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Guest post by Mykelti Carlson

Anxiety. Everyone experiences it at one point or another. Some people deal with it more often than others, but it is not uncommon. Me? I’m not ashamed to say I have anxiety a lot of the time, and it sucks. I am a huge over-thinker, I psycho-analyze everything, and make up scenarios in my head that will probably never happen (but I have to know how I’d handle them if they did happen). I went to my doctor a couple years ago and told her I could not handle it anymore, I needed something to help me relax. Of course, she suggested counselling, which I 110 per cent hated a refused to go to at that point, so she gave me medication. It really did help for awhile, it helped me through school, and brought up my confidence a ton. But medication is not the answer, it does help, and I’m thankful for that, but when I finally decided to stop being stubborn and go to a counsellor, that helped so much more…

Now the anxiety I’m talking about is serious, but all anxiety sucks. It makes you feel so vulnerable and helpless, and it can come from anything. Mine stems from a lot of not great experiences in my past. My counsellor taught me that things that happen in the womb, or before you have any memories, can affect you later in life and you’d have no idea why. No, you’re not crazy for going through a conversation that happened seven years ago and thinking “I should’ve said that”, that comes with our lovely friend anxiety. But I found a lot of great ways to help get rid of it, and I hope they can help you too.

  • Talking to someone: not just a counsellor, yes that’s their job, but I find having someone you genuinely trust to tell every detail to about what’s going on in your head helps. Someone who understands what you’re dealing with is easier, you don’t feel weird telling them because they’ve gone through it too. My go to is my mom, always. I know a lot of people don’t want to talk to their mom, but they are pretty good listeners, so I highly suggest trying it. Friends are awesome too though, they usually have a different insight than your mom.
  • Joking about it: this might not work for everyone, but it has helped me a lot. Making light of the situation, teasing yourself for thinking of crazy scenarios. It helps. It takes away the seriousness of it and gives you a chance to relax about it. Sometimes the serious stigma around anxiety makes you feel like joking about it is so horrible because it’s a mental thing that people deal with everyday. Well, I deal with it, and I’m here to tell you that joking about it is okay if it helps you feel better for even a moment.
  • Distracting yourself when you can’t stop thinking about one thing: okay, this is probably something that’s different for everyone, but I know when I get stuck on one thing, I neeeeeeeeed to distract myself, especially when I know it’s crazy but it’s stuck in my head anyways. Some of my favourite distractions are: watching ‘Friends’ on Netflix (or whatever show), hanging out with a friend, cleaning, playing games on my phone, taking a shower, getting out of the house, or dancing around my kitchen to rap music. I watch ‘Friends’ all the time anyways, but it’s a great show to distract you if you need it!

Those are just a few things that have helped me a lot. Having anxiety is okay. Whether you want to talk about it or not, that’s totally your business, I know I was quiet about it for a very long time. But you’re not alone, no matter how cliché that sounds. I have amazing people in my life who have helped me through it, and I think that’s important, having people who support you. There’s some people who just don’t get it at all, they don’t deal with it everyday, and good for them, but make sure you have someone in your life that understands. First of all, it makes you feel like less of an outcast, and second, it makes it easier to talk about. I think having people who understand has made me more relaxed in life.

Flat out on my back, staring up at the early evening sky, all I could cry was, “No, no, no, no!” My laptop had gone flying and landed about three feet from me. I’d had no warning or time to brace for the fall, as the skiff of snow had hidden the ice that had formed in the past couple of hours. It was December 10, 2015.

The emergency doctor advised I might be stiff for a couple of days, and that within seven to ten days I should be totally fine. If anything, I’d probably experienced a little bit of whiplash, and if it was a concussion, it was mild at best. Karen – the friend who dropped everything to take me to emergency – told me he was wrong. She’s had more than one concussion in her life, and I definitely had a concussion.

I tried to lay low over the next few days, but as a single mom trying to recover from a recent layoff and bills that kept appearing for some reason, I couldn’t take time off from the part time work I’d been given. Fast forward a couple of weeks and a few migraines later, I knew something wasn’t right. The jiggling I’d felt in my head when it hit the ground had most certainly been more than a little whiplash. Lights had already been bothering me yes, but my sensitivities worsened, along with certain noises. My poor teenagers!

