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
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:
Dreamer everyone called her
Always passing real life by
She thought herself fitting in fine
Until she saw fit to reply
“I can’t really love anyone
I was born tethered to the sky.”
(c) Janni Styles
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
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
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.”
“Those are your pray bones, stupid child,
Can you not see?”
“Kneel and ask God for forgiveness!”
Yet all I really wanted to ask God was
“How did I break my knee?”
(c) Janni Styles
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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
“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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
enough is growth past
doubt to find that love is not
without but within
(c) Janni Styles
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.
(c) Janni Styles
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.
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.
seven sisters bloomed
mother’s pride til they would not
grow past their thorns
(C) Janni Styles
This often asked question can spiral us into examining our lives and trying to find the answer somewhere in there. After many decades of wondering and observing our world myself, I arrived at an answer that still sticks with me. The meaning of life to me is love.
Love, love, love.
There is no other purpose, to me, than living for love. Love does not necessarily mean romantic love, it means having someone love you, even just one person or you loving one person.
If you are loved by just one person, your life has meaning. If you love just one person, your life has meaning.
If no one loves you, your life can still have meaning because you may be passionate about something in your life. A creative pursuit, a career pursuit or an activity from surfing to sailing and everything in between.
If you don’t love anyone, maybe you love something in your life that takes up your time and attention, an artistic or musical pursuit or building your business up or leaving a legacy for a foundation or a person you care for.
So no matter what we may question about the meaning of life, for me it always comes back to the love. Being loved, loving, loving life, loving our worlds, always the love.
What are your thoughts on the meaning of life and love?
(c) Janni Styles
A while back I was having vision problems and thought, oh no, please don’t let my eyes go, I need them for reading and writing. Little did I know that the issue would fade and a new one would crop up.
It is not so much my eyes I should be concerned about anymore but my hands. I am having trouble typing these days and everything I ever did now costs me twice the time if it involves my hands. In addition to the chronic pain and burning, my hands are becoming very disobedient.
When I drive I have to grip the wheel with both hands, one at 10:00, the other at 2:00 and I don’t move them until I have arrived at my destination. This way there is no chance for error but I find my hands almost have a mind of their own during other activities and chores as I often drop things, burn myself, spill things, knock things over or have other mini accidents.
Peeling carrots or anything with a sharp knife is a huge temptation for my hands to fail, either dropping the vegetable altogether or taking a nice gouge out of my hand that was holding the vegetable or fruit.
Washing dishes is another daily calamity of dropping glassware or dishes in the sink or on the counter or on the floor. I do my best to avert things going awry by preparing well but, as real life will, it’s the ones you don’t see coming that always get you.
Today I can type a little and am trying to get a few things done before my hands fatigue right out. I can take the pain and burning if I must but I don’t want to lose my ability to type so am thinking if I push myself to type something each day, it will help. But I really don’t know.
Between the Fibromyalgia and Arthritis, I have no pain free days anymore. Unless I cave to the pain meds prescribed my doctor but then, they make me groggy, so drowsy I am still good for nothing but a nap from which I awaken and start all over again at square one.
Listen, I am well aware that many have much worse challenges in life. I am also well aware that there are millions who would gladly trade me places right now. But this has been on my mind for some time now and I just had to get it out there so it will stop nagging me, filling me with fear and fright that my hands will just not work one day. Of course having PTSD doesn’t help because your brain always goes to worst case nightmare scenario.
Who knows, I may be worrying for nothing. Maybe there will be a miracle cure tomorrow for what my hands suffer. Maybe I won’t need to worry about my hands anymore. Maybe they will obey me and let me write unimpeded. Well, one can always dream can’t one?
Forward I go, running on trust and faith that all will work out for the best. I just wish my hands could believe myself as I say that. Still, better to be realistic alongside hoping for little miracles, all things in balance. Now, hands, do you hear me? I’m not settling for this any more, I am just not. So there. Gee, they seem to have smartened up already. Maybe they are afraid of me now, ha ha.
(c) Janni Styles
I could see Mercy was all about herself. She’s changed people said. She’s not like that any more. Give her the benefit of the doubt. She was gone by morning. So was he. And just like that, I had no husband, no friend and no one to blame but myself.
(c) Janni Styles
(inspired by the fifty word story challenge)
in time our love bloomed
grass up through the sands many
warm beaches ago
(c) Janni Styles
time gave us chances
you denied while leaving trails
crooked on the beach
(c) Janni Styles
time was I would give
you all, my everything
that life all now beached
(c) Janni Styles
at moonlight’s bidding
romance blooms thieves in the night
cooled ashes by morn
(c) Janni Styles Continue Reading
Some days I open my Facebook page to find myself in the midst of a social media war zone. Social media is fast becoming less and less of a pleasure for many of us. I have many friends who have left Facebook or Twitter entirely and some who are deliberately avoiding those and other social media sites, for many months now, even a year. Some are never coming back. What could possibly be behind this shift in the wind where so many are taking leave of an almost anti-social place we once thought fun and social? While my own ongoing observations and opinions may not be one hundred percent conclusive, I think with my years online I know at least a couple of reasons why this is happening.
