Surviving Difficult Times: PTSD and Trauma

Many of you already know what I went through these past few years so I will not repeat my entire story. Let me just share with you what I have learned about surviving difficult times including this very recent period of losing my brother in October and my sister in November and the ensuing grief that often chokes me because it is so hard to get used to the world knowing they are no longer in it. Initially I was thrust into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from a physical assault in 2012 (though many believe I was suffering from it long before I walked out of my more than three decades marriage due to the shocks I endured in that relationship). What happens with me since the onset of PTSD is that I can easily be triggered back into the full blown symptoms by life events, losses and abrupt changes to name just a few. Still, I am at a place where I hope to help others with what worked for me as I clawed my way out of the darkness to where I am today. While I still have PTSD it is not as severe as it once was and hinders me less because I have found a few ways to help myself survive difficult times. You or someone you know may appreciate what I have to share with you today.

Surviving Difficult Times:

  1. If you have any people in your life who are negative, critical or even in any small way unfair or abusive, avoid them. If you are struggling to get through a difficult time these types of people can only add to the burdens we are already packing. Yes, we may love or even be related to some of those people but tolerating any criticism or negativity from people we love is often more hurtful than from those we don’t know as well. This only exacerbates the situation we are in. Someone unfairly chastised me royally on a social site for posting a “funny” she obviously disliked. This triggered me and I did answer her but she blocked me. Clearly she is neither safe nor compassionate and blocking me was probably the best favor she could do though at that moment in time it just felt like more abuse. We need safe, loving, healthy, kind-hearted people around us when we are experiencing difficult times. This doesn’t mean you have to end the relationship(s), only that you may need to avoid those insensitive, cantankerous types until you are through the rough patch you find yourself in. Avoidance worked well for me and is still working well for me.
  2. Surround yourself with loving, healthy people wherever possible. From your health care providers to your social circles, clean house as often as need be to ensure that you are being supported by only those who are “safe” with good and kind intentions. Nobody needs ill intending people in their worlds at the best of times but at the worst of times those people can just feel like one more source of aggravation and abuse we simply do not need or deserve. They are also extremely draining, the last thing you need when trying to build yourself back up.
  3. Find your happy place or space. This can look like your own cozy bedroom, a favorite park or an activity you enjoy from reading to running. You choose what it is that makes you feel better and if that is music, baking, camping out, visiting a friend, doing yoga or escaping into a good movie or a book, whatever, it doesn’t matter as long as you have a few moments or, perhaps, hours, away from what is constantly overwhelming you. Retreat as often as you need to into your happy place or happy space. Friends, books and long walks or writing are my go to’s for a break from my personal life challenges. I found it helpful to keep adding to my “safe” go to list as I went along and discovered things that were helpful for me. Often I still prefer to have no stimulation, no noise, no light, and just being still with myself. Somehow it re-energizes me and I am able to get back on the bike of life and pedal my way forward. When everything and everyone “hurts,” finding our happy place or space can take a little time but that’s okay too. Just go gentle on yourself as you find what works best for you.
  4. Tell people what you need. This was the hardest of all for me. Learning to be my own best advocate was fraught with challenges I could not foresee. Once when the bank overcharged me for something I panicked because I did not have enough money for my rent (this was all reversed by the bank and I did have enough for my rent in the end).  Meanwhile, the talks-too-fast clerk kept repeating herself and would not hear any of my questions. I started to cry and the bank manager and security people all came over which made me cry harder. Finally, stuttering severely as I do when PTSD triggered, I was able to tell them I have PTSD and requested a note be put on my file (I wrote the note which said: I have PTSD. Please be kind and patient with me. Sometimes English sounds like gibberish to me if my PTSD is triggered. Please speak slowly and please repeat yourself if I need you to. Thank you.) Nearly five years later that note is still there and the service I get at the bank is impeccable, very considerate and caring. With others I may decline an outing or a visit at the last minute because I just can’t take any stimulation that day. Knowing what we need is half the battle. I spent a lot of time asking myself what do I need because there were moments when I truly did not know. If you can figure out what your needs are, asking others to honor those needs is the best way to take care of ourselves in my opinion. They may not understand why we need what we need but that does not matter. They may never understand. What matters is we know how to take care of our needs to avoid being triggered or overwhelmed by all the things in the world that are out of our control.
  5. Seek professional help. If you have an emotional or mental condition that needs attention don’t try to manage it all by yourself. Talk to your doctor and if you don’t have a doctor, try to tap into your local community services to see if there is a Health Unit or other source of support or help they can guide you to. Trying to manage it all by yourself is not advisable. I do not know where I would be if I had not sought and availed myself of professional help. Going to trauma counselling for two years after I was assaulted not only gave me a safe place and professional people to help me heal but it also gave me many skills I learned from one trauma counselor. Simple exercises like counting my breath or counting the items in a room, anything to distract me from feeling panicked, overwhelmed and unable to cope still help me to this day. Luckily for me, where I live we have some terrific community services and I was able to get help for the legal process of court which took three years and also a lot of emotional support and guidance. Without the help I received I know for sure I would not even be here. Seeking professional help is always wise.
  6. Believe. Believe there is help available for you and don’t give up on trying to find it. Believe there will be better days because as black as this moment may feel, there will be better days eventually. I didn’t think there would ever be better days when I was in the midst of just trying to cope but there were and those then rare days helped me believe there would be more. Believe you deserve the help. None of us deserves to be hurt, lied to, criticized, abused or assaulted in any way, shape or form. When we have been good people and always done the right things in life it is hard to imagine why anyone would want to be so cruel to us for any reason. But some people just are as recently happened to me online and in the real world when I shared the loss of my brother and sister. However much it hurt us, this is not as important as changing what we can for ourselves. We can block/delete online and in person we can leave, move away from or distance ourselves from harmful people and situations that are not good for us. It just takes time, professional help and focused effort to reach the place that is best for ourselves. Believe you deserve the best in life because you do.

These are just a few little things I share today as I work on grieving two of my siblings in three weeks. Of course the loss of my brother and my sister has triggered my PTSD, the panic, the shaking, the loss of sleep, the general sense of being in an unsafe world with unsafe people everywhere. I know if I can lean on my supports and do the six steps above as often as necessary, I will weather this storm of emotional tests, eventually. There is so much more I could add but this is plenty for a blog post, I think.  Please note this list of what worked for me may not work for everyone and that is okay too. I am not a doctor or a professional in the field of trauma. I am just one survivor voice who could not find much that wasn’t academically written on the subject of trauma and PTSD. To that end, I hope to help others who need to hear from someone who has been there and shares her findings, not so much experience as findings because this is what I wanted for myself when surviving my difficult time in life. I wanted to talk to other trauma survivors, hear how they coped, learn coping techniques and I just couldn’t find that kind of basic easy to digest material out there. There was much on how the brain works but it didn’t help me one whit to cope or realize that I would survive this. So far so good, I am here, breathing and sharing.

Questions and your thoughts are always welcome here.

See you next time.

(c) Janni Styles

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Gee, Elinor, I think you’re swell!

Recently I lost my littlest brother. It was shocking because he was so young and had no known health issues, grew a garden and lived a pretty ordinary life of hard work and spending time with friends and loved ones.

Two and a half weeks after losing him, in the first week of November I lost my older sister. By today’s standards she was not old either, still in her sixties. The shock of both of these losses has completely numbed me. I feel as if I am living in a bad movie and hope soon I will wake up.

I wrote my brother a poem I published here and would write one for my sister but her poetry (which I have as well as her letters and cards to me over the years) outshines mine in my opinion.

When this song (see link below) was released, I thought it was about my sister and really, for me, it still is. I have much to say about what I have learned about how cruel, abusive and self centered human beings can be in the face of such devastating losses. There is also much good to say about those who “get it” and how no matter the few words they say, it is very comforting to my fractured heart. That will all be in another post. Just not up to writing it at the moment. More about my dear sister will be published here, too, but again just not up for it at the moment either.

Sorry for my absence here, will be back more as soon as I am up to it. For now, enjoy this song about my dear sister up in heaven. She really was swell.

Small Comforts

At first there is a pang in your heart, a pang so wrenching you believe it will never go away. You look around and everything reminds you of her. A sea shell she gave you, a note she wrote, a tote bag with angels flying on the sides in a beautiful tan and blue tapestry of olde she completed just for you. You hope she is flying high with the angels but you wish she was still here. Being reminded hurts so much you pack up all the pretty triggers in cardboard boxes. Then you move and rediscover everything she ever gave you as you unpack the boxes in your new apartment. Somehow, in the time that has passed, the hurting has diminished. Looking at her gifts no longer hurts so much. Instead, they become a comfort. You even start saying good morning to them and when you have your bed time camomile tea, she is there with you, surrounding you with her small comforts before you sleep and, perhaps, get lucky enough to be gifted with another dream time visit from her.

(c) Janni Styles

Happy Long Labour Day Weekend Everyone!

Happy long labour day weekend everyone! Special thanks to CJPeterson who is featuring her interview with me on her author interviews page as of today! Hope you enjoy reading it, I think she did a beautiful job of making me look so good ❤️❤️❤️

http://www.cjpetersonwrites.com/author-interviews.html

Author Interview with Janni Styles

 

PTSD: What does being triggered look like?

Trigger Warning!

Triggers for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are as individual as we are. There are a few commonalities from a high startle response to loud, sudden noises  or not recognizing your surroundings even though you are in a familiar place you have known for decades.  What I have learned is that anything at all can be a potential trigger.

Here are a few triggers from various sources as well as some of my own:

  • Hearing a baby cry can trigger tears in me as I panic and think, someone please help that baby right now…
  • Loud voices, yelling and arguing of any sort online or otherwise trigger me severely
  • A childhood sexual abuse survivor cannot stand the sound of loud eating, smacking or slurping
  • A survivor of an abusive marriage cannot take any criticism of any sort from any source without violently shaking
  • People with one track minds who yell me “shut,” cannot or will not hear a word I say set me to stuttering and shaking
  • A man who once led troops cannot step off of his front porch without a reaction that sends him back inside for weeks

What being “triggered” looks like:

  • You may not “see” anything at all, the person may “appear” just fine, most of us do unless the “trigger” does not cease
  • For me, I start shaking and this can grow to full body convulsive tremors if the trigger does not stop or I cannot get away from the trigger
  • If badly triggered, I will start stammering, stuttering like nobody’s business despite being a public speaker and team leader for years
  • I internalize most triggers which means choppy sleep, if any, a return of the relentless terrifying nightmares and extremely high anxiety
  • Fleeing the person, place or thing that caused the trigger is not uncommon for me, getting away is often my own source of relief
  • Profuse sweating happens with me yet I am cold and clammy and I also have difficulty breathing, feel as though I cannot get enough air

These are just a few triggers and a few examples of what being triggered can look like. There are thousands more triggers and, I am sure, just as many responses. For years after the physical assault, I would rock hours away. Anywhere. Doctor’s office, trauma survivor workshop, restaurant, wherever I was I would just start rocking often without even realizing I was doing it at all. Hard to imagine I know. Recently I have started rocking again. This makes sense because I was ill almost the entire month of July, the heat flared my asthma daily and I was ill with heat exhaustion for over two weeks. I am now fighting what I believe to be a misdiagnosed bladder infection which is wearying me severely. When I am not well physically, I “trigger” more easily. Yesterday (August 14, 2017) I was triggered. I hardly slept last night from the abdominal and back pain I’ve had for nearly three weeks now and because I was so anxious from being triggered, no amount of pain killers eased my physical state. PTSD makes us vulnerable to a host of triggers both known and unknown. What I have found is there is an acute lack of understanding from friends and loved ones who do not grasp the disorder and can even trigger us because they don’t want to learn or even try to understand. This is why you will find me writing about PTSD every so often. Educate, educate, educate is all I know to do.

If you or someone you love has PTSD please feel free to share your or their experiences in the hope that, one day, we will not have to explain ourselves any longer but may simply live our lives in peace.

(c) Janni Styles

How Will I Write The World Today?

maybe I will write the world today

when I am done with all my thinking

when the innocent stars have all returned

after the high sun finishes sinking

 

maybe I will write the world today

if this too fast life could just stop turning

if greed and gluttony would finally end

and all the hateful hearts stop burning

 

maybe I will write the world today

when my mind can just stop spinning

when humans are all bent on love

instead of winning, winning, winning

 

what hollow prizes must those be

when hurting others is the game

inhumanity and crime will never win

loving hearts remain ever the same

 

maybe I will write the world today

(c) Janni Styles

 

The Lost and the Found

Between the cracks of her broken heart
Where true love should have been living
A man once searched her out for five years
While she settled for another less giving
In time the less giving gave less and less
Her love for him squelched to it’s rightful death
When she learned the other searched five years
She cried her heart right out of breath
You cannot know what you cannot know
You cannot see what you cannot see
And time does not heal all wounds
Mending comes only in breaking free
No use lamenting what might have been
Nor belittling our unknowing selves
We are where we are meant to be
Or we would already be somewhere else
Happiness is better not sought
Just appreciated at it’s true best
When it arrives in our hearts and lives
As a surprise and welcome guest
She moved into the future awaiting her
Knowing regrets have no business with joy
True love showed up when least expected
A love so strong no other can destroy
Of her sojourn into hearts and the broken
She learned life is rife with many a test
By trusting and leaning into blind winds
She found life leads us to what, for us, is best
Bitter hearts show up on human faces
Bitter minds deprive pleasure from all
No use donning either in this, our one life
Heed only the loving, sweet and kind call
Uphill, over glass and through rocky pass
She knows pressing on is all one must do
To find your best, be your best, give your best
And embrace all that is meant just for you

(c) Janni Styles

 

 

Bee Stings, Bullies and Where Blame Really Belongs

While I have heard you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar, I have to wonder about the life of the person who stated this because it is not always wise to be sweet as I have learned time and time again in trying to tolerate, maintain or repair relationships. Not all ships are created equal and not all relations are deserving of our loving kindness. This does not mean cruelty is in order either, simply that setting healthy boundaries or walking away is often the best choice to save ourselves. Staying in a situation that is unhealthy for us is the worst kind of punishment we could exact on our own psyche and well being but sometimes we find ourselves trapped in situations we could never have foreseen.