My family doctor was on maternity leave, so I went in to see one of her colleagues. She advised that I may have a mild concussion, if anything, and it may take up to a year to recover. Sigh. I’d secured a half-time role with the Breaking Free Foundation that was going to start three weeks after my fall. I was not a happy camper. No seriously, I was exhausted from all the trauma in our lives over the previous few years, and this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Not only could I not afford this setback financially, the added stress only escalated my sense of helplessness, that was fast becoming hopelessness. The downward spiral continued, and as much as my positive outlook on life had carried me through adversity in the past, this time was so very different. My personality changed, my tolerance levels had diminished significantly, and my kids weren’t sure who I was anymore.

I was so completely frustrated. I should be able to get back at it, to push through, as I had so many times before, shouldn’t I? After months of migraines, light and sound sensitivities, I decided to go back to the doctor to find out if there was more I could do to help the healing along. This time, my family doctor was back, and she quickly apologized that I’d not been given the proper care or attention I should have received. We put a plan in place and she asked that I follow up with her in a couple of weeks. Wow. What a complete switch from the dismissiveness of the other physicians! I’ve never really had bad experiences with our health care system, and those doctors were only doing what they’d been trained to do, as far as concussion protocol goes.

Over the next several months, I was able to get some sleep, but not near enough to be functional. My brain was still a complete fog, and some days I wondered how I still had a job. My doctor expressed repeatedly that she wished I didn’t ‘have to’ work at all, and the fact I was only working half time was a blessing in disguise.

When we were close to the one year mark and I hadn’t shown much improvement, she requested an MRI. So a year after I’d fallen, we discovered I had a micro bleed and visible bruising. No small injury at all, if it was still showing up a whole year later! Oh the relief I felt that I wasn’t actually crazy, and that there was a real reason I couldn’t just push through it.

However, that didn’t make me better. The frustration didn’t go away, my confidence was all but destroyed, and those blasted sensitivities didn’t seem to be lessening either. I began to wonder if my life had been forever altered and if I’d ever get back to ‘normal’. Constantly trying to pull words out of my brain that should roll off my tongue, names confused, some memories gone, was this my new normal? I felt for my kids in particular, if that was the case. The last thing they needed was to be looking after me.

I spiralled downward. It got pretty dark. I often felt no one really took me seriously when I expressed it, because it was something they’d never known of me before. I always pulled through, found a way to make it all work. Resilient. Strong. Capable. Confident. Nope, not anymore! Add to that my lack of activity and major weight gain, my self esteem completely tanked. I didn’t want to be seen in public, nothing fit, I didn’t want to buy new clothes, nor could I afford it. Not being able to afford it was another slap in the face that spiralled me further into a deep black hole. The despair to never seemingly be able to get ahead overwhelmed me.

Now what? How do I move forward if I don’t fully heal? How do I look after my children and my responsibilities? It was easier to think about my kids getting my life insurance policy than it was to figure out how to afford life as I knew it. Like I said, very dark. And here I was, the Executive Director of the Breaking Free Foundation, trying to help others heal from trauma. There were days I felt like a fraud and yet, completely grateful for the compassion and patience extended to me by our Board.

My doctor suggested I go see a chiropractor who had ventured into more brain trauma work than her regular practice. After assessing me and taking days to formulate a plan to help me, we began treatment. Weird thumb-in-front-of-my eyes stuff, standing on a foam mat, getting off of it, closing my eyes and standing on it on one leg…nothing that seemed to me to be brain healing work. She turned out to be one of the greatest gifts in my healing journey. My eyes were not focusing together, which was causing constant strain on my brain, and it was preventing me from getting better. As the months went by and we continued these simple and strange exercises, I noticed marked improvement. My migraines lessened, my light sensitivities weren’t as noticeable AND I could balance on one leg for more than a second at a time. I  didn’t always have to lean against a wall to put my shoes on! When I realized that, I knew I was on the mend.

