PTSD: What does being triggered look like?

Trigger Warning!

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. 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:

  • Hearing a baby cry can trigger tears in me as I panic and think, someone please help that baby right now…
  • Loud voices, yelling and arguing of any sort online or otherwise trigger me severely
  • A childhood sexual abuse survivor cannot stand the sound of loud eating, smacking or slurping
  • A survivor of an abusive marriage cannot take any criticism of any sort from any source without violently shaking
  • People with one track minds who yell me “shut,” cannot or will not hear a word I say set me to stuttering and shaking
  • A man who once led troops cannot step off of his front porch without a reaction that sends him back inside for weeks

What being “triggered” looks like:

  • You may not “see” anything at all, the person may “appear” just fine, most of us do unless the “trigger” does not cease
  • For me, I start shaking and this can grow to full body convulsive tremors if the trigger does not stop or I cannot get away from the trigger
  • If badly triggered, I will start stammering, stuttering like nobody’s business despite being a public speaker and team leader for years
  • I internalize most triggers which means choppy sleep, if any, a return of the relentless terrifying nightmares and extremely high anxiety
  • Fleeing the person, place or thing that caused the trigger is not uncommon for me, getting away is often my own source of relief
  • Profuse sweating happens with me yet I am cold and clammy and I also have difficulty breathing, feel as though I cannot get enough air

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

PTSD, You and Me

Post traumatic stress disorder

P      T      S      D

Tightening every muscle

A giant fist of anxiety

Unkind, abusive people are not safe

Safety is on much higher ground

Pay no mind to the nasty folk

They will only bring us down

There is no known cure for this

It’s just the way the brain is wired

Stress and cruelty can wear you down

Leaving you emptied out and tired

Some days are better than others

There is no telling how they might be

You just wake up and try your best

Hoping things work out peacefully

The world is rife with assaulting sounds

People ready to argue on a dime

Guard your heart, your mind and ears

With soothing sights and music sublime

On the days when nothing will work

Take heart in how well you have done

You may have been through wars of many

Yet you are here, living and moving on

PTSD may never be completely gone

It may always be lingering inside

Make friends with your worst fears

Let your “safe people” be your guide

We may never win the war on PTSD

The grueling challenges may never end

Take heart, know you are not alone

In me you have a PTSD friend

(c)  Janni Styles

Here is my latest PTSD poster, number 7 in the series:

How I help YOU cope with my PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mom.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you next time.

#BellLetsTalk

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

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

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PTSD: Is it possible to Forgive and Forget?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:

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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