News

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!

 

 

You never forget the day you’re told your kid has cancer. December 6, 2001. My boy was diagnosed with a Wilm’s Tumour when he was 10-months-old. It’s a tumour that grows on the kidney and isn’t usually found until a child is three to seven-years-old, and is commonly found at stage four because there are virtually no symptoms.

He was extremely fussy from birth and we just thought the ‘colic’ would never end! The diagnosis came quite by accident—or not. He had the flu and his colour just didn’t look right. After a visit to the doctor, life catapulted us into a world we knew nothing about.

Ten days later Mitchell was in surgery to have both the tumour and his left kidney removed, called a radical nephrectomy. The surgeon did a dance (seriously) when he announced that they had successfully removed the entire mass, and proceeded to kiss me on the cheek.

I remember thinking as I drove to and from the hospital over those months, “I had no idea the lives that are impacted here on a daily basis, or how huge this place actually is.”

Mitch spent his first Christmas in the hospital. On Boxing Day, he had a second surgery to insert the port (I-VAD) they would use to deliver chemo for the next six months. When the biopsy came back to determine what stage he was at, everyone in the Pediatric Oncology Ward was overjoyed that it was Stage one. That meant his prognosis was 96 per cent sure of complete recovery. At the end of his treatment and at the ripe old age of 18 months, he was declared cured and cancer free, but will go for annual checkups until he is 21.

Even though we have what other parents faced with childhood cancer consider a happy ending, the trauma as a result of the entire experience is very real and impacted each of us differently, even now.

My then-husband disappeared for hours at a time, triggered by what seemed like an insurmountable hurdle, too painful to face. It left me carrying the bulk of the responsibility and we ultimately ended up separated for two months during Mitchell’s treatment. Although I understand now why I was abandoned to deal with the situation, in the moment I was devastated and felt completely unloved, and alone.

I went on auto-pilot, but I also exhibited anger whenever anything else difficult showed up during that time. I’d get teary-eyed (for years afterward) when I went through a cash register that had a coin collection box for the Stollery Hospital or for Kids With Cancer organizations in Edmonton, where we lived.

Imagine as a baby, being handed over to an army of adults who poked and prodded, ripped you open, put tubes in you and didn’t let you sleep while they constantly checked on you. Imagine have chemo injected into you during the most important neuron-development time frame of your life. Imagine going into chemo with 4 teeth, and a month after it was over, getting the rest of them within a month! What a way for a little guy to experience those first years of his life.

One of Mitch’s most significant long term impacts is that he thinks I’m mad at him. All. The. Time. I could be telling him I love him and yet he thinks for some reason, I’m mad. Along with some of his other long term diagnoses, can you imagine that he may be experiencing PTSD? At the age of 16, we are now discovering that may be our next venture – working through some of the trauma he doesn’t even remember (although, I sure do)!

Our oldest daughter who was three-years-old while this was all going on, had to deal with taking the backseat for quite a while. She handled it in a very mature manner for a little girl, but I feel a bit like she missed out on some her childhood. I think I have more regret over that than she does.

Because we are so many years past the actual experience, some say forget it and move on. He’s fine. But that actually triggers me, because we have much to remember and be grateful for. It’s shaped the fabric of our lives.

Trauma happens to all of us in some form – at some point – in our lives. It’s important for me to remember where we were then and where we are now. It’s also important for me to share our story, in case someone needs hope and encouragement that even in our darkest hours, we can get through it and our resilience can surprise us.

   

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.

Our next meet-up date will be in September, to be announced soon, stay tuned!

Corey Deacon, neuroscientist at Neurvana Health, conducted brain mapping (QEEG) for a few members of Breaking Free Foundation, so we could learn a bit more about brain chemistry, trauma and the technology that gives experts this insight into our minds.

For the purposes of this case study, we are going to share my report and imagery from the brain map Corey did for me. Having experienced multiple traumas in my life, I have been left with some lingering side effects of those experiences, both physical and mental. After reviewing Corey’s thorough report and seeing the imagery myself, it seemed an interesting opportunity to share publicly how trauma affects our brain and our bodies in a very real and physical manner.

How does QEEG work?

QEEG stands for quantitative EEG, which is a non-invasive technology that evaluates brain function based on electrical activity and communication between different hubs and networks of the brain. The process uses a head-cap a lot like a swim-cap, with 19 electrodes simultaneously transmitting data to a computer. Once a certain amount of data is obtained, this data can be generated through a variety of algorithms to obtain measurements for brain functionality.