In amongst all of that, I’d been referred to the brain injury clinic. I finally got in to see Dr. Grant in October of this year, two months shy of two years since my brain got bonked. I laughed for most of the hour I spent with him. He told me four things I could do to improve my quality of life, and then he shared a story. He told me about a patient with a spinal cord injury, who’d been a snow boarder and was now left with more than a brain injury. She was paralyzed. At their last appointment together, he told her he didn’t know what else he could do to help her, but would give her a prescription that might help. He wrote the word J-O-Y on the prescription pad, signed it and handed it to her. When she got home she handed it to her husband and said something to the effect of, “What am I supposed to do with this?” He nudged her along and helped her find a snow sport that both excited her and accommodated her new reality. Months later, she went back to see Dr. Grant and told him it was the best prescription any doctor had ever given her!

He then told me I needed to find more joy in my life. Nice. He talked about how after our brains physically heal, we’re often stuck in a type of depression because our brains have told us for so long that we’re not okay. He couldn’t have known that “JOY” has always (since I can remember) been one of my favourite words, and I have it scattered in various ways throughout my house. Apparently, I’d lost it somewhere along the way.

Now to this post and the reason I’m writing it. I took his comments seriously, and wanted to find a way to get back to joy. I am also a person who figures if I’m going to tackle something, it should benefit others as well. In my quest to help others, and in my role with BFF, I figured what could be better than looking after myself, sharing my journey, and removing the excuses that have kept me from getting after my own healing back towards fulfilment and joy?!

I also determined that many others are likely in similar positions. Trauma that has changed our lives. But instead of staying stuck there, let’s take back our power, our control over our own destinies, rather than feeding our “woe is me” stories, especially when there are things we can be doing to help ourselves.

So today it starts. We launch #BF4ME – Breaking Free for Me! Breaking free of hurt, hopelessness and helplessness. Breaking free to move towards more smiles, more activity, better mental health, and especially more joy. Are you ready to take steps, however small, to making some positive change in your life?

I’ve committed to run a five kilometre run next August. I’ve never run. I don’t even remotely like running. But I felt compelled to do it. In order for that to happen, I’ve got to overhaul a lot of stuff like what I eat, my sleep and activity (lack of) habits. Going public with the Board’s support, I’m no longer able to live in my excuses. Join me, okay, so I’m not doing this alone?

I will:

  • tell you what I’m committing to weekly
  • share my experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly – with you, in a weekly blog post, possibly including photos :-/
  • provide resources that are inexpensive and easy to use
  • encourage you along the way (I hope)

You can:

  • commit to your own small steps toward healing, whatever that looks like for you
  • share with us on social media and use the hashtag #BF4ME
  • join our newly created private Facebook group to create a more personal and interactive connection as we go on this journey together

This week, I will do 10 sit-ups per day, and will record my food intake so I can get a grasp on how far my eating habits have slid into the abyss! I will eat as I have been over the past couple of years, without filtering it or changing it for this week.

Over the next few weeks we will talk about food and exercise as they relate to trauma healing, and we will also talk about how to get through the holidays without crashing emotionally. Holidays can be the worst for so many.

Bookmark our blog, join our Facebook group, declare your commitments and please, please, please, don’t leave me in lurch on this!

 

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we’re going to start posting these resource blogs the day following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night before.

  • Self-care ideas include journaling or writing, many people seconded having a gratitude journal. Physical activity can be a great asset as well, and reading was also noted as an effective tool for self-care.
  • Changing perspective led us into a great conversation about how thinking about our trauma from another person’s point of view, can really reshape how we think about that memory. Try it for yourself!
  • EMDR is an incredibly powerful tool for dealing with trauma and PTSD. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions.
  • Complex PTSD: we were led into this discussion surrounding another branch of PTSD, Complex PTSD. This article gives some great insight:

Unlike formally recognized PTSD diagnoses, C-PTSD doesn’t stem from a singular event, but is instead the result of sustained abuse and powerlessness, from which the victim has little hope of escape.

“C-PTSD occurs when the hyper-vigilance of PTSD is accompanied by a breakdown in the ability to self-regulate,” said Julian Ford, a psychology and law professor who heads the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Connecticut. “Intense emotions or emotional deadness will overwhelm the person’s ability to cope. Mentally, they will suffer lapses in consciousness or in problem solving or judgment. And interpersonally, they will have extreme conflict in or withdraw from relationships.” [Vice]

The Breaking Free Foundation Golf Tournament is coming up on September 21, and the push is on for more golfers! If you don’t golf, you can simply join us for dinner. Details and registration online here.

