I’m so excited to have Janyre today to discuss her debut novel and mental health.
Jessy: I love your novel for several reasons. It deals with PTSD and features a married couple dealing with this new element when the husband returns from war. What made you touch on the subject of PTSD?
Janyre: This story actually began while talking to my grandparents over a glass of lemonade. My U.S. History professor had given us an assignment to talk to family about the Depression and/or World War II. Until that point, I’d had no real concept of what the war was like, either for the soldiers or their families back home. I guess I’d thought that the greatest generation slid back into life and easily became the loving people I knew my grandparents were in their 70s. When I discovered that wasn’t the case, I wondered how they had survived the fear and drastic changes.
But PTSD is also something I’ve struggled with for years. There have been long stretches of my life where I was all too familiar with debilitating fear. I still have occasional flashes from my childhood, the rush of adrenaline causing my pulse to pound and hands to shake. I was terrified to have kids, to be the one responsible for their physical/mental/emotional wellbeing. The last thing I wanted was for them to have the same problems I had. But, as Dovie May says, “The best place for miracles is where we don’t fully believe, where our believing has run out.” My husband, Chris, and his family, as well as my good friend, Sarah De Mey, and my mom (who worked hard to get help), have been amazing role models for me as I navigate what it looks like to raise emotionally healthy kids.
All that peace came crashing down when my daughter became ill. She was hospitalized seven times over a few months’ time, and the doctors had no idea what caused her illness. After months of visiting doctors to find out why my thirteen-year-old daughter was experiencing increasing abdominal pain, she collapsed at school. What followed was a living nightmare. Doctors found her abdominal cavity full of a fungal infection that quickly went septic. That was the first time we almost lost her. Months later, she’d lost more than forty pounds, and both she and I were wracked with nightmares, an inability to drive anywhere near the hospital, or be in a room with needles. To this day, I can’t smell rubbing alcohol without my body responding with panic.
On paper, she should not have survived, and I can’t describe the immense fear that comes from the Pediatric ICU or a parade of doctors. My girl is doing great now, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I didn’t finish the book and hadn’t found the path to hope until after my daughter had walked out of the hospital for the last time.
I’m enormously grateful for EMDR, my therapist, and the grace of God that much of my fear is gone.
Jessy: What advice do you have for spouses, parents, children, and friends watching their loved ones suffer through mental illness?
Janyre: First get help. You are not alone. There are amazing therapists for people struggling and for their caregivers.
Second. Don’t judge or nag. Never tell someone having a panic attack that there’s nothing to panic over. It’s dismissive and, more than likely, the person panicking knows in their conscious mind that there isn’t any immediate threat. But that doesn’t stop the unconscious mind from reacting to past trauma and the body’s stress chemicals coursing through them.
When you say, “You shouldn’t be panicking” it loads on guilt and shame, which only makes things worse.
Third, give them tools. Instead of loading on guilt, give your loved one tools before they’re in panic mode. Here are a few that my daughter and I often use: 4-7-8 breathing, sensory countdown, walking, visualize a safe place.
Give Them Examples and Stories of Success. Neuroscience shows that if you read or hear a story, it not only activates the learning center of the brain, but also the experience side of the brain. That means if you give your loved one stories about people overcoming panic attacks, PTSD, and depression, their brain experiences overcoming their struggles. Tell them about my kiddo who almost died, struggles with panic attacks, but breathed her way through it to become an elite swimmer. Have them read stories like my book Shadows in the Mind’s Eye or Murder at the Flamingo (by Rachel McMillan) where the heroes overcome their panic. Ultimately help them see that peace is possible.
Finally, realize that everyone is different. Touch might help or hinder. Being reminded to breathe my help or hinder. The fact is that your loved one can use your help . . . you just have to be willing to find what is actually helpful.
Jessy: You’ve been open about your struggling with depression as a child, and then it went to a different level when you’re daughter was sick. Did any of these emotions bleed into your story?
Janyre: Absolutely. You’ll definitely see my panic and fear woven into the fabric of Shadows in the Mind’s Eye.
Fear is the great consumer. And it’s something I’m intimately familiar with…and so are the characters in Shadows in the Mind’s Eye. Sam is afraid he’s going crazy and that he can’t protect his family. Annie is afraid she won’t ever be able to cope, and that the Sam she married is lost forever. And when they (or we) focus on fear, there are no solutions, no ways to move forward because they cannot solve fear on their own. We aren’t trustworthy enough or strong enough to fix it.
In the story, Sam says, “If you pop in the middle of the story, you might just mistake the hero for a failure or worse, a monster. But it’s the scrabbling out of trouble and finding the truth deep inside him that transforms that character into a hero of light and goodness.” In essence, “Remember that it ain’t over until it’s over.” I’m a huge proponent of looking for and celebrating the beautiful even when it isn’t pretty. Gratitude isn’t a pretty bandage to slap on a hemorrhaging wound. It is a way to shift your attention while the master healer does his work.
Annie and Sam find their way to gratitude—for simple joys of a birthday Karo nut pie, collard greens, the sunrise, and mostly the people in their lives. Their determination to be the good in each other’s lives is what slowly, over time, turns their attention away from the shadows and back on the life they have. As Dovie May says, “Sometimes God uses broken things to save us . . . Ain’t no light that can get through something solid. It sneaks through the broken places.” It isn’t immediate. And it isn’t easy. But the sunrise always follows the dark night.
But you’ll also see that I give Sam some of the tools I use to combat my own anxiety and PTSD.
Sam also stumbles on a bit of a modern treatment technique by accident. Most folks have heard that going for a walk can help with mental stability. What isn’t as familiar is that the rhythm of walking combined with talking can actually replicate bits and pieces of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy which is one of the most successful battlefield PTSD treatments. It’s also one of the techniques my therapist used with me.
Thank you Janyre! You guys make sure you check out her novel and connect with her on social media.