As opposed to MRI or CT scans, QEEG can evaluate underlying causes for symptoms such as PTSD, chronic pain, addiction, depression, anxiety, ADD, autism, head injury, fatigue, insomnia, early developmental trauma, cognitive issues and much more.

Because structure does not change on a macroscopic neuronal level with these issues, MRI and CT scans cannot generally see them. Most of these scans come back ‘normal’, even though brain functioning can be massively disrupted. — Corey Deacon

What are we looking for?
In analyzing trauma, experts like Corey are specifically looking at brain areas of the limbic system (amygdala and hippocampus) in addition to the cingulate gyri.

These structures are responsible for hi-jacking our higher brain functions such as motivation, cognition, pleasure, creativity, relaxation, and many more. The limbic system and cingulate gyrus can hi-jack the brain to the point of experiencing sensations like the trauma, constantly and consistently. In Amber’s case this process has led to problems with anxiety, sleep issues and addiction. — Corey Deacon

Snapshots from the actual report from Corey:

The results of Amber’s brain map in eyes closed (drowsy state) are as follows:

  • Elevation in alpha in the frontal and prefrontal regions of her brain. This is correlated with difficulties coping with stress, addictive tendencies, and it can also be related to alcohol and marijuana use.
  • Significantly decreased delta rhythm in eyes closed. Because delta is required for deep sleep, this pattern explains Amber’s issues with insomnia and staying asleep.
  • Significant hyper-coherence issues (indicated by red lines in alpha and beta). This means the brain is in a state of hyper-communication. This is commonly seen in brains affected by trauma. This will also correlate with the sleep anxiety and insomnia Amber experiences.
  • Elevation of beta 3 (high-activation) in Brodmann Areas 23, 30, and 31. This is part of the cingulate gyrus and is correlated to anxiety, difficulties with worry & rumination, and sleep difficulties. This is directly connected to the limbic system and is more than likely the direct link to Amber’s traumatic experiences.
  • Elevated activity in the amygdala. This is the fear center of the brain. It is fully operational while we are still in the womb. Trauma can therefore start before we are even born and can be additive over our lifetime. Neurofeedback can be used to decrease this activation and reduce intrusive memories and feelings of fear.

 

Eyes open results indicate:

  • Substantial elevation in temporal beta and hi-beta. This indicates hippocampus and amygdala being ‘on fire’ and on high alert. This is more than likely contributing to issues with sleep anxiety.
  • Elevation of theta over fronto-central regions indicates limbic ‘hi-jacking’ of the frontal lobe that can cause both pain, inflammation, and make one feel out-of-control when dealing with stress, anxiety, emotions, etc.
  • Amplitude asymmetry indicates significant dissociation between the 2 hemispheres of the brain. This again causes difficulties coping and is more than likely caused by the sexual traumas experienced in her past.

 

The most exciting part of QEEG is that when a problem is isolated, we can actually change the functioning of the brain and improve symptoms. We do this with neuromodulation technology, and my favorites are:

  • LORETA neurofeedback: This is where we train and teach the brain out of its current state into a more organized, symptom-free state using operant conditioning methods. This is a form of self-regulation and probably the most important when dealing with a traumatized brain
  • Pulsed EMFs This is a type of neuromodulation where we add frequencies to the brain in pEMF form, forcing the brain into a certain state. This can also be used to decrease inflammation and normalize communication in the brain.
  • Low-level Laser Therapy: Another great way to decrease inflammation, increase detoxification, increase neurogenesis (the building of new brain cells), and increase energy availability for brain functioning.
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: This technology utilizes a microcurrent to ‘turn on’ certain brain regions, and ‘turn off’ others.

— Corey Deacon

This case study was provided in conjunction with reports and findings from Corey Deacon, MSc, DNM, BCN, HHP, PhD of Neurvana Health.

 

 

 

 

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)

 

*This was originally posted on the ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ blog

It’s Media Literacy Week in Canada.

The media has many important roles, and timely and sensitive coverage of stories can be very helpful, particularly when it comes to emergency situations. There are many benefits to media coverage: positive changes in public perception and policy; awareness on important issues like abuse and drunk driving, to name a few.

The media can also be a great outlet for trauma survivors, an avenue to tell their stories, and humanize the people involved. This kind of coverage can help create resilience and hope within a community, but when reporting is done at inappropriate times or with inaccurate information, it can do more harm than good.