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we’re going to start posting these resource blogs the day following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation the night before.

  • EMDR is a great therapy tool for PTSD and untapped memories. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. More on how EMDR works.
  • This Brene Brown video on empathy is a great illustration on how to hold space for someone.
  • Some quick strategies for diffusing your anger, as per this Psychology Today article.
  • Dealing with trauma in children can be tough to navigate. Here are some tips on recognizing trauma in children, and also on responding to disclosures. The organization RAINN has some great tips for how and when to start the conversation with your kids about sexual abuse.
  • If you’re looking for information on reporting a historic sexual assault, Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse has a program, PACES, that helps navigate this.A Sexual Assault Worker who is trained in sexual assault trauma and is experienced in the justice system can help address your concerns and assist with a variety of issues including:
    • Answering questions about your options in reporting the assault.
    • Going with you to the police and crown prosecutor.
    • Answering questions about police and court processes – what to expect.
    • Discussing your concerns about going to court.
    • Going with you to court and offering support.
    • Assistance writing a Victim Impact Statement.
    • Assistance filling out Victim Compensation forms.
    • Providing post court follow up.
    • Making appropriate referrals.

 

If you’ve ever attended one of our BFF meet-ups, you’ve likely heard Theo Fleury talk about his successes with EMDR therapy. When it comes to trauma treatment, this particular type of therapy has some incredible research and anecdotal evidence to back it up.

Before you decide whether or not EMDR is the right approach for you, here’s some information about what it is and how it works.

What is EMDR? 

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions.

How does EMDR work? 

When people experience trauma, the brain does not process information as it would normally. A moment can become a lasting memory, and flashbacks can come in the form of images, smells, sounds, etc. EMDR however, allows patients to take direct control of how their brain processes information. By reprogramming the traumatic memory into a neutral or positive memory, you remove the upsetting emotions that come with it. You will still remember the event, but it won’t leave you in distress anymore. There are many different ways therapists do EMDR, but the idea is to activate both sides of your brain during the reprogramming of the memory, and this can be done with alternating lights or even just tapping with hands.

EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. [EMDR Canada]

How long does EMDR take? 

Before your actual EMDR session, you will have one or two meetings with the therapist so they can properly understand the nature of your difficulties and trauma, in order to properly prepare for the EMDR session. They may also determine that EMDR treatment is not a good fit for you. EMDR sessions last 60 to 90 minutes on average, and the number of sessions you need can vary from one to several.

How effective is EMDR? 

Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety. The current treatment guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. EMDR was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies. Research has also shown that EMDR can be an efficient and rapid treatment. [EMDR Canada]

Who can benefit from EMDR? 

EMDR is noted as an effective treatment option for those suffering from PTSD, or those who have a hard time talking about their traumatic experience. However, many studies have shown EMDR to benefit people with:

  • Panic attacks
  • Complicated grief
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disturbing memories
  • Phobias
  • Pain disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Stress reduction
  • Addictions
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse
  • Body dysmorphic disorders
  • Personality disorders

To find a therapist in your area who uses EMDR therapy, visit the EMDR Canada website.

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)

Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, a definition that describes mass shootings and terrorist attacks perfectly. Violence, especially when it’s targeted towards a specific group, has very widespread effects. The survivors, family and friends of lost ones, and the world watching, will all feel the effects of trauma at this degree—such as we are from the tragic Orlando shooting this past weekend. The LGBT community, and the globe as a whole, is mourning and attempting to cope with the trauma of the largest mass shooting in US history. This past weekend, 103 people were shot in an LGBT nightclub on Orlando, 50 of them losing their lives.

As a result of this heinous act, millions of people around the world are reacting, both online and in their communities, to the deep pain of such an event. Individuals who survive trauma, or are exposed to it in some way can develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and it can have a damaging effect both physically and mentally.

