Bee Stings, Bullies and Where Blame Really Belongs

While I have heard you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar, I have to wonder about the life of the person who stated this because it is not always wise to be sweet as I have learned time and time again in trying to tolerate, maintain or repair relationships. Not all ships are created equal and not all relations are deserving of our loving kindness. This does not mean cruelty is in order either, simply that setting healthy boundaries or walking away is often the best choice to save ourselves. Staying in a situation that is unhealthy for us is the worst kind of punishment we could exact on our own psyche and well being but sometimes we find ourselves trapped in situations we could never have foreseen.

While I could include and discuss many relationships today I am going to talk about bullies. Where do they belong in our social system? Or do they belong at all? I say they are social misfits who do not belong near healthy people until they learn to behave with respect. My ex spouse, two sisters and their adult children are all perfect examples of bullies, they bully you shut, bully your opinion away and bully you into doing or saying what they want or they will go to greater lengths of abuse to try to make you pay for what is not even yours.  I will save all the details of those experiences for my book on complicated relationships and how easily we humans can become stuck in the same troublesome patterns, trying again and again when the result is always the same: no good for us at all. A troublesome bullying neighbor is my subject in this piece.

Over a year ago a woman who speaks six languages fluently and was featured in magazines for her award winning interior design work in her youth moved into the apartment next door to mine. I was pleased because I figured she would make a great neighbor from the landlord’s description of her. On our very first meeting she gave me a clue to her personality by telling me “I don’t think the landlords know about your boyfriend.” I was shocked and sputtered out, “He does not live here, he only visits and yes they do know because they welcomed him when I moved here.” What I should have said was, “Oh. So this is who you are. Mind your own business and keep away from me.” I didn’t.

Instead, I tried to “overlook” things, be patient, kind and tolerant. The more patient and kind and tolerant I was, the more invasive she became. She is a hoarder of junk and all things junky looking which she tried to pile up on my patio shortly after moving in. I had to involve the landlord who told her to take her stuff off my patio and don’t put anything there again.

Things seemed to settle for a while after that until she left on a three week cruise last winter. All of her windows were open and I told the landlord. I did not tell him that when she calls me over to show me her latest junk acquisition the heat is excruciatingly high and yet all of her windows are kept wide open all the time. The landlord found her heat jacked right up, turned it off and closed all of her windows. Immediately upon returning home, she told me the landlord stole her rental agreement and some other things when he went in to turn down the heat. I knew the landlord would never do this but there was no convincing her.

Not long after this she was upset about her car being “keyed so badly it is big gouges on the whole side up and down from front to back.” She yacked it all out in a 45 minute exchange with me. That is another 45 minutes I will never get back. I tried telling her they did not, would not do that, that they have cameras all around the house and I suggested she involve them because maybe they could look at the tapes and see who did it. At this time I did not look at the car. She told the landlord who informed me there was a hairline scratch on her car not even the length of his hand and it could have happened anywhere, she may have even accidentally done it herself.

Still, foolish git that I am, when her dog was recently attacked by raccoons, I could see she was very distraught and loving my rescued animals as I do and have in decades past, I gave her a hug. The dog survived. And then her stuff slowly started inching further and further back over onto my patio.

She asked for help with a cover letter for a part time job and I did it. It was easy to write because in my late twenties I once owned my own business doing documents, resumes and cover letters. She offered money but had recently given me a huge jug of dish soap she found herself allergic to so I said we are even now, no worries. When her car was stolen from the staff parking at that work place, I listened because, again, I felt sorry for her. From working in the justice system I knew these cars are often stolen for a joy ride or to do some illegal deal or other and I told her it would likely be back in a week or so. It was.

She has to pass by my door to get to her apartment and in the fair weather I keep the screened door open for fresh air. She would say hi every time she passed and often stop more than once a day to talk. I began saying very silly things like “my kettle is boiling” (who knows, maybe my “inner” kettle really was, haha) just to get rid of her. She stepped in one day when I was using my washroom and I yelled at her, “I  am using my bathroom!” She left but later came back to tell me some nonsense or other that I had no interest in. She has proven completely and totally impervious to normal social cues that would have the average person backing off instantly.

When I returned from a recent few days away for a family reunion she pounced on me at the laundry room just outside my apartment. She told me the landlord yelled at her while I was away and said “You women down there are evil! You are white trash and you don’t even deserve to live in my house.” I did not believe her and told her I find that hard to believe. What I believe now is that she was trying to incite me in the two-faced fashion of master manipulators to align me against the landlord. She failed.

