Trigger Warning – Trigger Warning – Trigger Warning!
Here she goes again, you may be thinking, writing about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No poetry or short story today because a recent “trigger episode” (not a partner past or present) has me realizing yet again how many people are unaware of what PTSD is or how to deal with it so I am sharing what I can for those who would like to know more about PTSD.
The causes of PTSD are varied. The one common factor is trauma. Two humans can endure the same traumatic experience with one recovering swiftly and the other unable to “shake it” for the rest of their days. There is no time line on recovery. It is as individual as we are.
- For me it was a brutal physical assault in 2012 by a long time friend who has martial arts
- For some it can be childhood trauma or sexual abuse
- For some it can be witnessing horrific events such as war or other catastrophic tragedies
The reactions to being triggered also vary from person to person. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a whole body trauma that can leave a person shaking, having excruciating headaches, nightmares, vomiting and having diarrhea. This is not a complete list of physical symptoms when triggered, we are all different. Some may start having horrible flashbacks of the traumatizing incident(s) all over again, some may grow depressed and withdraw from people or avoid certain places, some may grow angry at everything and everyone, some may feel slammed right back to the time of the incident that caused the PTSD. For me, having several chronic physical health conditions means stress exacerbates those and the stress of being triggered does this, among other things, to me:
- Since the trigger approximately a week and a half ago I began having nightmares again, filled with extreme terror and menacing images of the person who triggered me
- Fibromyalgia is really flaring up now, the pain spikes so much higher under stress
- Diagnosed in my 30’s with the Diverticulosis of “an 85 year old man” which, for me, under stress inevitably becomes diverticulitis meaning abscesses in the out-pouchings through-out my intestines. Not only is the pain horrific but once it flares up, the relentless cramping and flu like symptoms can take weeks to settle. I spend much of my time in the washroom and cannot eat solid food until I heal. Right now I am on baby food again and it is improving but I notice, with aging, this healing is taking longer than it used to
PTSD is, more often than not, invisible. While these pictures are far from pretty, I am sharing them because so many people simply do not even understand PTSD, it is just a word or a condition but they can’t “see it” so it means very little to them. It is my hope these pictures will help create awareness among those who have never had PTSD or those who love someone who has PTSD.
That is my left shoulder in the above photo. I am clawing my shoulders open again. Why can’t I just stop? Because I do not even know I am doing it. I am doing this in my sleep just as I did for the two years immediately after the assault in 2012. I awoke nightly and daily from nightmares with clawed shoulders, bloodied fingernails, bloodied sleepwear and bedding. This happened fairly consistently for two years. You can see the white lines and patches where old claw marks have healed.
Well meaning people can hurt us. While I believe they may mean well with no intention of hurting us, some well-intentioned people may unwittingly trigger us even further by:
- Making excuses for the abuser(s) instead of making them “accountable” for “their” abuse
- Pressing you to try things they believe will “fix” you because it worked for them or others
- Shame blame your condition for the trigger instead of who or what actually triggered it
Nobody should ever be “shame blamed” for being triggered. For years the trauma counsellors said, “It is not your fault.” Over and over and over. They were right. PTSD is NOT our fault. There is a reason why they call it “trigger” and once we understand how it all works, we can better help others who have PTSD. Just be safe, be kind, be gentle. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? It really is. There is no magic bullet, instant fix or preventing a full blown trigger episode. But being kind, being gentle and being safe is something we are all capable of doing and this can go a long way to helping the triggered person recover. Still, it may not be enough to help. Sometimes there is nothing for a trigger recovery except passing time, using your coping techniques and leaning on your professional health care team to guide you through it.
Seeing is believing for some. This next picture is my right shoulder scarred from those two years of horrific nightmares I was trying to escape. Because I am right handed, my right shoulder is less scarred and thankfully so far this shoulder has not yet been clawed open since those awful two years.
If you know someone with PTSD, just let them be wherever they are. Safety is needed far more than advice. Ask if you can do anything but don’t add to their stress by repeatedly saying what you know worked for yourself or someone else. Those who press us deeper into re-living the trauma might well stand over a terminal cancer patient or a person with dementia yelling: “Stop that!”
- We are all different. What works for some does not work for others.
- There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution to PTSD
- Meditation works for some but not for all
- Cannabis in various forms works for some but not for all
- Certain types of counselling work better for some than others
- How we heal or whether we ever do is also not our fault
Again, what works is as individual as we are. Here are a few of my coping techniques and no, they don’t always work but they I just keep on trying as and when I start feeling better:
- Peace and quiet. I love the quiet especially as a writer but even more so since getting PTSD. That said, it doesn’t have to be total quiet. Listening to a breeze, birdsong or gentle music can be soothing. Sometimes I just need absolute uninterrupted quiet for days after a bad trigger
- The arts really help me. I find writing therapeutic but also enjoy colouring, drawing, painting, even growing a garden or some flower pots of your favorite plants, just tending these plants leaves me feeling calm and peaceful.
- Being short of sleep just heightens the effects of a trigger for me and of course, being triggered means I won’t sleep well. I try to avoid medication but sometimes it is the only way to get a good night’s rest. Without rest I find it hard to cope period, never mind during a trigger.
- Talking to a “safe person” whether a safe friend or a trauma counsellor, sometimes just talking about what triggered us can help us feel better about managing it
- Good self care. I know it is all too simple to say but even if I don’t feel up to it, I always find something grounding in my personal care routines from choosing healthy food to eat to showering or just giving myself permission to sit quietly doing nothing for as long as I need to. When I find what works best to self soothe that becomes my trigger “go-to.”
Things you may not know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
- Nobody wants to get PTSD
- Nobody asks to get PTSD
- PTSD is not “our” fault. Nobody needs more abuse such as “shame blaming,” the same mental and emotional bullying already responsible for so many suicides in our world. If you don’t know what to say, please just be kind, safe and respectful as in, “I don’t understand what you are going through but please let me know if I can help you in any way.”
To all the trauma survivors out there, I understand some of what you must be going through and respect that your trauma is different from mine and that you are different from me. For me it takes a lot of time and gentle living to put myself back together after mental, emotional or physical abuse. Take your time and go gentle on yourself. Sadly, a lot of misinformation exists from the same minds who think we should just “snap out of it” which contributes to errant world responses and it can take a very long time to start feeling better. It can be done with concerted effort and new life patterning but again, even that does not work for everyone. Still, there is always hope that we will find our own way through it, our own comforts and healing practices while we mend our hearts and minds. I have had PTSD for years and I am still learning about it and how to manage it. Some never get any peace or rest from the excruciating effects of PTSD and my heart goes out to those people because I know I am one of the lucky ones.
© Janni Styles
Oh Primroses! Oh Primroses!
Breaking winter’s back
Hardened earth will not stay you
Nor the brilliance you pack
One beacon of perfection
One harbinger of spring
Your gentle hearted openings
Of which the angels sing
Cold hoary frosts forgotten
Growing joyful by osmosis
Burdens fall from velvet shoulders
OhPrimroses! Oh Primroses!
(c) Janni Styles
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. ❤ ❤ ❤
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
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