that it has to be arduous. Building wellbeing involves doing simple things regularly.
In the below video (from my Wellbeing & Words YouTube channel), I offer two such simple things. I invite you to tune in and give them a try.

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Jan 9

Do You Have Anxiety, Fear About Letting Go of Stress?

Stress can be hard to let go of, especially when letting go of stress causes anxiety. Learn why stress relief can cause, rather than reduce, anxiety.

 

How do you feel about reducing your stress? Most of us automatically respond that we’d love to have less stress in our lives. Many times we state proudly that we’re working on getting rid of so much stress. Yet the stress hangs on. And on. And often, it rises. Do you find this happening to you? Is it possible that the idea of letting go of even some of your stress creates anxiety? Is there a small chance that you might be afraid of reducing stress?

The notion of stress reduction causing anxiety might at first seem absurd. Stress reduction, after all, is supposed to reduce anxiety. Sometimes, though, changing our lifestyle to create opportunities to relax legitimately increases anxiety and inspires a sense of fear. Owning up to needing and/or achieving stress relief is difficult, especially for us  Type A’s (or, more accurately, those of us with more Type A traits than Type B traits, as nobody is strictly one or the other — we’re far more complex than that).

We currently live in a society that is coming to value a lifestyle that incorporates more than work, drive, achievement at high costs, and other behaviors and attitudes that create stress and anxiety. This is evidenced by such things as self-help books, retreats and programs, webinars, inspirational quotes, and an entire industry dedicated to self-care and self-care products. We are a world focused on mental- and physical health and wellbeing. By extension, we increasingly value stress relief.

Despite this, though, many of us remain stressed. Honestly, many of us could, if we were honest with ourselves and made a little effort, reduce stress. So why don’t we? For many, frequently without consciously realizing it, the idea of letting go of some stress creates anxiety. We’re often afraid to relax. It makes sense when you dig a little deeper than stress’s surface.

Why Reducing Stress Can Cause Anxiety

  • ** Stress can be linked to performance and drive. This often reaches unhealthy proportions in the form of performance anxiety among highly driven, naturally tense people. Anxiety says that easing up on stress could weaken our performance where we need it. That anxiety feeds on itself, creating more anxiety and tightening our grip on stress. We believe we need stress in order to do well.
  • ** Fear of failure keeps us stressed out. We’d love to let go a bit, but lightening up on stress could mean certain failure. Again, we believe we need stress to avoid failure.
  • ** Social anxiety and a sense of perfectionism get into the mix, too. High-achievers are often afraid of being judged as lazy or incompetent. So taking a break and relaxing cause more anxiety than they relieve.

Is Stress a Badge of Honor?

When it seems that stress and anxiety prevent failure or negative judgement from others, it goes to reason that we need stress. That’s why we’re sometimes reluctant to reduce it. What will happen if we let up? We’re often afraid to find out. Stress is easier to live with than failure.

Further, stress might just be a badge of honor. If we pride ourselves on performance, achievement, and success (no matter how each of us personally defines these things), and if we think that stress both helps us get there and can, in reduced amounts, keep us away from our dreams, then having stress can be something to be proud of, in a way. It also can be an outward sign to the judgmental world that we are, indeed, doing good things. Our self-concept becomes enmeshed with the amount of stress, and thus success, we have.

Could all of this–our fear, our anxiety, and even a bit of pride in our level of stress–mean that we’re addicted to stress? Perhaps not in the medical definition of addiction, but it is possible that anxiety and fear are keeping us tethered to this unhealthy state of being. As with true addictions, awareness is important. It’s also crucial to know just what the substance, behavior, and mind-set are doing to your health and wellbeing. Return next week to explore the relationship between stress and wellbeing.

 

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Jan 5

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions: A Wellbeing Guide

Your New Year's Resolutions are promises you make to yourself. Learn how to keep them and grow wellbeing. New beginnings are wonderful. They’re a chance to define yourself anew, to intentionally rethink your goals and direction. While each new day brings a fresh opportunity for new beginnings, perhaps the biggest symbol of new beginning is the new year.

