Part two: One Breath at a time..

Part two: One Breath at a time..

“The mask. I wish it was as cool as the mask Jim Carrey got to wear. Because I had 3rd degree burns, I had to wear pressure garments on my legs, torso and hands…those were uncomfortable, hot and so tight. But the mask I had to wear on my face. It was uncomfortable, hot, tight, hard to breathe in, looked awful…and I hated it. I was stared at so much for the years I had to wear it. I felt like it put me on display. The freak. I remember my parents using it as a reward if I did well in school or other good behaviours. I worked towards not having to wear it for half an hour. Half an hour. That’s not a long time. But when you’re having to live life in that mask, a half an hour without it was the best reward ever. I had 4 masks in total. Made specially to fit my face as I grew. When I was able to eat more solid foods a new mask was made to make the mouth opening a little bigger. I don’t remember the day I was told I didn’t have to wear it anymore. But I’ll never forget how wearing it made me feel. The mask and garments were necessary to make sure my new grafted skin healed properly and as smoothly as possible. I’m grateful to my parents for seeing the big picture and knowing that even though I was miserable with the mask, it was helping me in the long run. If they had let me take it off and not wear it, I wouldn’t look like I do today. I’m afraid I’d still look at myself and see a freak. I wouldn’t be who I am today. I most definitely wouldn’t have the self esteem I have today. Or the love for my scars I have today. Sometimes those things that you hate in life, can be the best thing for you. One breath at a time.”

#yeg #ScarredNotBroken #Inspire #Oprah #humansof #themask#onebreathatatime

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Scarred, Not Broken

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Part 1: Inspiration

Part one: Inspiration

When I was 9 I was in a propane explosion. Left with scars to 45% of my body. The worst, my face. A freak accident that turned me into exactly that. A freak. That’s how I felt anyway. I had to wear this god awful mask for 24 hours a day. Every day. For years. It was hot. It stunk. It looked scary to kids, and even to some adults. I didn’t just look like a freak, I felt like one too. No one looked like me. No one had these scars. No one understood. No one loved me for me. At least that’s how I felt. I had my family who didn’t ever leave my side. And a handful of friends who would punch out anyone who made fun of me. Those are the people who helped ensure I survived. Those are the people who cared. Who didn’t make me feel like a freak.

Strangers were the worst. Kids and adults. They’d stare. Call me names. I hated my scars. I remember scratching at my face at night, crying, begging God to just let me wake up and be fucking normal. Why did this happen to me? What the hell did I do? As much as I hated my scars, I never tried to cover them up. Except once. In grade 7 I tried wearing cover up on my face. But I felt like a clown. And even more of a freak, if that was possible. Eventually, years later I learned how to love my scars. I accepted them. I told myself I’m beautiful, and so is every scar on my body. I do wear eye makeup sometimes. Just because. But for this shoot I choose not to wear any. Or any jewellery. Because my whole life I’ve just wanted people to see ME. My scars aren’t me. So don’t just look at them. But they are apart of me. So please accept them. Accept me. For me.

After I got burned and for years after I kept asking God why me? Why did this happen? My dad used to tell me that if he had to choose which kid of his had to go thru this, he would have chosen me. Because he knew I was strong enough to survive…and thrive. I remember one time (of many) as a teen crying to my mom that I wouldn’t be able to do anything because of my scars. They were going to hold me back. My mom embraced me, dried my tears and said “Joy. There isn’t anything you can’t do. You’ve proven that already. You could be the next Oprah if you wanted. She had so many odds against her and look where she ended up. You can do that too”. I didn’t ever think I could be the next Oprah. Come on. It’s Oprah. But then, the past couple of years I felt the need to interview other people who’ve been through their own kind of hell. That’s what Scarred, Not Broken is about. Showing those that have been thru hell that they’re not alone. That others have been there too. Not just burns. Any tragedy. Any traumatic life changing event. Any survivor. And who better to interview these people than someone who has also been there. Someone who can understand where they’ve been. Someone who has compassion and understanding. Someone who has faith and believes that there is always a light at the end of the struggle. Next Oprah? I don’t know. Those are some pretty incredible shoes to fill. But I’m going to try. Even if my interviews only inspire one person, instead of a million, then I’ve succeeded. But my goal is to reach millions. Because there are millions of survivors all over the world. Survivors who need to share their story, to help others who are going through a tragedy similar to theirs. Dream big!