While I could include and discuss many relationships today I am going to talk about bullies. Where do they belong in our social system? Or do they belong at all? I say they are social misfits who do not belong near healthy people until they learn to behave with respect. My ex spouse, two sisters and their adult children are all perfect examples of bullies, they bully you shut, bully your opinion away and bully you into doing or saying what they want or they will go to greater lengths of abuse to try to make you pay for what is not even yours.  I will save all the details of those experiences for my book on complicated relationships and how easily we humans can become stuck in the same troublesome patterns, trying again and again when the result is always the same: no good for us at all. A troublesome bullying neighbor is my subject in this piece.

Over a year ago a woman who speaks six languages fluently and was featured in magazines for her award winning interior design work in her youth moved into the apartment next door to mine. I was pleased because I figured she would make a great neighbor from the landlord’s description of her. On our very first meeting she gave me a clue to her personality by telling me “I don’t think the landlords know about your boyfriend.” I was shocked and sputtered out, “He does not live here, he only visits and yes they do know because they welcomed him when I moved here.” What I should have said was, “Oh. So this is who you are. Mind your own business and keep away from me.” I didn’t.

Instead, I tried to “overlook” things, be patient, kind and tolerant. The more patient and kind and tolerant I was, the more invasive she became. She is a hoarder of junk and all things junky looking which she tried to pile up on my patio shortly after moving in. I had to involve the landlord who told her to take her stuff off my patio and don’t put anything there again.

Things seemed to settle for a while after that until she left on a three week cruise last winter. All of her windows were open and I told the landlord. I did not tell him that when she calls me over to show me her latest junk acquisition the heat is excruciatingly high and yet all of her windows are kept wide open all the time. The landlord found her heat jacked right up, turned it off and closed all of her windows. Immediately upon returning home, she told me the landlord stole her rental agreement and some other things when he went in to turn down the heat. I knew the landlord would never do this but there was no convincing her.

Not long after this she was upset about her car being “keyed so badly it is big gouges on the whole side up and down from front to back.” She yacked it all out in a 45 minute exchange with me. That is another 45 minutes I will never get back. I tried telling her they did not, would not do that, that they have cameras all around the house and I suggested she involve them because maybe they could look at the tapes and see who did it. At this time I did not look at the car. She told the landlord who informed me there was a hairline scratch on her car not even the length of his hand and it could have happened anywhere, she may have even accidentally done it herself.

Still, foolish git that I am, when her dog was recently attacked by raccoons, I could see she was very distraught and loving my rescued animals as I do and have in decades past, I gave her a hug. The dog survived. And then her stuff slowly started inching further and further back over onto my patio.

She asked for help with a cover letter for a part time job and I did it. It was easy to write because in my late twenties I once owned my own business doing documents, resumes and cover letters. She offered money but had recently given me a huge jug of dish soap she found herself allergic to so I said we are even now, no worries. When her car was stolen from the staff parking at that work place, I listened because, again, I felt sorry for her. From working in the justice system I knew these cars are often stolen for a joy ride or to do some illegal deal or other and I told her it would likely be back in a week or so. It was.

She has to pass by my door to get to her apartment and in the fair weather I keep the screened door open for fresh air. She would say hi every time she passed and often stop more than once a day to talk. I began saying very silly things like “my kettle is boiling” (who knows, maybe my “inner” kettle really was, haha) just to get rid of her. She stepped in one day when I was using my washroom and I yelled at her, “I  am using my bathroom!” She left but later came back to tell me some nonsense or other that I had no interest in. She has proven completely and totally impervious to normal social cues that would have the average person backing off instantly.

When I returned from a recent few days away for a family reunion she pounced on me at the laundry room just outside my apartment. She told me the landlord yelled at her while I was away and said “You women down there are evil! You are white trash and you don’t even deserve to live in my house.” I did not believe her and told her I find that hard to believe. What I believe now is that she was trying to incite me in the two-faced fashion of master manipulators to align me against the landlord. She failed.

She listens for me to open my door and runs out to talk. She hears me doing laundry and races out to talk. She plays her TV so loud that the junk TV talk shows I hate echo straight into my place, people onstage yelling and screaming at each other while the host eggs on the drama. Hard to believe that garbage is still on TV in my opinion and I’d rather have no TV than listen to all those time wasting dramatics. The last people I lived beside here for over a year just said hello in passing and never looked in my windows. She comes down the stairs in front of my place looking into my living room door and window the entire time, she doesn’t even have the courtesy to turn away or just pass without being nosy. I put up a curtain that sees me receiving less light than my already limited light down here and she just looks around it anyway.

At one point recently when her “visits” reached four times in one day, I told my boyfriend that I have to do something about her, I can’t take this for much longer. She interrupts my rest, my reading, my writing, my chores, my self care, she triggers my PTSD and my recovery time from her “Drama Queen” hurricane episodes. Not yet sure what to do about it, I aligned myself with the landlord who had expressed irritation at her stepping on their toes, painting the once soothing apartment a bunch of loud funky colors she did not have permission for among other things she has done to offend them.  I told them I was going to be speaking to her about her invasive ways. They said I have their support.

Well. Just a couple of weeks ago she started inching still more of her crap back over onto my patio. Then a few days ago she said, “Look, I have this nice table you can use if you want to, I will put it against the wall outside your window there.” I told her I don’t really want it there. I said I like to look at the wall of green I have created and I don’t like things cluttered up. But I don’t have room for it, she said. Well, you should give it away or donate it then, I said. She ignored all I said to put the table on my patio. It was on wheels so I shoved it back over on her patio and then pushed all of her encroaching junk back there, too.

When I arrived home from errands she was waiting for me. She came to my door and said, “Did you move my stuff?” Yes, I told her, I didn’t like it and I don’t want it on my patio. Well I can’t even get in there now on my patio, she said. You need to get rid of some stuff, you have too much stuff, I said. To which she retorted: you have a lot of stuff, too. Nothing like you do, I told her and I am not trying to absorb your patio to store my junk either, you are. She said, I will put it all back. If you do, I told her, I will shove it all back on your own patio. I don’t care, she said, I will put it back, I will put it back, I will put it back! Well then, I said,  I will involve the landlord. She said in a very telling statement common among bullying social misfits: “I don’t care.”

In the typical unaccountable methodical fashion of sociopath behavior meant to manipulate us into meeting their needs, she began blaming me, telling me “you are depressed, you need help!” Having had a lot of experience with this oppressive tactic from unhealthy people in the past, I told her, “You are so messed up, it has nothing to do with me at all. You need to stop being so pushy and listen for once in your life. Stay away from me, I am not your social life!”

She continued calling me names, attempting to make her abuse my fault and I told her she is going to get herself evicted if she keeps this invasive, disrespectful behavior up. At one point my boyfriend thought she hit me and stepped out on the patio to tell her to stop abusing me, told her that she needs to stop bothering me all the time. She denied it and he told her “I’ve seen what you do, you need to leave her alone.” It was actually her dog that jumped at me and knocked my sunglasses out of my hand. Still, she just shouted back, “You don’t even live here!” No recognition or acknowledgement of anything reasonable that is being said to her is certain proof of how messed up and disrespectful she really is.

In addition to what I said to her I told her I do not want to ever again hear her two-faced talking about our landlords. She denied doing so. I cited the examples listed above and told her not to speak for me to them either, I can speak for myself just fine. She said, I didn’t! Yes, you did, while I was away you complained about something and you said “we both” and I didn’t even know anything about it, I told her,  I just don’t want to hear anything about the landlords from you ever again, do not include me in your wild imaginings.

She continued to tell me I was at fault in many ways I don’t need to list here, said she has learned what an awful person I am. Such are the abusive patterns of those broken individuals who can no longer use, abuse or manipulate us into doing whatever it is they want us to do. My last words before I came back in my apartment were: Stay away from me, I am NOT your social life.

Today is the first day of peace for me since she moved here. No back and forthing to my door. No bothering me when I did my laundry this morning. No jumping out her door as soon as she hears me exit mine or when she hears me coming down the stairs when I return home. No going up and down the stairs just to get another look into my place or talk without invitation and use up my precious life minutes.

If you know me at all as all of my long time friends and healthy, loving family members do since childhood, you know I am a loving, kind person who is all about the people and relationships. I am even considering changing my blog theme to focus on human relationships of all sorts because whether poetry, short story or a piece like this, it is always winds up being all about the people for me.  Still, whether there is mental illness, abuse of any sort, sociopath patterns or meddlesome two-faced manipulators, I have learned I need to guard my kindness and save it for those deserving. A famous psychologist named Phil McGraw says “People tell us who they are.” They sure do. If we are listening.

Sometimes sugar and honey just turn the bees more aggressive so they sting you harder and more often. Know who your bees are before you feed them anything at all is the best thing I can think of to do. Off to enjoy more peaceful uninterrupted time to myself. Now that sounds really sweet to me. Ahhh, peace and quiet.

Hope to see you again soon.

(c) Janni Styles

 

The Silent Shame of Suicide

Shame is a terrible thing. When you feel too ashamed to share how you are really feeling with anyone, it is a terrible dilemma to be in. Some of this shame I know too well myself from having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since a physical assault in 2012 and being too ashamed since then to say so as if I had created the condition myself. People shame us with their love of all things sunny and funny as if being “real” and “depressed” or otherwise hurting is a sin. It is not.

Just today in the bank I was so proud of myself for speaking out. The line was 40 deep and I began to overwhelm and panic, started visibly shaking which prompted a staffer to come out from her desk and ask me if I was alright. No, I told her, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and all these people are panicking me. She took me into her office, helped me reset my forgotten password so I could use the bank machine. Only when I was at the bank machine did I realize the money will be dispensed in twenties and I did not want my rent all in twenties. Back in the now much shorter line I went to be served in a little under 15 minutes.

Just a few years ago I was afraid to say I have PTSD lest I be blamed, shamed or otherwise abused for having something I did not want or ask for. I suspect my mother, always known for being such a strong woman, felt shame when she thought of committing suicide and this shame prevented her from sharing her thoughts with the very people who could have supported her through that very dark period of her life. My hunch is she did tell one or two church going friends who likely shamed her further because according to some faiths “suicide is a sin, a coward’s choice.” Talk about silencing the suicidal. It is not a sin.

Those are very faulty religions if you ask me. We are only human. We are allowed to have faults. If we had no faults we wouldn’t be human. I cannot know what my mother was thinking but as a grown woman who often reflected on finding her when she attempted suicide, I can guess what she was going through.

Our dad was a good looking musician in his leisure time and a hard working machinist who won some awards for his music. The inevitable groupie followers developed and some of those led to liaisons that were poisoning my parent’s marriage. Our family left Ontario when I was 11, we five of my parent’s children packed into the back seat of an old boat of a car that had seen better days but carried us to the west coast of Canada.

There, I am sure, my mother’s plan was to start a new life free of the women who still found out our west coast address and wrote my father love letters as well as hate mail to my mother. Sadly, dad could not find work on the island we resided on so he left home to find work on the mainland. We only saw him weekends after that and sometimes not even then. This led to the inevitable end of my parent’s marriage when my father met and fell in love with another woman.

Some time after this I overheard him, emotionally, telling my mother he still loved her, too, that he loved them both. Still, he ended their marriage to remarry and left us alone, broke and with a mother in such pain she could not see a future past it. I suspect we had come as far west as possible and the only other option was to return to Ontario where we had left so much family behind to arrive out west where we had none. Or jump in the ocean.

For me, I will always think of my mother’s suicide attempt as jumping in the ocean. Going back was too painful, too shameful, I believe, and facing a future with no job, five children staring at her for sustenance and guidance, and the love she made the move for now gone from her life. In those times there weren’t a lot of options for women. Many simply sought out a new man. Our mother told us she would never love anyone as much as she loved our father so this wasn’t a viable option for her.

On the night she attempted to take her own life with drugs a psychiatrist had prescribed to help her cope and sleep, she sent each of us five kids to stay overnight at our friend’s homes. I was playing board games and talking with the friend I chose to sleep over with and suddenly it struck me: Mom is home alone. Nobody is with Mom, she is all alone. Something compelled me to act on that thought and run all the way home where I found her totally out of it in her bed. She had been vomiting and some of the tiny pink pills were still whole in her vomit. We had no telephone so I ran to the neighbor to ask her to call an ambulance. She did.

Mom survived. How she survived I do not know. What support she had to get through that dark period in her life is beyond me. We needed her, that was all I knew at thirteen. Somehow Mom put her life back together. She found odd jobs until landing a government job as a Matron (as they were then called) in a youth detention home. This was one of her greatest points of pride in her work career, to have such a great position that paid well, had benefits and made life easier in so many ways. The institution eventually closed and Mom opened a daycare center in her own home which she worked at for approximately twenty five years.

During this time she remarried, too, but you could see she never truly loved our stepfather. It would be what many call “an arrangement” but that came to an end when she could no longer tolerate not having the love she truly wanted. Our father died just a few years after leaving us and shortly thereafter, Mom packed up the house, took what kids were left at home and moved back to Ontario with the stepfather she would eventually part ways with.

Many of her friends and relations had already retired but she worked on, caring for children in Ontario and becoming a source of advice and support for their often young parents. She affected so many lives in such positive ways that many took to calling her “Mom” themselves and still tell us kids what a great influence she was on them and their children.

Many criticize me for talking about my mother’s attempted suicide as if she or I should be ashamed of it. We absolutely should NOT be ashamed of this. Besides, I was only thirteen years old. Think about that for a moment. Compassion should be the answer and nothing else. Years later after her attempt on her life my mother said she didn’t really want to die, she just thought we would be better off without her because she couldn’t see a way out of her dilemma at the time. She said she was just going out of her mind and didn’t know what else to do to stop from hurting.

I understand this. My life has not been a road of roses and I really get how when we are so far down, we forget to look up or we just don’t have the strength to look up. We overwhelm, panic and dig ourselves deeper instead of reaching out, calling out to a safe person to help us through the challenging chapters of our lives.

If anything, in light of all the recent high profile suicides in the world, we should learn something from this. We should learn that not talking is a silent killer.

