I can do this; battling the monster called Anxiety.

It’s terrible when it grips you. Anxiety, is a monster all in it’s own. Your head spins, your body shakes and you are overcome by fear of the unknown. It sucks. According to Statistics Canada  approximately 2.8 million people, or 10.1% of Canadians aged 15 and older, reported symptoms consistent with at least one of six mental or substance use disorders in the past 12 months. The six disorders measured by the survey were major depressive episode, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and abuse of or dependence on alcohol, cannabis or other drugs.  It is predicted that in our fast paced “always on” society the number of people battling anxiety will only go up.

I started to battle anxiety near the end of my first marriage. I was in an extremely abusive marriage where I “walked on egg shells” waiting for the next blow whether it be physically, verbally or emotionally. I was constantly fearing what was going to happen. I feared the future which is what anxiety is; fear of the unknown. A year following the end of that marriage I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), a psychiatric injury that replays your trauma through night terrors, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. PTSD is also known as an anxiety disorder because as your mind replays your past, anxiety is twisted right in there causing you to fear the unknown. It’s a double suck.

There are many different types of anxiety. There is Social Anxiety; which is the fear of social situations and interacting with people. It is equally common between men and women, average onset is at age 13 years old and 36% of suffers will battle this anxiety for at least 10 years before seeking help. There are panic disorders, phobia’s and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), average age of onset is 19 years old with 25% of cases happening by age 14 years old. One third of adults first experienced OCD in childhood.

So what happens when anxiety hits? Myself, I shake on the inside, I rub my hands or my feet together, my heart races, I struggle to look anyone in the eye, my breath is short, fear pumps through me and I just want to hide in my bed with a cocoon of pillows and blankets. I want to feel safe. Feeling safe, feeling secure, seeking it and finding it is what my goal is when my anxiety hits. I feel like a deer caught in the headlights. One time my anxiety turned into a horrible panic attack where I thought I was having a heart attack and was rushed to the ER. Thankfully my heart was fine and I learned how gripping anxiety can be.

Resolving my anxiety, anyone’s anxiety, can involve medication, counselling and definitely takes finding good coping skills. Hiding in my cocoon is not a good one. It may be what I want to do but it really does not help me. All it does is let my anxiety sit in me and ruminate. Over the years I have learned that doing something physical helps; getting out for a walk, a horseback ride, a walk with my dogs really helps. Anxiety causes extra adrenaline to pump through your body. If that is not released you will often feel sick to your stomach and exhausted. It is best to find some healthy ways to burn it off. Other coping skills I have used is journaling, listening to peaceful music, meditating, and of course talking it out with my new husband. We have been learning together how best to cope with my mental health. It is a journey that thankfully we are taking together.  Today as I poured out my fears, my unknowns he held my hand and I rubbed his with my thumb, anxiously. I laid my head on his arm and I realized that I will be OK, I am safe. I cannot control the future and I no longer need to worry about what may come. It’s a battle anxiety. One that likes to lie to you and tell you that your fears are correct, one that I and many millions have to keep kicking back. Here’s to kicking back!

Peace,

Janet

 

 

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Is that child just “acting up” or is it trauma?

I believe that every child is a gift. I especially agree with my own three children. They have been an amazing blessing in my life and I am so proud to be their mum.

Nothing in life really prepares you to be a parent. Sure when you are pregnant you can read all of the parenting help books or talk to health nurses, but really you are never quite prepared when that little baby is placed in your arms. Suddenly you realize that no one, but you is responsible for this living and breathing little person. It’s life depends on you. Wow what a profound moment that was for me.

As a parent I have always wanted the best for my children. It is hard when life and what you want doesn’t always match up. My oldest was born in 2001 and for the first 9 years of her life we lived with her father. Unfortunately for her, her younger siblings and myself their father was an abuser. Abuse of many forms was prevalent throughout our house and this affected each of my children in different ways. We have dealt with PTSD diagnoses, OCD tendencies, nightmares, wetting of beds, soiling of pants, disassociation, violent outbursts and yes some substance abuse. None of this is what I wanted for them. It has been heartbreaking as a mum to watch my children struggle and it has been debilitating to them at various times of their life. This is definitely not the life I wanted for my children.