New Year’s resolutions abound, offering promises and hopes for the year to come. Our intensions are great, and they’re motivating. The vast majority of us begin our New Year’s resolutions with enthusiastic zeal. But then that enthusiasm wanes. Sometimes we’re frustrated that our resolutions went by the wayside yet again. Sometimes we don’t even fully notice that we dropped them until it’s time to make them again. This doesn’t have to keep happening. You can take charge of your goals for yourself and stick with them long past the next new year. Here are some ways to do that.

How-To Tips for Keeping Your Resolutions, Your Goals

One reason that resolutions tend to fade away is that they’re too narrow, too specific—at least at first. For example, you might want to lose 10 pounds. Or you might want to have the energy to get out of bed every morning. These goals, and so many others like them, are great for you.

When we start with something so specific, though, we easily get bored, annoyed, and frustrated because that’s our primary focus, and it’s easier to see how we’re not meeting those goals than how we are succeeding (I’ve been there!). Therefore, before you get specific, go broad. Here’s how:

  • Look for themes among your resolutions. Do multiple resolutions relate to weight loss? Do they deal with wanting more energy, the ability to get up easily every day, and other components to overcoming depression? What about relationships? Wellbeing encompasses many aspects of our lives. What seems to be  your focus in your resolutions?
  • Make a vision board. A vision board will help you identify your themes and hone in on the big picture of your life. What is your ideal self? What do mental health, physical health, financial health, social health, and/or spiritual health mean to you? You certainly don’t have to focus on all of these. That would be too broad and overwhelming. That’s why starting out by looking for themes is important. What is the primary focus of your year, and how do you envision it?
  • Find your purpose. Why do you want what you want? Want to lose weight? Why? Will it give you more energy? Allow you to move more easily? Let you play with your kids or grandkids? Keep your medical bills down? How will it increase your wellbeing? The why keeps you going. Put your purpose on your vision board.
  • Get specific again. What actions will keep leading you toward your purpose and vision?
  • Make plans. Committed actions are key. What little steps can you take daily, and what bigger action plans will move you toward your vision?

 

Your unique purpose and committed action steps, no matter what they are, will lead you to New Year’s resolution success because you have one overarching theme: your wellbeing.

Tune into Wellbeing & Words on YouTube where this week I discuss more about purpose and vision for keeping resolutions. You’ll see my notebooks and new vision board.

 

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Dec 19

A Room for You, Books, and Mindful Reading (Wellbeing, Too)

Create your perfect reading space where you can read minfully.

Wellbeing is perhaps one of the most important concepts for our lives. It encompasses so much: physical health, mental health, balance, energy to live with purpose and intention are among the important aspects of wellbeing. Wellbeing is the ability to create, maintain, and enjoy a quality life according to your values and definition of such a life. Positive psychologists call this life worth living.

We can all create a quality life of wellness. It starts small, in moments, and from there gently and naturally ripples outward. It starts by taking deliberate purposeful action to make great moments in your day, every single day.

One way to do this is to know your passions, those things that both energize and calm, that shift anxious, stressed, and other negative thoughts away from rumination and onto what brings you happiness. One of my own passions is reading. When I get lost in a story, my daily aggravations melt into the background. Reading enhances wellbeing.

Mindfulness, Reading, & Wellbeing

Sometimes the human brain doesn’t cooperate well when we’d like to tame our thoughts and concentrate on something like a good book. Mindfulness is a mental health and wellbeing tool that lets you take purposeful action to shift the focus of your thoughts. No longer do you have to fight with thoughts that keep running back to your stresses and challenges.

With mindfulness, you use all of your senses to turn your thoughts back to where you are right now, in this moment. Mindfulness lets you show up for your life, and of course for your reading breaks. It’s a way to get into books and stories more than ever.

Mindfulness means using your senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and sometimes taste) to connect with the moment. Using this idea to create your dream reading space is a fun way to enhance your reading experience and live fully in each reading moment you make.

I was recently asked to participate in something fun. I was invited to create a vision for my perfect reading room because

Reading is an amazing way to unwind and relax. When you have a love for literature, you spend so much time curled up with a good book, which calls for the perfect reading space!