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#yeg #survivor #explosion #Oprah Scarred, Not Broken #humansof

 

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Compassion – Let’s Spread It

I debated doing this video because I was afraid some would think I was “tooting my own horn” 📯 for doing a good deed. But then I figured that the world 🌎 could always learn more compassion, not just my kids (see video). And what better way to spread the word than by sharing this. I don’t brag about every good deed I do, because I’m never doing it for recognition. I help where needed simply because I care 💓. And to top it off on why I decided to share this video…I’ve been sick all day 🤧. And when I came home tonight I found homemade soup 🍲 on my front step from one of my best friends. What goes around comes around…I’m a big believer in that. If you care, others will care. Let’s make a change in the world and show more compassion towards each other ☮. We’re all in this together, but how much easier would life be if we all showed more compassion to one another? Let’s give it a try.

Click below to watch the video

Scarred, Not Broken

My kid hurt your kid – but he’s not a bully. Let me explain…

Well it’s that time of year again – back to school. Some parents are excited to send their kids off five days a week, others are sad to see them growing up so fast But we all share the same fear – that our kid will be bullied or turn into a bully themselves.

I teach my kids every day about how to not be a bully and how to stand up for their friends or fellow students if they see someone being bullied.

But for this blog post, I’m on the side of the bully.

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Hear me out.

For the first two years of my son’s education (kindergarten and grade 1) and daycare before, I would receive phone calls and/or emails from the daycare staff, teachers and principal about how my son hurt other students or teachers. Many times I was asked to come and get him because he was a threat to the other students. He spent more days sitting in my office with me than he did in the classroom – or at least that’s how it felt.

I’m not one of those parents who denies that my kid did wrong. “Who my kid? No way. He’s perfect”. I knew what he was doing. I was teaching him how it was wrong and doing everything I could to help him. But it wasn’t getting through to him. He would hurt someone…Every. Single. Day. It got to the point that when I’d ask him how school was he’d say, “I didn’t kick or punch anyone. I did spit on Freddie though”. Instead of:  “Freddie and I played soccer at recess and had so much fun!”. As a mother, it was heartbreaking to hear. I felt so helpless. And scared. Never knowing if the day would come when the school would get fed up and kick him out. They saw that his dad and I were working with the school and our son to try and solve these issues. But nothing seemed to work.

From the age of three, I knew something was “off” about my son. I’d talk to him and although he was looking directly at me, it was as if he wasn’t hearing a word I’d say. He’d have meltdowns almost daily, that would last for hours (this is not an exaggeration). He’d throw such massive fits that we were scared to take him to family functions or in public anywhere. He comes from a loving, nurturing home. My husband and I give our kids the attention they need, the love they crave and everything in between. Our kids have a healthy home environment. So what were we doing wrong?

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Nothing. We tried every form of discipline that’s legal and not abuse. We tried the reward system for good behavior. Name it, we tried it. But nothing was getting through to our son. He kept having meltdowns, kept on not behaving or listening to any grown up, kept on hurting kids (and sometimes staff members).

Finally, we had our answer. Our son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Everything made sense now. But the question remained – how do we help him? My husband and I read numerous books, took classes, joined support groups. We talked to our pediatrician, sent our son to see a specialist. But nothing we were learning and applying was working. We made the hard decision to medicate our son. It was the best decision we ever made.

ADHD and ODD are mental illnesses. Our son’s brain doesn’t function like a “normal” child’s brain. He simply can’t control his emotions (the outbursts and meltdowns). He can’t compute or think about how his actions may have consequences and hurt other people. I remember one time when he kicked a kid on the soccer field. I asked him why he did that and he said the kid kicked him first. In the shin. I asked my son, “where was the soccer ball?” He said that he was holding it with his foot. So what really happened was the other kid was coming to kick the ball and either missed or my son moved at the last second, thus getting kicked. Makes sense. A simple mistake. But to my son, he didn’t see it that way. He was kicked so he had to retaliate. His brain didn’t stop to think about what really happened.