Despite all of the trials my children and I have always been a team. I have let them know from the moment that they were born that I will always be there for them. With every cry in the night  to cheering them on at their band concert at school I have been there.  I have worked hard to be their safety and their constant despite the turbulent beginning years of their life. When my ex and I finally separated, my kids and I shared my Queen size bed for months. We all had our spot on the bed and perhaps it was not the most comfortable of sleeps as we all crammed in, but we were together, we were safe and that was the most important thing.

Kids experience trauma in different ways than an adult. For one their brains are still developing so trauma affects their brain development. Children also have different ways then adults on how they express their trauma. If you have an infant, toddler or a preschooler you may observe;

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Disturbances in feeding
  • Feelings of helplessness and passivity
  • Generalized fearfulness
  • Specific new fears
  • Loss of or regression in recently acquired skills like walking, talking or potty training.
  • Clinginess and separation anxiety.
  • Inhibited play
  • Thinking or talking about the event
  • Upset at reminders or avoiding reminders of the event.
  • Irritability
  • Agressiveness
  • Scanning for danger
  • Easily startled

If you have school age children you might observe;

  • Posttraumatic play. This kind of play is a repetitive reenactment of the event
  • Thinking and talking about trauma outside of play
  • Being upset about reminders of the event.
  • Specific fears triggered by the event
  • Fantasies of revenge
  • Feeling guilty about the trauma and feeling responsible for it
  • Impaired concentration and difficulty learning
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches, stomach aches and other physical symptoms
  • Concerns about theirs and others safety
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawn behaviour

If you have an adolescent you might observe;

  • Detachment, shame guilt
  • Self conscious about their fears and intense feelings
  • Abrupt shifts in relationships
  • Desire for and plans to take revenge
  • Premature entrance into adulthood or reluctant to leave home
  • Being upset at reminders of the trauma and doing their best to avoid reminders
  • Coping behaviours that may include self-endangering behaviours such as substance abuse and/or cutting

I am sure you have observed these behaviours in children or teens. They may not be your own children and often when this behaviour is observed most being ask “what is wrong with that kid?” and the school system usually wants to label the child with a learning disability, but that is not helping the child. This is not a case of “what is wrong with that child?” it is a case of “what happened to that child?” We need to start changing the conversation around “troubled” children and start looking at what has happened in the past. What are they trying to tell us?

There are ways to help a traumatized child. For our infants, toddlers and preschoolers it is important for parents to stay close to their child. Kids of all ages need security, especially after trauma, but for our younger ones they will struggle to verbalize their trauma (if they can at all) and what they need. So staying close to your child gives them a sense of security. Help the child anticipate what will happen, give them choices. When trauma happens our sense of control in our life is rocked to the core. It is important to give that feeling of control back to the child. I will give you an example. Let’s say you ask your youngster to put away their toys and they refuse too. Instead of getting angry at them it is important to offer them a choice like, “Sarah you can put your toys away or you can go to your room for a time out.” This gives the child a choice without anger or a threat and they are then in control of what happens next. It is also important to name the child’s feelings and letting them know that feelings are good to feel. It is also important to give them reassurance as they need it and expect to do this over and over again. It is normal for children to need repeated reassurance.

For a school aged child it is important to listen to a child’s concerns and to answer questions truthfully and simply. Also let your child be close to you if they need you. They too will look to you for security. Reassure the child that they are safe. Also name their feelings and encourage them to express them through play or art. It is also important to help the child anticipate what will happen next in their life to help them feel in control and to give them choices. Like our younger children expect to do these things over and over.

For teens it is very similar to the younger children. With teen you will also want to give them choices, be close to you if they need to, encourage them to express their feelings through journaling, art, dance or writing poems and songs. Help them anticipate what happens next and provide an environment where your teen can talk about their concerns. Also expect to do these things over and over. Healing from trauma takes time, patience and hard work. There is no straight time line for healing trauma so basically it will take as long as it takes. Over time, as your child heals you will notice that the effects of trauma will lessen and the trauma will become a part of them. If  there are symptoms that you feel incapable of handling on your own it is always best to seek professional help. It is also important as a parent that you are supported. It is not easy to watch your child struggle and all of this can be a heavy load to carry so reach out to family and friends. If needed seek professional help for yourself to help you cope in healthy ways.

I have to say that my children have come a long way in the last eight years.  We no longer need to share a bed together. Outbursts and clingyness has been replaced with children who are getting to know who they are, are enjoying being with friends and can sleep without nightlights. I am extremely proud of each of them for all they have achieved in their recovery.  The good days happen more often than the bad now, but yes we still have struggling moments. Which is why last night when I held one of my children, as they sat on the bathroom floor and cried, I was not surprised that this was happening. I held them knowing that their pain still needs to come out and that is OK. I know that I do not have to solve this for them I just need to be there, to listen, hold them and let them know that they are safe and loved. I know that over time the impact of their trauma is lessening, one day at a time.