What a great way to capture the essence of reading! I couldn’t agree more. I’ve enjoyed putting this post together. It’s a way of sharing reading love with all of the bookworms out there who are also interested in enhancing their wellbeing. (Of course reading enhances wellbeing. Adding mindfulness and an enjoyable, relaxing setting makes it even better.)

Visualize and create a cozy reading space that uses all of your senses for mindful reading.

My Ideal Reading Room: A Mindfully Bookish Experience

I want my reading space to be cozy, comfortable, and inviting. I also want it to be pleasing and enjoyable to me, so when I was thinking about my vision for my ideal reading room, I didn’t worry about creating a staged room that would look beautiful in a magazine. The room, after all, is for me rather than magazine readers. This concept is important in all that we do. Whether you’re creating a relaxing reading space or picking out your next book to read, do what brings you joy.

My perfect reading place is visually appealing. The look of it is calming, and there are many things I can be visually mindful of when I’m here.

• Books on the shelves, in drawers—on display and readily available to read
• Plants
• Light and airy – natural light by day, pendant light (pictured above) and candles by night; I love pendants because they hang right over my book and provide just the right amount of glow to read by without blinding me. (I’d like to give a quick shout-out to arhaus.com because they’re donating 10 per cent of their pendant light sales to Global Dental Relief).

What is your ideal reading room? Create a cozy space to read mindfully.

An ideal reading space for me is also comfortable and pleasant to be in. Everything in the room encourages me to use my sense of touch to ground me in the moment:

• A chaise lounge to stretch out on with fabric that is pleasing to touch
• A beanbag to sink into when I want to change positions
• Blankets for warmth and comfort
• Piles of pillows to arrange under me, around me, and on top of me to support my book as I read

Relax and read to decrease stress and increase wellbeing. Create a perfect space for mindful reading.

In mindfulness, our sense of smell is important, too. My reading room contains a scented oil diffuser to fill the room with scents that support physical and mental health. Inhaling them as I read enhances the entire reading room experience.

Sound is important in grounding us for stress relief, too. What better way to get it in a reading room than with the books themselves. One of my favorite sounds is the sound of book pages. Have you ever held a book up to your ear and listened as you thumbed the pages, letting them rub against your thumb? It’s a neat sound, part amusing, part soothing, and part comforting knowing that you’re truly connected to books.

I also want to use my sense of taste to keep me rooted in my reading experience. Tea does the trick nicely!

Be sure to include yoru sense of smell and taste when you create your perfect reading room. It will enhance mindful reading.

The only downside to my ideal cozy reading room is that it could be hard to leave. Relaxing, reading, and being mindful of my moments would be wonderful. What about you? What is your vision for the perfect space to tuck into and read? Comment below. Having a reading space is one part of making great moments in your day.

Read your favorite books in the perfect reading room you create. Read minfully, stimulating all of yoru senses.

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Dec 5

Portrait of Anxiety, Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder and anxiety limit lives and damage self-image. Change how you think about yourself to reduce anxiety and APD.

Avoidant personality disorder (APD) is like social anxiety on steroids. Someone with avoidant personality disorder lives a severely limited life because he or she is compelled by anxiety to avoid any and all social situations and even simple interactions with others. APD imprisons people in their own mind, holding them captive with fear and anxiety. It traps people in isolated places, such as inside their own home or in a job that involves no contact with other people.

This life-limiting disorder, though, cannot and does not change a person at his or her core. APD can make life difficult, but it doesn’t diminish someone’s humanity and intrinsic value. People with APD have passions, desires, a need for intellectual stimulation, a requirement for companionship, and more.

In My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel, Brian Cunningham lives with extreme anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, and anxiety attacks because of both. His life is limited, and he hates it. He also hates himself for it. When he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees someone who is ridiculous, strange, unworthy of friends, and all sorts of other horrible things. (The book opens with Brian cursing himself, “I’m an idiot.”)

