Finding our tribe

Finding our tribe

It’s not uncommon that we see the best of people in the harshest conditions. It shows up in a number of ways: volunteers laying sandbags to fight floodwaters; communities taking in strangers to offer shelter from a storm; or in more extreme conditions, bi-standers risking their lives to protect or defend people they don’t even know.

It’s those critical moments when people show up when it counts the most. When we think back to those times, it is the moments of courage and compassion that strike us the most.

They say that North America is consumed by the search for happiness. Research studies reveal that it is, in fact, purpose, meaning, and social connection that are most important.

If you are reading this, chances are you are in some form of community service: military, policing, firefighting, corrections, paramedical, or medical. Perhaps your service is supporting those who have taken on these difficult roles. We take on these challenges for different reasons: to create something better for ourselves; to establish purpose or meaning in our lives; or even to be of service to our country. What’s interesting, though, is that ultimately when people are under fire it isn’t their country they are worried about – it’s the person standing next to them. It’s in social connection that we find the greatest meaning.

We all need someone who will have our back, in good times or bad. We all need a tribe, a family, or a group to call our own. Sometimes it takes something awful happening for us to figure this out.

Landing Strong is about creating a tribe: a place where we are all connected by our united sense of meaning and purpose. Our goal is to create opportunity for connection and movement for those who are tired of being where they are at and ready to move forward.

Things I’m thankful for

Things I’m thankful for

This morning started like many others. The alarm sounds, calling the dogs to the side of the bed. It’s almost 6 a.m. but there’s no sign of the sun just yet. Suited up in all-weather jackets, hiking boots, and headlamps, my husband and I head out on our morning walk. We travel along the first half of our familiar trail in silence since it generally takes 15 minutes before I can string together a coherent sentence this early in the morning. It’s a route we do almost every morning, roughly four kilometres of grassy trail that winds through the forest by our house. Some mornings we see a local fox and her kits, more commonly deer.

This morning, my thoughts gravitate to the Landing Strong Centre. Every day brings forth new possibilities. I’m happiest when someone new reaches out and asks to join our community. Today was a good day as Doug Allen and I worked collaboratively to create a series of workshops for Caregivers. As we take time on this Thanksgiving weekend to think of the people and events we are most grateful for, caregivers are at the front of our minds.  These are the folks who stick with it, morning and night, through better and through worse, working tirelessly to support the recovery of their loved ones.

This weekend marks the launch of our caregiver campaign. Every week, we will be sending you tips and tools for managing the challenge of loving someone who has PTSD. They are the people who tirelessly continue to show up, with little expectation of thanks or acknowledgement.

No matter what news awaits me at work, I start my day with four kilometres of nature trails. Through rain, mist, mud or hail, the dogs need to go out. Through good news or bad moods, I keep moving.

The trail may stay the same, but each time I experience it differently.

Like you, I am on a journey. The work will never be finished, so I can’t put life on hold until I’m done. I’ll pace myself: working a bit on it each day. It’s through a series of repeated small steps that big things become possible.

Warmest regards for this Thanksgiving weekend. A special thanks to my family, the Landing Strong Team, and Extended Community (that’s you) for walking with me.

If you build it, they will come

If you build it, they will come

‘If you build it, they will come…’ that’s been my mantra over the last year, as renovations were underway in the new Landing Strong Center. Like a comet hurling through space, I set forth on a mission to see a world class treatment facility in Windsor Nova Scotia: a safe landing for veterans and first responders who have been injured as a result of their service. Last night on the eve of the grand opening, I suddenly got nervous.

What if no one comes? I worried. The place looked fantastic and everything was ready to go.

I needn’t have fretted. The moment the doors opened, the room filled with laughter and warmth as people engaged in the many fun activities we had organized.

I stood back for a moment, and took it all in. I had expected most of the visitors would be people from other organizations or businesses. Then it hit me. This was not the case. The vast majority of the people in the room were veterans and first responders. Talking, connecting… heck even doing mindfulness exercises and chair yoga together.

It was then that I realized it had already started. The Landing Strong community was forming. These men and women were claiming the space… making the program theirs. They did not come and leave quickly. They stayed, and connected with one another, renewing old acquaintances and forming new ones.