Media coverage can re-victimize trauma survivors, reinforce misconceptions about trauma and crime, and in some cases trigger PTSD symptoms. In order to protect the survivors in these stories, it’s important for media to take some precaution.

  • Interview survivors at appropriate times: when victims may feel numb, confused or most vulnerable is right after a crime, during a trial, etc.
  • Creating perceptions about the survivor or victim: creating the impression that the victim or survivor contributed in some way to their victimization is damaging to the person involved and everyone close to them as well. Digging up negative information about victims is traumatic, as well as communicating the story in a way that uses misleading language.
  • Avoid taking or publishing inappropriate photos: avoid taking or publishing photos of bodies, body bags or potentially traumatic things at crime scenes like blood, or personal items (baby clothes, etc.).

When myths about crime are perpetuated in the media, it can have traumatic consequences on victims and their surviving family members, as well as impact negatively on a victim’s efforts to reconstruct his or her life following a crime. Even when myths are not explicitly stated, language is important. [Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime] 

Language is particularly important, because victim blaming, whether intentional or not, can be traumatizing to a survivor, but also feeds misconceptions in the public. We all want to be part of the solution, not the problem, so keeping trauma survivors at the helm of communication is important.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime has more great resources for media available on their website.

— Written by Amber Craig

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)

This day started out like many of my other days in university except that it was the day before I was leaving to go home for Christmas break.

I had a class or two to attend in the morning and then I was going on my first date. Well, we really weren’t going anywhere. We were just going to watch a movie and hang out in my dorm room while I packed to go home. Nothing special but I was excited and so nervous. I didn’t date ever in high school so this was my first.

Everything was going great. We were talking, watching a movie and getting to know each other all while I was packing.  I am really unsure of when things took a turn for the worse but they did.

I still remember how he felt on top of me. I remember not being able to scream or yell as I sat there looking at my unlocked dorm room door. Once in the past someone had just walked into my room and I was hoping at that moment it would happen again. I can picture how he looked. There are certain aspects I remember about him including blonde hair and both of his nipples were pierced. I cannot for the life of me remember what his name was.

It was painful.  After all, this was not the way I planned on losing my virginity. I am not sure how long it lasted but it felt like years. He just got up off of me and walked out the door.

I slowly got up and gathered up my clothing.  I walked to the showers and washed up while I bawled my eyes out. I went back to my room, took off the bed sheets, packed the rest of my things and headed off to my parent’s house, about a four hour car drive.

Everything else was a blur. I just remember I felt differently. I wasn’t sure how to act and I felt like everyone would see it on me – what had happened. After a few days, my parents knew that something was wrong.  I remember my dad asking me if I had had sex and I lied and told him yes. I didn’t want him to know what had really happened. I will never forget his response. His words were, “Promise me you will never have sex again.” I guess being a father and only having girls will make you want to believe that they will be virgins for a very long time.

I went further and further into a deep hole as the days went on. I didn’t know how to handle anything. I shut myself into my bedroom. I became antisocial, depressed, lonely and lost. I had no idea what way was up or down or even how to handle myself. I had completely lost who I was and was becoming this person that no one recognized. I still kept it to myself.

The only way I knew how to handle myself was to find the comfort in other men. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I knew my life had to change. I wasn’t sure how to do it or where to even begin but I knew it needed to be done.

I remember bawling while being intimate with my husband (boyfriend at the time). We would have to stop and he would comfort me and tell me everything was okay. I felt alone, like no one knew what I was going through. He was the only person that truly knew what had happened to me.

It took me another nine years to truly begin to heal. I kept it locked inside believing that it was my fault. That I was somehow to blame for what had happened to me. I was ashamed to tell anyone including family and friends for the fear of judgement that I thought they would have of me.

It was in the fall of 2014, when we made a huge move and started over. Life felt different. It was a new beginning for us which meant a new beginning for me. I decided to take back my life. I now had two children (aged six and three) and they needed me to be 100 per cent me again. They needed me to teach them how to love themselves and that was impossible when I didn’t love myself.

I started my blog, BeYOUtiful Rewritten, to show the world my transformation.  To start truly believing that what happened to me wasn’t my fault and that there was no shame in it.  I decided to finally announce that I was raped. Show the world that what happened to me didn’t define me. It was an incident that happened in my past but I was overcoming it and becoming a stronger person day-by-day.