She listens for me to open my door and runs out to talk. She hears me doing laundry and races out to talk. She plays her TV so loud that the junk TV talk shows I hate echo straight into my place, people onstage yelling and screaming at each other while the host eggs on the drama. Hard to believe that garbage is still on TV in my opinion and I’d rather have no TV than listen to all those time wasting dramatics. The last people I lived beside here for over a year just said hello in passing and never looked in my windows. She comes down the stairs in front of my place looking into my living room door and window the entire time, she doesn’t even have the courtesy to turn away or just pass without being nosy. I put up a curtain that sees me receiving less light than my already limited light down here and she just looks around it anyway.

At one point recently when her “visits” reached four times in one day, I told my boyfriend that I have to do something about her, I can’t take this for much longer. She interrupts my rest, my reading, my writing, my chores, my self care, she triggers my PTSD and my recovery time from her “Drama Queen” hurricane episodes. Not yet sure what to do about it, I aligned myself with the landlord who had expressed irritation at her stepping on their toes, painting the once soothing apartment a bunch of loud funky colors she did not have permission for among other things she has done to offend them.  I told them I was going to be speaking to her about her invasive ways. They said I have their support.

Well. Just a couple of weeks ago she started inching still more of her crap back over onto my patio. Then a few days ago she said, “Look, I have this nice table you can use if you want to, I will put it against the wall outside your window there.” I told her I don’t really want it there. I said I like to look at the wall of green I have created and I don’t like things cluttered up. But I don’t have room for it, she said. Well, you should give it away or donate it then, I said. She ignored all I said to put the table on my patio. It was on wheels so I shoved it back over on her patio and then pushed all of her encroaching junk back there, too.

When I arrived home from errands she was waiting for me. She came to my door and said, “Did you move my stuff?” Yes, I told her, I didn’t like it and I don’t want it on my patio. Well I can’t even get in there now on my patio, she said. You need to get rid of some stuff, you have too much stuff, I said. To which she retorted: you have a lot of stuff, too. Nothing like you do, I told her and I am not trying to absorb your patio to store my junk either, you are. She said, I will put it all back. If you do, I told her, I will shove it all back on your own patio. I don’t care, she said, I will put it back, I will put it back, I will put it back! Well then, I said,  I will involve the landlord. She said in a very telling statement common among bullying social misfits: “I don’t care.”

In the typical unaccountable methodical fashion of sociopath behavior meant to manipulate us into meeting their needs, she began blaming me, telling me “you are depressed, you need help!” Having had a lot of experience with this oppressive tactic from unhealthy people in the past, I told her, “You are so messed up, it has nothing to do with me at all. You need to stop being so pushy and listen for once in your life. Stay away from me, I am not your social life!”

She continued calling me names, attempting to make her abuse my fault and I told her she is going to get herself evicted if she keeps this invasive, disrespectful behavior up. At one point my boyfriend thought she hit me and stepped out on the patio to tell her to stop abusing me, told her that she needs to stop bothering me all the time. She denied it and he told her “I’ve seen what you do, you need to leave her alone.” It was actually her dog that jumped at me and knocked my sunglasses out of my hand. Still, she just shouted back, “You don’t even live here!” No recognition or acknowledgement of anything reasonable that is being said to her is certain proof of how messed up and disrespectful she really is.

In addition to what I said to her I told her I do not want to ever again hear her two-faced talking about our landlords. She denied doing so. I cited the examples listed above and told her not to speak for me to them either, I can speak for myself just fine. She said, I didn’t! Yes, you did, while I was away you complained about something and you said “we both” and I didn’t even know anything about it, I told her,  I just don’t want to hear anything about the landlords from you ever again, do not include me in your wild imaginings.

She continued to tell me I was at fault in many ways I don’t need to list here, said she has learned what an awful person I am. Such are the abusive patterns of those broken individuals who can no longer use, abuse or manipulate us into doing whatever it is they want us to do. My last words before I came back in my apartment were: Stay away from me, I am NOT your social life.

Today is the first day of peace for me since she moved here. No back and forthing to my door. No bothering me when I did my laundry this morning. No jumping out her door as soon as she hears me exit mine or when she hears me coming down the stairs when I return home. No going up and down the stairs just to get another look into my place or talk without invitation and use up my precious life minutes.

If you know me at all as all of my long time friends and healthy, loving family members do since childhood, you know I am a loving, kind person who is all about the people and relationships. I am even considering changing my blog theme to focus on human relationships of all sorts because whether poetry, short story or a piece like this, it is always winds up being all about the people for me.  Still, whether there is mental illness, abuse of any sort, sociopath patterns or meddlesome two-faced manipulators, I have learned I need to guard my kindness and save it for those deserving. A famous psychologist named Phil McGraw says “People tell us who they are.” They sure do. If we are listening.

Sometimes sugar and honey just turn the bees more aggressive so they sting you harder and more often. Know who your bees are before you feed them anything at all is the best thing I can think of to do. Off to enjoy more peaceful uninterrupted time to myself. Now that sounds really sweet to me. Ahhh, peace and quiet.

Hope to see you again soon.

(c) Janni Styles

 

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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