The combination of life-threatening traumatic personal experiences, loss of loved ones, disruption of routines and expectations of daily life, and post-violence adversities pose psychological challenges to the recovery of children and families. [National Child Traumatic Stress Network]

Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Flashbacks, or reliving the trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Intense fear
  • Avoidance
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Guilt, worry or depression
  • Difficulty remembering the trauma
  • Hyperarousal
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Severe emotional distress

In addition to PTSD, there are other psychological effects this event can have on people:

  • Danger reactions: when violent events like this occur, there is an increased fear in people and the desire to be near loved ones is more imminent. It can be increasingly difficult for people if they are separated from loved ones as well.
  • Grief: there is no “appropriate” way to grieve, everyone does it differently, and there is no wrong way. Grief can be harder to deal with if loss occurs during a traumatic event.
  • Depression: this can occur with prolonged effects of trauma or PTSD.

In addition to meeting people’s basic needs, there are several ways to enhance people’s coping. Physical: Stress can be reduced with proper nutrition, exercise and sleep. Youth and adults may need to be reminded that they should take care of themselves physically to be of help to loved ones, friends, and communities. Emotional: Youth and adults need to be reminded that their emotional reactions are expected, and will decrease over time. However, if their reactions are too extreme or do not diminish over time, there are professionals who can be of help. Social: Communication with, and support from, family members, friends, religious institutions and the community are very helpful in coping after catastrophic violence. People should be encouraged to communicate with others, and to seek and use this support where available. [National Child Traumatic Stress Network]

Listen to your body and your emotions, and in general, if you are having trouble coping with the symptoms from trauma or PTSD, seek professional help. If you are dealing with the trauma of a mass shooting or violent event, immediate mental health resources are available in Alberta via CMHA Calgary. If you want to speak to a trauma-specialized therapist to deal with your PTSD or trauma symptoms, please check out our free Therapy Grant program.Keep in touch with us on Twitter or Facebook to learn more about trauma, the effects of trauma and how to cope with PTSD.

— Written by Amber Craig, BFF Chair 
{Follow on Twitter}

 

I recently returned from a month-long trip working and living abroad, in Indonesia. The trip was amazing, but my PTSD presented a fair set of challenges for myself and my roommates. After surviving (and I do use the word ‘surviving’ intentionally) a month living with eight people and my PTSD (because it has a life of its own), it left with me with a lot of reflections on what it’s like to live with the lingering side effects of trauma.

Being the Victor of multiple sexual traumas in my life, I now live with PTSD that takes on various forms, and is triggered by a number things. I guess I never realized how much some of my symptoms had become my new normal, until I was faced with sharing a bedroom with someone else, and a home with people I didn’t know. At 28-years-old, I have mastered most of my PTSD side effects, in the sense that I know how to cope with them and I can live a relatively disruption-free life because of the skills I’ve acquired over the years. Like most people who have suffered trauma, certain things can still trigger me. Unfortunately for me, my biggest triggers arise from bedrooms and sleeping, two unavoidable things and two things that caused a lot of grief for myself and others on my trip.

Let me set the stage for you, I travelled to Indonesia with a friend who thankfully knew about my PTSD before we went there, and was supportive of my needs in dealing with my PTSD. However, the seven other people we were going to be staying with were strangers to me, and right off the bat I hit them with my annoying request: “I need my own bed”. For many years, my PTSD has reared its ugly head almost every time I fall into a deep sleep, causing me to rise instantly from bed and run around my home locking doors and barricading myself in my room, until my brain realizes there is no real threat, and then I can go back to sleep. Sounds fun, right? Because I live alone, this is more of an inconvenience that has become the norm for me, but nothing more. The added “threat” of another person in my bed, causes anxiety I can’t even begin to describe.

Because of the lodging situation, I agreed to share a room with my friend, on the one condition that I would be able to have my own bed in the room. However, we realized after booking the villa that there was in fact just one bed in the room, so we had to bring another one in. Here was PTSD inconvenience number one: purchasing and moving a spare mattress into the room.

On the day we moved in the mattress and I was to start the journey of sharing a bedroom with someone, my anxiety kicked in almost immediately. Before my friend had even entered the bedroom, I stared down at the mattress beside my bed on the floor, and my throat just started to feel like it was closing up. I felt short of breath, panicked and scared. I immediately expressed my anxiety to my friend, and bless his heart that he was so understanding through ALL of this process. He came up to the room, and said, “maybe we can close the curtain around your bed at night to give your brain the extra sense of security at night?”. Yes, it was a kind suggestion, but I couldn’t help but think about how this was my life.