I don’t want any other woman to suffer for 11 years before they realize that it wasn’t their fault!

I want you to know that you are not alone. This does not define who you are.  In no way what happened to you is your fault. You are beautiful, courageous, loved and most importantly, stronger than you realize.

— Guest post submitted by Samantha Laycock (follow on Twitter)

Would you like to share your trauma healing story on our blog? Please submit it to us online

In light of the the Graham James parole request that is making headlines across the country today, Theo Fleury has decided to forego making a comment about this story, and instead use the opportunity to promote the more important message—healing.

Right now, Fleury and his team are on the third Victor Walk, a powerful grassroots movement and nationwide awareness campaign focused on childhood trauma. After the first Victor Walk in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have stood together to say, “me too”.
Stories that give the limelight to abusers like James in the media, only serve to re-victimize the people who they have hurt, and put attention where it’s not needed. We are only interested in bringing attention to one message—healing.
The message of the Victor Movement is not about seeking justice, it’s about focusing on our individual journeys of healing. A movement from victim to Victor. There is emotional pain and suffering in the past, and that is why the frog is our symbol for the Victor Movement: frogs never hop backwards, they always move forward. Our team is supported by thousands of people nationwide, who are banding together this week, to break the cycle of trauma and empower the cycle of healing.
On July 19, Fleury’s Victor Walk team has been walking from Russell across Manitoba, where their journey will eventually come to a finale in Winnipeg on Saturday. We have been honoured and moved by the incredible support in the communities across Manitoba and Canada, that have come together to help share this message of awareness on childhood trauma.
Perhaps the most important underlying message of the Victor Movement, is the spreading of awareness of the Breaking Free Foundation (BFF), the non-profit that was founded by Fleury, following the first Victor Walk in 2013.
The Victor Walk is supported by and for BFF, an organization that is aimed at providing survivors of traumatic life events with the treatment and support needed to reclaim their lives.
In addition to providing online support for people healing from trauma, we provide a safe space for people to share their stories. Perhaps the biggest mission of BFF however, is to ensure everyone has access to trauma therapy, despite their economic status.
With an innovative new initiative, BFF has introduced a Therapy Grant Program, where survivors of trauma can apply for paid trauma treatment with a high-quality, vetted trauma psychologist.
The 2016 Victor Walk tour wraps up in Winnipeg on July 23 at 11:00am, more information can be found here. For information on the many sister walks happening across Canada on July 23, click here. To learn more about the Victor Movement, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.
To learn more about BFF, follow us on Twitter or Facebook.
*Information on donating to BFF can be found online, as well as applications for both Trauma Therapists and Therapy Applicants who want to be part of our programs.

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}

 

pexels-photo-large

Today is my last day of counselling for the treatment of sexual abuse. I went to 25 sessions, spread out over two long years.

When I started, probably fortunately, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I remember my counsellor saying to me, “You do understand, don’t you? It’s going to get harder before it gets easier.” And I said, yes. I understand. Of course, I didn’t and in an unbelievably short time I was so overwhelmed that my boat nearly capsized and I almost didn’t make it. I look back and feel amazed by what I survived, and by all that I’ve come through.

Here’s what I know about sexual abuse.

When I was in Paris, I got to see countless paintings, sculptures, buildings and other pieces of art. Each had been a painstaking labour of love, conception and skill for its artist. A thousand details and decisions, big and small, had to made, and although perhaps invisible to the average viewer, the care and attention of the creator went into every aspect of what they were trying to convey through the marble, the paint, the fresco or the canvas.

And some of those works had been really damaged – by time, weather, neglect, or a violent mishap. Some had been exposed to cruel lighting, water, mould, war, careless transportation, improper storage or other elements of wear, tear and harm. In some cases, these objects have been lovingly and painstakingly repaired by experts who were doing their very best to restore them to dignity and integrity. And some, like the magnificent Winged Victory of the Samothrace in the entrance to the Louvre, have to be enjoyed the way they are. They are wonderful and regal, damage and all.

I can’t help but think of the artist — the creator — and feel a sense of loss that we will not be able to see the authentic work the artist originally intended. Repairs can be made. Works can be beloved and glorious as they are. Damaged objects are not worthless and they cannot be dismissed.

A Da Vinci is a Da Vinci.

A Botticelli is a Botticelli.

A Michelangelo is a Michelangelo.

