Christmas: Do you find hard times harder at this time of year?

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Capture christmas comfort piece blog

 

First posted November 29, 2015 but not much has changed since then. Sadly. I recently lost a brother one month and a sister the next in autumn 2017. Some social media post crazy maniacs were so unsupportive as to be abusive in telling me all about Facebook algorithms and saying “I hope you find someone who shares in your grief at this time.” Passive aggressive? Absolutely. Abusive?Absolutely. Not to mention extremely rude and most unkind. Now, that said, I heard from a “ton” of people I did not expect to hear from and they were very kind in their messages and checking behind the scenes to see if I was okay. Thank you to all of those kind hearts and to a few folks I know I know in the “real world.” It was surprising how many I know in  the real world who just stayed silent, posting their “baloney” sandwiches or gripes about life while saying nothing to me when I was always there to show support for them and their challenges. Lessons by the dozens are now learned. And to those others who were blatantly rude and unkind: “Straighten up. Wait until it’s your turn to mourn someone you love. I have saved your message(s) and will post them on your pages for you when that happens to you.” Well, maybe I won’t because I am not so hurtful as they are. Queen Karma will be visiting them, I am sure. Meanwhile, I am left wondering, how is it that people have time to lecture you at length by the page full online, post lengthy passive aggressive messages, share their constant griping about problems that are not even really problems at all and yet no time to simply say “I am so sorry.” Social Media, as I have said many times in the past, is not so social after all in my opinion. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing this Christmas, I hope you know someone cares. You can always message me behind the scenes here if you need a kind ear. Peaceful holidays wished to all. ❤ ❤ ❤

 

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Social Media Lies

Social media can be hard to contend with even when we are not smack dab in the middle of the Christmas holidays but when we are, it helps to remember that a social media presence is not a full or completely accurate perspective of who someone is.

We all try to show our best online but sometimes that is just not possible. Those times can be very dangerous for some because of the shaming that comes with social media if you are not sunshiny-happy-funny all the time in your posts.

Do people have the right to shame blame us? Of course they do not but they assume it anyway, well, just because they can. Tough subjects are often spurned on social media at the best of times and even more so during the holidays.

If only people would educate themselves and realize that social media is absolutely not all it is cracked up to be because some are struggling with so much in the “real” world that they dare not share for fear of being shame-blamed. Sad, isn’t it, what is happening to human compassion… Many could do to read Jean Vanier’s “Becoming Human.”

The only tool required to help someone online is kindness. Many things people are coping with are invisible to the naked social media eye and nobody should hasten to judge lest you or someone you love wear those very shoes one day yourselves. Nobody wants or plans to get PTSD or chronic physical health conditions.

Many will never understand this anyway unless and until it happens to them. Still, even in the face of not fully understanding, kindness never fails.

For those wanting to learn more or better understand Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which is just one of the many health conditions I contend with daily, here is an enlightening article that might help you or someone you love through this holiday season.

https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2017/12/another-traumatic-ending-from-the-the-effects-of-ptsd/

 

Learn here about the effects of living with PTSD

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 and a couple of men friends who just dropped away, no calls, no invites, no making sure I was not alone on special occasions as I had done with all of 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

(this is a "re-run" first published November 30, 2016 and in the photo is the "bird" ornament I speak of in number 6 above)

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

 

 

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.

Tonight I made a Cup of Tea

Tonight I made a cup of tea

Then called someone dear to me

The time passed swiftly, I listened close

A gentle ear was what she needed most

Life grabs us by the throat with incredible hold

Sometimes listening cures as words are told

The tea grew so cold, no rescue for that cup

But I’m glad my two ears lifted someone up

Tomorrow night I might make another cup of tea

And then make another call to another dear to me

(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: