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.

Clean Laundry

taking in the sheets today the fresh air held me fast

I was in kitchens of my childood my mother standing there

her cold reddenened hands at work hanging and folding

our laundry from the line in cold Ontario air

 

for just a few minutes tonight I forgot where I was

pressing my face into fresh washed sheets

all I could think of was my mother

and precious fresh sheets sleeps

 

as I unraveled the tangled laundry

and hung the damp bedding up to dry

I had a little visit with my mother

and did my best not to cry

 

(it didn’t work)

(c) Janni Styles

Love Enough or Love Undone?

When people say “this”

and then “that” they go do

how do we know if they

really mean “I love you?”

 

Will one morn the words become

“I didn’t really mean that either?”

and wobble you to the core

do you stay for more “word skiver?”

 

Do you run for the hills

or stay for more?

Do you chance taking a chance on

making your own heart more sore?

 

Unwelcome jolts or unkind events

people no longer who you would often defend

do you start again, how do you mend the rents?

or do you sit contemplating on the fence?

 

If word is so easily broken

it could happen to me too

nothing is certain, everything can upend

in just a second or two.

 

One foot ahead of the other I go

trying to find balance in undeserved change

walking ’til I find my peaceful heart again

Now that my love has been rearranged.

(C) Janni Styles

How I help YOU cope with my PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mom-alone-cropped

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom.

 

ptsd-poster5

 

 

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.

ptsd-poster-3

Why don’t people want to learn about PTSD?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ptsd-and-you-poster-january-2016

 

ptsd-and-you-poster-2

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.

On Healing Hearts, Souls and Minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are here now.”

“I am here now.”

“We are here now.”

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

c) Janni Styles