We should learn that being a safe place to talk, a non-judgmental source of support is critical. If people feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling maybe we can save some lives that otherwise might end too soon.

We can talk about suicide all we want and raise awareness all we want but, if people are feeling so alone and isolated or shamed or blamed in any way for feeling they have no other option, they are not likely to reach out at all.

Make your ears a safe place for anyone to talk about how they feel. I had a friend when I was in emotional trouble after the physical assault in 2012 who said, “Call me anytime. I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning, you call me anytime you need to. It would be my honor to be there for you and help you through this.” I never needed to call her at 2 in the morning but call her I did. A retired hospital manager, she was a key person in my healing process and we remain close, mutually supportive friends to this day.

One safe set of ears is all it takes to make a difference. If you can’t be a safe set of ears for a person, at least don’t judge them and please be kind.

Having the resources of suicide line numbers and agencies that can help is also a good idea for those who can be a safe set of ears. I don’t believe anyone really wants to die, they just want the inner turmoil and pain to stop.

All I can say in closing is that I was so glad I found my mother in time. Later when life had leveled out for her, she told me herself, “I’m glad you found me in time, too.”

© Janni Styles

Lucky Miss and the Power of Prayer

Recently I survived another health scare. When I say another this is actually the third health scare experience I have had.

Once for five years I was told by doctors I had the “flu again!!!” as a male doctor wrote on the chart in front of me. Finally a work mate suggested I sit my butt in the doctors office and demand tests, telling him I would not leave without them. I did what she suggested. The next day I was having the ordered tests and the day after that I was called back into the doctors office for the results. A chronic condition of diverticulitis was the diagnosis as the male doctor said, “worse than an 85 year old man.” I was 30. But it took five years to get to a diagnosis of a condition that is not so hard to manage as long as you learn what to do for it which I did and still do.

Fast forward to 2007 which was the fifth year of doctor visits for the same condition of abdominal pain/discomfort which all male doctors told me was a “groin pull.” The advice was always to stop exercising for a while and it would go away. I did and it didn’t. I couldn’t even do stairs properly, was doing them one at a time like a little child. I couldn’t walk far. I couldn’t sit comfortably, was always twisted to the side. Finally a female doctor palpated me and her face changed so much I knew something was up. To hospital next day for tests she ordered.

A day later in my then male doctor’s office for the results, I read the results and passed the paper back to him. Did you see what it says, he asked, stabbing the word “cancer” with his pen as he held the paper out to me. Yes, I said, I read it, now what do we do about it? Next day in surgeons office for planned removal of a pineapple size growth they thought cancer. In the midst of this, two teen-aged nieces I had never met phoned and told me they had tickets to fly out and spend three weeks with me so I cancelled the surgery. If it was cancer, this might be the only time I could ever have with them. Surgery was moved to the day before Christmas eve, the first date available after the teen-aged twin’s flight home.

As it happened the growth was not cancerous. My second lucky miss if you ask me. It was a gnarly surgery that went longer than planned because of everything the growth had attached itself to. But I survived and am grateful it was not the “C” word that so cruelly robbed me of both of my parents, one barely over 40 at the time of death. I was in recovery over a year and still had spotting five months later. The surgeon said the only way they could find out why I was still bleeding was to open me up again and they didn’t want to do that. So they didn’t and eventually the bleeding subsided. This was my second lucky miss.

Fast forward to 2017 when I discovered an ugly lump on one of my breasts. Of course every picture on the internet matched the appearance of this lump. I shouldn’t have looked on the internet. If it happens to you, don’t do that. It doesn’t help at all. It didn’t help at all that my male doctor of many years also wanted me to just “wait and see if it would go away.” Can’t you stick a needle in it and get the cells analyzed? I asked. No, he said, let’s just give it a couple of weeks. So I did. No change.

Luckily the next visit to my doctor he was off for surgery himself and a female doctor who was seeing his patients took one look at my lump, asked me how long it was there and ordered two tests for me. I asked her if she could just stick a needle in it and extract some cells for the lab, too, but she wouldn’t. At least she ordered the other tests for me. Still it was a few weeks of waiting before I could get in for the tests the female doctor had put a rush on. My third lucky miss happened when, finally in June 2017, I was given the all clear. “There is absolutely no malignancy in either breast” were the exact words from the doctor’s office.

What I really want to talk about, perhaps more than my three “lucky misses,” is how it felt to be going through these emotional times prior to finding out I was, indeed, a very lucky “Miss.” There is no way to describe exactly the terror that gnaws you awake at night or causes you to burst into tears over the simplest of things. It is just something that happens to you as you try not to think the worst and continue to live your life in a meaningful way when you fear nothing will ever have any real meaning again.

My mind ran to all things conclusive from having to dispose of my entire household to being sick for months as my parents were and how awful it was to watch them being ill and how awful they must have felt in their lucid moments when they didn’t have the strength left to even return a hug. I suppose at that stage you don’t really realize what you look like or what you can’t do, you are just doing what you can. My thoughts ran to suicide because that would mean nobody would be stuck looking after me or seeing me when I could no longer even remember who I was myself.

A survivor of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from a physical assault in 2012, I found myself triggered into deep depressions and this was exacerbated by moments of sheer panic that the news or results might be the worst. My sleep was so interrupted I was a hair away from crying at all times. Even though I had recently started eating better and lost 15 pounds,  I just didn’t give a damn what I ate or drank or if I ate or drank. Washing my hair just seemed like all too much and if I was dying, what would any of it matter anyway?

Most of all, I felt alone. I know I have a ton of wonderful people in my life who love me but I still felt so alone, there is almost no way I can describe it. People would be talking about everyday issues or arguing the daylights out of some topic on Facebook and I fairly wanted to scream, “Are you all frigging crazy? Don’t you realize none of this crap even matters in the grand scheme of things? How foolhardy can you be with your very own precious life moments you are squandering?”

I had no patience for anything either. Even washing dishes was so irritating I just felt like smashing them all to bits. Nature held the only nurturing I felt at all. Only nature could soothe me with the birdsong and breezes rustling the trees or watching the sunset with a renewed appreciation, even just watching tree bows moving was hypnotic for me. Everything else was so hollow. It was as if I were facing the worst fire of my life yet again with no support because, honestly, how supportive can people be unless they have walked this road of unknown. You look normal. You sound normal. So on they go with daily routines and modes of interaction that really mean nothing to you because you don’t even know if you will be here for your own daily life much longer.

You can’t really talk much about how it feels either because it brings people down. So you clam up and become more silent than ever. Well, that’s what I did. I barely wrote because all I wanted to write was so dark and I knew so many don’t appreciate that, most want sunshiny flowery happy reads and I am not good at the fluffy stuff in life even without going through another cancer scare.

From my own experience as a support worker for victims of violence and as a lay counselor at the rape and trauma center, I recognized the stages of my emotions. From anger to depression to acceptance, I was working my way through the unknowns, the grief you feel at possibly having your life shortened by a disease nobody ever wants to get. I tried to tell myself it was just normal to have all of these emotions and unfamiliar feelings. But it felt anything but normal. With nobody safe to talk about my feelings lest I burden them with things they did not want to hear anyway, I just felt alienated and isolated even though I would see loved ones daily or go about my daily chores, errands and routines. Every stress felt like too much, even small stresses from having to do laundry to a misunderstanding with the landlord or having to be somewhere at a certain time.  I felt like it wasn’t really my own life anymore, as though something had sucked all the goodness out of it and no matter what I did, this feeling did not fully subside until the day the doctor’s office gave me the good news.

You would think the good news would put me right back on track in my life but it had the opposite effect. For a few days I continued to process all of these unforeseen emotions around not having to pack up and donate all my earthly belongings, around not having to suicide out to spare others and at not having the dreaded “C” word after all. It was as if the news did not fully settle into my psyche for three days afterward. Everything still had a surreal tinge to it and I couldn’t quite get my feet on the ground about being so lucky. Again.

I thought of a coworker of my ex’s who, young with little kids of his own, was told his breathing problem was the air conditioning in his truck. A month later he went back to the doctor who still did not send him for any tests. On his third visit a month after that, he was finally sent for tests. The test results were as bad as it gets. He had stage four lung cancer. It was inoperable and one month after that he was dead. I thought of this fine young man and the raw deal he got. It made me so grateful for the female doctor who put a rush on my tests. In my region it can take months or even up to a year to see a specialist. Some family doctors are even booking appointments three and four months ahead as we grope our way through the ongoing shortage of doctors and health care workers. This all left me feeling so grateful for the female doctor who didn’t waste a second.

As the days passed and I managed to get a good night’s sleep, 11 hours straight finally put me on the right track, I realized I had dodged another bullet and was free, free, free as a bird to fly and dip and soar once again. This set me thinking about all the people who sent me healing wishes or prayers and how grateful I was for all of those folks, too.

Years ago when my then mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer my ex (her son) and I set out on a mission to help her heal. My ex and I had read many books on healing and the power of prayer including works by Larry Dossey and Evelyn Monahan as well as many, many others. Having some First Nations family roots also grounded me in the powers of healing. Miracles I witnessed in my own life told me we have angels, guardians and there is always a reason to pray no matter how dire circumstances may seem.  Once when a friend phoned for prayers for a ten year old girl the doctors said had no chance, she would not survive another 24 hours, we started a prayer network and phoned everyone we knew who would join in. There were no cell phones, bulk texting or internet back then or we might have reached further. Still, what we did proved plenty good enough because the girl, to the doctor’s amazement, not only turned totally around in less then 24 hours but is still doing well to this day.

This is just one of many real life healing stories I have witnessed in my life. My mother-in-law believed, too, and I think that was part of why our healing prayers and meditations for her were so successful. Within three weeks of the three of us doing these healing meditations/prayers every single night, my mum-in-law’s sister phoned to say the doctors said the “cancer was gone!” Our joy was short lived, however. Our healing focus had been on the cancer in her head which was now totally gone but we forgot to send healing prayers to her entire body. The cancer reappeared in her lower body and was pronounced inoperable. We three were devastated as you might imagine. Still, I hold onto the successful healing stories because miracles do happen.

I believe I was recently the recipient of such a miracle when I asked everyone I knew for healing prayers or positive vibes, whatever is their “way.” Maya Angelou, bless her heavenly heart, said it best: “Thoughts are things and words have wings.”

Yes, they certainly are and yes, they certainly do.

And I am one very Lucky “Miss.”

Thank you to all who lifted me through this latest health scare. You know who you are, you know what you did and I am eternally grateful for all your healing wishes. Always here for you in any way I can be.

Signed,

Lucky Miss

(c) Janni Styles

Things I learned that may help you or someone you know:

  1. Do not look on the internet for images of cancer if you suspect you may have it. It really does not help and in my case it only heightened the anxiety/emotions around it all for no reason at all because, at the end of the day,  I did not even have it.
  2. Try to find a supportive, soft place to land/talk or whatever you need to do. I didn’t but now wish I had as it would have been so much easier on me to have that safe go to place. Your doctor, a counselor, even a pastor or church mate might help you work through your own emotions and fears.
  3. If a doctor tells you one thing and you suspect another, get a second or even a third opinion. Time is of the essence and any time we waste could alter the outcome of our situation. Also if they want you to “wait and see if it will go away” and you don’t want to wait, that is okay. Ask the doctor to send you for some tests or see another doctor who will.
  4. Don’t give up. This means keep praying, meditating or whatever is your way for a positive outcome. You may think it doesn’t help but it helped me feel better even though I was still frightened of the possible outcome. Ask everyone you know to pray for you. I swear I could feel the “love” of prayer power through this latest challenge I faced. Praying/meditating myself made me feel better even though I was still in quite a lot of fear.
  5. If you think there is another test they can do for you, ask for it. Doctors are usually good at what they do but some can inadvertently overlook things just as we humans often do. It doesn’t hurt to ask for what we need or to ask for a second opinion.
  6. Cry if you must, just let it fly out of you. I kept holding back and holding back when I really needed a good cry. Finally a TV movie (Steel Magnolias which I have seen a thousand times, ok, maybe not a thousand but you know what I mean) set me crying almost the whole two hours. I felt a lot better afterward and knew then just how much emotional angst I had been packing around for weeks.
  7. Try to go easy on those around you. They really cannot understand what you are feeling unless they go through it themselves. So you may find their issues trivial and probably they are compared to your very real and frightening situation but it won’t help you to feel angry at them for it.
  8. Nurture yourself. Whatever this means for you, just take good loving care of you. Listen to the birdsong, visit the shore, turn your phone off, don’t answer your door, avoid negativity of any sort whenever possible and this includes (yes I know I am on it right now 😉 ) the internet, take long leisurely tub soaks or walks amid sunrise/sunset, whatever appeals to you and lifts you out of yourself if only for a few moments.

Today I don’t feel too well and was just trying to catch up on reading some of my favorite bloggers when I happened over this which leaves my eyes teary and my heart bursting with joy to be so loved. Here is the blog post responsible for all of this, written by dear friend Yotaki Beautywalk: “Home Again”

After 3 amazing months in Ireland I am home and I had two wonderful surprises waiting for me. First a card from someone I met on the train as I went cross country. Unfortunately she left the train in an ambulance and her last words were I have a DNR in my purse give it […]

https://beautywalk.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/home-again/

Don’t Blink

in his eyes she saw

love neverending but he

was not seeing her

*

memories old held

him fastly, no room for her

she begrudged his choice

*

his first wife was his

first life no forgetting her

second life slow death

*

this is how love goes

sometimes you love and sometimes

someone loves you back

 

(c) Janni Styles

PTSD, You and Me

Post traumatic stress disorder

P      T      S      D

Tightening every muscle

A giant fist of anxiety

Unkind, abusive people are not safe

Safety is on much higher ground

Pay no mind to the nasty folk

They will only bring us down

There is no known cure for this

It’s just the way the brain is wired

Stress and cruelty can wear you down

Leaving you emptied out and tired

Some days are better than others

There is no telling how they might be

You just wake up and try your best

Hoping things work out peacefully

The world is rife with assaulting sounds

People ready to argue on a dime

Guard your heart, your mind and ears

With soothing sights and music sublime

On the days when nothing will work

Take heart in how well you have done

You may have been through wars of many

Yet you are here, living and moving on

PTSD may never be completely gone

It may always be lingering inside

Make friends with your worst fears

Let your “safe people” be your guide

We may never win the war on PTSD

The grueling challenges may never end

Take heart, know you are not alone

In me you have a PTSD friend

(c)  Janni Styles

Here is my latest PTSD poster, number 7 in the series:

Seasons of the Heart

leaning into the wind

one lone and life worn tree

leaves fallen all around

shivering cold no warmth to be

spring arrives sudden

some sun on the rise

tears falling as raindrops

cease in some sore eyes

summer leads us all to shore

to river, sea or brook

warmed minds forgetting

all life cruelly took

autumn falls with chilled air

we long for summers past

raking up old memories

in the face of wintry blasts

again and again we relive

the leaves dancing in our heads

one leaf atop another

our books of life longing

demanding to be reread

reminding us of loves eternal

why do we humans so grieve

our people are ever in our hearts

and never do they leave.