This, sadly, is how many people with APD view themselves. But it really isn’t the case. Brian has many things going for him. If you live with APD, you, too, have many things going for you. I challenge you to explore them. Create a collage, photo story, poem, or written list of all of your passions, values, beliefs, and strengths. The first step to opening your door to the world (just a crack) is to change your thinking about yourself. (Or if you don’t live with APD but know someone who does, help him/her begin to emphasize different things about him/herself.)

This is Brain’s portrait collage. It’s just a small fraction of all that his is.

Avoidant personality disorder and anxiety limit lives and damage self-image. Change how you think about yourself to reduce APD, anxiety.

 

Peek into Brain’s anxious life:

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Nov 21

What Good is Gratitude?

 

Gratitude is the mindset of appreciating things in life. Numerous studies have shown, and continue to show, that an attitude of gratitude enhances mental health, wellbeing, and general life satisfaction. Yet sometimes it seems hard to believe. Is being grateful that powerful? And, more bluntly, what is it about gratitude, something that can seem superficial, that has a positive impact on our lives? What good is gratitude?

Gratitude is a way of viewing both your inner and outer worlds as well as living your life.  Here’s an at-a-glance look at what gratitude is as well as what it is not:

 

 

With intentional practice, by deliberately pausing to appreciate something about others in our life, our circumstances, a part of our day, beauty around us, and aspects of ourselves, we begin to naturally shift our perspective. Rather than getting bogged down by what is wrong, we start to look more at what’s right. The transformation brings positive life changes. We find that we

  • can better cope with stress
  • might have anxiety or depression but can find reasons to move forward anyway
  • feel lighter, more joyful
  • have more empathy
  • are more determined
  • feel excitement in things
  • are more hopeful

Gratitude works. It does us good because it involves a shift in thinking and in being. Despite focusing only on problems and challenges, we also look for good things on purpose, and we take it a step deeper by being glad, grateful, for the presence of these things.

Some ways to hone the strength of gratitude include

  • journaling
  • reflecting quietly while coloring in a gratitude coloring book
  • Set the alarm on your phone, watch, or fitness band to vibrate hourly to remind you to pause and find something for which to be grateful
  • keep a gratitude jar in a prominent spot so you can write something for which you’re grateful and put it in the jar
  • play I’m Glad Bingo (click the link for a downloadable game board).

Gratitude isn’t a cure-all to make problems disappear. Instead, gratitude is a way of being in life that is positive-oriented rather than negative-oriented. Gratitude is a component of wellbeing and a life worth living.

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Nov 14

5 Ways Reading Enhances Wellbeing

Books are our good buddies, and reading them boosts our wellbeing. Reading lets us escape and de-stress, and it adds positivity and enjoyment to our daily lives, helping us live a quality life, or as positive psychologists call it, a life worth living.

It’s the small things we do every day that add up to big results, such as the ability to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, negative thoughts, and more, and—the key—to replace those things with mental and physical health.

Books are among those small-but-big things. Here are five ways that reading enhances wellbeing:

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Nov 6

Bingo! Play the I’m Glad! Gratitude Game

seek-with-purpose-that-which-makes-you-glad-2

 

Happy November! Is November a happy month? In the US, it’s the month of Thanksgiving. It’s a very good thing when countries set aside a national holiday for giving thanks, but can that truly make people happy?

Giving thanks means being grateful. The mindset of being grateful is known as gratitude, and it involves opening our perspective to notice things withing ourselves, in others, and in our lives for which we are glad. Taking moments every day to pause, notice the good, and be grateful for who and what is good, we begin to flourish.

Robert Emmons, a leading researcher and expert on gratitude, has discovered numerous benefits of gratitude and why gratitude is good. Gratitude is an important part of both mental and physical wellbeing, positively influencing how we interact with ourselves and others. Simply put, gratitude lessens the effects of the bad on our minds and bodies and strengthens the effects of the good.

So, again, does that make November, the month of Thanksgiving, a happy month overall? November, after all, signals the onset of the cold months for many people. Branches become bare. The grass in some areas is brown. The holiday season, which begins this month and runs through the end of the year, is stressful for many people–often depressing, anxiety-provoking, or triggering. Does gratitude really do any good at all?