If you or your child needs extra help dealing with trauma I encourage you to speak to your doctor or seek out a therapist trained in trauma to help you through it. Until we meet again….

Peace,

Janet

PS. Kids Help Phone is available for any child in need. They can be reached at  1-800-668-6868

 

 

Depression. It’s a tough battle

Depression. It sucks. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 350 million people worldwide battle depression. I am one of them.

I was first diagnosed with Clinical Depression back in the mid 90’s due to grief. My mother had been killed in a  car accident almost 10 years earlier and I had fallen into a deep depression. This had led to me feeling suicidal, but thankfully I found good support systems; a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist to get me through it all. I stayed on antidepressants for about five years and then, once I was feeling stable I weaned myself off the medication.

Life continued for me. I did not feel, what I call the “depression cloud”, looming over me. I got married, had three children, worked full time, bought a house, had a new vehicle so from the outside life looked pretty stable, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t the depression that was haunting me though it was that my marriage was abusive. For 15 years my ex husband abused me in various ways and in 2011 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Deep Depressive Disorder.

A PTSD diagnosis can be given after you experience anything traumatic; a car crash, an assault, combat, abuse, or watching a sudden death to name a few things. With PTSD you can experience symptoms like flashbacks of the event, intrusive memories, heightened startle response, hypervigilance, avoidance, sleep disturbances such as night terrors and yes many also battle Deep Depressive Disorder as well.

Yuck.

Yes it is just plain yucky to battle both. Myself I take medication to manage all of my symptoms, I practice self care, I have a good support system and I have done counselling to keep me on track. For the most part my symptoms are pretty stable, except as of late. Lately I have felt a heaviness in my chest and a “weight” on my shoulders. I cry more. Privately. Quietly. And I do my best to put on that smile and appear ok to the outside world. I find myself depreciating myself too….looking at those around me with their busy lives thinking that I should not bother them with how I feel. I guess I have been isolating myself.

How wrong I am to do that.

In my training as a Trauma Therapist I know that depression is a part of trauma and I know from a professional level what I am supposed to do to fight the darkness. I am not supposed to isolate myself, I am supposed to reach out to supports and I am supposed to push myself out of bed every day, write if I need too, express my feelings in a healthy way, be in the sunshine and do some physical exercise, but let me just say……

I don’t want to.

Now no need for family and friends to worry. I am not in danger. I am not suicidal. I think I have just been overwhelmed by life. Recently our family had to move off of our farm and are staying with a friend while our new home is sorted. I have also had kids with health problems and in all honesty due to the move my horse, dog and cat, which all bring me peace, are not with me right now (I love animal therapy!). All of that has made things a bit harder and has caused me to struggle with my mental health. I get that. I see that, but still the crappy feelings are there.

I know that I will soldier on. As my dad said at my recent wedding; “Boy is she ever strong!” I know that I will make it through all of this. Just for now……well for now I will be gentle with me, do what I can to care for me and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Mental Illness. What a battle. Keep soldiering on everyone.

Till we meet again,

Peace

Janet R

PS. If you are battling depression or feeling suicidal please know that you are not alone.  There is support available at the 24/7 Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  A Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

 

What having an Invisible Illness means to me.

Tomorrow, September 26th to October 2nd, is the start of  Invisible Awareness Week.  This week is to bring to light the many invisible illnesses out there, the mental illnesses that we do not see.  As a person who battles Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Deep Depressive Disorder I felt it might be right to for me to talk about what having an invisible illness is like for me.

I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression when I was 19 years old.  This was following the tragic death of my mother at age 11.  I was later diagnosed with Chronic PTSD and Deep Depressive Disorder after being in an abusive marriage for 15 years.

So what has living with an invisible illness been like? Let me explain.

Living with an invisible illness has meant, to me;

I can never assume someone will make an accommodation for me.  I have to be my own advocate for what I need.  If you can’t see the ailment often you may not know or will forget what someone is fighting.  As a result  I have to be really aware of what I need and tell others.

There are times when I have to back out of engagements.  I have to put my health first and sometimes that means turning down helping at the Christmas Tea or Bake Sale.  It also means there may be people who do not understand why I am not there, but I have to look after me.