(c) Janni Styles

 

Clean Laundry

taking in the sheets today the fresh air held me fast

I was in kitchens of my childood my mother standing there

her cold reddenened hands at work hanging and folding

our laundry from the line in cold Ontario air

 

for just a few minutes tonight I forgot where I was

pressing my face into fresh washed sheets

all I could think of was my mother

and precious fresh sheets sleeps

 

as I unraveled the tangled laundry

and hung the damp bedding up to dry

I had a little visit with my mother

and did my best not to cry

 

(it didn’t work)

(c) Janni Styles

PTSD and YOU: Who should we allow in our worlds?

Letting people into our worlds after getting PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a fragile situation for most of us. We need to feel “safe” at all times and if there is an “unsafe person” in the mix, they can trigger us just by being present in our world.

Recently I was tested by having someone in the family (not mine but my partner’s family) near me who has committed a lot of crimes and never worked despite being in his mid thirties. This person committed such crimes against the people he loved I do not understand how they can keep giving him chance after chance after chance. My family may not have gotten everything right but one thing they did teach us is that enabling and even rewarding bad behavior is NOT the right thing to do. It is so NOT the right thing to do, it just allows the sickness to continue. This person is a user and taker of people, places and things as his own uncle says, “always looking for a freebie.”

This person “triggers” me but that wouldn’t happen if he weren’t repeatedly given chance after chance after chance. In my opinion the door should have been shut to this person years ago. He thinks it is an honor and something to be proud of that he has done “time” or has court coming up. He cannot even see the stupidity in that type of thought process and will likely always be “prison cultured.” When I worked in Corrections in a jail for a few years I saw up close and personal the reason why the recidivism factor is so high. Many become “prison cultured” and do not even have a grasp of what it is to be a human being who actually contributes to society instead of always taking, taking, taking from anyone and everyone they can.

Three strikes you’re out is my motto for anyone who is living this “pretend thug life” way. He has had well more than three strikes. Yet he is being given chance after chance after chance. How is it that I have never done anything wrong in my life, have always tried to do the good and right thing and nobody is coming to the rescue of me or others like me while people like him get break after break after break. Dr. Phil (yes I mentioned Dr Phil) would have much to say about this, I am sure. He would likely talk about “consequences,” “enabling” and “rewarding bad behavior.” Why can’t those closest to this person “see” what they are doing?

“Molly coddling” as my mother called it is not the way to go with a person like this. This person needs to get out, grow up and stand on their own two feet without any “enabling” or “favoring” from any source. Only then could a person like me even begin to think about trusting him or allowing him near me in my world. Oh, I’ve heard the song and dance about him being “blood” but that’s just another excuse and the longer people continue to “make excuses” for him, the longer he will need a “giant pacifier” without doing a lick of work for himself in the world.

Even talk about this person triggers me because he walks around bilking the bank out of money or high as a kite all the while people are telling me “he’s keeping his nose clean.” I am struggling now with the idea of just disengaging entirely from the family so I no longer have to be triggered by his garbage and that of his girlfriend who is just as toxic and messed up as he is. But what do you do when you love so many people in that family and are feeling ripped off that it is “you” who has to do anything because “you” have done nothing wrong?

So, PTSD triggers can show up anytime and from any source. We don’t always know what the triggers will be but when we do know what the triggers are, we can do our best to avoid them.  Even if that means withdrawing from some people and relationships to keep ourselves “safe.” It would be nice if there were a simple answer for this but there isn’t. Withdrawing and Avoiding are all I know to do. On that note, here is my latest PTSD poster, thank you for reading my blog today. And, if you are in my world, thank you for being kind, human and “safe.”

capture-ptsd-you-poster-6

How I help YOU cope with my PTSD

Right after I was physically assaulted years ago I lost my coping skills. I repeat, I lost my coping skills, not my intelligence. You do not suddenly lose your intelligence but you do suddenly lose your coping skills with PTSD. This means it may be harder to access your intellect because your brain is so highly reactive in PTSD mode as I have experienced many, many times since that physical assault.

Once when I arrived at the bank to find funds missing, I was so jolted by it, I could hardly think straight let alone figure out how or why I was short of the money I needed to pay my rent. It took quite some doing and nearly an hour after trying to listen to the young clerk who spoke in that “uber-speed-fast-food-window” lingo. I could not understand a thing she said. The bank manager and security were called when I raised my voice to ask her to stop speaking so fast and burst into tears at the same time. The matter was resolved, the missing money was located and refunded and all was well in the end. But at the time I felt like my brain was banging inside my skull and instead of being treated kindly, I felt like they were all deeming me at fault in spite of the error being theirs in the first place.

What I did to prevent this happening to me again was ask to have a note placed on my file so that any future teller or clerk would be able to read that first before dealing with me. I even wrote out the note for them and the clerk did type it into my file.

The note was simple: “I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), please speak slowly and clearly and please don’t rush me.”

This has worked very well and even resulted in an older lady asking me about how I cope because her niece has PTSD from a bad car accident. Recently I was putting my bank card away and a sharp pain struck me as I was fighting a sinus infection. I cried “OH!” surprising myself and the kind man who had just served me at the bank. He asked me asked me if he could get me a glass of water. That alone was music to my ears and calmed me because even though I was not in a triggered PTSD episode, he knew what to do and how to help any one who might be.

At every opportunity I try to educate and inform others who may be misjudging a situation where PTSD is evident. Other things I do to reduce the incidence of triggers is go out with a “safe” or “anchor” person, check my surroundings constantly to try to avoid shocks or surprises, get second opinions from my “safe anchor” people to ensure I am not misjudging a situation, try to anticipate as much as possible, always have a plan A, B or C for crowd or large group situations so I can sit where it feels “safest” to me and exit quickly if need be, tell someone safe I need help or to leave and I even hold back tears if I am triggered right out of a building because I try to create the least possible upset to others.

A couple of years ago a friend who also has PTSD suggested I hand out flyers on trauma to people who do not understand it so they can learn instead of compound the situation. This friend educates people whenever she can about trauma because, she said, it is her best coping skill. Today I created my fifth poster on PTSD which follows this piece.

Tomorrow is my mother’s birthday and since she only died a few years ago, the possibility exists that I may be “triggered” into a PTSD episode because of the high emotional levels around these special occasions.  I am hoping not and plan to be with “safe” people the whole day but you just never know. A fragrance, an aroma, a visual or a rack of “Mother” birthday cards could trigger me, it is not always possible to know what a trigger may be. This fifth poster is to help people understand and cope with my PTSD and that of others who are also still surviving with it. First, here is one of the last pictures ever taken of my mom as I prepare myself to try and not cry too much tomorrow:

mom-alone-cropped

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom.

 

ptsd-poster5

 

 

Bell Let’s Talk Day January 25, 2017: Let’s talk about PTSD

It seems hardly a year has already flown by since the 2016 Bell Let’s Talk Day and yet here we are again. Let’s hope this year’s campaign results in more people keeping the conversation going instead of shutting it down as so many are wont to do when it comes to mental health issues.

Instead of stuffing the big purple elephant under the carpet yet again, let’s talk about why people are suffering without help or experienced support. Some are too ashamed due to life conditioning around mental health matters. Some do not have the financial resources to obtain the expert help they need. Some areas are so lacking in funding for mental health services that programs are limited and wait lists can be up to two years long.

Two years is far too long. In two years a person can grow so desperate they may self harm, grow addicted to drugs or alcohol or suffer a complete psychotic “break” that costs them or those they love their very lives as was the recent situation in Nova Scotia where a man killed his family and himself. He was a soldier needing help for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and just did not get all the help he needed in time.

Let’s not make this another year full of needless tragedy.

Let’s make this the year we not only say “Let’s Talk” but let’s keep on talking and talking and talking. No matter who tries to “shush” us. Let’s keep talking for the sake of all those who are still with us and who still may have a chance to get the support and help they need to heal.

Below is a link where you can learn more about Bell’s Mental Health Day January 25, 2017 and all the wonderful work they do to keep people talking and healing. Following that is my latest PTSD poster and yes, you may share as much and as often as you please. I would be very grateful if you did.

See you next time.

#BellLetsTalk

http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/bell-lets-talk-day

Learn more about Bell Let’s Talk Day January 25th 2017

ptsd-poster-4

 

PTSD: Is it possible to Forgive and Forget?

There is a lot of media out there from both organizations and individuals who claim that forgiving is our only way forward once we have endured trauma. The problem I have with this is that I believe you can forgive alright. But forget? Never. If you dare for one minute to let your guard down around certain people who were harmful to you in your past, you leave yourself vulnerable for more hurting. This is always a conflicting statement to me whenever I hear it because forgiving and forgetting aren’t even in the same category  in my world.

Forgiving means you have grown past the pain or abuses well enough to let go of them and stop the daily torment of “why why why” but I personally believe it is completely impossible to forget what happened to us. In forgiving I find nothing more than a sensation of not being angry any more. I no longer question “why why why” because I have realized I was not being dealt with by people who were mentally and emotionally intact human beings. If they were, they could never have dealt me the blows they exacted on my psyche and on my person.

A niece who knew I had worked with victims of domestic violence in the justice system phoned to say her common-law husband and father of their three children was bashing her head into the wall. Call the police I said, I am on my way.  Her mother (my sister) and I worked tirelessly for days to get their home in order because the police officer who took the children’s father away said he was calling the Ministry of Children and Families. The Ministry visited and the children were deemed safe in the care of their mother but he was not to move back in. Just two months later, my niece let the kid’s father move back in with his skull and crossbones posters and all. I cried when I heard this news.

In trauma counselling for PTSD myself, I was emotionally torn. Should I leave it or should I let the Ministry know of the potential danger the children and their mother were in? In the end, the trauma counselor helped me a great deal by asking me questions that gave me the answer and I used her phone to call the Ministry. I could not take the idea that three little pairs of eyes might haunt me if I didn’t do the right thing by them. If their mother wasn’t strong enough, somebody had to be for the sake of the children and that just happened to be me. He is now fully out of the picture so as far as I know, the children are safe. But again family members, including the niece who called me for help in the first place, blamed and ostracized me for doing this instead of seeing there really is no choice when it comes to the safety and protection of children. They still cannot see it, or rather, refuse to.  But I am no longer angry about that either so I guess that means I have also forgiven all their misplaced ire. And all that in the midst of having PTSD. So, as I have said many times and I will likely have to say it again: when you have PTSD you do not lose your intelligence, you just lose your “coping skills.” What you once bounced back from pretty fast just takes a lot longer when you have PTSD.

Not only did I survive a physical assault that could have killed me with one kick to my bladder, I was haunted online even as I struggled massively to cope with the loss of my mother, my job, my decades long marriage, my financial stability, a new relationship of a year that ended due to his cheating which was what ended his own decades long marriage before meeting me and yes, in a nod to a country song, I also lost my dog at the same time all of this was going on. Those nasty minded people had no compassion, no humanity and no regard for anything but their own selfish angers at the misguided conclusions they drew. They dogged me for about a year until I threatened legal intervention. I am sure, unless they did some radical self educating, they are still angry at somebody somewhere and spew their vitriol daily. I am so far removed from that now, I look back and ask myself, “Why wasn’t I able to see how truly broken all those abusers are, what took me so long to see it?”

Two things spring to mind: hope and PTSD. Just as I had held out hope in my marriage every time he promised to drop his multiple addictions and seek help, I held out hope that these cruel minded adults would realize the error of their ways and come to their senses. Add to this the fact that I was taken down by PTSD and it actually felt like my brain was “banging” on the inside of my head in what I now call a “repetitive brain stutter.” I just couldn’t get past the brain stuttering and get the clarity I needed to see that there is no fixing some people no matter the lies they tell themselves and others. Even though I have PTSD, I could finally see they are “broken” and may never come right again. Thanks to three years of trauma counselling and learning coping techniques, my brain does not “bang” inside my head anymore. It hasn’t for almost two years. Still, there are moments when I am still “triggered” and start trembling and stuttering my words. It’s not so much that we have to wrap ourselves in cotton swabs and avoid the world so much as it is to remember your coping techniques. And realize that some people are just not going to ever be good for us no matter what they say or promise.

This is where I will go back to “forgiveness” because I believe I have reached forgiveness. Against the eight family members who sided with my ex and the woman who kicked me, a former bestie of near 20 years, I no longer carry anger or even question why. This is how I know I have reached forgiveness. But I will not give any of them, my ex, the abusive relatives or the physical assaulter a second chance to hurt me. Unless and until a massive public apology occurs from all parties. We all know that can’t happen until they actually deal with the truth and facts of the situation and that is, clearly, not even likely for any of them or they would not have behaved so terribly in the first place. Thankful is my walk forward that I can now recognize abusers on a dime and steer totally clear of them. The last four years have been some of the most peaceful of my life and I am so looking forward to more of the same. This is due, in large part, both because of my own continued healing work and because I now surround myself with people who are “safe.” If you are not “safe,” you don’t “get in” is my new philosophy for living life as peacefully as possible.

I will leave you with my latest PTSD poster and as always, your comments and questions are welcome here. I know this can be tough reading for some and I apologize if you have a hard time reading. Actually going through it is much worse than reading about it as you know. Please know also I am able to write about it with a healthy distance because I am in a much better place now. Well, that’s it for me this week, love, peace and hope to all who read this.

