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Now that Christmas and New Year’s are behind us, all the talk is around whether people are still making resolutions or not. The general consensus is that they set us up for defeat and that very few people are successful at maintaining their resolution.

I’m glad I started this #BF4ME challenge in November because I’m one of those people who could care less about resolutions, I just want to change and grow year round. It does, however, give each of us an opportunity to reflect on what went well last year, what didn’t, and what we can choose to do differently in 2018.

I for one, was happy to say buh-bye to 2017, let me tell you! I did wake up on January 1st, however, with firm resolve. It was a knowing deep down that this year would be different.


re·solve

rəˈzälv/
verb
1.
settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or contentious matter)
“the firm aims to resolve problems within 30 days”
synonyms: settle, sort out, solve, find a solution to, fix, straighten out, deal with, put right, put to rights, rectify
2.
decide firmly on a course of action
“she resolved to call Dana as soon as she got home”
synonyms: determine, decide, make up one’s mind, make a decision | “Bob resolved not to wait any longer”

Resolve doesn’t have a date attached to it, nor does it require creating a habit of some sort.

My paraphrase to the dictionary definition is to make a firm decision to solve a problem. My way of dealing with my health was to make a firm decision to enter a marathon, announce it publicly, and use it to inspire others to not only get active but to find ways to take control of their own journeys and destinies. It comes back to the recognition that bad things have happened, but how I move forward is completely in my control – my attitudes, my actions, my thought processes, and how I want to “be and do” in this world.

Saying that I have had some serious epiphanies in the past couple of weeks and have made some strides towards change:

  1. I am an enabler. I had to choose my own mental health over that of another, and it was gut-wrenching to verbalize my boundaries, knowing they would be met with anger, and it wasn’t even my kids! I also had to recognize that others’ choices are not my responsibility. While I know this in my head, I would just rather look after things (or people) because it’s much easier that way.
  2. If I’m not okay, the influence on my kids and those I care about will be negatively impacted. It’s quite preferable that we look after ourselves, considering that none of us can pour from an empty cup. This has smacked me in the face repeatedly over the holidays, so much so that I have told my teenagers that I’m on a staycation for the next two weeks. What that looks like is them taking care of themselves while I take care of me. So hard to do, and it’s going to be very challenging to follow through on it.
  3. I know that I know this is the year my health takes precedence, and that I am actually going to make sure of it. Between ensuring my brain gets what it needs, to finding sleep solutions, to setting emotionally healthy boundaries, to food choices, to .. ugh .. running to prepare for a 5K marathon, to reflecting on my spirituality, it all matters. Every bit that makes up me is part of my #BF4ME challenge this year, and I know I’m going to win!

So there’s my resolve. Now to how things have been progressing.

The Good | finding joy

  1. I decided not to weigh myself over the next months while preparing for the High Altitude Challenge in August, but rather measure my progress with size change, muscle tone and my ability to actually run. It was a mental boost the second I chose this path.
  2. Kombucha! I’ve discovered that drinking 2.5 ounces before coffee or breakfast has improved my gut health immensely, as well as the acid reflux that has been tormenting me.
  3. Christmas with my parents. I’ve never had my family members in my home at Christmas and I’m more than grateful for the memories.
  4. A wedding. My kids and I were invited to share a special day with friends, a wedding that was planned in a week! It was beautiful and pretty perfect.
  5. I attended a meditation workshop presented by one of our BFF volunteers. My head knows the value of deep breathing, my discipline (or lack thereof), however, has not followed suit. If you’re not sure what meditation actually is or how it works, this Meditation to Embrace Difficulty & Open Your Heart to 2018 is an easy to follow, helpful introduction.
  6. I fully enjoyed the season and didn’t worry about much, outside of the crappy night my kids had with their dad. [read more here]
  7. The Simply Fit Board I received for Christmas is pretty great [unbiased review]. I could never have guessed something so “simple” could work so well. It will be the key to my winter activity, and I actually enjoy using it.
  8. I’ve implemented boundaries and self-care priorities, and I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. A friend of mine suggested that maybe dealing with some of that emotional weight may influence my physical health. I think she may be right!

