Living in the Wake of Trauma: PTSD

I have just read the most fascinating article and one that depicts a very honest look at how it feels to live with PTSD in the wake of trauma.

“A Stranger Came Home: Life in PTSD’s Angry Shadow” is written by Yvette Brend; she writes about her experience of what her family’s life has been like before and after PTSD. Married to Curt Petrovic, Yvette writes about his return from covering the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013:

“The Curt who returned was wounded. His ability to feel joy and connect with other humans, stripped away. For months, he was only able to sit, stare, exist in a drugged state. Prescription drugs prevented suicide at best. Then began the arduous journey to try to recover who he was — spanning five therapists, two marathons, drugs, experimental psychedelic treatments and endless guitar playing. Watching him battle this beast — these cruel echoes of trauma in his nervous system — I’ve come to know PTSD.”

Yvette speaks of the family’s attempts to avoid Curt’s fury, their isolated existence from others due to the changes in Curt’s demeanor, and what has helped both herself and him to cope with such a devastating mental illness. I quote, “PTSD rewires your brain, in some measure, forever. You can get help coping and work to build new neural pathways, but it takes time, science, help — and a painful struggle through panic, pain, flashbacks, anger and depression.”

A fascinating article. Read it at: https://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/blog/a-stranger-came-home-life-in-ptsds-angry-shadow

Watch the documentary at: https://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/episodes/lost-on-arrival-me-the-mounties-ptsd

Photo credit:http://Photo by Alejandro Tocornal on Unsplash

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“Everything Happens for a Reason”….does it really?

I have always struggled with the saying “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s kind of like “God only gives you what you can handle.” Really? I can understand why we turn to those types of sayings; it is in our nature to try and gain an understanding as to why something happened. We want to comfort someone. We want to find an explanation for struggle and pain.

2012 was a particularly tough year in our family. In March of that year, my mom was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma in its aggressive stages; we geared up for a rigorous treatment protocol as she was deemed “healthy” and the doctors felt she could tolerate it. 3 weeks after her first bout of intensive chemo, my father died of a massive stroke in their front yard; he was planting flowers for my mom. By November of that year, I could no longer deny that my marriage was in trouble and in February of 2013, my ex-husband of 23 years moved out. One full year of family heartbreak. If someone had said to me at that point that “everything happens for a reason,” I think I would have punched them in the face.

And yet how do I reconcile this struggle; how do I explain to my girls the meaning of such difficult times? The answer? I don’t. Instead, I say that we cannot stop bad things from happening. Instead, I say that we have to face challenges head on. Instead, I say we have to unite as a family and get through it together. We have to find our blessings amidst the losses. And we have to find our purpose. Not the purpose, our purpose.

Sometimes our purpose is simply to get through each day. Sometimes it is to be able to give another member of our family a much needed hug; sometimes our purpose is found in a moment (holding my mom’s hand when the doctor told us she was in remission); sometimes our purpose is found later (there is no doubt in my mind that my personal struggles have given me strength and courage.)

Everything happens for a reason? Nope, not for me. The way I see it, “Things happen; and God has helped me through it.” (as did my family, my girls, my friends, my Cricket, my village 🙂 )

Photo credit: Me! That is a picture of me in Tybee Island, Georgia; a trip my sister and I took in the fall of 2014.

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Living with Dementia: Article

In a recent article entitled “Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand” by Megan Gillis and featured in the Ottawa Citizen, Gillis introduces us to Keith Barrett, a 59 year old man diagnosed with early onset dementia two years ago. Barrett has become part of the Alzheimer’s Society’s newest campaign to help try and rid the stigma that tends to accompany dementia.

“The campaign — “Yes. I live with dementia. Let me help you understand.” — aims to change attitudes the Alzheimer’s Society uncovered with recent research that showed that one in four Canadians said they’d feel ashamed or embarrassed if they had dementia. One in five admitted using derogatory or stigmatizing language about dementia.”

