Surviving Difficult Times: PTSD and Trauma

Many of you already know what I went through these past few years so I will not repeat my entire story. Let me just share with you what I have learned about surviving difficult times. I got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from a physical assault in 2012 (though many believe I was suffering from it long before I walked out of my more than three decades marriage due to the shocks I endured in that relationship). Finally I am at a place where I hope to help others with what worked for me as I clawed my way out of the darkness to where I am today. While I still have PTSD it is not as severe as it once was and hinders me less because I have found a few ways to survive difficult times. You or someone you know may appreciate what I have to share with you today.

Surviving Difficult Times:

  1. If you have any people in your life who are negative, critical or even in any small way unfair or abusive, avoid them. If you are struggling to get through a difficult time these types of people can only add to the burdens we are already packing. Yes, we may love or even be related to some of those people but tolerating any criticism or negativity from people we love is often more hurtful than from those we don’t know as well. This only exacerbates the situation we are in. Someone unfairly chastised me royally on a social site for posting a “funny” she obviously disliked. This triggered me and I did answer her but she blocked me. Clearly she is neither safe nor compassionate and blocking me was probably the best favor she could do though at the time it just felt like more abuse. We need safe, loving, healthy, kind-hearted people around us when we are experiencing difficult times. This doesn’t mean you have to end the relationship(s), only that you may need to avoid those insensitive, cantankerous types until you are through the rough patch you find yourself in. Avoidance worked well and is still working well for me.
  2. Surround yourself with loving, healthy people wherever possible. From your health care providers to your social circles, clean house as often as need be to ensure that you are being supported by only those who are “safe” with good and kind intentions. Nobody needs ill intending people in their worlds at the best of times but at the worst of times those people can just feel like one more source of aggravation and abuse we simply do not need or deserve. They are also extremely draining, the last thing you need when trying to build yourself back up.
  3. Find your happy place or space. This can look like your own cozy bedroom, a favorite park or an activity you enjoy from reading to running. You choose what it is that makes you feel better and if that is music, baking, camping out, visiting a friend, doing yoga or escaping into a good movie or a book, whatever, it doesn’t matter as long as you have a few moments or, perhaps, hours, away from what is constantly overwhelming you. Retreat as often as you need to into your happy place or happy space. Friends, books and long walks or writing are my go to’s for a break from my personal life challenges. I found it helpful to keep adding to my “safe” go to list as I went along and discovered things that were helpful for me. Often I still prefer to have no stimulation, no noise, no light, and just being still with myself. Somehow it re-energizes me and I am able to get back on the bike of life and pedal my way forward. When everything and everyone “hurts,” finding our happy place or space can take a little time but that’s okay too. Just go gentle on yourself as you find what works best for you.
  4. Tell people what you need. This was the hardest of all for me. Learning to be my own best advocate was fraught with challenges I could not foresee. Once when the bank overcharged me for something I panicked because I did not have enough money for my rent (this was all reversed by the bank and I did have enough for my rent in the end).  Meanwhile, the talks-too-fast clerk kept repeating herself and would not hear any of my questions. I started to cry and the bank manager and security people all came over which made me cry harder. Finally, stuttering severely as I do when PTSD triggered, I was able to tell them I have PTSD and requested a note be put on my file (I wrote the note which said: I have PTSD. Please be kind and patient with me. Sometimes English sounds like gibberish to me if my PTSD is triggered. Please speak slowly and please repeat yourself if I need you to. Thank you.) Nearly five years later that note is still there and the service I get at the bank is impeccable, very considerate and caring. With others I may decline an outing or a visit at the last minute because I just can’t take any stimulation that day. Knowing what we need is half the battle. I spent a lot of time asking myself what do I need because there were moments when I truly did not know. If you can figure out what your needs are, asking others to honor those needs is the best way to take care of ourselves in my opinion. They may not understand why we need what we need but that does not matter. They may never understand. What matters is we know how to take care of our needs to avoid being triggered or overwhelmed by all the things in the world that are out of our control.
  5. Seek professional help. If you have an emotional or mental condition that needs attention don’t try to manage it all by yourself. Talk to your doctor and if you don’t have a doctor, try to tap into your local community services to see if there is a Health Unit or other source of support or help they can guide you to. Trying to manage it all by yourself is not advisable. I do not know where I would be if I had not sought and availed myself of professional help. Going to trauma counselling for two years after I was assaulted not only gave me a safe place and person to help me heal but it also gave me many skills I learned from the trauma counselor herself. Simple exercises like counting my breath or counting the items in a room, anything to distract me from feeling panicked, overwhelmed and unable to cope still help me to this day. Luckily for me, where I live we have some terrific community services and I was able to get help for the legal process of court which took three years and also emotional support and guidance. Without the help I received I know for sure I would not even be here. Seeking professional help is always wise.
  6. Believe. Believe there is help available for you and don’t give up on trying to find it. Believe there will be better days because as black as this moment may feel, there will be better days eventually. I didn’t think there would ever be better days when I was in the midst of just trying to cope but there were and those then rare days helped me believe there would be more. Believe you deserve the help. None of us deserves to be hurt, lied to, criticized, abused or assaulted in any way, shape or form. When we have been good people and always done the right things in life it is hard to imagine why anyone would want to be so cruel to us for any reason. But some people just are. However much it hurt us, this is not as important as changing what we can for ourselves. We can leave, move away from or distance ourselves from harmful people and situations that are not good for us. It just takes time, professional help and focused effort to reach the place that is best for ourselves. Believe you deserve the best in life because you do.