Our son was labelled a bully. He hasn’t been invited to birthday parties or play dates. Kids are scared of him, because of the reputation he built his first two years at school. The medication he takes has helped him immensely. You can see a change like day and night in him from before meds to after meds. He’s not a zombie either (which was my fear with many of the ADHD meds). He’s still non-stop active. But he’s loving. Caring. Social. He doesn’t hurt kids, adults or himself anymore. He doesn’t have meltdowns anymore. He has normal emotions. He gets angry and sad. But the meds help his brain deal with these emotions on a “normal” level.

This blog isn’t supposed to be about ADHD or mental illnesses or whether or not you should medicate your kid if they have a mental illness (it’s not always the answer). It’s about child bullies and why I’m sticking up for them. My son was a bully. But he didn’t know it. He couldn’t help it. He had no control over his brain or emotions. I believe the same is true for other kids who are labelled bullies (don’t get me started on adult bullies – that’s a whole other situation).

I’m not saying every child bully has ADHD or ODD or another mental illness. I certainly hope it’s not true, but it is likely very common. But, in my opinion, every child bully has something wrong with them or their lives. Why they feel the need to act out and hurt other people – so they can feel better about what’s hurting them. Maybe they’re being abused at home. Maybe they’re struggling with self esteem. Maybe they don’t have a good home life or are being hurt themselves in another environment.  Maybe they’re being forced to deal with adult situations at home and need to let out their frustration and fear at school, by hurting others. There are so many sad case scenarios that could be happening in the life of a child who is labelled a bully.

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Kids are some of the kindest, most honest humans on the planet. Kids ask me all the time why I have scars all over my body. I tell them and they say “Oh. Ok” and they go on with their day. They don’t call me names. They don’t tease my kids about their mom looking different. So what’s going on with the kids that aren’t so nice?

I think if we looked deeper into bullying and really looked into helping the child that is labelled a bully, we could put an end to it. One of the reasons I love the school our son is in so much is they told me that they could kick him out for his behavior – but they knew that wouldn’t help him. He’d just go to another school and be labelled a bully there. Instead, they worked with us and our son to HELP him. Now, he’s one of the most popular kids in the class. Everyone wants to play with him or be his partner. Because he’s so sweet, thoughtful and kind.

Kids should be allowed to be just that. Kids. If there is a child at school who is acting out, action needs to be taken of course. For the safety of the other kids as well as the bully himself. But we can’t give up on him. We need to help him feel safe. Feel OK to be sad or angry. Feel like a kid.

Of course, all responsibility does not fall on the schools. Parents need to step up too. But if the parent could be the problem, then someone else needs to be there for these kids. Schools, parents of other students. I would put money on that if we really dug deep, every bully in schools has a story. One that would probably break your heart. We can help them, by not giving up on them. By being there and showing we care – no matter how many outbursts or meltdowns they have. No matter how many times they kick us. My son is a recovering bully, if you will. We found his solution. We helped him. And now, he comes home from school and tells me all about the games he played with his friends. No more stories of him hurting other people. Unfortunately, he’s not invited to many birthday parties or any play dates. He only has one or two kids show up to his birthday party (or sometimes none). The label “bully” still follows him around, likely by the other kids’ parents, I suspect. I don’t blame them. My kid hurt their kid. I just wish they’d give him another chance. Their kid did.

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How do you let go of your kids?

I’ve been a mom now for 12 years. I have three amazing children. All of whom come with their own unique set of challenges as we go through this journey of life together. Being a mom is the best job, feeling, title, greatest accomplishment in the world. I’ve always felt though, that being a mom also meant letting your heart out into this big, scary world with the risk of it coming back broken, shattered, stomped on. The day I became a mom I’ve tried to work on this, I know I can’t wrap my kids up in bubble wrap and follow them around everywhere.

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Today I was faced with a new mom-challenge that I knew was coming, but I tried to deny it for as long as possible. Today my oldest baby and I attended orientation at her new, HUGE school. In less than a week she’ll be starting junior high.

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It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in my car outside her elementary school, ugly crying as she went off to her first day of kindergarten. And somehow it seems like seconds ago I held her in my arms for the first time. In the twelve years since giving birth to my first baby, it’s been quite the ride, to say the least. Full of many firsts…and so many bumps along the way.