“It might make people afraid to seek a reason for their own or a loved one’s symptoms like memory loss, changes in judgment and reasoning or mood and behaviour and difficulty performing familiar tasks or expressing themselves. So they don’t get the support and treatment they need. Barrett notes, “That’s what we want people to understand. The moment you get diagnosed doesn’t mean you’re the person who needs a lot of care. The moment you get diagnosed is the moment you say, ‘I’m going to work really hard to keep everything that I have, all my skills, my abilities, for as long as I can.””

Reducing the stigma of dementia is a good first step in understanding not only the challenges of dementia, but its toll on both the patient and their loved ones. To read more about Keith Barrett’s experience: https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/yes-i-live-with-dementia-let-me-help-you-understand

Photo credit: http://Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

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Resource Guide for OCD

I obsess about causing harm to others through some
unintentional act. I worry that I have hurt someone
with my sloppy or ineffectual words and will cause
them to become seriously unhappy. Or that I have left
a cigarette burning in my house or an appliance on
and that my house will explode and wipe out the whole
neighbourhood. This causes me to check things more
than once before I leave the house, and then to go back
into the house to check again. — Mary W.

This is the quote that is found in the first few pages of the Resource Guide entitled “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: An Information Guide” offered by CAMH. 

We have all experienced thoughts that at times can become intrusive and ruminating; locked into what seems an endless loop. Feeling anxious about something, or trying to process an emotion can bring us to that place quite easily. When the preoccupation becomes so extreme that it creates compulsions; however, you may be experiencing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

OCD  is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and about two percent of the population. The symptoms begin to occur gradually over time, characterized by a cycle of obsession and compulsions.

The information guide covers topics such as causes, therapy, medication as well as recovery and relapse intervention. To read more, follow this link: https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/guides-and-publications/ocd-guide-en.pdf

Photo credit: http://Photo by Tine Ivanič on Unsplash

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Podcast with Katie Couric on Grief

While Alan Alda was on vacation, he featured a guest podcast with Katie Couric entitled “Katie Couric and Sheryl Sandberg Take Over the Pod.” Accompanying Katie and Sheryl was Adam Grant who co-authored a book with Sheryl about facing adversity and building resilience in the face of raw grief (after the sudden death of her husband).

Some of the key points that I reflected on from the podcast:

  • Acknowledge people’s pain; and not just once. Sheryl noted that she often found grief to be an elephant in the room and was always appreciative not only when people passed on their condolences, but in the following weeks, asked her how she and the kids were doing.
  • Grief is a demanding companion. What a descriptive way of explaining grief; a companion by your side, always pulling at you for attention.
  • Lean in to your feelings versus resisting them. Sheryl stated that it really is okay to experience your feelings so as to process them instead of pushing them down.
  • Give yourself permission to find and experience humour in the midst of death. Not only is laughter filled with healing qualities, being able to find humour amidst sadness reminds us of the blending of human emotion.
  • Find meaning. It helps us to move towards acceptance.
  • The human spirit has the capacity to persevere. Grieving is a way to honour our loved one; it is also an avenue for growth.

To listen to the full podcast: http://www.aldacommunicationtraining.com/podcast/katie-couric-sheryl-sandberg-take-pod/

To visit Sheryl’s website and get details about her book: https://optionb.org/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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Rest in Peace, Mom

Last week was a tough one, as my sister and I and our families said goodbye to our dear and loving mom. I don’t think that anything can truly prepare you for losing a parent as it throws you into the vulnerability of the realization of truly being “on your own.”

As I walked with Cricket yesterday and reflected on the past week, it was the dichotomy of grief that came to my mind the most. For as heavy as my heart has felt since being told we had to summon family, it shares that space with feelings of peace; knowing that all of my family members were able to say their goodbyes to her before she passed away. As there are times when I feel it is a death unfair and I have leanings towards anger that I am 47 years old with no parents, there is also room for gratitude as my sister and I are fortunate to have had a childhood filled with wonderful memories; we were given the gift of unconditional love which allowed us to be held in security and give in return. For as often as I get little tinges of fear as I wonder how I am going to live without my mom, I also can feel the strength and courage she has not only passed on to me, but lived by example.