If gratitude is nothing but words expressed out of obligation, spoken on a dedicated day, it won’t have an impact on our wellbeing. However, when gratitude becomes a state of mind, a way of thinking about ourselves, others, and our world, we reap benefits far beyond any Thanksgiving harvest.

Gratitude doesn’t always come naturally. Humans tend to think negatively, to dwell on what is wrong. Sometimes expressing gratitude can make people feel vulnerable, as if doing so is an admission that we can’t do certain things for ourselves or that the good in our lives is there because of circumstances and people other than ourselves.

It’s okay that feeling and expressing gratitude can be difficult. It is definitely not impossible to shift our thoughts to the positive, to look for ways in which to be grateful. This is a decision that you can take charge of, have control over.  Choosing to shift your perspective to one of gratitude can help you feel better mentally and physically.

Because to be fully beneficial, gratitude must become part of our perspective, I offer ideas to help you cultivate that sense of gratitude. Gratitude has more punch when it doesn’t feel like a burden; therefore, I’ve created a bingo game I call I’M GLAD! The Gratitude Game.

I’M GLAD! The Gratitude Game: How it Works

Download the free PDF of the game board (I’M GLAD Bingo). As you seek out and intentionally feel gratitude for the items on the board, mark the space, perhaps with a sticker or a drawing. As you complete rows, treat yourself to something you enjoy. When you have blackout, do something to show gratitude that you’re taking care of yourself. Celebrate! Then create a new board or start over with this one. Gratitude is a never-ending process.

Choosing a grateful outlook can bring a sense of joy and tranquility, of happiness and a love of life. Practicing gratitude can help you create your life worth living and embrace the good even during the bad.

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Oct 31

Is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) Like a Costume?

 

First, a note: Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a real psychological disorder. It’s not artificial like a costume, nor is it scary (well, it can be confusing and frightening to those living with it, but it doesn’t involve terrorizing others). Here, I use costume to paint a picture of what life can be like, in part, for someone living with DID. 

I’m writing this on Halloween because thoughts of costumes created a winding train of thought that ended in thoughts of a friend of mine who lives with DID and then thoughts about the protagonist of my novel Twenty-Four Shadows (a fictitious story based entirely on fact, including information about what DID is like to live with graciously shared with me by my friend).

On Halloween, many people, kids and adults alike, enjoy dressing up in costumes. It can be amusing to disguise yourself to see if others will recognize you. It can also be fun to don a costume to take on a different role for a few hours, to escape and imagine. On Halloween or at other costume parties, people get to take on a different persona. They are someone else, but they never lose sight of who they are. The different identity is merely something external to who they are.

DID is a disorder that forms in young childhood in response to traumas or abuse so extreme that the little child’s psyche escapes from the horror by dissociating, or disconnecting from the moment. Other identities are formed subconsciously in order to help the child “escape” and deal with the abuse. The result is the formation of different identities that develop their own characteristics and consciousnesses and share a body with the original child. DID lasts a lifetime.

Halloween costumes let people change identities. In DID, the person switches between identities. However, unlike a costume, he or she

  • Can’t “put it on” or “take it off” at will
  • Isn’t the driving force behind the switch
  • Doesn’t choose the identity or the the identity’s characteristics and personality
  • Isn’t aware of what’s going on when a different identity takes over
  • Is often confused about what happened during a switch

DID isn’t fabricated, and identities are real in their own right. They’re not costumes. This actually presents a different type of challenge.

Someone with DID undergoes identity switches from the inside. Some external characteristics can be different; for example, some identities might wear glasses while others don’t, and some have different clothing they change into at times, but the essence of the appearance remains the same. The personality, behavior, gender, sexual orientation, age, and more are different. But the look is essentially the same.

Imagine you dressed up as a chef. People interact with you based on your role. People treat you like a chef and some ask you to cater a party. You agree because that’s what you do. You eventually remove your costume. No one truly wants you to cater because you’re not actually a chef and you’re someone who ruins canned soup. It was just fun to pretend.