People don’t “hear” you right. Yes, I said “hear.” Too many jump to conclusions over almost nothing and all of their communication thereafter is based entirely on “their own” misguided assumptions and not a single thing you said or shared. For example, I posted a funny last year about Facebook use that said things like: we would never share our meals, our private homes, our children, our travels etc with strangers on the street and yet we will share them madly with virtual strangers on Facebook. For this post I received a lot of laughs and one lengthy lecture on Facebook use. I dared reply to the lecture in a reasonable fashion and found myself promptly blocked. Over-stuffed egos exist all over Social Media and I believe they are one of the main reasons we cannot be fairly “heard.”
Just the other day I was taken to task for using the word “should” – yes, it’s true! I actually replied and should not have because anytime we are justifying, we should stop or it could go on forever. Which it was. So I stopped and deleted everything I had said as well as blocked the person who appeared on a mission to hammer me no matter what I said because she could not “hear” me anyway. No matter what I said, my single innocent use of the word “should” continued to offend her and only when I stepped away did I realize she will never ever “hear” me or anyone else using the word “should” who intended no ill or no malice toward her or others on the thread. I found myself suddenly being skewered because she cannot “hear” properly and obviously has some intense mental health issues around the word “should.”
Which leads me to another problem I have witnessed on Facebook. We have no way of knowing who suffers from mental health issues and answering them or communicating with them in any way at all can lead to huge communication problems because nobody ever announces: “I have mental health issues,” they just join in and you find out for yourself as they unravel online.
Political postings have no place in my social media. I know some live and breathe politics but Facebook is not the place to shove your beliefs, political, religious or otherwise, down people’s throats. We get enough of that stuff on television, in our newspapers and on the radio as well as in phone calls to our homes and door knockers who should also know better by now. Trust me when I say we don’t need those things regurgitated daily in our social media feed. Try starting your own blog about the issues you care about instead. This way you instantly improve your social media presence and have a great place for the like minded to gather without ruining the social media experiences of others.
Ranting is another indulgence I see happening all too often. What gives with that? Wouldn’t an hour or two with an actual therapist help you better than dumping all over the heads of your social media friends? Besides, who has all that time to write pages long rants nobody gives a damn about…I sure don’t. Though I, admittedly, have indulged in ranting myself once or twice in the past, I swiftly learned ranting is the perfect way to repel readers and friends.
These may not suit everyone but, based on my own experiences and observations, I have developed a few Social Media guidelines that may, eventually, help lift the experience for everyone:
Finally (and I bet you are very glad to read that word by now), think about what you are burning and itching to say on social media before you say it. Ask yourself, 1. Is it kind? And 2. Is it necessary? If you answer NO to either question, best to move on in my opinion. Quietly. No more self appointed judges. More “askers” and less “assumers,” please.
We may not be able to fix everything that has gone awry with social media but we can improve our own “zones” in an effort to make the experience what it was meant to be: fun and social. Hopefully, over time, that will create a big enough “ripple” to offset some of the other elements that make it no longer fun or social for so many.
If I never see another angry post or angry face (when did posting “angry face” become so fashionable, ugh) or somebody selling something or other or another set of ugly duck lips on manically posted selfies so long as I shall live, that will be just fine by me.
What was once considered fun and social is now a chore for many of us, often hostile and, in my opinion, becoming more and more “anti-social.” Who needs a big chore that many of us have grown to dread so much we just opt out? I haven’t yet opted out myself but I am going on these sites less and less every single day. It’s just not time well spent in my opinion, if it’s not happy making or helpful in some way, why bother… well, that’s it for me.
Peace be yours.
(c) Janni Styles
(c) Janni Styles
(c) Janni Styles
(c) Janni Styles
(c) Janni Styles
As writers we are not supposed to give our books away free. As one who does not have the good health or stamina to learn how to market books, I have no choice. I would rather something I wrote reached one human heart than delay publishing because of the monumental task of marketing. I see people marketing marketing marketing and get very tired of seeing it over and over and over so I am aware that marketing can also annoy others and I try not to do it on my private pages anywhere.
As writers we are not supposed to change the covers of our books. Too late. When I first released my collection of short stories I was in a very bad head space suffering from full blown PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) the result of my ex and a former “bestie” physically assaulting me and then lying to the police about it so that police dropped the charges despite my physical health issues for over a year following that assault. (Still can’t get over that she had martial arts and kicking is lethal force (she could have burst my bladder and killed me on the spot), she committed Assault Causing Bodily Harm and yet charges were dropped entirely because of their lying collusion.) Anyway, my PTSD is still there, as you can read, I can still be easily triggered but my thoughts about why I originally chose a pink cover for my book have changed. At that time in my life I was choosing everything pink from bedding to book covers because pink was safe and warm and comforting to me. When I looked at that pink cover recently I realized I can do better now and have a more universally appealing cover (I hope 🙂 ).
