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:

How I help YOU cope with my PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you next time.

#BellLetsTalk

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

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

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PTSD: Is it possible to Forgive and Forget?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Hate Christmas!!!

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“I hate Christmas!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

❤ ❤ ❤

© Janni Styles

 

 

 

Grief at Christmas: How about just being Human?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing everyone a safe and peaceful Christmas.

(c) Janni Styles