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” ~Sigmund Freud

The Bad | stuff that didn’t go well

I ate too much. It was a deep freeze in Calgary, and we mostly hibernated which equals to no gains towards increased activity. The Simply Fit Board is helping with that.

The Ugly

Addressing the choices I’ve made or am making to inhibit healthy living – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and financially – has been eye-opening but certainly no fun. One step, one day at a time. The ugly has been the internal struggle, the tears and the feeling of being alone (even though I know that’s so not true!).

When you’re trying to retrain your brain, being kind to yourself is paramount. This article on Forbes.com about changing negative thoughts was helpful for me.

As happy as I am that 2017 is behind me, I’m just as happy to see what unfolds in 2018!

Resources

Join the #BF4ME (Breaking Free 4 Me) Community on Facebook

6 Life Lessons Learned From Running

21 Ways to Help Yourself Heal | #9 is my challenge to myself this week! I’ve never successfully accomplished that one.

Vulnerability seems to have been one of my strengths throughout my life. This video is so powerful, bears watching again and again, and will provide insight on why it’s so important:

You may have heard members of the Breaking Free family reference a “banana”, and you are probably wondering… what the heck we are talking about! What started out as a bit of a joke, has turned out to be the best daily reminder for myself when that “not good enough” sign shows up in neon lights.

Last year, when we were in Whistler for the Victor Walk Documentary premiere, a few of us were attempting to pose for a selfie, and Shandra said, “I hate myself in photos”. It was a very honest statement, and one that I’m sure many people can relate to (myself included). I immediately scolded her (in the nicest way possible), and jokingly said that anytime she said something bad about herself, I’d say “banana” as code to snap out of it. We had a good chuckle about it, but that word has stayed with us to this day.

Trauma teaches us many things about ourselves, and a big one is that we are not good enough. I know for myself, I’ve struggled with my “not good enough” stuff a lot lately. “Will anyone ever love me? Am I good enough at my job? Does anyone need me?” That yucky track can be like a loop in my head. But when that loop gets going, I stop myself and yell “banana!” Many times, out loud, which can make for some interesting scenes, I’m sure. It is just a small reminder that I am lovable and good enough and valuable. It always does the trick at getting me out of my own head.

I also really appreciate when my BFF family tosses a “banana” at me too. If they catch me saying something negative about myself, someone (usually Dawn or Shandra) is quick to yell “banana!”

I am sharing this story, because we all get that yucky “not good enough” feeling from time to time, and maybe you can get some help from the banana too.

The benefits of verbalizing our feelings by talking to a therapist, have long been proven to help us on a therapeutic and scientific level. But if you’ve never experienced therapy before, like any new change, it may seem a bit scary. We could share with you the research behind how therapy can help you overcome trauma and live a fulfilling life, but instead we will let some real people share how therapy helped them (in some surprising ways too).

What was the biggest benefit you got from talking to a therapist?

  • “The biggest benefit I received from talking to a therapist was validation of my experience. Despite my training and experience in the mental health field, I often find myself quietly self-shaming my internal experiences. There really is no hack code for experiencing unconditional acceptance and non-judgmental validation; it has to come from another person.” — Molly Hayes
  • “Tools for coping with all of life’s every day stresses.  On top of helping me work through my baggage, the tools to help me better manage future issues continue to be so beneficial in my day-to-day. Often very simple explanations, suggestions have had the greatest impact.” — Amanda S
  • “It’s a great way to check in with yourself, sit with your emotions and release any stress or negative energy that may be brewing.” — Monsy
  • “I didn’t know how much I would benefit from a third party to not only listen, but interpret my struggles. To have another ear to listen and voice to respond that isn’t directly connected with your own issues is extremely helpful!” — Bonnie
  • “I think my biggest benefit and certainly a feeling of relief was, the weight off my chest, a ‘letting go’ type of experience. Being able to open up to a professional without a fear of personal judgment really helped the encounter.” — Joel
  • “I owe a great deal of gratitude to therapy. If not for the therapists I’ve worked with over the years, I never even would have been able to identify my trauma and put it into words. Going through the therapy process has allowed me to identify my issues, process them and develop tools and skills to move past them.” — Amber Craig
  • “I think the benefits intertwined for me. Recognition that I wasn’t responsible for someone else’s actions, validation that what I was going through was real, and tools to help me work through both the process and change.” — Shandra Carlson

What is the biggest stigma about therapy, in your opinion?