A group of them even brought me a most touching gift… a beautiful orchid. How fitting, I thought, that they should bring a flower that grows with a fragile beauty out of the harshest places.

Thank you my friends, for helping make this evening so memorable.

Finding our way

Finding our way

I was deeply touched last week when I read an article about Skippy, an 10-month-old barn cat, who crawled home ten days after going missing. He had three broken legs and puncture and talon marks on his back leg. Carried away by an owl, Skippy fought furiously for survival until the bird of prey dropped him, leading to the broken bones. With his one good leg, he somehow managed to drag himself home.

Like Skippy, many of us have an equally strong desire to find our way home; even when it may seem impossible. Although the breaks and injuries might not be visible, invisible wounds can prevent an easy return. Once we have arrived at our destination, that’s often when the real work begins. Will we ever be the same? Is recovery possible? What must happen for us to fit into home as we previously knew it?

This is the work of Landing Strong. It takes incredible resilience to make the journey. We hope that you will join us on September 27th in celebrating the strength, courage, and fortitude it takes for service men and women, veterans, and first responders who are struggling to find their way home.

Pacino’s moment of compassion

Pacino’s moment of compassion

Another great restorative yoga class this week left me feeling calm and centered (thanks Lisa!). At the end of the class, we practice Savasana, a pose where we lie silently on our backs, eyes closed. This exercise isn’t a physically challenging one, but it is one where the mind tends to wander. During this part, our instructor played a wonderful rendition of the tune “Sea of Love,” the theme song from the 1989 box office movie sensation. In this moment, where we are supposed to be clearing our minds, I was replaying a scene from the movie involving Al Pacino, who plays the role of a burnt-out cop. He is part of a sting operation designed to apprehend people with outstanding warrants, luring them in with the promise of having breakfast with the American Major League baseball star Dave Winfield. Everything was going smoothly until one late-comer shows up holding the hand of his young son.

“Hey, am I too late?” he asks.

“You got an invitation?” Al Pacino demands. The father hands over a piece of paper.

“Ernest Lee, the invitation’s for you only,” Pacino asserts.

“I can hardly meet Dave Winfield without takin’ my boy”, the man pleads.

Not wanting to ruin what was clearly a positive relationship between father and son, Pacino decides to cut him a break.

“We’re all booked up.” Pacino discreetly flashes his police badge, signalling to the father that the baseball player event was a trap.

“Thanks man,” the father backs away with his son.

“Catch you later,” Pacino responds before driving away.

It’s a dark film, about a dark topic, but many years later that’s the scene I remember… someone in a dark place, showing an act of compassion.

Memory and association are closely related. It is not the actual events that create our emotions, it’s how we process and remember these events. If I were stressed out maybe I would have remembered the fact that Al Pacino was a drunk and that the movie was actually about a serial killer. Because I was relaxed, I just remembered the good bit… the compassion.

This is a reminder for me to take the extra time to care for myself. If I take this extra time the bad things I may have experienced don’t seem quite so awful. (And believe me, in my seven years acting as Chief Psychologist in a federal penitentiary, there was bad stuff). If I take the time to process these events, they don’t affect me as much. I am more able to remember the good aspects of my job.

Many of us have experienced or witnessed incredibly traumatic or dark things as a routine part of our daily work. Looking back, how we feel about them is largely determined by how we remember them. The lens of trauma only remembers things the same way, repeated over and over. By welcoming the perspective of others in a safe and supportive environment, we open ourselves to seeing things in a new light, often changing the way these events emotionally impact us.

Link to Al Pacino’s Sea of Love

Mindfulness and the unexpected

Mindfulness and the unexpected

Recently things have been a bit hectic. I’ve a lot on the go, and am feeling pulled in a number of different directions. For that reason, I decided to spend last weekend centering myself. I thought nothing would be better than to simply spend a day just being: noticing and appreciating the beauty around me. Otherwise known as mindfulness. I’ve been trying to fix up some old chairs, but trying to reupholster them was starting to feel overwhelming. Joe, my supersonic husband, suggested a 25 km bike ride from our cottage to Bear River, and I naively said “great”.

I have to tell you, if you haven’t checked out Bear River, I would recommend it. It’s a quaint little artistic community known as the “tidal village on stilts.” It boasts the Sissiboo Coffee Roaster (fair trade organic trendy coffee shop) and a cute little café called “Myrtle and Rosie’s.” Determined to notice, appreciate and learn, it was here that the universe gave me my first teaching.

