I met Janice at the Ladner Business Association. During one of our business meetings, I was the presenter. Typically, presenters talk about their business, what services they offer, and how these benefit their clients. Instead of focusing on my pet portraiture or business photography services, I spoke about my own journey with depression and anxiety, and how my Celebrate Yourself portrait service came about. This idea to capture a visual representation of our inner strength resonated with Janice, and it was the right time for her to share her journey. I am so grateful that she participated in the Celebrating Resilience project!
What does this portrait help you celebrate?
This portrait helps me celebrate where I am today. Over a decade ago I found myself at a crossroads. Life as I knew it was cut off from me and the path ahead was so dark with the unknown, I walked it with so much fear and felt blind as to what steps to take next. Stumbling around in the darkness of survival mode, then with help I found a bit of light I could follow. Throughout the years that bit of light has opened up to the brightness I now face each day with. I can now recognize my strength that has always been hidden inside me. Even though the path in front me is still unknown and a bit scary at times, I can boldly walk forward carrying the brightness with me to light my way.
Tell us about the major struggles you have experienced in your life.
I spent 8 years in an emotionally abusive relationship; of course, I did not see it as abusive at the time. Not until years of therapy helped me see my past did I start to recognize it as such. That is when I found out I was married to a narcissist. Someone with a narcissistic personality disorder has a distorted self image with intense, unstable and excessive emotions. A common description of narcissistic behaviour is love bombing, gaslighting, criticism with anger, humiliation and shame, as well as extreme jealousy. This was my life and even more scary, experiencing this behaviour from him daily felt “normal” to me.
We had to run away from our home, our job/schools, and the only community my children had ever lived in. We escaped to the lower mainland with our lives and a small suitcase with a few days’ worth of clothes. Homeless and terrified from the verbal threats I had received from him, we found refuge in a transition house. Shortly after arriving, the counsellors wanted me to talk about my childhood. (isn’t that what all therapists want to know? What was your childhood like?) I thought – that’s so annoying, everyone knows that your childhood has nothing to do with what is happening today – or does it?
Looking back over my life I now see that every step we take has everything to do with the steps we have taken. And yes, it goes as far back as childhood. At least that is where my low self-esteem started. I had trouble relating to people, kids my age, the adults in my life, and I found myself feeling bullied and alone. I could relate better to my dog than I could to my peers or the adults around me. By the time I was 14 I was having suicidal thoughts and felt utterly alone. Then I met a boy, and fell in love - a true love at first sight moment. We got married and spent 15 years together, and then circumstances in which we separated only caused my self-esteem to plummet even lower.
The dating scene knocked me down a few more rungs on that self-esteem ladder. Then I met the man of anyone’s dreams - a guy who loved me no matter how fat I was, no matter how ugly I was, no matter how stupid I was. I was reminded of this daily - how no one else could love me in my current state, but at least I had him, and I was so grateful. My self-esteem plummeted to zero over the course of our relationship with so many abusive tendencies that are too many to name here, and I truly believed that this man is the only man who can love me.
Then one day, circumstances landed me at a crossroads. Life suddenly threw a wall up behind me, which prevented me from returning to my conformable, familiar life. The road ahead of me was so dark with the unknown that I felt blinded.
Was there an Ah-Ha moment for you that led you on a path to resilience?
There really wasn’t an Ah-Ha Moment for me in the traditional sense. There was only a road block, that forced change. Interestingly enough the roadblock was behind me, not in front of me. I remember my brother asking me a very pointed question: “What are you going to do?” I simply said: “I don’t know what I am going to do, I just know that I can’t go back.”
I know people often ask - why do women go back to their abusers? Why would you go back to a situation like that where you would be in harm’s way? I know how, because I wanted to go back. At least I knew how to survive there, at least I felt loved there, at least I knew what to expect there.
Moving forward, I had no job, no place to live, no income, no spouse, no support, no familiarity, no normalcy. Welcome to your new normal.
During the early stages of counselling inside the transition house for abused families I discovered that I had a support network. There was the new friend Melody that I met in the transition house, there were the therapists at the transition house and the crisis centre, but my ah-ha moment in all of this was the people in my life that I didn’t see as support previous to this. My family! My mom, my dad, my brothers, my sister, and even my first ex-husband and his wife.