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You hear it all the time when you first become a parent – “they grow up so fast”, “cherish every minute, before you know it they’ll be all grown up”. But is there anything that can really, truly prepare you for how fast all this happens? Is there anything that can help you feel comfortable sending your kids out, on their own into the world? I don’t think there is. Even when my kids are 40 I’ll want to protect them from pain. The ugly truth is, I can’t. We can’t always protect our kids. They need to learn how to navigate through life on their own – because who really wants their 40 year old child living in their basement, playing video games all day while you still wash and fold their laundry?

With that said, it still doesn’t make this new chapter in my daughter’s (and my) life any easier – for me. She’s ready. She’s excited. She has to take the LRT to her new school. By herself. I’ve always driven her to school/daycare. Her new school has none of her elementary friends. She’s a newbie. Knows nobody. It’s a gigantic school, over 2000 kids. What if she forgets to get off at the right stop? What if someone starts to harass her on the LRT? Or at school? What if she gets lost in the school? What if she doesn’t make any friends? What if she gets bullied? What if she falls into the wrong crowd? What if, what if, what if…it’s endless. How am I supposed to just send her off, to do this all on her own? In elementary, it was a small school. I knew her friends’ parents. I knew the teachers. All the teachers knew her. She excelled. She did well. But what if junior high treats her differently? What if junior high hurts her? How am I supposed to risk the possibility of all that happening to my BABY?

Trust. That’s all I can come up with. I’m far from a perfect mom, I still learn everyday, but I need to trust that all the work I put into creating a human being these past 12 years was done well. I need to trust that I’ve instilled good morals, good values and the knowledge of right and wrong into her.  I need to trust my daughter to remember who she is, where she came from and what she stands for (which I tell her to remember every day she walks out the door).

There is nothing that can truly prepare a parent for sending their child off on their own. But there is one main thing that can help us all through it. I ran into another mom friend of mine today and she was visibly upset. She ended up crying on my shoulder because she has to leave her one year old in daycare. It’s tearing her apart. She’s not ready for it. Just as I’m not ready for my baby to head to junior high (her oldest also is heading to junior high next week so she’s hit with a double whammy). It was through this interaction that I realized, us parents can and will survive our kids growing up on us by being there for each other. However that may be…

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Reach out to your other parent friends. They’re going through it all too. None of us should have to go through it alone. We can lean on each other, cry to each other, give each other advice and if need be, all be on the door step to intimidate that boy who wants to take one of our daughters’ on a date (because that’s next! 😨)

We’ll never let go of our kids, because they’re a part of us. They’re part of heart, our soul, our entire reason for living. All we can do is trust. And never stop being there for them as they venture out into the world on their own. Our kids need to know that there’s at least one place they can always feel safe, happy and loved…which is with you.

I will admit I feel slightly ridiculous with all these emotions I’m feeling over junior high. I can’t imagine what sending her off to college is going to be like. In the meantime, I’m going to just try and take it all one day at a time, one breath at a time. Baby girl, I love you more everyday. You’ve got this – and never forget, I’ve always got your back.

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Family Isn’t Always Blood…But When It Is It’s Pretty Amazing

I was lucky enough to be born into the best family in the world. OK, maybe I’m a bit biased, but I know a handful of others who would agree with me! I come from a large family – five sisters and one brother. Start adding brothers-in-law and a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews and well, we practically need to rent a hall for family gatherings. Our parents, married 40 years, are the rock of our family. They raised my siblings and I on high standards, strong values, a deep faith and – most importantly – the feeling that no matter what one of us goes through, we all go through it together.

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Take my accident for example (blog post with details on what exactly happened to me will be coming at a later date). I was only nine years old. I spent five weeks in the hospital. But not one day was I ever alone. My mom stayed with me Monday – Friday. My dad on weekends. And my siblings came to visit often, as well as other family and family friends. My dad said that our family had to find a “new normal” to move on. Key word – family. Not just me. We all, together, were affected by my accident. We all, together, were going to survive it. We all, together, did.

You’d think with a family of such a large size that there’d be drama, fights, people who refuse to be in the same room as each other…

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But that’s what I love the most about my family – there isn’t any of that! When we manage to get together, ALL of us, it’s nothing but laughs, some tears, and always happy memories. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are disagreements. There are fights (especially when we were younger – come on, 9 people in one house with only two bathrooms?? There was hair pulling and curling irons being thrown).  But now that we’re all grown and have families of our own, we truly cherish the times we get together.