The duration of our stay, I had to work very hard to keep my PTSD sleep anxiety at bay, which meant a lengthy process to get to sleep every night.

  • Check under the bed (seriously)
  • Position myself in the middle of the bed to allow for the most surface area around my body on all sides
  • Close the netting around the bed to create imaginary separation between myself and my roommate
  • Put my headphones in to block out all noise
  • Turn on a video on my laptop, which was placed beside my head on the bed every night

All of this just to trick my brain into thinking there was nobody else in the room, and no threat in falling asleep. To my credit, it worked almost every night. I only woke up in extreme panic a few times the entire month, and aside from the usual quick wakeup and tossing and turning, I was able to get some sleep while I was there. A true success for me!

While people have been mostly supportive of my PTSD symptoms over the years, sometimes a suggestion is posed that points a touch of blame, though almost always unintended. What I want to express to everyone, is that there is no such thing as an irrational fear when you’ve suffered trauma. Every fear seems very real. When I take a step back, I can see (as I’m a very realistic and logical person) how silly it might seem that I am in essence, afraid of sleeping. But anxiety makes no exceptions, neither does trauma and neither does PTSD. Mental illness, trauma, it can affect anyone. But I share this story not to gather pity or frighten people into thinking PTSD is some inescapable beast. My intention in sharing this story is to show that after many years and a LOT of work, PTSD can still show up. But that’s okay. Every day I get a little stronger, and every day I get a little better. And some days, I get hours of uninterrupted, anxiety-free sleep. Those days are coming more and more often too.

Fear not your experiences or your struggles, they shape us and they don’t have to be burdens. Conversations and honesty can remove the stigma and bring everyone a step closer toward healing.

— Written by Amber Craig
[follow me on Twitter]

It’s Mental Health Week in Canada, a time for our country to reflect on the elephant in the room—mental health. Mental health affects every Canadian, whether directly or indirectly; 20 per cent of Canadians will experience mental illness first-hand in their lives. This means that we all know someone who is living with a mental illness. What we hope for, is a world where they can live with that mental illness without stigma and with the help they need to live a happy and healthy life.

How many people are affected by mental illness in Canada? 

  • Nearly 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives
  • 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in life
  • Mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadian population
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds
  • 3 million Canadians are currently suffering from depression

It’s a big problem, so how are we doing with it? 

  • Only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them
  • On any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness
  • Two-thirds of homeless people using urban shelters suffer from some form of mental illness

The reality is, we need to do better, and we can always do better. Many Canadians are without mental healthcare benefits, meaning they are left to pay for therapy sessions out-of-pocket, which can add up quickly when the average psychologist is $120/hour. Even Canadians who have health benefits, many must seek therapy through a work-approved therapist, which may not be the right person for their specific needs.

This is why we created the Breaking Free Foundation Therapy Grant Program. Our program allows Albertans to apply for high-quality therapy services with vetted trauma specialized psychologists, at no cost to them. Through fundraising and sponsors, we are able to pay for therapy for our clients, and ensure that they are receiving the specialized care they need to begin healing.

Right now, our program is available in Alberta only, but we will be expanding nationwide eventually. For information on how to apply for our Therapy Grants, please see here.

*Statistics via Canadian Mental Health Association, Mental Health Commission of Canada

Going to see a therapist for the first time, can be understandably nerve-racking, but if you know what to expect it it will likely put you at ease. Understand that taking this first step is something to celebrate, and that progress can happen quicker if you know what to expect from the experience.

Your first session with a therapist will be somewhat of an assessment, an opportunity for the therapist to get to know you, and why you’re there. It’s also an opportunity for you to get a feel for the therapist, and take the first step towards a safe relationship with that person.