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Why don’t people want to learn about PTSD?

My name is Janice and I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  There, I’ve said it aloud to the whole wide world now. Yes, I know my loyal blog subscribers have read it before but not everyone bothers to read what I post here and often many don’t want to read about PTSD at all. I understand. I wish I could write cheery, delightful posts every day but that’s not likely to ever happen on my blog anyway. I am not much on small talk and idle missives. I like what I write to mean something, more importantly to possibly even help even just one person in the world.

Usually when I start talking about PTSD people skitter away and want nothing to do with even learning about it. Why is that? So many people have died because of it, including an entire family in Nova Scotia mere days ago and yet people want to stuff it under the rug along with all other manner of mental health issues as though sufferers should be ashamed and not talk about it or even dare be triggered into a full blown episode.

The shame is not ours but belongs to anyone who would rather look away than learn about this awful disorder that can strike anyone at any age. Trauma is not something we ask for nor do we want it. Yet, many of us have experienced so much trauma that we just lose our ability to cope. This includes many who were abused in childhood, many who will likely suffer PTSD all of their adult lives. This includes a man who works as a Police Officer. This includes the woman who works as a Paramedic. This includes all people working all front line jobs where trauma occurs daily from the Emergency Room to the soldiers who return from war torn daily life to be triggered by hearing a car backfire down their street. Some people may never develop PTSD but others, it seems, cannot avoid it. We do not lose our intelligence, we merely lose our ability to cope. All the intelligence in the world cannot prevent a person from getting PTSD.

How did I get PTSD? Well, the doctors feel I may have had a mild form of it from all the shocks I endured in my marriage. But I managed to cope and soldier on until 2012 when a long time trusted friend physically assaulted me while my ex held my arms. A near 20 year friendship down the drain with a kick by a woman who has martial arts and could have exploded my bladder and killed me on the spot. (No, she was never charged because he and she lied to the police and police dropped the charges). For two years I had health issues that stemmed from that kick, some I would rather not mention here. Not to mention my shoulders both now full of scars from clawing myself awake from nightmares for two years.

Some things about having PTSD are better now. The thing I struggle most with is the “trigger” unpredictability which can overtake everything so that you need sticky notes all over just to remind you of every day tasks or things you promised you would do for others. It’s not that you don’t want to do those things, you simply, well, speaking for me, I simply cannot remember everything and greatly appreciate reminders.

The first year I had PTSD I was unable to take in any amount of information. No matter how many times the clerk at the bank might repeat herself, I could not make out what she was saying. Her words were foreign, another language, it was all gibberish to me even though she was speaking English, my birth tongue.  I started to tremble, then tears flowed and the manager was called. I asked to have it noted on my file that I have PTSD, I also asked that they please “speak slowly” and “be patient” with me because PTSD is not something I can control.

Jumpiness used to be worse for me than it is now but I can still be startled by people coming up behind me in the grocery store (why oh why do people do that anyway…sigh).  Even walking right out in front of me virtually cutting me off, stopping me from walking because their royal rudeness couldn’t just wait their turn can trigger me.

A nasty phone call or exchange I don’t deserve from a mean neighbor or other person on a rant, an abusive text from my ex or criticism from any source can trigger an episode. An episode for me can last a week. A week’s worth of jumpiness, anxiety, depression and needing lots of quiet, safe solitude to recover. This is better though, for me. You see, I used to suffer from PTSD 24/7, with no end or break in sight. Anything and everything triggered me and I just kept withdrawing more and more from daily life to protect myself.

Even standing in a line at the bank or grocery store where people practically press right up against you can trigger me. I can’t stand anyone invading my space and will try to keep three feet between me and the person behind me. If they push up, I step away, sideways if I must just to get rid of that sense of invasion until it is my turn in the line. Sometimes I have had to flee a store, just drop all my intended purchases and race out the door to my car where I can get in and lock the doors against intrusive, invasive types out there in the public.

Personally I am sick and tired of people being sick and tired of hearing about this very important condition anyone can be struck down by. We were given two ears and two eyes and one mouth for one reason. Let’s stop shaming people for having this and start listening, seeing, sharing and asking more questions instead of bolting away as though the person has a highly contagious disease. PTSD is not contagious. Stupidity can be. If you let it. Let’s not let it.

In an effort to educate others about PTSD, I have begun making posters about it and will share the first two here with you now:

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If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, I would love to hear how you are coping and what helps you to calm when you are triggered by people or events out of your control.  Also, making these posters will be ongoing so if you have anything you feel you’d like others to know about PTSD please share and I will include it in a poster.  Take good care and be gentle with yourself.

See you next time.

Treasure Maps: Can vision boards lead to realizing your future?

Years ago after reading some books by Shakti Gawain, a new age writer who talked a great deal about “creative visualization,”  my mum-in-law and I were both inspired to start using “treasure maps” or “vision boards” to create our futures. Not only did we find this an effective means of keeping our life goals in front of us but it also helped us refine our needs and grow more attuned to what we truly wanted.

As time went by we shared what was happening in our worlds and the “treasure maps” were definitely helping. Many of our goals were realized and some of those in far less time than we had anticipated. From new job(s) to new wheels to world travel and relationships, our lives were definitely improving by keeping our goals in front of us.

When I was fifteen years old I hadn’t heard of anything like treasure maps or vision boards. I loved to draw house plans and pretend I was living in the homes I created. One of my very first creations was a modest three bedroom one bathroom rancher on it’s own lot with a fenced yard. You may not believe this but the very first house I ever owned (co-owned) was a 12 year old three bedroom one bathroom rancher on a nice big lot with a fenced yard.

Did my fifteen year old self create this home as part of my future when I was in my mid-thirties? Perhaps the very act of just getting things down on paper where we can see it creates an energy the moves us closer to our goals.

My vision boards to date have proven quite accurate. In 2007 I taught some nieces of mine how to do their own vision boards and it wouldn’t surprise me if they have realized a lot of their goals or dreams already.

To do this is very simple. I use a bristol board or a half of one and cut out images from old magazines that reflect my goals. You can also cut out words or symbols or draw or paint on your board or use your own photographs, it is entirely up to you.

One thing I always do on my vision boards is put spirituality right at the top and center of my board. I believe we can do nothing without the abiding presence of Our Creator and the Angels who guard and guide us. Your spirituality may be very different from mine and you don’t have to include it if you don’t want to. A photo of an ornate cross was what I used one year and another year I just pasted on clouds of the heavens.

Anyway, I think I have been neglecting my writing and my vision boards and need to get back to both which is what prompted this post. Let me know if you do one and if I can find where I put mine – for safe keeping of course, haha – I will take a picture of one and add it to this piece.

Who knew that my fifteen year old self could attract exactly the house she had drawn into her thirty something life? I know, I know, you might be saying it’s not possible. But what if it is? Rather, what if it was?

Happy goal setting, treasure mapping and vision boarding.

(c) Janni Styles

What I Know for Sure About the New Year, What do you know?

What I know for sure is that relationship abuse, no matter who the abuser may blame for it including the one they are currently abusing, is still abuse. Let’s hope 2017 sees a spate of accountability that renders abuse a long lost word in households presently held hostage by this awful chain of command gone awry.

Speaking of chain of commands gone awry. What I know for sure about 2016 is the U.S. president elect loves Twitter and doesn’t know when to stop embarrassing himself on it. Hopefully 2017 will render him silent in a place that should only be used by those very needy souls seeking “social attention” and not for revenge against anyone who disagrees with them.

Disagreements are another trend I am tired of seeing all over social media. Why can’t we all just get along? If you dislike or disagree with someone, move on. No need to stay and add your opinion because it will not change a single thing. Nothing. No more wasted keystrokes on long winded exchanges that lead to nowhere and nothing.

Keystrokes are an interesting way to speak to many things. Here is another: if your partner is glued to their gadgets, jumping at every little “ping” to reply to people you don’t even know while you settle for night after night of nothingness from them, that relationship is going to end. It might end slow, it might end fast. But the death knell sounds roundly when “little computer people” become more important than the living breathing person beside you who would like to do a few things together, say a walk in the woods, a drive to some place pretty, a show downtown (not a movie, a show or concert but yes, okay, even a movie of their choosing) or any other activity that will never cost as much as being permanently hooked on the damn “gadget people.”

Cost is factored into all things, relationships, living and loving. There is always a cost for loving and in 2016 we lost so many people we loved that we are collectively sharing in this awful cost of grief and mourning that settles in on us and grabs us by the throat every now and then when something, a song or a fragrance, triggers us into grieving yet again. Please, 2017, let more live than die and hurry up with that cure for cancer, please!

Cancer is an invisible killer that can even permeate relationships. Walk tall, speak softly, don’t lie and just be simply honest in 2017. Relationships thrive on trust which is all a large part of all of this. Otherwise a sort of “relationship cancer” sneaks in and starts killing off the goodness between you. If you let it. Be wary of the shammers and scammers but don’t let their cancers kill your goodness in your relationships. Stand tall, speak clear and hold fast to your values. They may be invisible but they are one of the most precious things you can carry with you into 2017.

Goodbye 2016, may you rest in peace as you so deserve to do for all the suffering endured in that year. Not to say it was all bad, some wonderful things happened for some wonderful people in 2016, a year when many babies were born, many were wed and many found love when they had given up all hope of doing so. Rest well 2016, Hello 2017, bring on the goodness, more joys of friendship, living and loving, the simple things we share in life that, at the end of the day, will always matter the most.

Happy New Year, Everyone ❤ ❤ ❤

(c) Janni Styles

This was my New Year's Eve date a few years back, a great nephew who really is a great little guy, love you Doyle <3 <3 <3

This was my New Year’s Eve date a few years back, a great nephew who really is a great little guy, love you Doyle, hugs and loves!

 

 

I Hate Christmas!!!

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“I hate Christmas!”

The first time I heard these words, I was shocked. How could anyone hate Christmas? My startled ears couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Curiosity getting the better of me, I just had to start asking people, “Why do you hate Christmas?” And, boy, did the answers startle me just as much.

One person said, “I hate the greed of it all. We have overstuffed and over-privileged people running around becoming more stuffed and more privileged as though nothing in the world outside their bubble even exists.”

I could grasp this. Having seen one too many fur coated parcel bearing woman or man walk right in front of me as though I didn’t exist to step into their spanking new Mercedes has left me gob smacked more than once. It always strikes me odd that we have people on one side of the globe worrying about their cottages or multiple homes while those on the other side of the globe have none.  I believe some over privileged could take a page out of J.K. Rowling’s book of life on the matter of “giving back.” So, I could relate and told this person so. But that still wouldn’t make me hate Christmas, it is not Christmas’s fault people behave poorly, as some humans do.

Another person said every Christmas just reminds her of all the people she no longer has to celebrate it with, her parents and a sister all passed on before her. Even though she is long married with kids of her own, she said Christmas still feels hollow to her without her loved ones, her memories still hurt her and cause her sorrow instead of gladdening her heart.

This I can understand, too. This is also why I say “love your people fastly, you never know how long you will have them for.” Telling those you love that you love them as often as possible is the only remedy I know of to honor those already gone on. It takes time for the healing of memory and we need to go gentle on ourselves until we are there. Making the most of our moments, even in the face of sorrow, is the only thing that ever works for me, helps me realize all we ever really have is here and now.

Another said it is a horrible time of year when families gather to watch relatives get tanked to the gills while everything from arguing about how to make the gravy or who can out arm wrestle one another turns into a free for all brawl that pretty much lasts until the New Year. I don’t do Christmas anymore, she said. I hide away telling people I am away or I actually go away, even if only to the next town over, anyplace I don’t have to be part of all that squabbling and annual bitterness.

This I can also understand. While most of my childhood memories of Christmas are happy, not all of them are. Too much drinking by too many adults who didn’t learn to control themselves properly blurred over some of our childhood Christmases. Seems their arguing was far more important to them than us kids, standing around looking distressed and confused because, hey, what happened to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

While other answers included “commercialization” or exclusion, the one that came up time and again was people feeling lonely. They didn’t feel a “part of the holiday” because they weren’t part of a “unit.” There are other reasons people hate Christmas, I am sure, but not being part of a family or a couple or a close knit group really strikes some hard at Christmas more than any other time of the year.

I can understand this as well. Not everyone has the good fortune to have family, be in a couple or be part of a close knit group. There were a couple of Christmases I sat the day out. Just listened to music, made myself toast with peanut butter, tea, ate oranges and read. It was really okay and I was glad I did it. Joining in on anything during those particular Christmases would have meant some hurting in some way or another and I needed to avoid that. And I did.

Is spending Christmas alone something that works for everyone? Probably not. Most of us are happier when we engage with others, if only briefly. Still, whether we are missing a loved one who has passed on or a long term relationship has ended, many are left alone to try and make the most of what can be a very trying time of year. As a huge supporter of allowing humans to feel what they feel, to process their feelings and sometimes just let them be, I personally know the pain of trying to “shut it all off” for the sake Christmas.

While I can’t say much to ease that kind of pain or longing, I can appreciate a hatred of Christmas and even join in with a hateful word or two of my own.

I hate Christmas for you. I hate that there is nothing I can do to make your Christmas better. I hate that there is nothing I can say to change your loneliness, exclusion, frustrations or sorrows. I hate that greed and commercialization rule the Christmas roost, too.

I, too, long for the day when gathering fragrant bows from the woods to place around the home while sharing a festive meal in a cozy setting is the priority instead of losing days to the mall and running ourselves ragged for what will barely be a blip on the screens of our lives. I hate that for all we humans think we have advanced, we often still sink to the nearest common denominator when it comes to all the Christmas hype.

So, there it is. I hate Christmas, too. But I also love some things no one can take away and these things will always move me no matter what else is or is not going on. The music and the faerie lights (as my mum-in-law called them) have always touch my heart and, as I find myself breaking into song, a tear or two may fall because the loved one I once sang this song with is no longer here.