These are just a few little things I share today as I work on a small book for survivors of PTSD and emotional trauma. There is so much more I could add but this is plenty for a blog post, I think.  Please note this list of what worked for me may not work for everyone and that is okay too. I am not a doctor or a professional in the field of trauma. I am just one survivor voice who could not find much that wasn’t academically written on the subject of trauma and PTSD. To that end, I hope to have my little book out by the end of this year to, hopefully, help others who need to hear from someone who has been there and shares her findings, not so much experience as findings because this is what I wanted for myself when surviving my difficult time in life. I wanted to talk to other trauma survivors, hear how they coped, learn coping techniques and I just couldn’t find that kind of basic easy to digest material out there. There was much on how the brain works but it didn’t help me one whit to cope or realize that I would survive this. So far so good, I am here, breathing and sharing. Today is a good day.

Questions and your thoughts are always welcome here.

See you next time.

(c) Janni Styles

Don’t Blink

in his eyes she saw

love neverending but he

was not seeing her

*

memories old held

him fastly, no room for her

she begrudged his choice

*

his first wife was his

first life no forgetting her

second life slow death

*

this is how love goes

sometimes you love and sometimes

someone loves you back

 

(c) Janni Styles

Look Apast

Oh, don’t worry, you just have to look apast some things, my mother said, it’s the way it is for all of us.

This was my mother’s take on love. You just accept some things that are not so nice in order to enjoy all the nice things you like in a person. She might have done that with Dad but I don’t think so. I think she and Dad were perfect for each other, building a life in the country side together and raising us four kids. For all her country lingo, Mom was a wise woman but she wasn’t marrying George. I was.

George with his already Curly of the Three Stooges hair ring boasting a shiny top suitable, in my opinion, only for smacking when he did his burping and farting routines. How can a man who became a millionaire in business command so much public respect and still be so crass at home in private? I think I forget sometimes that manners are not necessarily synonymous with wealth.

Look, Mom said, you will never want for anything and you’ll always be able to do things none of us could ever afford to do like go to Hawaii. 

It was my mother’s dream to go to Hawaii but she never did make it there, her life was snuffed out by that evil cancer that is all too prevalent in a modern world where you can fly to the moon but not cure people of that rotten C word.  Of course, her death came much later, decades after we sat in what used to be my bedroom at home where we were preparing me for my wedding. The room was filled with a heady fragrance from the huge bouquet George had sent that morning. It was almost cloying and I considered dumping them out the window but I knew I had to sit still for Mom to finish my hair. I could have gone to a salon but I wanted my wedding day to be filled with fond memories of the people I love and I liked the simplicity of plaits and a few flowers in my hair.

I do love him in some way, I said,  but I just don’t know if it’s the kind of love that means I  can do “life” with this guy, Mom. He’s grown twice as wide just in the three years we’ve been together and the way he talks sometimes I get so embarrassed I want to crawl under something and hide or run out of wherever we are as if I am not even with him.

Mom’s age freckled hands continued patiently braiding my long hair and plaiting it around my head just the same way she did for me when I was little getting ready for school. It tore at me to be here now in this comforting space sitting on my floral comforter with such a highly publicized wedding in front of me. In just two hours I would be Mrs. George Hanson.  No, Mrs. Loretta Hanson. Or would I?

Loretta, Mom said, as she pinned the plaits in place, Nobody gets everything they want in this world. Nobody. You just weigh up the good and as your own Granny said to me when I had the wedding night jitters, some of us just learn to “make do.” That’s how life is. You just learn to make do. 

She finished my hair and then looked in the mirror to pat her salon do she’d had done that morning. People always said Mom was Shirley Maclaine’s twin and that might be true but all I could see in the mirror as I looked over her shoulder was my loving Mom trying to do her best to support me and guide me.

I told her I was driving myself to the seaside instead of taking the limousine to the church. Mom accepted what I was doing and gave me a hug as I grabbed my keys and left my childhood home. She even said she admired my pluck and wished she’d had some of it herself sometimes. Even Mom understood there are some things in life you simply cannot make do with or “look apast.”

I phoned the church and told them to go ahead and have the party anyway but to celebrate freedom, not “making do.” George would find a new wife no trouble with all that money I couldn’t sell myself out for. I took my sandals off and walked out into the shimmering ocean under the stars with my wedding gown floating up all around me like a cloud that held up my dreams and my dreams of how I wanted my life to be began drifting back to me one by one.

Short story excerpt by (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:

Seasons of the Heart

leaning into the wind

one lone and life worn tree

leaves fallen all around

shivering cold no warmth to be

spring arrives sudden

some sun on the rise

tears falling as raindrops

cease in some sore eyes

summer leads us all to shore

to river, sea or brook

warmed minds forgetting

all life cruelly took

autumn falls with chilled air

we long for summers past

raking up old memories

in the face of wintry blasts

again and again we relive

the leaves dancing in our heads

one leaf atop another

our books of life longing

demanding to be reread

reminding us of loves eternal

why do we humans so grieve

our people are ever in our hearts

and never do they leave.

(c) Janni Styles