  • “There’s this misconception that we should be able to figure out life on our own, and that going to therapist means you’re either crazy or weak, when in reality I believe it’s so healthy to seek advice and learn from the wisdom that someone else can offer!” — Bonnie
  • “That you have to have something wrong with you. Therapy is as great a tool for prevention of emotional imbalances as it is for working through current ones.” — Amanda S
  • “In social circles, I have noticed a stigma pertaining to the potential of diagnoses relating to therapy. It appears that some people believe that seeing a therapist means that at the end of a session or series of sessions that one will receive a permanent diagnosis for a mental illness. Fearing the judgment, misjudgment, and permanence of consequences for expressing one’s inner experiences, people avoid it. This comes from a pervasive misunderstanding of the experiences and goals of therapy and diagnostic procedures.” — Molly Hayes
  • “That it means you are weak or have ‘issues’. The reality is, there isn’t a person on the planet that can’t benefit from therapy. Even when I’m feeling unstoppable and on top of the world with my healing, I can have an amazing therapy session just the same and come out of that conversation having improved some area of my life.” — Amber Craig
  • “I’ve heard many people say they don’t need that ‘crap’, yet without giving it an opportunity, how do they know? The stigma that independence = I’m okay or maybe even better than those who don’t ‘need’ therapy, can keep people from becoming the best version of themselves.” — Shandra Carlson

Who do you think can benefit from therapy?

  • “I truly believe everyone can. There is not one person that has picture-perfect past without some form, small or large, of trauma, bullying, abandonment, neglect, hostility, etc.” — Joel
  • “I am a firm believer that there is an appropriate therapy out there for everyone.” – Amanda S
  • “Every single person!” — Amber Craig
  • “What Amber said! If connected with the ‘right’ therapist, we all benefit.” — Shandra Carlson

What forms of therapy, besides talk therapy, have you had success with? 

  • “Journalling has to be my favourite form of therapy. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m feeling until I’ve written my thoughts and feelings on paper. Feelings can seem so overwhelming until I have the chance to organize them.” — Monsy
  • “I’ve had a lot of success “trying on” the therapies of other cultures i.e. sweat lodges, Eastern meditation practices, travel, etc.” — Molly Hayes
  • “I’ve tried lots of forms of therapy, and my biggest successes have come from spiritual ceremonies like guided meditations, sweat lodges, etc. I have also found writing and journalling to be extremely helpful, as well as music and physical activity.” — Amber Craig
  • “I have a phenomenal support system with my family and friends, which I consider a form of therapy for me! I fought journaling for years but finally decided to give it a go, and it has definitely become one of my greatest treasures.” — Shandra Carlson

Are you interested in talk therapy for your trauma healing? Click here to learn about our Therapy Grant Program.

For all of you who tuned into this blog, just waiting to expand your vocabulary with the most offensive swear word I know, you’ll be happily disappointed.

The word is actually an acronym. So what is this offensive acronym? PTSD – or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychological injury, or condition of caused by experiencing traumatic event(s). PTSD is often found in military personnel and emergency service workers, although it is certainly not exclusive to them. Having PTSD does not mean a person is a cry baby, has their feeling hurt easily, someone who is weak, or has a disease of Bubonic Plague proportions. Although talk to someone who has experienced if for themselves, or worked in emergency services, and they will likely feel different.