As the days grow darker and the long black nights almost punishing, I love seeing the cheering faerie lights everywhere. They remind me of all the love and light there is in the world in spite of all the greedy, over-privileged and selfish humans. The lights remind me that humans don’t have to stay that way, that we, too, can change our “colors” if we want to or “twinkle” a little brighter for a kindness we extend to another. Hating Christmas might be the very thing that sparks a new tradition, a better way of being in the world that others may follow. There is always hope.

And I hope for those of you who hate Christmas that you will find something all your own this year and claim it. Taking a walk in the snow with camera in hand for unique and memorable nature captures, ordering a festive drink in the local coffee house with no handheld gadget going – just sitting sipping quietly to enjoy people watching or listening, borrowing a library book you might never have chosen before and reading the entire volume over Christmas, calling some people you miss for a phone visit, inviting another who will be alone to join you for the day or part of the day, going to see a movie, anything, it doesn’t have to be big or costly, just something all yours you decide to do. Who knows, it might just erode that hatred of Christmas enough that you will find yourself enjoying yourself.

This is my Christmas wish for you. Merry Christmas Everyone. Wishing you all hope filled hearts and peaceful souls.

❤ ❤ ❤

© Janni Styles

 

 

 

Pears Soap Christmas

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On a recent outing with a friend I spotted Pears Soap at the Dollar Store and cleaned them out of the remaining three bars in the bin. Pears is a comforting soap, a soap my mother often gave me at Christmas and on my birthday because she knew my skin couldn’t take much else.

Once, after a major surgery, I came home from the hospital unable to use any of the soaps we had in the house including Pears. My skin broke out in giant hives and itched no end until I tried a soap my mum-in-law used to use: Camay Pink. For some reason I could not use that soap in the past at all but after my surgery Camay Pink was all I could use without breaking out. That was short lived as two months after my surgery, I broke out again and back to Pears I went and all was well.

I have had a blemish on my left cheek for a couple of weeks. Usually a little peroxide would fix that but this was stubborn and refused to budge. Newly purchased Pears Soap in hand, I washed my face in the morning and at night for two days. The blemish completely vanished and was no longer red and angry looking.  Pears to the rescue yet again. I think I will continue using it now because I am noticing my skin looks better over all, wintry, blotchy redness no more.

The Pears tin in the picture is a recent find for 75 cents. The same friend who was with me at the Dollar Store urged me to buy it and it didn’t take much before I was checking out and happy with my thrift store treasure. My goal is to fill it up with Pears Soap but I don’t have enough bars yet so will be scouting about to do that.

Pears soap is clear, almost as clear as a crystal ball. And in it I see happy memories of a mother gifting her daughter with a wee treasure. In the fragrance I am triggered back to opening and using Pears soap from my mother. Every time I use my newly opened bar of Pears Soap I see my mother in the mirror, looking back at me and telling me how pure Pears soap is.  The color of gold, the fragrance of pure and the timeless message of love all in one little bar of Pears Soap.

(c) Janni Styles

The Butter Papers

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When I was a child it never occured to me how precious a simple thing as a butter wrapper could be.  As I began to crumple one to toss it in the garbage one day, my mother’s voice halted me in my tracks.

“Ah, ah, ah, what are you doing with that? I need that, don’t throw it away. ”

Suddenly my knowledge of butter papers grew exponentially as I witnessed the many uses for them. Butter and margarine wrappers were used to grease the bread pans, to line a frying pan before the eggs were cracked into it and to butter the cookie sheets at Christmas time.

It wasn’t long before I learned to carefully fold those papers and set them in the fridge if they weren’t used right away. It also wasn’t long before I found myself calling out to younger siblings in the same way my mother had done to me.  I was a fast learner and carried the butter paper practise into my marriage where I stopped my then husband from tossing out the butter papers. He never did learn how precious they could be.

Many times I would wind up with a little stack of butter papers in my fridge. Working outside the house full time while running it pretty much singlehandedly left little time for baking. It was easier to buy our baked goods. Even now, living single, I don’t bake much or often.

Still, today I laid a butter paper aside on the counter.  Just in case.

Butter papers represent childhood memories of being in warm aromatic country kitchens where the women made the work of caring for their families look easy.  Butter papers remind me of my mother’s hands always working to take care of us.

It was easy to see why, later in life, my mother tired of cooking. Having so many children to tend to for so many years likely wore that desire out.  She was happy to have others cook for her and even wanted us to. And we did.

Some habits die hard. Even though I don’t use them anymore, I still fold and set aside the butter papers. I likely always will. Tossing them out seems wasteful but I know it is about more than that.  Tossing out the butter papers means saying goodbye to memories I will never make again, memories of fragrant Christmas baking fresh from the oven and sharing it all with family who loved being a family.

The butter papers will always trigger these memories in me, memories of simpler, slower times when what mattered could not be bought.

What triggers Christmas memories for you?

(C) Janni Styles

 

Grief at Christmas: How about just being Human?

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Every time a special occasion is pending, a certain birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or another Christmas, I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach about how I will handle it without those loved ones who have already passed on. Christmas is one of the toughest times of year for many of us living with invisible illnesses whether they be mental, emotional or physical.

One of the first feelings to follow that awful “boot to the stomach sensation” is a sense of, well, I guess it is called “shame.” Shame that I can’t just buck up and join in, shame that I need to take time out to have a little cry in the bathroom, shame that while everyone is toasting and cheering and jollying along I fight back the tears and an urge to flee all things overwhelmingly festive.

Why should we be ashamed of having any feelings at any time of the year? The answer is we should not feel ashamed of having our feelings, whatever and whenever they may be. Sometimes just gently allowing those feelings to pass through us is the only way out of the emotional funk we may find ourselves in during special occasions and celebrations. Sometimes the feeling won’t pass because the loss is so recent, we are grappling with such a an excruciating range of normal human emotions, we just have to live through it somehow in our own ways no matter the outside pressures.

The first Christmas without a loved one is, I find, always the worst. Every ornament they made or every tradition they participated in feels so hollow without them. That feeling intensified for me the more people told me “get with it” or “get over it” or “you just have to go on.” Advice like this is best ignored because it is so negating and disrespectful of not just the loved one we are trying to cope without but of ourselves and our feelings as though we have no right to have or process our own emotions.

The right to process our own emotions is something we are all entitled to.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Usually people behave in invalidating ways just because our mood or what we are doing does not fit in with their agenda. There is no excuse for that kind of insensitivity that can feel so like abuse to the tender, still grieving heart.

My solution is not a panacea, I have no answers for anyone other than myself. What I found myself doing was “little celebrations” between the seeming unstoppable tears I had to just let go of. These little celebrations were usually nothing anyone else could see or notice. It was about me coming to terms with a raft of special occasions ahead of me to get through.

Recently I attended a huge family dinner of 22 people and found myself twice needing and taking time to myself. I stepped outside and just stood there covered by the roof of the restaurant entry way, watching the rain fall and breathing slow, deep breaths while I thought of everyone gone before me. In the puddles, some as big as small ponds, I saw all the light being reflected back, the store lights, the street lights and the Christmas lights.

In those reflections I began to see that no matter what happens to us, no matter how many losses, the light was being doubled and tripled and shining back brightly no matter what. This little comfort was enough to get me back inside the door to join the party I was with and carry on.  After the dinner I took a teary bathroom time out and was heartened by the Christmas music playing, it seemed, to my soul, as the speakers released one of my mother’s favorite Christmas Carols. These are the little comforts I try to find everywhere, songs or sights that resonate with my soul and let me know it is okay to enjoy these things, to even be happy about them and perhaps even sing along if I am able to.

There is, in my opinion, no greater success than finding your own way through the dark grip of grief. While there is no one size fits all, we can all do things or enjoy things in memory of those we love. The very thing you find yourself teary about may be what also lifts your heart and lets you honor the memory of your loved ones. For me, giving back is always a way through these tough emotions because I can do it in honor of a loved one. Putting a toy under the local charity tree or just dropping some coins in the bell ringers kettle in honor of my loved ones went a long way to helping me come to terms with my losses.

Even in the falling of snow, that first magical snow that colors all things white and bright, I can hear my mother saying how she had to hurry to get the laundry in off the line before it froze stiff as boards while my father lamented the crazy drivers out there who still tried to drive like the roads were dry. Hearing those familiar voices in our heads or singing along to their favorite songs are just a couple of ways to celebrate those gone before us.

Take your time, take a breather or take a whole evening or day to yourself, whatever it takes for you to feel calm and able to face the festivities again. Finding what gives us comfort is such a gift to our own hearts, we need only to stay open to recognizing and receiving those little gifts, whatever form they may take.

Does this mean we won’t be sad or shedding tears through the events or holiday? No, it means the opposite. We are allowed to be sad or shed tears if we need to. We are all, after all, only human.

Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful Christmas.

(c) Janni Styles

 

 

 

Doing “Single” over the Holidays, can it be done with grace?

When I first left my long marriage one of the things I immediately noticed was a decline in invitations especially where couples and women were concerned. I could see a bit of why the couples might stop inviting me since we had all socialized as a foursome and there was a hole in the works that could not be stopped.  What shocked me was the number of women friends who just dropped away, no calls, no invites, no making sure I was not alone on special occasions as I had done with them when they were single over the years.

While I can think of no plausible explanation for those adults who behaved in less than graceful ways, I can tell you what it is like to be single over the holidays as in recent years I, myself, spent solo.

  1. Mark your calendar. Know that you will have more time on your hands and make plans for it. Plan to see the free events in your area, choirs singing, holiday displays, Christmas plays at the schools, parades or musical events. Every community has some of these and you may think going alone sad but I can tell you from doing so that it was far from sad. The singers gladdened my heart and nobody was there to chatter my ear off or otherwise interrupt these magical moments of mine and mine alone.
  2. Give back. I know, I know, everyone says this and the last thing you may feel like doing when you are lonely over the holidays is giving anyone anything. Even if you are flat broke, you can find a way to give to others less fortunate. A friend of mine serves dinner in the local men’s shelter on Christmas Day. When I had it, I spent $20 on grab bags at a local women’s store. These grab bags each contained four or five sets of jewelry suited to teens along with socks, hairbands and other little items that translated to 15 or 20 gifts I donated to a local charity Christmas Drive. I know teens are the hardest to find gifts for at Christmas from working in the non-profit sector and this was, to me, just a great thing to be able to do. But you don’t need to have new items. I have a friend who collects clothing and donations for the local animal shelter, a place often abandoned over Christmas but the needs are high all year round. A friend’s daughter buys 50 or 100 hamburgers at McDonald’s and passes them out to hungry strangers on the street. Pass a street person a coat you no longer wear, the ideas are endless and unlimited for finding ways to help those less fortunate. And somehow, in the midst of the giving, we receive an “afterglow” of our good deeds that translates to a little more joy for ourselves.
  3. Indulge yourself. Whether it is a marathon of watching your favorite series on Netflix, spending a whole day in your pj’s or having some treats you normally don’t allow yourself, or all three, just pamper yourself.  Because, alone or not, you are so worth it. And this is the sort of thing we tell one another in times of needing comfort so why not apply it to ourselves.
  4. Mingle. You may feel like a fifth wheel when invited to holiday gatherings and simply decline. That may be what you are most comfortable doing and that’s okay, too. If you accept (which I did because, hey, why not?), don’t focus on being alone, focus on being “together” and make a point of asking polite questions of people you don’t even know. You may make a new life long friend or find yourself with a terrific job offer, you just never know what may come of a simple gracious connection over the holidays. I once ran into a woman who had interviewed me for a job I didn’t get despite making it through every level of the screening process. I asked her why she didn’t hire me and she replied, “Because I knew being a 911 operator would hurt you.” She was right. I am a highly sensitive person or HSP as Elaine Aron’s book states. Imagine. The years spent wondering why I didn’t make the cut wound up being a gift to me. A gift I would not have been given had I just stayed home.
  5. Gift yourself. This is an open season deal where you decide what you would most like to get and give that to yourself. The year after my mother died was tough. A lot of “firsts” without her, first Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day and so on. Near Christmas I was browsing in a shoe store and found a pair of all leather knee high boots by a very high end company. I never had a pair of knee high boots since I was 11 years old in Ontario winters and thought what the hey, I’ll try them on. They fit perfectly and looked great but I could not bring myself to buy them even though they were, I learned, last year’s stock on clearance for less than 1/4 of the original price. I phoned a sister and told her about them. She said, “Go back and get them, those are YOUR boots.” I decided these boots were a gift from my mother and would take me places I could never dream of going. On the walk home with boots in hand, I glanced down at my parcel to find the name/model of the boot on the box. It was “Hope.” My mother was giving me hope from the heavens is how I saw it and still love my boots which will likely outlast me. It doesn’t have to be expensive as long as your gift is something you love, a book, a sale cologne, a thrift store treasure or a promise to shop the boxing day clearances for a sweater you can’t afford right now. It’s your gift to make yours in whatever way feels best for you.
  6. Honor loved ones. You can do this by hand making and sending a card for those you cannot be with this year or setting up a time for a “visit” phone call where you catch up, hear familiar voices. Again, the ways to do this are endless and it can even be loved ones who passed before us. When I was single and very, very broke, I took my last twenty dollars and decided that Christmas to stop avoiding the hospice tree in the local mall in the usual wide arc I made around it after my mother died. That year I went and put the names of my mother and mum-in-law on the Christmas tree and received a handmade bird (every donation receives a gift back). I thought I would cry. I didn’t. Instead I felt a sense of peace and calm that lasted a very long time.
  7. Phone a friend. Nothing can cheer us faster than hearing the voice of a friend who loves us unconditionally and gives us a safe place to just be ourselves. It’s like plugging in a lamp that has a new bulb. Everything “shines” brighter under the light of love and having a good friend or two is among these gifts. If you can get together, great, but if you are geographically or holiday commitment distanced, the phone is a wonderful tool to employ for a little holiday warmth.
  8. Volunteer. Not everyone has the energy or desire to do this and that’s okay. We can’t all be good at doing things all the time. But there are many organizations, especially during the holidays, that require a helping hand. Maybe you could help unload and organize the donations for a local thrift store. Or maybe you could deliver meals to those shut in alone over the holidays. Perhaps the local animal shelter could use an extra “walker” this year. Again, the possibilities are endless and most of your local newspapers or community pages will list organizations you might like to volunteer for. As a former volunteer manager for the city I reside in, I can tell you this: Volunteers do what they want to do and finding something you want to do that benefits others as well as yourself is a double gift.
  9. Start early. This does not mean start shopping early. This means starting early to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for being alone or even possibly being alone over the holidays. One of the things I did was to sit and contemplate all who were working right through the holidays. From nurses to paramedics, from doctors to doggy sitters, from police to prison guards and all in between. My heart filled with gratitude that someone would be there if I needed to call 911 which I did not but it felt good to know I could, thanks to some dedicated professionals who work complaint free right through the holidays.
  10. Appreciate what you do have however humble. Most of us have had parents who, in an effort to get us to eat food we don’t really like, tell us there are starving children on the other side of the world who would be glad to eat what’s on your plate. The thing the parents don’t grasp is that means nothing to us because we can’t see those children, they are not in our daily radar especially as children ourselves. Yet, as an adult, I will use this to remind myself that whatever is on my plate at the moment, there are many elsewhere who would be glad for what my “life plate” holds today.