A work created by a master is a priceless extension of the artist who envisioned it and gave it life. And yet, what a very great loss never to see that mighty work of marble or canvas in its wholeness and its entirety, as the artist envisioned. I believe that this is important to say, because I think that in a good intentioned hurry to reassure victims that they are not “damaged goods” the people we actually placate are those who have done the harm to begin with. The resulting message can sound like: the results of your actions are minimal, can be easily fixed, and anyway, they are in a place where nobody can see.

Those who have been harmed know the truth: that the hurt is pervasive and permanent. The costs and the processes of reclamation and restoration are expensive, overwhelming and painful. That the very pieces that are missing are the ones that would to have been so foundational, so important to healing.

“It’s only the face that is scribbled over, who needs an identity!”

“The spiritual connection is irretrievably damaged. What could possibly go wrong?!?”

“All the sexual impulses have been unplugged, reordered and/or reinstalled by a mad person. But that won’t interfere with functioning, surely?!?!?”

You will never be the same.

But you are a Da Vinci.

The damage can only be repaired, never undone.

But you are a creation of Michelangelo.

This is the paradox.

Because the painting was priceless, the damage is, too.

Here is to the art restorers, to those who slave away behind the scenes in the most unglamorous places imaginable, trying with devotion, patience and care to repair these inimitable masterpieces. May they experience moments of deep joy and satisfaction as a reward for their commitment and sacrifice, cleaning up other people’s messes.

And here is to the casual, every day art lover, who stands in wonder, and sees only the loveliness and the hands of the great artist. They little know how healing the love and admiration of their gaze can be.

— Written by Claire Anderson 
[Follow her on Twitter

Are you interested in sharing your story, or experience breaking free from trauma? Please contact us to guest blog. To continue the conversation about trauma, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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

image

January is a very exciting month for the Breaking Free Foundation, not just because we’re looking ahead at all the great things to come in 2016, but because we welcomed a new member to the BFF family—Shandra Carlson. Shandra joins our team in the official capacity of Foundation Administrator, and since you’ll be seeing more of her, we wanted to give you a little insight on who she is.

Here’s our Q&A with Shandra:

Q: What attracted you to BFF? 
A: I first heard about BFF as a result of the Victor Walk that started a couple years ago. Truthfully I think what attracted me about both the Walk and BFF is having observed Theo Fleury over the past few years. He has worked hard on his own ‘stuff’, he’s been transparent with his process and his desire to help others work through their own trauma makes it easy to want to participate and support the cause.

Q: What are you most excited to be a part of with the BFF team? 
A: What excites me is to be a part of a team, a group of individuals with a heartfelt focus on assisting people in their healing process. One of my favourite sayings is, “No one of us has it all together, but all of us together, have it all.” Not one of us has overcome our challenges without the involvement of others. We can’t do life alone, and it’s a wonderful thing to be part of an organization that truly wants to support healing, not just coping.

Q: What’s the most important thing you think people should understand about trauma? 
A: One of the keys I think, is to recognize that each of us processes life differently and therefore, each of us experiences and processes trauma individually. There is no pat answer when it comes to healing, what works for one may not work for another. I think sometimes we humans have a tendency to think if we find and apply a formula it should just work. As unique as our fingerprints are, is as unique as working through our trauma is.

Q: What’s something you learned about BFF after you joined the team? 
A: One of the first things I learned was how dedicated the team is to finding ways to connect people to one another in order to initiate the healing journey for our grant applicants. I also learned that we have a long way to go in bringing mental health to the forefront of the healthcare system, primarily the premise that if our minds are healthy and strong, it will automatically cause a ripple effect in experiencing healthy bodies, relationships and lives. The brain is a many splendored and complex thing that impacts every part of who we are!

Q: How do you like to spend your spare time?
A: I saw a cartoon recently that made me laugh, it read, “It always makes me uncomfortable when people ask me what my hobbies are…I mean, what do they want? I’m a mother. I enjoy trips to the bathroom alone, naps and silence.” I’m still looking forward to that moment when a trip to the bathroom isn’t met by banging on the door – and my kids are teenagers!  I do love to read, and write, and my friends. I describe coffee as my comfort food, and anything personal development related usually gets my attention. I’m a bit of an adventurer too and my motto is, “live now, never wait.” Whitewater rafting has to be one of my all-time favourite experiences, especially at Kicking Horse. Can chocolate be described as a hobby? Watching a good hockey game is in my DNA as well!

