in the midnights
of my mind
when the sun
turns her back on earth
how many stars would shine
only knew their worth
(c) Janni Styles
in the midnights
of my mind
when the sun
turns her back on earth
how many stars would shine
only knew their worth
(c) Janni Styles
Triggers for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are as individual as we are. There are a few commonalities from a high startle response to loud, sudden noises or not recognizing your surroundings even though you are in a familiar place you have known for decades. What I have learned is that anything at all can be a potential trigger.
Here are a few triggers from various sources as well as some of my own:
What being “triggered” looks like:
These are just a few triggers and a few examples of what being triggered can look like. There are thousands more triggers and, I am sure, just as many responses. For years after the physical assault, I would rock hours away. Anywhere. Doctor’s office, trauma survivor workshop, restaurant, wherever I was I would just start rocking often without even realizing I was doing it at all. Hard to imagine I know. Recently I have started rocking again. This makes sense because I was ill almost the entire month of July, the heat flared my asthma daily and I was ill with heat exhaustion for over two weeks. I am now fighting what I believe to be a misdiagnosed bladder infection which is wearying me severely. When I am not well physically, I “trigger” more easily. Yesterday (August 14, 2017) I was triggered. I hardly slept last night from the abdominal and back pain I’ve had for nearly three weeks now and because I was so anxious from being triggered, no amount of pain killers eased my physical state. PTSD makes us vulnerable to a host of triggers both known and unknown. What I have found is there is an acute lack of understanding from friends and loved ones who do not grasp the disorder and can even trigger us because they don’t want to learn or even try to understand. This is why you will find me writing about PTSD every so often. Educate, educate, educate is all I know to do.
If you or someone you love has PTSD please feel free to share your or their experiences in the hope that, one day, we will not have to explain ourselves any longer but may simply live our lives in peace.
(c) Janni Styles
Shame is a terrible thing. When you feel too ashamed to share how you are really feeling with anyone, it is a terrible dilemma to be in. Some of this shame I know too well myself from having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since a physical assault in 2012 and being too ashamed since then to say so as if I had created the condition myself. People shame us with their love of all things sunny and funny as if being “real” and “depressed” or otherwise hurting is a sin. It is not.
Just today in the bank I was so proud of myself for speaking out. The line was 40 deep and I began to overwhelm and panic, started visibly shaking which prompted a staffer to come out from her desk and ask me if I was alright. No, I told her, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and all these people are panicking me. She took me into her office, helped me reset my forgotten password so I could use the bank machine. Only when I was at the bank machine did I realize the money will be dispensed in twenties and I did not want my rent all in twenties. Back in the now much shorter line I went to be served in a little under 15 minutes.
Just a few years ago I was afraid to say I have PTSD lest I be blamed, shamed or otherwise abused for having something I did not want or ask for. I suspect my mother, always known for being such a strong woman, felt shame when she thought of committing suicide and this shame prevented her from sharing her thoughts with the very people who could have supported her through that very dark period of her life. My hunch is she did tell one or two church going friends who likely shamed her further because according to some faiths “suicide is a sin, a coward’s choice.” Talk about silencing the suicidal. It is not a sin.
Those are very faulty religions if you ask me. We are only human. We are allowed to have faults. If we had no faults we wouldn’t be human. I cannot know what my mother was thinking but as a grown woman who often reflected on finding her when she attempted suicide, I can guess what she was going through.
Our dad was a good looking musician in his leisure time and a hard working machinist who won some awards for his music. The inevitable groupie followers developed and some of those led to liaisons that were poisoning my parent’s marriage. Our family left Ontario when I was 11, we five of my parent’s children packed into the back seat of an old boat of a car that had seen better days but carried us to the west coast of Canada.
There, I am sure, my mother’s plan was to start a new life free of the women who still found out our west coast address and wrote my father love letters as well as hate mail to my mother. Sadly, dad could not find work on the island we resided on so he left home to find work on the mainland. We only saw him weekends after that and sometimes not even then. This led to the inevitable end of my parent’s marriage when my father met and fell in love with another woman.
Some time after this I overheard him, emotionally, telling my mother he still loved her, too, that he loved them both. Still, he ended their marriage to remarry and left us alone, broke and with a mother in such pain she could not see a future past it. I suspect we had come as far west as possible and the only other option was to return to Ontario where we had left so much family behind to arrive out west where we had none. Or jump in the ocean.
For me, I will always think of my mother’s suicide attempt as jumping in the ocean. Going back was too painful, too shameful, I believe, and facing a future with no job, five children staring at her for sustenance and guidance, and the love she made the move for now gone from her life. In those times there weren’t a lot of options for women. Many simply sought out a new man. Our mother told us she would never love anyone as much as she loved our father so this wasn’t a viable option for her.