I make less money.  Before my diagnosis of PTSD and Deep Depressive Disorder I worked in the Corporate World and made a good living for my family.  Since my diagnosis my doctors have taken me off of work permanently and I live on Disability.  This has meant a considerably lower income and ironically a loss in benefits (just when I needed them most).

It means my fiance is asked why  don’t I work? I am 43 years old and I don’t look like I am sick so why am I a useless bum (well maybe that is not exactly what they say, but it is how I feel when they inquire)?

It means having more heart to hearts with my kids in my bedroom, while I rest, than anywhere else in the house.

It means taking every single day one day or one moment at a time.

It means finding a strength within me, that I didn’t know I had, to face the many symptoms of PTSD and Deep Depressive Disorder.

It means sometimes I feel like a failure because sometimes that strength is just not there and I struggle to do the simplest of tasks.

It means praying harder on the tough days and trustin that God has got me.

It means wondering if my illness is shorting my kids of their mother or my fiance of his partner?

It also means I have met some of the most amazing people who also fight invisible illnesses and they give me hope.

At the end of the day these are the cards I have been dealt and so I deal with them.  It’s not completely the end of the world.  I have learned how to cope during the bad days and to speak up for what I need.  This battle is not how I envisioned my life to be at 43 years old, but I still have air in my lungs and a beat to my heart so there is a silver lining.

During this week I encourage you to join a worldwide event in support of Invisible Illness Awareness Week.  Look up your illness online. Each one has an awareness ribbon in a certain colour. Take your colour and paint or marker a happy face on your hand,wrist or arm.  Bring awareness to your invisible fight! #IIWK16 #InvisibleFight #InvisibleAwarenessWeek

Peace,

Janet

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Walking a tightrope; my balancing act with Mental Illness

tightrope-walker

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Mental illness indirectly affects all people either through co workers, friends or family. In Canada 20% of all adults will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. 1% will experience bipolar disorder and 8% of adults in Canada will experience major depression (per Canadian Mental Health).  Sadly almost half of those who experience depression and or anxiety will never see a doctor for treatment. This is due to the stigma and discrimination associated to Mental Illness in our society. Many people, as a result, go throughout life untreated. The thing is Mental Illness can often be treated effectively.

My battle with mental illness began in my teens. I started a serious battle with depression at the age of 16 yrs old.  Depression and anxiety are due to genetics, biology, personality and environmental factors. Myself my depression set in as I grieved the death of my mother and there was a separate traumatic event where I was raped as a teen. With no counselling and very little home support my depression was  overpowering me and by the time I reached 19yrs of age I was heading for a breakdown.  It was at that time I was diagnosed with clinical depression, prescribed antidepressants and started a four year journey of psychotherapy.

In time I was able to come off of the antidepressants. I tell you though being on meds helped me immensely. They balanced out my brain chemicals and I was able to function. I am a firm believer that is ok to seek treatment for your mental health. Like any other organ in your body, your brain can also get sick. So why not seek treatment to make it better is my thought.  Yes I have experienced the awkward silence when I say I am going to see my Psychiatrist, but hey I figure I am pretty cool to be looking after my overall health. I do not let ignorant attitudes stop me.  Also I know how horrible life would be if I did not treat my depression. I would struggle to get out of bed, there would be a lot of tears and I would have no motivation. It would feel like the end of the world and who wants that? Not me.

Almost 20 years after my depression diagnosis I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) Disorder with Deep Depressive Disorder. I have to say this diagnosis has been harder to deal with.  If you are not familiar with PTSD it is a normal reaction to an abnormal event. It is a traumatic injury that happens after a traumatic event such as war, combat, car accident, plane crash, rape, domestic violence or childhood sexual abuse. 1 in 5 women who experience Domestic Violence will also be diagnosed with PTSD. I am one of those women.  I was diagnosed after 15 years of Domestic Violence and let me tell you it has been a life altering diagnosis.  I first noticed something was not right in the first year my ex and I separated.  I was not sleeping well, had a lot of nightmares, flashbacks and I struggled greatly to focus on anything.  At work I struggled to stay on task and I noticed I had very  little for short term memory.  A customer would tell me their name and what they needed and at the end of that sentence I would not remember a thing of what they had said. I was terrified. I thought I was losing my mind and my quality of life was seriously going downhill. By the time I was able to see a Psychiatrist, to be diagnosed and receive medication, I no longer knew which end was up.