Grief is an individual process and it can push at you to feel alone, and yet all I have to do is think about the unwavering and loving support we have felt from our families, friends, and communities to know that we always have a hand to hold and a shoulder to cry on. Mom died a peaceful death, but more importantly, she lived a peaceful life. I will hold that close to me, for it brings me comfort.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Bruce Hong on Unsplash

Defining Moments

We live with defining moments in our lives. The moments that become “before the event and after the event” moments. One such moment in my life was the day that my ex-husband and I had to tell our children that we were separating; without question one of the toughest days of my life and undeniably a defining moment for me. In looking back, I can reflect upon the fact that before the event, it was my time to begin grieving a 23 year relationship. I would cry in the shower, cry when driving, cry before going to sleep but it was only my emotions during that time that I had to worry about. After that day, my emotional energy shifted. Yes, I was still grieving, but I was also very conscious of what the girls were going through and as impossible as it was, I just wanted to shoulder their grief for them.

It has been over five years now and the winds of change have brought me renewed happiness. I suppose it would be easy to look back on that defining moment and wish all the pain and suffering away, but that would not be fair. For during that time, I was also grateful. For the love and laughter of family and friends, the shared grief with my ex, the affectionate support from my girls, the constant and faithful companionship of my dog, and my clients for allowing me to get lost in their stories and distract myself from mine.

Yes, I was encountering grief, sadness and worry, but l also felt love, contentment and acceptance. For it is in our defining moments that we find the whole experience, the tough parts and the joyful parts that bring colour to our stories.

Photo credit: http://Photo by XiaoXiao Sun on Unsplash

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Morrie’s Lesson

When I was doing my graduate degree, we had a professor who stated that “We learn just as much about ourselves from what hurts us as from what loves us.” Then we all watched “Tuesdays with Morrie.” 🙂 Further to this, we had to write a journal style essay exploring this statement and how it was relevant in our own lives; the experience of which was quite therapeutic and has helped to informed me, not only in my professional life but in my personal life as well.

We often have no control over the challenges that come our way; it is the feelings associated with those difficult times that we most fear; landing us, alone, on the island of avoidance. A place that at first may seem appealing, (who wouldn’t want to go to an island right now?) however; isolated from others and essentially ourselves, we become increasingly lost.

Perhaps then, it becomes about incorporating what hurts us into our story; to matter-of-fact accept that it happened, to see ourselves in that space, and to honour who we are within it. When we consciously make the decision to incorporate our hurts with our loves, we land ourselves on a much richer and more promising island.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

 

 

“Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys”

Is a fun way to remind ourselves that we feel more at peace when we can live with as little drama as possible. In our final post of “The Drama Triangle” by Stephen Karpman, we look at how to move away from drama by way of first recognizing the roles we are playing in the conflict and then moving towards a more productive and healthy goal.

If we notice that we are in persecution mode, our goal becomes to move to clearer structure. It is about asking ourselves, “What is my role in this conflict?, am I being flexible?, am I willing to compromise?” This allows us to lessen our angry feelings, moving towards more open thought. Sometimes when dealing with a Persecutor, we can try and use

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Drama 101: Post 3

Moving right along in our discussion about “The Drama Triangle” by Stephen Karpman, M.D., today we look at the role of the Rescuer. There is a fine line between supporting someone and saving them; and when we go into rescue mode, we have moved into a need to save. This need is about us, and feels quite personal; often times it will eventually work itself into some built-up resentment when we realize that the person we are trying to help is either not taking our advice or continues to loop through the same self-defeating behaviours. If you have a parent who tends to be a rescuer, they are often seen as a “marshmallow parent” because of their inclination to be too soft (this is where enabling often plays a role.)  The message that gets sent when in rescue mode is “Let me help you,” which can seem quite fundamental, but in reality we need to be able to help ourselves in order to get our problems solved.

The Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer make up the Drama Triangle, and each play their own destructive role in the conflict; needing each other in order to fulfill a subversive feedback loop. When we find ourselves pulled into drama (and often times it creeps up on us!) it is at this point that we can make a conscious decision to get ourselves out of the triangle; tomorrow we will look at how to move towards a healthier place.