We reserve Christmas every second year to get together, ALL of us, at our parents’ to celebrate. Every summer we reserve the third weekend in August to go on a camping trip – sometimes we can’t all make it to this. Summer is a busy time for everyone. But we all try as hard as possible. This year, we were missing three members of our family. My husband – he had to work. With three kids, pets and wife to feed, he had to go. My sister-in-law and brother were also unable to make it but for good reason – they quit their jobs earlier this year to travel the world for a year (check out Couple Of Suitcases on Facebook and Instagram to follow their journey). But my amazing family made sure to include them as much as possible. My sister and I, without knowing the other was doing it, made cutouts of each of their faces so they could be in pictures at our family camp out.

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Of course it wasn’t the same as having them there in person, but it shows how much we love each other. How much we don’t want anyone to feel left out. How much we are all together, no matter how far apart we all are.

Having a family that I know will be there for me with everything, good or bad, that I may go through is a feeling I can’t begin to describe. And I hope they know that I’m always there for them. I owe them my life. Because they saved mine. Twenty-four years ago and in more ways than they’ll ever know. More details on that to come. I hope you have people in your life that you can count on as much as I can count on my siblings, in-laws, and parents. They don’t have to be blood related, they just have to love you unconditionally. Nobody should ever feel alone. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of the crazy group I call my family.

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I was once broken. Now I’m just scarred.

My name is Joy Zylstra. I am a 33 year old married woman and mom to three beautiful children. But that’s not near where my story starts. It’s also not where it ends. This is my first blog post, and will be far from my last. You’ll learn a lot about me, and hopefully a lot about you too in this journey together. For now, I’ll tell you a little bit about me and why I decided to start Scarred, Not Broken.

On July 25, 1993 when I was only nine years old, I walked into a cabin that I didn’t know had filled up with propane due to the gas stove accidentally being left on. The cabin didn’t have any electricity so I had to light a candle to see what I was doing. The next thing I remember was opening my eyes and seeing millions of sparks all over the floor. I was scared, so I screamed.

Long story short – I was in what’s called a flash fire explosion and suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45% of my body. As mentioned, I was only nine years old. Perhaps in another blog post I’ll go into greater detail as to what all happened while I was in hospital and recovery for years later.

But this post is about why I started Scarred, Not Broken. Twenty-four years after my accident.

I spent five weeks in the hospital. I am blessed with a huge family (5 sisters and 1 brother and two amazing parents). In those five weeks, and the years beyond to this day, I didn’t spend one minute alone. My mom stayed by my side in the hospital Monday to Friday and my dad stayed with me on weekends. I had countless visitors; from neighbors, to classmates, to family, and family friends. I heard the screams down the hall of the other burn patients in the full burn unit. But, all of that didn’t help the feeling of feeling completely alone. During those 5 weeks in the burn unit, and for many years following, I felt completely alone. Not that I didn’t appreciate all the love and support I was receiving. But I felt like nobody knew what I was going thru. Not just the physical pain, but the emotional pain mostly. I was scarred. All over my body. My arms, legs, back and face. I was permanently scarred. And I felt so broken.

I suffered. A lot. I was suicidal as a teen. Depressed as an adult. I still suffer from depression. My life will never be “normal”. I don’t look normal. I don’t feel normal. As my dad has said from the day of my accident, I had to find a new normal. It took me too many years to find what that meant.

I went thru and felt many different emotions in my life as a burn survivor. But the worst one was the feeling of loneliness. Like nobody else knew what I had and was going thru.

This is why I started Scarred, Not Broken. I know I’m not the only burn survivor in the world. I’ve met so many over the years. But I also know I’m not the only survivor. There are people all over the world who are going thru or have gone thru traumatic events. With Scarred, Not Broken I hope to help people feel like they’re not alone anymore. That they are in this struggle together with others who have been there or who are still there. Not just burn survivors. Survivors of any tragedy. I invite you to join me on this journey. To help me help others to heal. To find the positive. To be OK again. One breath at a time. Because now I know I’m not alone. And neither are you.

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