With medication my quality of life has greatly improved.  I am able to sleep with a sedative and an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication has helped level my moods, but it has not solved everything. That is why I feel like I am walking a tight rope everyday.

Every day when I wake I never know how my day will be.  Will I be completely exhausted, before my feet even hit the floor, because the night before was full of terrifying night terrors?  Will the PTSD monster rear its ugly head and I will be triggered by everything around me?  Or could my day go smoothly with no set backs? I  never know.  I also have to carefully assess the choices I make. Will accepting one more volunteer job completely overwhelm me? To a point where I will be in bed for days on end?

As I enter each new day I step very carefully, trying my best to not take on too much or do something that may trigger the PTSD beast. It is a great big balancing act.

Some days I slip though. Some days I completely fall. Some days I crawl into my cocoon and cover myself with the heaviest blankets. I lay in silence, whispering  to myself that I am safe.

AYPKEDMental Illness is like any other illness. You need to do what is best for your health and you need to make choices that reflect that. My balancing act I am sure is no different than the diabetic who must watch their sugar intake or the heart patient who must watch their diet and physical activity. It is all about caring for you and walking your own  balancing act. Taking one careful step forward each day because none of us want to fall off of our tightrope.

Peace

Janet B

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Robin Wlliams, in life and death you keep teaching the world.

Since Robin Williams death I have been quietly watching the world react. There has been an outpouring of grief over a great man who kept us all laughing. There has also been some negativity. Comments made directly to Robin’s daughter Zelda Williams, to a point where she has closed her twitter and Instagram accounts saying she does not know if she will ever return. Negative comments said by Gene Simmons (to the point where two Winnipeg Radio Stations have banned Kiss from their airwaves), the Toronto Star was slammed by its comments and quite a few others. All have since retracted and apologized. What were the comments about?

Mental Illness

It has long been known Robin suffered from Depression and had to go into rehab for drinking. He was fairly open about his journey, including it in some comedy routines.

So what were the digs, the comments?

They revolved around the fact that Mr Williams had Depression AND commited suicide.

It is not a secret that I battle my own mental illnesses; Deep Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Depression I have battled since a teen, the PTSD for the last five years. Like many who battle Mental Illness I have had hurtful things said to me like;

“You are faking PTSD. It is easy to do”

“Because you have PTSD you should never be in a relationship with anyone.You are dangerous.”

“You should not be allowed to remarry because you have PTSD.”

“You wrap yourself in darkness.”

“You should get out more and experience life.”

“Just let it go.”

“Get over it and smile more.”

Each comment has hurt my heart, but I try not to carry it with me. These comments are often said in ignorance, if anything they make me angry. I nor anyone who has a mental illness wanted their illness. We didn’t ask for it, just like a cancer patient never asked for cancer, it is simply what life gave us. We don’t like it. We don’t enjoy it and no we can’t just get over it and smile more. That is like asking someone with a broken leg to get up and run a marathon. What we can do is learn to cope and manage the symptoms like patients with other chronic illnesses. We do our best and we shouldn’t  be persecuted or shunned due to our illness, but often we are. Yes sometimes the darkness does take over and things end like they did with Mr Williams. This shouldn’t be rediculed. Moments like this should make the world stop and say “This man had it all and still the illness got him. What can we do to help people who fight mental illness. How can we help?”

Slowly I am seeing those talks starting and THAT actually does make me smile.

Rest in peace Robin Williams. Even in your death I see you continue to teach our world something valuable. Genie. You are free. (Twitter)

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About Janet B

I am a Domestic Violence Survivor, who battles PTSD. I share what I know to help others on their journey and to help educate society. I also Supervise a Mentoring Program at Verbal Abuse Journals (http://verbalabusejournals.com/). This program matches Survivors who have been out of the abusive relationship for a few years, and are now Mentors,  with Survivors who are either still in an abusive relationship or have just left. A mentoring relationship is set up via email where the Mentor offers guidance and support to the Survivor for as long as they need. Please feel free to sign up for this free service at  http://ow.ly/LSii8

Verbal Abuse Journals facebook https://www.facebook.com/VerbalAbuseJournals

I have been working/volunteering at Verbal Abuse Journals as a Mentor to other Survivors of Abuse.

My facebook page: Freedom Within: My Journey through Domestic Violence and PTSD https://facebook.com/fw.dvptsd

twitter: https://www.twitter.com/within_freedom

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