Now, imagine you’re dressed up and acting like a chef. People interact with you that way because they know you as a chef. Someone asks you to cater a party. You agree because that’s what you do. Your chef identity recedes and you re-emerge. You’ve switched back to yourself. You’re not sure what happened, but you know you lost time. How long was another identity out in the world? A few days later you get a phone call to confirm the details of the party you’ll be catering tomorrow night. What party? You don’t cater. You ruin canned soup. What are you supposed to do now? This is the reality for those living with DID.

Halloween involves the opportunity to don a costume and pretend to be someone different for a few hours. DID isn’t an opportunity. It’s a life-long experience of navigating the world when sometimes you’re not yourself.

Isaac has a similar experience when out with his best friend. People clearly recognize them, but he has no idea who they are:

Isaac looked at the intrusive table companions and tried to determine just who they were. Clearly they knew him. Fairly well, too, or so it seemed. His heart started to pound. Was he supposed to know them? Ugh! He hated it when this happened. There were so many times when he was out in public, in a store or in a restaurant or at the park with Reese and Dominic, for example, that people seemed to know him but he didn’t recognize them at all. More than likely, it was a function of his role with the Conifers. As a marketer and event planner, he was out and about the community year-round as well as frequently present at games in the summer. Still, though, he would think that he would recognize people he came in contact with. Sometimes he did, but they felt like mere acquaintances. Too frequently he had experiences like this one, where people seemed personal and friendly with him but he had absolutely no clue who they were. He faked a happy grin. “Hey! Not much. What about you guys?”

“We just grabbed lunch and are headed to rehearsal. Speaking of which, you plan on joining us again anytime soon? I mean, I know you only play with us occasionally, and not to further inflate your ego or anything, but your trumpet playing adds punch.”

Isaac swallowed hard. He should probably feel relieved by that comment. Clearly these people had the wrong guy. He didn’t feel relieved, though. He felt nauseated. They called him by name. Why? Terrified, he risked a look at Max. Max knew that Isaac didn’t play in a band. Hell, he didn’t even play the trumpet. Or any damn instrument, for that matter. How was Max reacting to these bizarre people? Thankfully, not at all. He continued to toy absentmindedly with his beer.

One of the random chummy strangers followed Isaac’s gaze to Max. “Where are our manners?” she asked jovially. “Isaac, will you introduce us to your friend?” Oh God. How could he introduce these people he supposedly knew but didn’t? He leaned over too far when the woman nudged him. “What’s up with you? You’re acting really weird, and not in a fun way like you usually do. You don’t seem like yourself today.”

Fantastic. He faked another smile. “Sorry. I’m, uh, I’m just having lunch with my friend Max, and, uh, I—”

Mercifully, the woman turned her attention away from Isaac and onto Max. She stuck out her hand enthusiastically. “Max.” She shook his hand heartily when he extended his. “Very nice to meet you. I’m Neptune. This is Adrian and Jet.” She gestured toward each of her companions as she said their names, and each one extended his hand to shake Max’s. The one called Adrian had to lean across the table to do so, and he brushed against Isaac when he did. “We’re part of the band Your Grandma’s ’Hose.”

As the three oddballs talked with each other and drew Max into a conversation, Isaac couldn’t keep up with what they were saying. He felt extremely ill. His hands were sweaty, and he could feel the perspiration bead on the back of his neck and roll down his shirt. He tried to take a drink, but anxious tremors in his hands made the bottle shake when he lifted it. He quickly set it down. He tried once again to tune into the conversation, but the words were drowned out courtesy of the voices that had resumed their commotion in his head. This time, it sounded like a pretty intense argument. About what, though, he hadn’t a clue. The music had started playing, too. The pressure in his head was intensifying and was almost unbearable. He couldn’t show it. With tremendous effort, he focused on Max and what he was saying to the three amigos. Mercifully, he heard Max say, “Yeah. It was nice to meet you, too.”

As the three stood up to leave, the one whom Neptune had called Adrian squeezed Isaac’s shoulder and said, “Don’t be a stranger. You know the schedule.” And just like that, they were gone. Isaac stared at the courtyard door even after it had closed. He was afraid to look at Max. He had to do so, though, when Max spoke.

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