Take care of yourself first

Right now, there are a large number of people scared and in pain.  Many of them are actively expressing their pain in emotionally intense ways and want others to feel their pain.  Of those, some will be upset that others are in less pain than them and lash out at anyone who is unwilling to feel their pain.  If you have enough space and spoons for yourself and can spare some to feel the pain of others, please do, others will appreciate it.  If you are exhausted or otherwise do not have the spoons to feel their pain, it is perfectly acceptable to take time away from others who are in pain to do self care.  It is incredibly difficult to constantly feel the pain of others and attempting to do so without rest will lead the vast majority of people to burnout.

Filtering through the messages from those around you to find specific actions you can take to reduce their pain is a happy medium between being perpetually stressed and in pain because others are in pain and isolating yourself and saying “fuck you, I’ve got mine”.  One example from the current situation is passports for trans people.  Under the next administration, it will likely become significantly harder to get passports with correct gender markers so helping fund passports for trans people is a small way to help which will have a disproportionate impact.  Filtering for places where there are actions to be taken has the benefit of filtering out pain related to uncertainty and focusing on the most concrete threats where you can actively help.  Uncertainty can lead to useful contingency planning, but past a certain point, there are no actions which can be taken until more information is acquired and the situation is clarified.  Efficiently using your spoons means saving enough energy to effectively implement your contingency plans to help yourself and others if the situation requires it.

One of the biggest principles of being able to help others is that if you break, you cannot help anyone, including yourself.  A friend once told us “Being a healer is a tricky business.  Too little healing and you are too broken to heal anything.  Too much healing and you lose touch with that which you are trying to heal.”  To be able to help others, is is often necessary to feel their pain, otherwise, you may be too out of touch with their needs to be able to provide assistance.  At the same time, you need to take care of yourself otherwise you will burn out and be too emotionally exhausted to help anyone.  

Our method is to take care of ourselves first and prioritize self care above all and always be watching for places where helping others will be most efficient.  A large part of creating a sustainable path through life for ourselves has been recognizing what we can and can’t do and making sure we do not push ourselves beyond our limits and end up breaking ourselves.  In the current situation, we have taken the stance that our spoons will be spent much more efficiently once more concrete threats materialize and there are clear actions to take to help others.  We recognize that it is important to feel the pain of others, but also recognize that attempting to comfort others’ fears about nebulous threats can be a black hole of our spoons.  Instead, we take the approach of hoping for the best and planning for the worst, making contingency plans for what could be, but focusing far more on what is than what could be.  In this way, we will ensure we are able to help at every step of the way rather than burning out and being unable to help anyone.

Tracking fronters as a form of self care

We consider keeping track of who is fronting to be an incredibly important form of self care.  In text chats*, we tag every line with who says the line, for example, starting the line with [Lucia] or [Emma].  We are not always able to determine who says each line, but when we have trouble with a significant number (ie. more than half), it is a signal that we are either blending or that we have new fronters.  In either of those cases, it is generally a sign that our equilibrium has been interrupted, often by stress, sometimes by other changes in our life.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but is almost always something worth investigating further.

Last week, we had a large amount of difficulty determining who was fronting for a significant amount of time.  This was a signal that something had gone wrong in our life and served as an excellent early warning sign that we should take steps to correct it.  We traced back what had changed since the previous week and found two changes, at our doctor’s recommendation, we lowered our estradiol dose from 2mg to 1mg and there was a large increase in stress due our manager at work.  Our stress related to our manager was already being dealt with to the best of our ability so the only question which remained was whether to raise our estradiol dose back to 2mg.  After talking with several people, combined with our doctor’s recommendation that it was fine to return to 2mg if anything went wrong, we decided to raise our dose again to 2mg.  After a good night’s sleep, we woke up the next day and our plurality was working again as expected.  Our current belief is our plurality beginning to break was a combination of changing our HRT dosage and stress and that it was a combination of blending and new fronters who are still around waiting to be named.

In 2014, we had a period of several months where we did not pay attention to who was fronting and allowed everyone to blend together.  We were under immense stress and rather than using our plurality to rotate fronters to spread out the stress, we didn’t pay attention to who was fronting and allowed the system to choose whoever it felt was best.  Those months represent the worst months for our mental health of our adult life.  As we started to pull our life together again, we began paying attention to who was fronting once again.  This allowed us to negotiate switches ahead of time and to plan out who was going to handle each day and who would serve as backup in case they were unable to handle the stress.  In the process, our communication dramatically improved and we began caring for each individual headmate much more, ensuring nobody was allowed to take so much stress that they broke.  

By paying attention to each individual in our system, we are more able to notice when external stressors are affecting us.  If any of us are under stress, others in our system can notice it and determine the best path for us.  Sometimes, the answer is to have someone else take over to complete the day and plan for a relaxing weekend to recover.  Other times, the answer is that we allowed too much stress to build up and need to take a sick day from work for recovery as soon as possible.  The alternative is to allow our system to automatically swap in someone who is less stressed without us being consciously aware of this.  In this case, we would be much less aware of how much our stress level is affecting us and may continue pushing ourselves due to this lack of information.  In the past, this has allowed stressors to build up to the point where we have experienced involuntary rapid switching.

All of this together makes paying attention to who is fronting a very important form of self care.  It is by far the best system we have found to alert us when our stress levels are higher than they should be.  Whether new fronters are around or we are blending, it is a signal that something has changed.  Unless there are obvious positive changes in our recent past, this acts as a strong signal that we are pushing ourselves too hard, at work, with personal projects, or too much socialization.  This gives us a chance to plan for a calm, relaxing weekend where we have a chance to recover.  We are very fortunate that our plurality gives us the ability to recognize unsustainable paths so early and do our best to use it to improve our quality of life.


*Outerworld interactions are trickier since they happen faster and more automatically.  For those, we have the option of determining who is fronting by looking at our spreadsheet and going down the list asking “am I x?  no.  am I y?”  Unfortunately, this in time consuming so we rarely do it unless we believe we have a new fronter and want to confirm this.