As writers we are not supposed to change the titles of our books. I get that and wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it necessary. The title of my “pink” covered book was taken from one of the short stories inside the book. For some reason I never liked it as well as I should have. Every time I saw the title “One Part Good” I thought people likely assumed I was referring to myself. I was not. I was referring to that human part of us, that one little bastion of goodness within no matter how much of a nasty beast we have been to others. It has been my years long and sorrowful conclusion to find that not all humans even have ‘one part good’ inside them. Some kill others or bear grudges so long they would rather nurse their anger to their death bed than step up to what it is to be a kind, compassionate human being. So my title has been changed which you will see from the following link. Enjoy your day and thank you for reading my pages. You are very much appreciated by me.
Thank you to Fiona McVie! Fiona is a shining star who features authors on her web pages and today is my lucky day! Hope you enjoy the read, you might like to check out other authors while you are there or apply to Fiona for your own author interview:
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. I got 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). Finally 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 survive difficult times. You or someone you know may appreciate what I have to share with you today.
Surviving Difficult Times:
These are just a few little things I share today as I work on a small book for survivors of PTSD and emotional trauma. 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 have my little book out by the end of this year to, hopefully, 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. Today is a good day.
Questions and your thoughts are always welcome here.
See you next time.
(c) Janni Styles
Oh, don’t worry, you just have to look apast some things, my mother said, it’s the way it is for all of us.
This was my mother’s take on love. You just accept some things that are not so nice in order to enjoy all the nice things you like in a person. She might have done that with Dad but I don’t think so. I think she and Dad were perfect for each other, building a life in the country side together and raising us four kids. For all her country lingo, Mom was a wise woman but she wasn’t marrying George. I was.
George with his already Curly of the Three Stooges hair ring boasting a shiny top suitable, in my opinion, only for smacking when he did his burping and farting routines. How can a man who became a millionaire in business command so much public respect and still be so crass at home in private? I think I forget sometimes that manners are not necessarily synonymous with wealth.
Look, Mom said, you will never want for anything and you’ll always be able to do things none of us could ever afford to do like go to Hawaii.
It was my mother’s dream to go to Hawaii but she never did make it there, her life was snuffed out by that evil cancer that is all too prevalent in a modern world where you can fly to the moon but not cure people of that rotten C word. Of course, her death came much later, decades after we sat in what used to be my bedroom at home where we were preparing me for my wedding. The room was filled with a heady fragrance from the huge bouquet George had sent that morning. It was almost cloying and I considered dumping them out the window but I knew I had to sit still for Mom to finish my hair. I could have gone to a salon but I wanted my wedding day to be filled with fond memories of the people I love and I liked the simplicity of plaits and a few flowers in my hair.
I do love him in some way, I said, but I just don’t know if it’s the kind of love that means I can do “life” with this guy, Mom. He’s grown twice as wide just in the three years we’ve been together and the way he talks sometimes I get so embarrassed I want to crawl under something and hide or run out of wherever we are as if I am not even with him.
Mom’s age freckled hands continued patiently braiding my long hair and plaiting it around my head just the same way she did for me when I was little getting ready for school. It tore at me to be here now in this comforting space sitting on my floral comforter with such a highly publicized wedding in front of me. In just two hours I would be Mrs. George Hanson. No, Mrs. Loretta Hanson. Or would I?
Loretta, Mom said, as she pinned the plaits in place, Nobody gets everything they want in this world. Nobody. You just weigh up the good and as your own Granny said to me when I had the wedding night jitters, some of us just learn to “make do.” That’s how life is. You just learn to make do.
She finished my hair and then looked in the mirror to pat her salon do she’d had done that morning. People always said Mom was Shirley Maclaine’s twin and that might be true but all I could see in the mirror as I looked over her shoulder was my loving Mom trying to do her best to support me and guide me.
I told her I was driving myself to the seaside instead of taking the limousine to the church. Mom accepted what I was doing and gave me a hug as I grabbed my keys and left my childhood home. She even said she admired my pluck and wished she’d had some of it herself sometimes. Even Mom understood there are some things in life you simply cannot make do with or “look apast.”
I phoned the church and told them to go ahead and have the party anyway but to celebrate freedom, not “making do.” George would find a new wife no trouble with all that money I couldn’t sell myself out for. I took my sandals off and walked out into the shimmering ocean under the stars with my wedding gown floating up all around me like a cloud that held up my dreams and my dreams of how I wanted my life to be began drifting back to me one by one.
Short story excerpt by (c) Janni Styles