Q: What gets you up and excited in the morning?
A: My cat usually gets me up in the morning, but what gets me excited is my first cup of coffee. Seriously though, watching people come fully alive is where my happy place is. What I mean by that is, when I’m able to participate in a discussion or work through a situation with someone and they have that light bulb moment, that’s what stirs me. I am a lifer when it comes to learning, so when I have the opportunity to discover something new, that also gets me excited.

Q: A perfect day to you, looks like what? 
A: Depends on the day! I never dreamed I’d call myself a morning person, but now that my kids are older and stay up later, my 5:30 am start gives me the alone time I require to support my sanity. On weekdays I am happiest when I get to be there as my kids get ready and leave for school. Starting their days off on a positive note – and making sure they take their lunches – sounds simple, but it gets my day off to a great start as well. I really am pretty simple when it comes to describing a perfect day. If I get to watch a sunrise or a sunset, see the mountains on a clear day or stare up at the stars, I feel like I’ve been given a rare gift. Adding swimming with dolphins or sea turtles to my adventures would describe a pretty perfect day as well!

We are thrilled to have Shandra a part of the BFF team! You can check out the rest of the BFF family here.

 

 

 

7937843

 

**Spoiler alert: if you have not read the book ‘Room’, or watched the movie, you may want to wait to read this blog until after you do so. 

The book, ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, was recommended to me months ago, and I hadn’t yet read it when the movie hit theatres this past week. After seeing rave review after rave review online, I figured I’d break the cardinal rule and see the movie before finishing the book. I am so glad I watched it!

The topic was heavy: a 17-year-old girl is kidnapped, abused and held hostage in a garden shed (“room”) for seven years, during which time she gives birth to a son, and they manage to escape when he is five-years-old. The story is told mostly from the perspective of the little boy, but the movie portrays the storyline from a variety of angles, and does so brilliantly.

While it evoked a lot of emotions in me while watching the film, mostly that of sadness, it also caused me to reflect and think a lot. What I kept processing throughout my mind while watching it, was how it was a perfect portrayal of not only the effect of trauma, but the widespread effect of the lingering PTSD from a traumatic event or experience. The traumatic instances during the “room” scenes weren’t what affected me the most, it was everything that happened once the mother and son were back in the real world. That’s when PTSD took over, and showed us all how it can be.

The writing of the characters and their response to the trauma was perfection, and I loved how each character in the story dealt with the PTSD differently. While the son had obvious challenges, having never seen the outside of the “room” until they escaped, the mother had obvious trouble with her PTSD after escaping. Depression, anxiety, dissociation, attempted suicide—she was experiencing the depths of her PTSD.

There was a particular scene with her father, which he is completely shut off and can’t even look at his grandson in the face, and that really resonated with me. While some people wear their emotions on their sleeves, others completely shut down and avoid it.

But what really got me, was how the little boy, after being in the real world for a few weeks, yearned to be back in “room”. Even though he lived in such a traumatic place for the first five years of his life, it’s the only life and environment he knew. I had to look into this further, so I did some research online and found (among many research papers) a study on abuse and attachment in children.

This particular study looked at what affects young brains to foster attachment instead of fear in traumatic environments. While this study was done on rats, they found the information to be parallel to humans (which years of research has already proven).

In the amygdala of rats attracted to the aversive odours, there were lower than normal levels of the neuro-trans­mitter dopamine. This lack of dopamine activity may have turned off their brain’s fear response, enabling attraction to take place instead. A similar mechanism may occur in abused children, Sullivan says, although how much the amygdala is involved with early human attachment is un­clear. Barr suggests this behaviour probably evolved as a survival tactic. “The animal has to be able to survive, which means it has to be attached to its caregiver no matter what the quality of care,” he says.

What I was left reflecting on after seeing ‘Room’, was that even after someone is taken out of their traumatic environment, the trauma still lingers in some way. We also get a glimpse of the recovery from trauma in the movie, and while there is certainly a hopeful ending, we get a realistic look at the process and how it differs from person to person. Healing from trauma takes time, and this movie portrayed that as well.

Trauma effects everyone. And the differing reactions to trauma in the film, is certainly the reason there wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre, we’ve all experienced trauma in some way. But healing is possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about trauma visit our online resources, and if you’d like to learn more about our trauma therapy grant program, you can find it here.

— Written by Amber Craig
[Follow me on Twitter]