These are some of the things I did when single and longing to make the holidays more meaningful. Some of my best holiday memories are from those times when I stood listening to a local children’s choir or knew that some teen-aged girls would get a little something for Christmas. Believe me when I say I indulged myself in a few tears, too, they just couldn’t be stopped. But even that was bittersweet and not entirely awful. There are many ways to make the holidays “yours,” just start thinking of what pleases your soul and go from there. And if you have any ideas you would like to share, please do, as always I welcome your thoughts and comments here. Wishing you every good thing, good health, good home and good memory making even if only for yourself.

"What fills the heart becomes us." ~ Janni Styles

BLUE SHADOWS

 
 

The humid summer heat never fails to rekindle memories of childhood holidays, taken to coincide with blueberry season in rural Nova Scotia where our relatives live. Wild blueberry bushes grow boundlessly there in fields, ditches and along roadsides, enticing all who pass by. Until my eleventh year, I was blissfully unenlightened about their role as naïve keepers of dangerous family secrets.

Following routine assurances of the contrary to our mothers who went to lunch in town, I became lost. Separated from my berry-picking cousins, I contentedly wandered among the bushes, leisurely plucking and eating my way across the fields. My bare feet navigated earth so warm that I longed to stretch out on it to daydream under the cloudless sky but I resisted because of a fear of snakes inherited from my mother.

On the advice of my aunt who claimed that earth vibrations send snakes the other way, I rigorously marched every so often and, figuring that a little extra racket wouldn’t hurt, I bellered out songs made popular by the Carpenters and the Hollies. By the time the fields were bronzed in late afternoon light, my blueberry enthusiasms had sufficiently flagged and I started homeward.

My aunt’s white clapboard house stood oddly silent, all the leaves on the stand of alder trees beside it so motionless it appeared that they, too, had succumbed to the wilting heat. Despite the scolding I knew I’d catch for the map-like stains purpling my yellow cotton dress, I was so focused on getting something to drink that I was more annoyed than alarmed when an animal mewled from within the screened sleeping porch. Knowing that my cousins did not have any pets, I quietly set down my half-full berry pail and peered in over the scorched remains of a window box. With my visor-cupped hands barely touching the screen, I strained to make sense of the shapes and shadows beyond it.

Everything seemed calm inside the porch, too, not a squirrel, raccoon or barn cat in sight. Thinking I had imagined the cry, I was about to give up when an embracing couple emerged out of the dimness. It struck me that they were not aware of my presence and, although I did not yet know the meaning of the word ‘voyeur,’ panic paralyzed me. I dared not move or even attempt to conceal myself lest they notice me.

Giant lemon and lime flowers adorning the woman’s snug fitting dress bloomed anew when she stepped backward into a narrow shaft of sunlight, her sleek, dark hair swaying with every motion. Flinging her head back, her body arched and in one tinkling, charismatic laugh, I recognized Jeannie-Marie, a young woman our parents had hired to mind us on Saturday night while they attended a dance.

Mesmerized by this movie-star Jeannie-Marie, far removed from the pony-tailed girl who had seemed near my own age when we had cooked hotdogs and watched our favorite TV shows together, I could not tear myself away. A crimson lipstick smear on one of her cheeks seemed only to heighten her flawlessness and the perfection of her full, glossy lips. In that instant, I longed to be just like Jeannie-Marie when I grew up. Often praised for my brains but not my looks, I was certain it must feel wonderful to be so beautiful, so irresistible.

Tension rose with each heat wave around me, making the air seem hotter still and I could feel more moisture leeching from my body with every wary exhale. My mouth grew so dry I could not muster spit enough to swallow.

The man abruptly tugged Jeannie-Marie toward him, his strangely familiar hands on her back and his face shielded from view by her hair. A sickly feeling overcame me and I wished I hadn’t eaten so many blueberries. With fear prickling through my veins, I decided to leave before they discovered me.

At that same exact second, Jeannie-Marie began leading the man toward the cot by the screen I was staring through, her mouth pressed to his all the while as they turned so that she was backing toward me. Suddenly my father’s sun-stricken features were caught in a ray of light beaming down into the murky porch, his widened eyes mirroring the shock and sorrow in my own.

Thirst forgotten, I bolted past the empty rain barrel to the field behind the house where bird-ravaged blueberry bushes had drawn all the goodness out of the parched ground. I didn’t stop running until I reached the river where I dove in and swam until I was weak and my brain was amply saturated with the notion that I’d suffered heatstroke. The unmerciful summer sun was to blame for my temporary delirium.

Near dusk, I found my mother and aunt amiably fixing dinner together in the cozy kitchen the way they did every night of our vacation, the air sweetly fragranced by three pies cooling by the sink. But the dusty white jackets on my blueberries proved no protection from the withering sun and I had to throw them out. Still, I didn’t learn the meaning of ‘adulterer’ until much later and despite my mother’s assertions that they have none, to this day my most vivid recollection of blueberry picking is the prickles.

© Janni Styles

Note: This story placed first in 1999 in an international writing contest against over 700 entrants. Fiction writing, especially “slice of life” fiction as in this story is what I most love to write along with creative non-fiction. This short story was first published on this blog on March 19, 2011.

Last Night

Last night I could feel tears welling and kept trying to stop them. When I was finally unable to contain them, I let loose and cried for twenty minutes solid.

I cried for all who are suffering or losing loved ones. I cried for all the little ones ill or otherwise overburdened by life. I cried for all those loved ones who have crossed over before me. I cried for people who are separated from their loved ones by geographical or other distances.

I cried for all the haters that they can’t see how they are wasting their very own precious life moments. I cried because my life has been so full of stress since the middle of October. I cried because people have been and still are bullied into taking their own lives.

I cried because people won’t just live and let live. I cried for my parents because, even though it wasn’t likely so, they could fix most anything when I was little, it seemed. I cried for those who resist common sense. I cried for those who are lost with nobody even caring to find them.

I cried because I have seen so much ugliness these past few months. I cried for people who are losing their loved ones to terminal diseases or conditions. I cried because there isn’t a thing I can do about any of this.

When it was over I realized I wasn’t sad or despondent, just emotionally over charged. Then it struck me. It wasn’t crying in the true sense, it was more like tearful prayers for all I cannot control. Tearful, heartfelt prayers that all will be well.

Amen
❤️❤️❤️

Suicide: why won’t people talk about it?!

Trigger Warning!

 

Why does an eleven year old child attempt suicide? Nobody wanted me to talk about it then and I am sure nobody wants me to talk about it now.  Talking about it is something I never should have stopped doing. If we kept talking about suicide instead of trying to shame blame people into silence about the very real threat, I believe many would not be so successful at achieving it.

Think about this: An eleven year old child attempts suicide. What must have been happening to that little girl to drive her to such dire measures? What was she going through that nobody would even try to understand or help fix for her?

Two things were happening that this girl can now share. She had more responsibilities heaped on her than most adults have to cope with and she was being hurt by her parent’s drunken party friends but nobody talked about that stuff back then either. When her family moved from the Ontario country side to the city, it seemed predators lurked everywhere. And they did. Nobody wants her to talk about any of that but what they don’t grasp is she blames no one. She is not hostile or vengeful at all about being that little girl who had no safe place to turn to.

As an adult herself she knows that adults are not perfect and some people fail at keeping their children safe because they just don’t know any better at the time. Her own mother wrote on a birthday card when the girl was a woman in her late thirties “you had it the hardest of all my kids and I am so proud of the woman you are, you have achieved so much in spite of all those tough years we went through.” Like my mother, some may not fully recognize situations until they are well distanced from them and able to see with clarity. Keep talking until it is so safe for everyone that suicide becomes an acceptable every day topic for everyone.

If there were more talk about suicide, fewer people would succeed at it or suffer the shaming and blaming that many foist on those of us who have attempted it. This shaming and blaming may be the very thing that isolates the suicidal person, shoves them right over the edge as it did, sadly, with a beautiful young teen named Amanda Todd. She was bullied to death by online monsters who relentlessly rammed at her psyche with their vitriolic and most unwarranted comments. https://nobullying.com/amanda-todd-story/ Amanda is gone. Never to return. Imagine if the kindness had outweighed the cruelty; she would likely still be here if kindness had won out. 

At age thirteen I tried to suicide out again. Adding to the already burdened eleven year old girl’s world was a drastic cross country move at age 12 that tore her and her siblings away from friends, family and all things familiar. They arrived in this place on the edge of the sea only to have her father leave her, her mother and four younger siblings to start a new life without them.  Really, her father was already out the door before he actually left but there was no way of seeing that either until many decades later.

Her mother blamed the girl, said it was her fault the father left and her fault the younger ones were acting out because she was the one the little ones were supposed to look up to. The girl asked the mother who she was supposed to look up to but that question went unanswered. Then, also still at age thirteen I had an overwhelming urge to run home from a friend’s where I was to sleep over. I found my mother unconscious and covered in vomit from pills she took trying to suicide out.

Finding my mother trying to suicide out proved too much for this already shattered girl’s mind. I get that my mother was mentally and emotionally  in trouble but many in my family do not or will not, many of them are angry that I even dare talk about her suicide attempt. All I have to say to them is not talking does not help a single soul, Mom lived to her eighties and it is a well known fact mental illness runs in families. Just look at the number of family members or relations treated for depression and anxiety,  the hostility visible all over the internet from some relatives too incapable of dealing with their internal anger or misery in a healthy manner, the self harm of cutting or multiple addictions in one family alone and you can see the writing on the wall –  and not talking about suicide or mental health matters has ever  helped a single soul. Ever.

At age fifteen I tried to suicide out again. Suffice it to say I still had responsibilities heaped on me no teen should have. Being resourceful as I had learned to be from the age of eight onward, I was able to connect with people familiar with crisis and dealing with people in crisis. This helped me learn coping skills I still carry with me to this day. In my twenties I started taking courses that ultimately led to me working with victims of violence and being a lay counselor and serving on the board of directors at the local rape and trauma center. I was good at those jobs and services, I believe my own trying childhood and teen years were why I was so effective in those jobs. I did burn out after years of doing this in the non-profit sector and the justice system, though and had to leave those types of emotionally draining positions behind me.

Fast forward to 2010 when a twenty year friend of mine began visiting me for as much as twelve hours at a time, sleeping over and spending weekends at my apartment I had taken after leaving an abusive 32 year marriage that proved to be a false front, not a true marriage in any sense. Silly me thought my friend was just being kind to me, spending so much time with me because I was newly single. I could not have been more trusting or more wrong. She was pursuing my alcoholic, gambling and porn addicted ex by sleuthing information out of me to pursue him with. He thought it magical she knew his favorite candy, beer, meal, etc At the end of it all, I felt raped. Inside outside, all around every side. It felt so “incestuous” and “mentally raping” as the trauma counselor put it. I was so blindsided by she who claimed to be so Catholic she would never even touch a married man, let alone one she knew had committed so much harm to others, myself included.

When I went to retrieve the rest of my pretty things (I had no room for them in my tiny apartment, I just wanted to get them out of my former home of many years and give them away or sell or donate them so she was not touching/using them), I arranged this all over the phone with him when he was at work because that was the only time you could find him sober.

What I did not expect was that he would set me up not once but twice. Twice I arrived to find her there. The first time he said she is leaving she just came to say goodbye because I broke off with her. Well goodbye, you may go, I told her but she refused to leave. I grew more distraught and sobbed, asking her to leave as did he, repeatedly. She refused and when he grabbed my flailing arms waving and pointing to the unblocked exits, she started kicking me.

It was like being in a horror movie you can’t escape. It was surreal. The second time I arrived (again arranged when he was sober at work and under assurance she would not be there as, again, he said he was sick of her and they were done) she called the police to say it was a “home invasion.” The police were astonished she did that because they sent eight units to my former home that night but she was never charged with the mischief that should have been the least of the charges against her. They were very surprised when they asked how I got in and I showed them my house key and told them my ex knew I was coming, we had arranged it three days ago. I still had my key as it was my former marital home where many of my things were being stored and I still slept in the guest room on occasion to visit with family of choice and their children living near that home a good hours drive away from my apartment, if traffic was favorable.

The night the kicking happened I felt sure the police would protect me. But I was wrong. She lied to the police about kicking me because she was in health care and would instantly lose her job if she admitted to assaulting anyone like that. He was blithering drunk and supported her story, said he didn’t “see” the kick, so police treated me like the wrong doer and a week later dropped the charges because their stories lined up but mine did not even though her kicking left me with bladder trouble for over a year and I was so traumatized by all of it, I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My sleep time was so full of nightmares of them coming after me, I have permanent scars all over my shoulders from clawing myself awake for the next few years.

This whole experience thrust me into the deepest depression I have ever been in since my teens.  Not only was my whole marriage a false front but my 20 year friendship with her was false and now the people who should have protected me were traitors, too. There was no one I could turn to and no one I could trust anymore.

Blackness was my home for the next couple of years. I could see nothing to live for. Everything I ever believed in was a sham. All I wanted to do was suicide out. I lost time, I went through days of being on my couch or in my bed not moving.