On the night she attempted to take her own life with drugs a psychiatrist had prescribed to help her cope and sleep, she sent each of us five kids to stay overnight at our friend’s homes. I was playing board games and talking with the friend I chose to sleep over with and suddenly it struck me: Mom is home alone. Nobody is with Mom, she is all alone. Something compelled me to act on that thought and run all the way home where I found her totally out of it in her bed. She had been vomiting and some of the tiny pink pills were still whole in her vomit. We had no telephone so I ran to the neighbor to ask her to call an ambulance. She did.
Mom survived. How she survived I do not know. What support she had to get through that dark period in her life is beyond me. We needed her, that was all I knew at thirteen. Somehow Mom put her life back together. She found odd jobs until landing a government job as a Matron (as they were then called) in a youth detention home. This was one of her greatest points of pride in her work career, to have such a great position that paid well, had benefits and made life easier in so many ways. The institution eventually closed and Mom opened a daycare center in her own home which she worked at for approximately twenty five years.
During this time she remarried, too, but you could see she never truly loved our stepfather. It would be what many call “an arrangement” but that came to an end when she could no longer tolerate not having the love she truly wanted. Our father died just a few years after leaving us and shortly thereafter, Mom packed up the house, took what kids were left at home and moved back to Ontario with the stepfather she would eventually part ways with.
Many of her friends and relations had already retired but she worked on, caring for children in Ontario and becoming a source of advice and support for their often young parents. She affected so many lives in such positive ways that many took to calling her “Mom” themselves and still tell us kids what a great influence she was on them and their children.
Many criticize me for talking about my mother’s attempted suicide as if she or I should be ashamed of it. We absolutely should NOT be ashamed of this. Besides, I was only thirteen years old. Think about that for a moment. Compassion should be the answer and nothing else. Years later after her attempt on her life my mother said she didn’t really want to die, she just thought we would be better off without her because she couldn’t see a way out of her dilemma at the time. She said she was just going out of her mind and didn’t know what else to do to stop from hurting.
I understand this. My life has not been a road of roses and I really get how when we are so far down, we forget to look up or we just don’t have the strength to look up. We overwhelm, panic and dig ourselves deeper instead of reaching out, calling out to a safe person to help us through the challenging chapters of our lives.
If anything, in light of all the recent high profile suicides in the world, we should learn something from this. We should learn that not talking is a silent killer.
We should learn that being a safe place to talk, a non-judgmental source of support is critical. If people feel safe enough to share how they are really feeling maybe we can save some lives that otherwise might end too soon.
We can talk about suicide all we want and raise awareness all we want but, if people are feeling so alone and isolated or shamed or blamed in any way for feeling they have no other option, they are not likely to reach out at all.
Make your ears a safe place for anyone to talk about how they feel. I had a friend when I was in emotional trouble after the physical assault in 2012 who said, “Call me anytime. I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning, you call me anytime you need to. It would be my honor to be there for you and help you through this.” I never needed to call her at 2 in the morning but call her I did. A retired hospital manager, she was a key person in my healing process and we remain close, mutually supportive friends to this day.
One safe set of ears is all it takes to make a difference. If you can’t be a safe set of ears for a person, at least don’t judge them and please be kind.
Having the resources of suicide line numbers and agencies that can help is also a good idea for those who can be a safe set of ears. I don’t believe anyone really wants to die, they just want the inner turmoil and pain to stop.
All I can say in closing is that I was so glad I found my mother in time. Later when life had leveled out for her, she told me herself, “I’m glad you found me in time, too.”
© Janni Styles
I used to write a lot but am finding it harder and harder these days as life takes over and I have no energy left to write. In time I know I will get back to it but these periods are always unbalancing for me because writing is akin to breathing for me.
I also used to be a home owner. Four homes I owned consecutively with my ex and each sold swiftly for full price because of all the decorating and landscaping I did. Yes, he helped some. But he was no good at landscaping, he could mow the lawn and that was about it because he often overwhelmed himself with projects he simply stopped mid way and I finished the job as in installing hardwood floors, mill work, crown mouldings/trim, painting, setting tile, installing backsplashes, pressure washing and staining a cedar deck, pressure washing and coating the aggregate patio and much much more.
Decades ago when I was seeing a psychologist to try to save our marriage the psychologist told me my ex has a “theme of negligence” going on through out his life. Yes, the psychologist was absolutely right and even though my ex would never go for help himself (this way he could always say I was the crazy one who needed help, but I digress)… he did agree with everything the psychologist said of him.
Anyway, I used to be a very good wife but I am no longer in that relationship, have not been for over eight years now. I do have photos of all the homes we owned and they were very nice especially after I finished updating and upgrading so many of the rooms and gardens. I say used to be because I now live in a wee basement apartment that receives little natural light. To that end I have decorated with cheerful light and bright decor to make up for the windows I wish I had.
I used to be able to paint a room in a day by myself, have it all back in place by the next day and I used to work in the back gardens for days on end especially in the spring and fall when they required so much work. I used to have a lot more energy but that was before Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Fibromyalgia stole it from me. Some days are better than others but on days I can’t even get out or can’t get past the physical pain, it helps to have pretty things to look at.