What are the steps you took to create change in your lives?
I had to do everything in my power for the sake of my children. The journey involved many components - transition houses, local police departments, RCMP, court houses, and social services became the centre of our lives. We had to leave behind everything. We saw counsellors and therapists, but no one seemed to be able to help me piece our lives back together again. I now began to truly understand the meaning of survival mode.
My brother once said to me during this process “you are the strongest person I know,” and I could not believe him at the time. I didn’t feel strong! How could anyone who was having several emotional breakdowns every day be considered strong. Yet, through all of this I did manage to find a place to live, get off income assistance, start holding down a job, and managed to get a steady income. I surrounded myself with animals as they became our therapists.
But without the continuation of professional therapy and journey towards wellness there came a time when things started to spiral out of control. With the help of the Crime Victims Assistance Program I was able to reach out and start some therapy again. This is where the steps to wellness really started to move us forward. We found a wonderful counsellor that worked with our whole family. Without the guidance of our very wise therapist, through some of our most difficult moments on the healing journey, I don’t think that our family would be as close as we all are today.
What are some of your coping tools to deal with anxiety?
At the very beginning I was afraid all the time. I was constantly looking over my shoulder; I was afraid of my own shadow. So, to start with I created small safety nets around us. At work my boss and few trusted coworkers knew, at school the principle and teachers knew, at home our landlord knew. Telling someone you can trust gives you some relief that someone else can watch your back, watch that shadow for you to give you a break.
Next was finding someone you can talk to about anything and everything. A trained professional is always advisable. They have resources at their fingertips that I didn’t even know existed. It was very interesting that the more I talked about my situation, the more other people opened up to me about their own situation, or someone they knew. You only feel alone as long as you keep silent. Anxiety, fear, depression, mental health issues; abuse is like Cancer. Everyone’s lives have been touched by it in one way or another, either directly or indirectly. Finding out that people around you, living in your own community have been touched by some of the same things that are touching your life finally makes you feel like you are not alone in this.
Therapy, therapy, therapy! Finding a therapist, counsellor, that is a good fit is so important. If at first you don’t succeed, it is important to keep trying until you find that fit. A good counsellor will help you with affordability too. My counsellor helped me for years with affordability, otherwise I would not have been able to afford to achieve wellness.
I learned so many coping tools for a variety of issues. I used a combination of medication and therapy to combat depression. I learned breathing techniques to ease anxiety. I learned how to talk myself down from a panic attack. Learned how to de-stress by taking myself back into nature. There is nothing more calming to me than sitting beside a small stream surrounded by trees. Just find somewhere that gives you peace. For some people it’s a book store, for me it is nature. I learned to look for and find the silver lining to every dark cloud. I now have a positive outlook on life.
I continue to evolve from the person I was so long ago with no self-esteem, who emerged on the other side of an abusive relationship; to trudge through anxiety, fear, depression, panic. Slowly, over a period of time, I built up my self-esteem, my self-awareness, my self-image, myself in general. I do not recognize the person I was so many years ago. As years pass, as time goes on, I am constantly changing and evolving. I am excited to discover who I am each day. For the first time ever, I’m excited to wake up every morning; I can’t wait to discover the road ahead of me.
When I started this healing journey, I always felt like there was a dark tunnel ahead of me with a small light at the end of it, but I was always afraid it was a freight train. I now feel that I am far enough on my wellness journey that I have emerged from the dark tunnel into the light. On occasion the darkness creeps around the sides of me, but now I look forward with the light, excited for the dark, unknown path in front of me.
What advice would you have for someone who is struggling?
If you feel like you are walking on eggshells around someone you love, or you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, chances are you experiencing anxiety and there is a better way to feel. Talk to someone you trust. Your friend, your boss, your doctor, your pastor - anyone who can listen and guide you in the right direction for professional help. Everyone could use a good therapist to help you change your mindset. To change the old things that run through your brain, the untrue self-talk, the “I am not worthy”, “I am too this, I am too that”, “I am not enough.”
I am living proof that you can come from “I am not worthy” to “I am enough.” It is not an easy journey, but so worthwhile. I can’t wait to discover who I am today.