I have extremely personal experience with both being diagnosed with PTSD, and treatment from colleagues that work in emergency services. Don’t worry, this is not a story of someone complaining about what has happened to them, or how they were treated. Rather, it’s a story of Trauma, enlightenment, perseverance and Triumph.

Granted we all face difficult times and task throughout our whole lives, sometimes those situations can be too much and can affect our present.

I was hired in 2007 in emergency services. Within the first couple of years I attended several horrific events:

  • An accident where the driver was scalped
  • A collision where  people 19-22 years old where killed,
  • I had a 15 year old die in my arms from a collision
  • Watched a 19 year old die from a collision and later attended that autopsy (that’s a whole other story)
  • Watched a co-worker die in front of me in a freak accident
  • Was put in a position to mentally commit to taking a life

Over the next few years I attended several more collisions and watched a few more people die in front of me at the hospital. I had a mother hand me  a 2 week old baby that was dead, and I attended to many other situations where I saw death, or had to make choice to cause serious harm or death.

In a span of five years, I managed to see a lifetime of trauma. One day I just became overwhelmed and sought help. I got professional help, and this was honestly the best thing ever to happen in my life. I learned mindfulness, so much so I became a certified instructor. I learned I needed better fitness for my body and with that came some unique performance hypnosis ideas. I identified that I suffered from low confidence, so much so that I decided to become a master certified self confidence coach to overcome it. I also learned Tai Chi and found it so helpful I continue working towards instructor certification.

However, according to my colleagues, at some point I changed from a coworker to a cry baby. I had my feelings easily hurt, I was damaged goods. These opinions were held about other co-workers who had been in similar situations as well. I, and others in my category, were avoided by our coworkers. I had an emergency service refuse my application, until I could prove this type of injury wouldn’t happen again, until I quoted from the Human Rights Act.

I was absolutely surprised to hear what coworkers thought about PTSD, how an emergency service would ever say they needed proof that PTSD wouldn’t happen to me again. Add to that the fact they already knew I was diagnosed with PTSD because my coworker felt it was so dangerous, they had to disclose it without my permission to this emergency service once they had found out I applied.

As I thought about my personal treatment, the treatment of others with PTSD, I began to notice something that seemed to make no sense. If someone had a physical injury, like a dislocated shoulder or they required knee surgery, their injuries were never seen as being of weak body. They were not cry babies. The expectation was that once they had surgery, rehabilitated the injury, learned some techniques to strengthen the injury they were welcomed back with open arms.

So why was I not? Why was the fact that  I saw a doctor, had the injury fixed, rehabilitated and learned some strengthening techniques to make sure it was less likely to happen again not the same? Was it because of one word that changed it from a physical injury to a psychological injury? Or realistically four additional letters (OLOG), that made this injury unrecoverable? The emergency service I applied to never asked about my dislocated shoulder, nor did a coworker feel they needed to tell this service that I had dislocated a shoulder. So why such a small difference then?

Well simply it comes down to a lack of knowledge. Although emergency services and management of those services are educating themselves at an encouraging and unprecedented rate, there is still so much mystery.

A psychological injury in the emergency services is not any less common than a knee that requires surgery, a shoulder that dislocates. A psychological injury is far less likely to be reported, and people will suffer years in silence for the fear of being ousted by a coworker. Coworkers oust those who do come forward; 1) because they don’t see a psychological injury or, 2) don’t understand a psychological injury. People often fear what they don’t understand.

What can we do to change attitudes towards psychological injuries? There is no doubt that anyone who works in an emergency service, or knows someone who does, should educate themselves about what PTSD is and what it is not. Gain understanding that like any other injury, you can recover and not return to where you were before, becoming better and stronger than where you were before.

Another strategy is mindfulness. In fact, mindfulness is a huge weapon in relation to PTSD. When we really learn to be in the moment it’s hard to be affected by the past. Another great strategy is to talk to someone, and don’t be afraid to see a psychologist. You will not regret that decision.

