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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.

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]

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