Here’s what your first therapy session will likely look like:

  • An understanding of what brought you to therapy: while you will uncover many layers during your therapy, it’s important to clarify a specific reason why you are seeking therapy. Therapists do an amazing job of seeing below the surface to deeper causes, but let them in on what’s on the surface level first.
  • Your current symptoms and feelings: you will be asked by the therapist (and likely in a questionnaire too) about any symptoms you may be experiencing at the time. Things like: insomnia, flashbacks, loss of appetite, etc. Based on whatever type of trauma has led you to therapy, you will be asked a broad variety of questions regarding symptoms and emotions. Be honest with yourself and the therapist, there’s no shame in the safe space of a therapist’s room, and your progress comes quicker when you’re upfront about these types of things.
  • Family tree and relationships: relationships and family origin play a big role in how we’re shaped, so your therapist will likely ask you a variety of questions about your family history and important relationships in your life.
  • Be honest, be open, be ready: since you know now that your first session will largely be an interview (for which there are no wrong answers), try to formulate what your answers will be ahead of time.

Your therapist will probably leave you with something to think about for the next session, but keep in mind that therapy is a process not a quick solution. Be patient with yourself and the process, and you’ll reap the benefits of safe, open conversation.

If you’d like to learn about how you can access free therapy from a trauma therapist, read about our Therapy Grant Program. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates and resources.

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Calgary launched a 60 day initiative recently, to help end stigmas surrounding mental health and addiction. Each day, their website featured stories about resilience, strength and hope in healing. The Breaking Free Foundation Chair, Amber Craig, shared her story on the CMHA blog. Her piece:

“Sharing your truth is key to the healing process”— Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake

Have you ever had a secret that ate you up inside, a secret that you hid from the world, for fear of judgment or misunderstanding? I did. I hid myself in a cloak of shame and secrecy for 20 years.  

That shame and secrecy manifested itself in many difficult ways, including my depression diagnosis at 13-years-old. I felt very alone during my teenage years and early adulthood, mainly because I thought I was the only one dealing with this pain, and my secrecy kept me from accessing the mental health care I really needed.

In 2013, a nationwide movement was launched by Theo Fleury called the Victor Walk, an awareness initiative on ending childhood sexual abuse. The focus was to help survivors transition from victim to victor, it sounded amazing. I volunteered to help coordinate a Victor Walk rally in Calgary, and on May 23, 2013, my life changed forever.

During our Victor Walk rally, I listened to a dozen or more strangers bravely stand up and share their stories of trauma, abuse and the effect these experiences had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The last person to come up was a young girl, about six-years-old, with her mother. The pair shared a heartbreaking tale of abuse the young girl had suffered, and that brave little girl stood in front of us without fear, and declared to the world she would be a ‘victor’ too. Something shifted inside me as I heard these two share, or perhaps someone, the six-year-old girl inside me.

I grabbed the megaphone, and for the first time in my life, I spoke my truth and said “me too”. In that moment, I felt so incredibly free, I had risen above my mental illness and past trauma and accepted myself without shame. The best part was, the fear I was holding onto all those years turned out to be totally unfounded, because what happened after that day in 2013, was a domino effect of support from near and far. Even more compelling, the amount of people who reached out to say “me too”.  

Following the Victor Walk in 2013, I made a promise not to live in secrecy and shame anymore. I wrote a blog about my experience, and that blog made its way to the person who indirectly opened the door for me in the first place, Theo Fleury.

Fleury kick-started a group of Calgarians with a common goal to help the trauma community, and the result was seven of us creating the Breaking Free Foundation. Our foundation not only continues to put on the annual Victor Walk movement, but also provides free trauma therapy via a grant process. I feel blessed to work with an amazing group and in an amazing community of supporters and advocates who are working together to create awareness and end stigma surrounding trauma and mental health.

In the three years since the first Victor Walk, I have transitioned from victim to victor to advocate. Not only was I able to finally receive mental health treatment from an amazing psychologist, I have been able to turn my experience into a gift.

Today, I live a fulfilling and mostly happy life. Like many others with mental illness, I too have ups and downs, but I’ve learned to embrace them as opportunities for growth. I am always learning, always healing and always growing.

#NowImStronger because sharing my story helped me help others.

 

Link to the CMHA story and website here

Picture1

What an appropriate mental picture of our unsaid words and unresolved issues. We may not physically see the “elephant”, but boy is it there!

“When you avoid something, you automatically create a void.”