My favourite strategy is one of the biggest foundations I believe all of us need in life – self-confidence. Self-confidence, if you are the one suffering, will help you to learn. The best and most successful people in the world seek help. You owe yourself the love and compassion to seek that help and become better. Gaining self confidence will help these people work through the fear of the unknown, being able to treat the co-workers based on their actions. If your coworker has gotten help and says they are better, there is a real chance they’re not only better, but BEST.

By being self-confident as someone who has recovered, you have a real opportunity to inspire someone suffering in silence to get help. Professional help, or maybe just have you teach them the techniques you use to strengthen yourself, to help prevent a build up that causes harm.

By being self-confident as a coworker of someone who has recovered or suffered, you will be an excellent support. You can help your coworker have strength to seek help, have support while getting help, and have comfort that it’s alright for everyone to stumble once in a while, it’s how we get back up that truly matters.

Who knows, maybe your confidence will save a life! I often wonder just how many suicides of emergency professionals are related to silent suffering. There are enough true dangers in the world. We can do without fear of getting help, or fear of those who get help.

— Written by Jason Rorick (follow on Twitter)

 

Trauma and mental health issues are not necessarily more prevalent now, but the awareness about these issues is certainly growing. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 57 per cent of Canadians believe that the stigma associated with mental illness has been reduced compared to five years ago; and 81 per cent of Canadians are more aware of mental health issues compared to five years ago.

In understanding these figures, we know that stigma is slowing decreasing in Canada, and therefore the prevalence of disclosures will likely increase as people feel safer with sharing their stories. People in our lives: friends, family, coworkers, etc. can be dealing with a trauma or mental illness at any time. In order to create the safe and supportive space necessary to receive a disclosure, here’s some tips to prepare yourself with.

BODY LANGUAGE

  •  Make eye contact, give this person your undivided attention.
  • Point your body towards them (focus on the feet) instead of appearing disinterested by facing another direction. Things like crossed arms can read negatively in another person.
  • Man-to-man, it’s the best to stand beside them, instead of face-on.
  • If you don’t know the trauma or source of the problem (especially if it’s a stranger), avoid physical contact, regardless how tempting it can be to hold that person. For someone who has been through sexual trauma, physical touch can be a trigger if it comes from the wrong person.

WHAT TO SAY

  • “Thank you so much for sharing.” This is something you should always say in response, especially if you’re the first to receive this information. It can be an anxiety-inducing feeling to share your story for the first time, so thank them for choosing you.
  • “I’m here for you.” This is an excellent choice for someone that you know, but may be an inappropriate response to someone you don’t know, who you can’t fulfill this commitment to.
  • “You are not alone.” Many times people who are going through a trauma or mental illness can feel like they are the only one in the world going through it. Vulnerability can be a powerful tool, if you can offer someone a “me too” moment, it can be incredibly comforting and freeing for them (and you).
  • “Let me go with you.” Again, this is something you can offer to someone you have a relationship with. Maybe going to their first group therapy meeting or counselling session is too difficult for them, you can offer physical support in certain cases.
  • “What can I do to help you?” We don’t always know what we need from someone else, so being proactive with helping this person identify their needs, can be very helpful.
  • “How are you feeling about that?” Give this person an opportunity to put their emotions into words, this can help with processing and can also help you gauge where they are at.
  • “That must be so tough.” Validate their feelings by expressing your genuine response and recognition of how hard this must be for them. What can be triggering for many, is to respond in a ‘silver lining’ way, by saying things like “well, at least”. Brene Brown has an excellent explanation of empathy responses in this short animated video.
  • “Have you thought about getting help?” While we cannot force someone to seek help, we can certainly help navigate them in the right direction.
  • Nothing. Sometimes just creating a safe space is all someone needs to hear. They obviously have something they need to get off their chest, being there to receive it can be very helpful.

If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with trauma or mental illness, help is available. Contact us on Facebook to get access to resources in your area. If you’re in Alberta, learn more about our Therapy Grant Program, which gives access to high-quality, trauma-specialized therapy for FREE.

— Written by Amber Craig (follow her on Twitter)