Fortunately I knew of many resources from my work with victims of violence and I reached out to the local Women’s Center where I received Trauma Counselling for about 1 and 1/2 years. I also used the counselling services through my ex’s work and received massive amounts of support and coping skills to manage the grief I was also processing because at the time this was all unfolding, I lost my mother, my job (they laid me off to hire their relative), a guy I was seeing (mutually exclusively he said, ha) cheated on me, my dog had to be euthanized and some of my sisters and their adult children who were unaware of all the harm my ex had done in the marriage and to others (because I never told anyone about it all until after I left him),  sided with him and her, leaving me with no safe place to turn. I just could not believe people could be so cruel. But they were. There was no one I could turn to and no one I could trust any more.

If not for the Grief and Trauma Counselling and those safe environments I would not have made it. I would not be here. They were kind and supportive voices that called to me in the dark of night, helped me feel safe and stable and if I could remember, to employ the techniques they taught me to manage my trauma. I credit those counselors, Vicki, Mary and Sean with my life because they are the ones who helped me breathe and live again. Talking about suicide as well as relationships, realities and ways to help myself heal from all of that trauma and loss saved my life.

In May of 2014 my ex phoned me to tell me that former friend of mine finally admitted to him that she kicked me. Kicking is considered lethal force where I live. You or she, I told him, should phone the police and correct that file, it is too late to press charges now but the least you owe me is the truth.  Neither of them did that nor will they likely ever despite driving me into such black abject despondency for nearly three years.

In 2013 I met a man who loves me just as I am and says my ex, that former friend and those three sisters of mine and their adult children owe me a big fat apology. I will likely never get that either. But I’m okay with that because  of all of my relations who never abandoned me, who loved me and supported me through my darkest nights are such loving kind people, I really couldn’t ask for more.

In our first year or so together, this man would wake me up because, he said, I sounded so distressed in my sleep, I woke up screaming or crying almost every night in those black years, when I could get to sleep, that is. In the safety of this man’s acceptance and support of me, my PTSD and newly diagnosed Fibromyalgia (which many believe was triggered by that physical assault)  I was able to breathe and let myself learn to trust again because this man did not judge me or blame or shame me for anything I had been through.  He warmly welcomed me into his world and said, “We’re your family now.” And, as if to prove him right, all of his family also welcomed me with such love and respect, some days I am still in awe that I got so lucky. Many say luck had nothing to do with it, it was not giving up that got me where I am.  That may well be so but I still believe I am one of the lucky ones because I found love in the midst of the darkness and had professional help that kept me going.

These days I don’t look back so much despite the emotional and mental scars that can still dog me on days when  stress or pain levels are high. I am sure I drove my readers and followers around the bend in talking so much about all the trauma and losses I survived from 2010 onward but really I wasn’t even aware that I repeated myself so much, it was all I knew in that moment and it helped me keep going, stay breathing and for that I am eternally grateful.  And, though I am in a much better place now, I will never forget the lessons I have learned. If I ever get strong enough to write the book, I am sure it will outdo Fatal Attraction at the box office, lol. So, you see, I am dreaming of life goals and looking forward again. 

Talking about suicide is the only thing that can keep people alive. Shunning them will not. Ignoring them will not. Ridiculing them will not. Abandoning them will not. Shaming them will not. Blaming them will not. Talking in a safe and understanding way is the only thing that can avert or prevent a suicide.

Please let your people talk about it, make it safe for them to talk to you about whatever they are going through or feeling. Don’t use their trauma against them. Don’t make the conversation about you. Don’t tell them to just “go ahead.” And don’t blame yourself if they succeed in spite of all of your talking or listening.

Sometimes talking or listening won’t be enough. Some who are truly bent on suiciding out will still succeed. I am guessing when I say they are the ones who did not want to talk about it at all to anyone. But there are signs of suicide that you can reference if you think someone you love may be contemplating it and in closing, I will share links to some sites folks may find helpful. Just don’t forget that there is help out there and just keep the conversation going, don’t give up.

You never know who you might save.

(c) Janni Styles

Some links to help if you need them, many more available online.

http://suicideprevention.ca/

http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml

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Note to readers:

This piece took me three months to write. This is how my life is now since PTSD and Fibromyalgia. I do what I can when I can but everything takes me longer now.  I know you would think why should it take anyone three months to write such a brief piece but that’s how my mind works, it takes longer to think about what I want to say, how I want to frame it and present all the information together. It can be very confusing for me and all information overwhelms me now. Still, I do what I can when I can and am glad for that.

 

 

 

 

On Healing Hearts, Souls and Minds

A friend is currently seeing a psychologist for issues that stem from the way her childhood was virtually robbed from her, only to find herself in a catastrophic medical event in her thirties that further robbed her of many of her hopes and dreams for herself and her once so bright and promising future.

My friend and I share many things, sadly in this case because these things are all less than happy making. Someone recently asked me how I felt about my life and I said, after thinking on it for some time: “Ripped off.” But that’s not really the truth anymore. It is what happened to me, I was ripped off in many ways but I don’t feel torn apart or bitter over it. It just is what it is. Or was what it was. I am here now. We are here now.

My own childhood was brief because I was forced into adult roles as caregiver for my younger siblings from about the age of eight years onward. There was little time for me to just go play and be a kid, I was often watching the “little ones” and got into trouble if I didn’t. I had to step up often and just took it in stride as if that is what is required of all kids. Only later did I realize the impact of having a too short childhood as emotions unraveled to expose the effects this can have on a person later in life, the way you are always seeking that missing element of completion you never had in your childhood. Funny thing is that it is very much like being poor, you go to school and grow up and don’t really realize you were poor until you look back and see the differences. Us poor kids always gravitated to one another and that’s why we didn’t even notice how poor we were. Being poor instills a humility in you that I don’t believe wealthy children can ever grasp. Your gratitude for all things is greater and your appreciation of all people is stronger. At least, that’s how it has worked out for me as I watch the over privileged and sense of entitlement types behaving in shallow and selfish ways around me every day.

Later in life, I married with the best of intentions only to find myself twenty years into a false front of a marriage not of my choice or making. Included in this “false front” not of my making was a twenty year friendship of mine that not only sided with him but bedded him down just as fast as she could while saying, “I think he just needs the right woman.” Five years have passed since her well informed and still very ill choice. She just told him “you make me unhappy when I am around you and I want no more contact with you.” So, I not only lost a marriage I had invested a lot into when I left but two years after leaving him, I lost a long time friend who “wittingly” went into the situation with him knowing all the ugly reasons I had to leave.

Had I had the knowledge she had, I would have run, run, run, but she did not. Nor has she ever attempted to apologize to me for physically assaulting me over him in 2012 which left me physically harmed for over a year and still grappling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to this day that can hammer me down very badly if I am triggered by any abuse from any source. Stress triggers it, too. Do I feel ripped off? No. Because the kick that caused the harm could have burst my bladder and killed me on the spot. I can’t say this has been easy these past few years but I am grateful that I didn’t die on the spot as a doctor friend assures me I well could have. Especially as the former friend who kicked me has martial arts. Ripped off? No. Lucky that kick (considered lethal force in Canada) missed or I would not be writing this.

What really drove me around the bend at the time was the fact that she and he both lied to the police so the charges of physical assault were dropped. It doesn’t hurt me as it once did because I realize I might well have spent more years in court than I needed to just to get that dealt with and out of my life. I don’t feel ripped off any more either because right after she assaulted me, I wrote her employer and told them she kicked me and she has not worked in her full capacity since. Funny thing? Her work wanted rid of her over the years as she does not get on well with coworkers and has even admitted to me that she yelled at a patient. I wrote two very well researched letters citing labour laws, etc that saved her bacon and her job. Of course she signed those and submitted them, heads of union and management immediately convened over those letters and she kept her job. The third letter I wrote was to create an “awareness” and it felt so strange to be signing it myself, it was surreal. Still, I don’t feel ripped off because I do believe justice was served. Watching her go through the same cycles and dysfunctional dynamics I weathered with my ex really helped me heal, too, as my perspective “snapped to” and I realized how lucky I was to have escaped more years of the same relationship garbage she was now full on mired in.

When you are nineteen your eyes tend to glaze over with the giddiness of love, misplaced or not. Then the more time you invest, the more you feel compelled to stay and try harder even in the face of the most hopeless and unchangeable circumstances.  I told a sister I stayed over a decade too long, believing his promises to get help and she said, “Just a damn minute here. You hold your head up knowing you did all you could to save that marriage.” She’s right, I did. It’s the same with a long time friendship. You try to continue to make sense out of what is no longer sensible until you realize that walking away is the only way to save yourself.

A second friendship of 24 years ended when she grew abusive with me. We met while working for a non-profit society, she was in grant writing for the programs and I was approving childcare facilities. She had always been a tough cookie, arrogant and sometimes blatantly racist in spite of her vast wealth of knowledge and funds. I don’t usually mind crusty people, they can be quite interesting to be around. Unless you are the target of their abuses. This all happened within months of leaving my 32 year marriage, losing my mother, job, dog (I know, I know, a country song in the making, sigh) and the man I was seeing proved a philanderer just as he had been all through his 23 year marriage until his wife ended it. At least it only took me months to discover his nasty ways.  I actually connected with his wife, told her she did an amazing job raising the family by herself because his work often meant long absences from the family home. My guess is his wife didn’t know what she was signing on for, either.  I wonder if she feels as ripped off as I once did. As for the friend of 24 years, I tried to talk to her but she wouldn’t have it, she fairly shouted “Well I am sorry you feel that way!” as though it had nothing to do with her at all. A grief counselor I was seeing at the time said, “You know what you are dealing with in her, don’t you?” Yes, I said and knew that toxic relationship had to go. Though it hurt at the time, I don’t feel ripped off, I feel lucky I was freed from having to spend another minute listening to her patronizing piffle.

When my mother was dying I flew to see her and was banned three days in as I was diagnosed with H1N1 which I, apparently, caught on the flight there. The next few weeks were a blur of dead people living again, hallucinations like nothing I’d ever had before and being so weak I could barely walk and had to be wheel chaired on and off the plane home. When my mother died the year after I left my 32 year marriage, I was in a new job and they said I could have three days to attend her funeral but I said I needed a week. The assistant manager told me they were short staffed due to summer holidays and if I took the week off, I’d likely get laid off. I didn’t go to my mother’s funeral and should have because only a couple of weeks after she died, they had a full staff of nepotism hires and laid me off. How do I feel about that? Ripped off.  Yet, as it would later turn out, laying me off was a favor that would later be realized as much was yet to unfold (as in the experience with that duplicitous and deceitful friend I described above) that I could not have coped with had I been working full time. Or even part time. I was a mess, crying every day, sometimes all day long. I still cry but not every day anymore, thank goodness.

In my life I have never been on birth control except for a three week stint to try and help my irregular menstruation cycles. It made me so sick, I had to stop taking it and the doctor tried a milder one but that, too, made me sick so I just put up with the irregular cycles. My uterus was damaged from childhood and though the doctor thought I had miscarried four times during my child bearing years, I was never able to carry to full term thanks to my parent’s drunk and abusive friends who preyed on all of us kids every chance they got. Thanks to half raising some siblings who used to send me Mother’s Day cards every year and maintaining close ties to a family of children I day-cared from babies onward including teething, potty training, abc’s etc, my maternal instincts were fulfilled. This leaves me grateful and I do not feel ripped off because I have no unfulfilled desires to bear children, just a whole-hearted gratitude for the family accepting me as part of theirs to this very day.

Years later I learned, after five years of being told I had a groin pull, that I have a huge “pineapple” cyst they believe cancerous and I am scheduled for immediate surgery. My high school aged nieces I had never met due to geographical and financial distances, phoned to say they were coming to visit, they had already bought their tickets and would it be okay? Of course I said yes and cancelled my surgery. My thinking was if it was cancer, I might never see them again. So I spent the next three weeks learning about my nieces and trying to help them find healthy ways to deal with everything that was going on in their personal, home and school lives. I don’t think I made much of a dent but I did my best. Luckily, my postponed surgery worked out because the tumor was not cancerous. No ripped off feeling lingers at all because I was able to learn who my nieces were, make some happy memories with them and best of all, I was cancer free. I know I am one of the lucky ones.

And it is my hope, as I support my friend through her healing process, that one day she will no longer feel ripped off either. It is a very challenging place to come to, to no longer feel ripped off. When I hear my friend railing against the family that failed her and the system that failed her, my heart goes out to her because I understand her so well. Her psychologist has dubbed her family “dangerous” so she has little to do with them any more. I understand that, too, as I had family turn on me for their own mistaken notions and assumptions, siding with my ex as though I was the one who was the abuser, betrayer and deceitful person who rendered our marriage a “false front.” Still, I don’t feel ripped off about that anymore either because you cannot have healthy relationships with people who are not living truthfully with others and most of all, with themselves.

Healing is as individual as we all are and there is no one size fits all remedy or cure. You just have to go through what you are going through and hope one day it won’t hurt so much. Time does not heal all wounds but it can decrease their hold on your heart and psyche. Being gentle with yourself is all you can do when you are smack dab in the hurting phase. For me, when I was there, nothing and no one could comfort me. I felt very “ripped off” and found that only those who had walked in similar shoes could truly understand. Others pressured me, as some are now pressuring my friend, saying things like, “you should be over that by now” or “just pull your socks up and move on.” These very blaming statements just thrust me deeper into the dark edge of night and my friend is finding the same. It is hard to find people who truly understand and just support your healing journey.

In the passing of time I have found some measures of peace and acceptance. While I may never forget all that happened to me during those most hurting years, I no longer wake up daily screaming, crying or clawing myself awake from nightmares. Both of my shoulders are scarred badly as I would somehow, in my sleep, start clawing at my own shoulders, trying to wake myself up to get away from the punishing nightmares that lasted about three years. I don’t feel ripped off anymore, though, I feel lucky that I made it here, this far, to my “now,” scars and all.

Who knows what the future may hold for me or my friend. It could hammer us with new challenges we could not have foreseen.  And in those moments, I will tell her and myself “it is what it is.” Like grief, there is no magic answer, healing takes as long as it takes.

“You are here now.”

“I am here now.”

“We are here now.”

You are not alone, we are in this life together.”

c) Janni Styles