Life is filled with experiences – good, bad and ugly – every one of us has them. But what about when hurt happens? What about those moments that shut us down, shut us in? It could be as simple as a misunderstood text or email, or as complex as a traumatic experience that hasn’t been shared with anyone. It could be an incident that impacted you, that the other person has no idea took place.

We had an incident in our family that hasn’t been talked about for years. Over Christmas it came up, a complete surprise for me that anyone even wanted to discuss it. It was a true Christmas gift for all of us. I immediately thought about how we invite the elephant in, feed it, watch it grow until it becomes an adult, and then wonder how we’re going to walk it out the door, because it’s not going to escort itself out.

What happens then, when it gets so big it seems impossible to deal with? I think that’s where the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” comes in. “One bite at a time.” It’s generally used in reference to projects that overwhelm us that we need to dissect into segments so we can manage it, but if we applied that principle to all areas that seem larger than life it could potentially make a significant difference in the long run.

So, why do we tend to avoid our mental health? Or the discussions that need to happen – but haven’t? What about those conversations we know will never take place? Where and how does resolution come? We can be so overwhelmed, feeling hopeless and paralyzed by it. Or we may not even consider its importance. So many of us are willing to take care of our physical health but zoning in on our mental health doesn’t always cross our minds.

“If we cared about our mental health like we care about our dental health, we would be okay.” — Howie Mandel

Mental health carries more significance than most other parts of our being (besides oxygen), because without it we lose so much of who we are. Caring for our mental health may be as simple as an extra half hour of sleep at night. That’s one bite out of the elephant. It may mean being courageous and saying something vs keeping it hidden inside. It could be phoning your mom to tell her you love her, or booking an appointment to talk to someone. I don’t know what those bites might look like, but I do know you’re worth the effort. If you take time to invest in your whole health, you and those you love will most definitely reap the rewards.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is January 27th, and you can participate on social media by using #BellLetsTalk. Find out more about Bell Let’s Talk and ending the stigma around mental health, here.

Helping is healing and healing is possible.

— Written by Shandra Carlson, follow on Twitter

IMG_2040-e1449638373530-1
The Ogden Legion (Branch #154) in Calgary unfortunately had to close its doors this year due to a lack of membership, but they are leaving an incredible legacy behind. On December 8, 2015, the Ogden Legion handed out $2.2 million in donation cheques to 20 Calgary non-profits and charities, and the Breaking Free Foundation was incredibly honoured to be one of them!

Members of the Breaking Free Foundation board were in attendance at a presentation ceremony this week, where we were given an amazing donation of $100,000! Being in our first year of operation, this donation is a game-changer for us, as we’ll be able to roll out our much-anticipated Therapy Grant Program.

If you’re unfamiliar with our Therapy Grant Program, it allows us to provide free trauma therapy to Albertans. We screen and select the best trauma-trained therapists across our province, and match them with applicants who need mental health treatment. Our biggest goal, is to make trauma treatment accessible for everyone, regardless of economic status.

If you’ve been following the news in Alberta lately, it’s no secret our citizens are in desperate need of access to mental healthcare: domestic violence, mental health problems and suicides are all on a steep incline in our province this year. Trauma affects everyone, and comes in thousands of forms from abuse and combat to disease, death, divorce, addiction—the list is endless. This $100,000 donation allows us to help so many more people, and we’re so grateful for the amazing people at the Ogden Legion for thinking of BFF.

19 other amazing local non-profits received donation cheques as well, here’s the list:

  • Boys and Girls Club of Calgary
  • Made by Momma
  • Ogden House Senior Citizen’s Club
  • Alzheimer Society of Calgary
  • Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured
  • BC and Alberta Guide Dogs Program
  • Stopbully.com
  • Alberta Animal Rescue Society (AARCS)
  • Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse
  • Calgary Poppy Fund
  • Calgary YWCA
  • Legacy Place Society
  • Little Warriors
  • Meow Foundation
  • Millican-Ogden Community Association
  • Ogden Legion Pipe Band Association
  • Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy
  • Project P.A.L
  • Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre

Huge thank you again to the Ogden Legion, we look forward to serving the trauma community for many years to come! For more information on our Therapy Grant Program, see here. You can reach BFF via email or contact us anytime on Facebook or Twitter.