I may never own a home again but I love my peaceful pretty place. A good friend once said that my homes all feel the same, they were peaceful, an extension of me and an expression of my artistic soul. If he is right and he often is, you will now know me better after seeing these pictures taken from my current “home.”
More writing soon to come and meantime, enjoy this little glimpse into my current world.
(c) Janni Styles (all photos and text are property of the author/photographer)
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:
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.
My name is Janice and I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). There, I’ve said it aloud to the whole wide world now. Yes, I know my loyal blog subscribers have read it before but not everyone bothers to read what I post here and often many don’t want to read about PTSD at all. I understand. I wish I could write cheery, delightful posts every day but that’s not likely to ever happen on my blog anyway. I am not much on small talk and idle missives. I like what I write to mean something, more importantly to possibly even help even just one person in the world.
Usually when I start talking about PTSD people skitter away and want nothing to do with even learning about it. Why is that? So many people have died because of it, including an entire family in Nova Scotia mere days ago and yet people want to stuff it under the rug along with all other manner of mental health issues as though sufferers should be ashamed and not talk about it or even dare be triggered into a full blown episode.
The shame is not ours but belongs to anyone who would rather look away than learn about this awful disorder that can strike anyone at any age. Trauma is not something we ask for nor do we want it. Yet, many of us have experienced so much trauma that we just lose our ability to cope. This includes many who were abused in childhood, many who will likely suffer PTSD all of their adult lives. This includes a man who works as a Police Officer. This includes the woman who works as a Paramedic. This includes all people working all front line jobs where trauma occurs daily from the Emergency Room to the soldiers who return from war torn daily life to be triggered by hearing a car backfire down their street. Some people may never develop PTSD but others, it seems, cannot avoid it. We do not lose our intelligence, we merely lose our ability to cope. All the intelligence in the world cannot prevent a person from getting PTSD.
How did I get PTSD? Well, the doctors feel I may have had a mild form of it from all the shocks I endured in my marriage. But I managed to cope and soldier on until 2012 when a long time trusted friend physically assaulted me while my ex held my arms. A near 20 year friendship down the drain with a kick by a woman who has martial arts and could have exploded my bladder and killed me on the spot. (No, she was never charged because he and she lied to the police and police dropped the charges). For two years I had health issues that stemmed from that kick, some I would rather not mention here. Not to mention my shoulders both now full of scars from clawing myself awake from nightmares for two years.
Some things about having PTSD are better now. The thing I struggle most with is the “trigger” unpredictability which can overtake everything so that you need sticky notes all over just to remind you of every day tasks or things you promised you would do for others. It’s not that you don’t want to do those things, you simply, well, speaking for me, I simply cannot remember everything and greatly appreciate reminders.
The first year I had PTSD I was unable to take in any amount of information. No matter how many times the clerk at the bank might repeat herself, I could not make out what she was saying. Her words were foreign, another language, it was all gibberish to me even though she was speaking English, my birth tongue. I started to tremble, then tears flowed and the manager was called. I asked to have it noted on my file that I have PTSD, I also asked that they please “speak slowly” and “be patient” with me because PTSD is not something I can control.
Jumpiness used to be worse for me than it is now but I can still be startled by people coming up behind me in the grocery store (why oh why do people do that anyway…sigh). Even walking right out in front of me virtually cutting me off, stopping me from walking because their royal rudeness couldn’t just wait their turn can trigger me.
A nasty phone call or exchange I don’t deserve from a mean neighbor or other person on a rant, an abusive text from my ex or criticism from any source can trigger an episode. An episode for me can last a week. A week’s worth of jumpiness, anxiety, depression and needing lots of quiet, safe solitude to recover. This is better though, for me. You see, I used to suffer from PTSD 24/7, with no end or break in sight. Anything and everything triggered me and I just kept withdrawing more and more from daily life to protect myself.
Even standing in a line at the bank or grocery store where people practically press right up against you can trigger me. I can’t stand anyone invading my space and will try to keep three feet between me and the person behind me. If they push up, I step away, sideways if I must just to get rid of that sense of invasion until it is my turn in the line. Sometimes I have had to flee a store, just drop all my intended purchases and race out the door to my car where I can get in and lock the doors against intrusive, invasive types out there in the public.
Personally I am sick and tired of people being sick and tired of hearing about this very important condition anyone can be struck down by. We were given two ears and two eyes and one mouth for one reason. Let’s stop shaming people for having this and start listening, seeing, sharing and asking more questions instead of bolting away as though the person has a highly contagious disease. PTSD is not contagious. Stupidity can be. If you let it. Let’s not let it.
In an effort to educate others about PTSD, I have begun making posters about it and will share the first two here with you now:
If you or someone you know suffers from PTSD, I would love to hear how you are coping and what helps you to calm when you are triggered by people or events out of your control. Also, making these posters will be ongoing so if you have anything you feel you’d like others to know about PTSD please share and I will include it in a poster. Take good care and be gentle with yourself.
See you next time.