Wanting to fill my life sandwich with more knowledge, I ventured out into the countryside eager to expand my understanding of the cosmos. It was here, in the pastoral fields of Clementsville, that I witnessed wildlife that I had never seen before roaming free in Nova Scotia. Zebras.

Feeling I was on a winning streak of enlightenment, I pushed on in my odyssey, and was rewarded with other amazing finds. On the way back through town, I met Walter Wambolt, who appeared to be quite the man about town. Confident and assertive, he was a man of a few words and turned out to be a great listener.

I made the internal commitment to be more like him. Walter beckoned me into a nearby bakery. It was there, in a back room of the bakery, that I discovered a hidden upholstery shop. The baker, it turns out, is a talented fellow who is also able to help me reupholster some chairs I am reclaiming.

So all in all, it was a pretty great day. I did make it home, and could barely walk the next day, but no worries. I felt complete with all the new teachings. I’m going to keep working on this mindfulness thing.

Thriving Despite Adversity

Thriving Despite Adversity

I was going for a hike last weekend when I stumbled across the perfect example of resiliency. A magnificent mushroom, in the middle of a gravel road, pushing its way up towards the universe. Despite everything that says it shouldn’t exist, it appears to be thriving.

It made me ponder the meaning of resilience: not just surviving, but thriving in the face of adversity. Having that wonderful Indian rubber ball “bounce back” quality when life throws us hard knocks.

Many people I work with tell me that I better not expect them to get all emotional because they “don’t do that stuff.”

Ignoring the emotional impact of our experiences takes a bigger toll than we think. Dealing with the emotional impact of our experiences is often harder than carrying out the duties of our jobs in the first place. It’s a completely different headspace than being in operational mode.

When we aren’t able to experience or express our feelings, we create an emotional backlog that eventually catches up with us. It’s only possible to keep this up for so long. This is one of the reasons we see so many military members and first responders people performing at a top level in their careers, only to experience problems after many years of service or following retirement. They aren’t broken, they are suffering from emotional backlog.

By learning to clean our emotional closet regularly, we prevent injury.

How do we do this? By being vulnerable. Resiliency isn’t about being tough, it’s about knowing how and when to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do our jobs and be okay.

We grow stronger by shining a light on the darkest areas of our lives, and understanding the emotional impact of these experiences on us. Going to those places that we least want to go. Our resiliency comes from fearlessly facing the emotions that accompany them.

So as you can see, courage is tied into resiliency. And the people who are doing the work of recovery are some of the bravest people I know.

We are hosting a Celebration of Resiliency in conjunction with the Grand Opening of our new Landing Strong Centre in Windsor, Nova Scotia. We’d love to have you join us in celebrating the strength of our community, and the military members, veterans, and first responders who serve them. Let’s also celebrate the families who support them, because they are indeed, as the Military Family Resource Center puts it, the strength behind the uniform.

No Expiry Date

No Expiry Date

This weekend, while at the cottage, my son Kyle came into the kitchen munching a Jos Louis.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, surprised to see it.

“The back of the cupboard,” he grinned.

“Funny, I don’t remember buying them.” Needing to see this for myself, I rummaged through the back of the cupboard. I soon realized why I didn’t remember buying them… the expiry date was September 28, 2016.

“Stop… that’s two years old!” I warned.

“And never tasted better!” he responded laughing.

Funny, not many things in life are like that. Most things decline with age. There are of course exceptions: fine wines, good cheese, and Jos Louis are among them. Bread found in IMP’s (military rations) are perhaps another. I’ll never quite understand how something can be deemed edible but non-degradable.

Doug Allen, former infantry Sergeant, Program Manager and Social Worker with the Landing Strong Team, is definitely someone who holds his own (and in fact keeps getting better) over time.

Doug spent 17 years in the Canadian Forces, stationed with the Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He has conducted Peace support operations in Bosnia, combat operations in Afghanistan, and various domestic operations here in Canada. Since returning from Afghanistan in 2008, he has been working with ill and injured Canadian Force members helping them to overcome trauma and reclaim their lives.

Doug’s approach to trauma recovery focuses on reducing the ‘charge’ of fight/flight or freeze, and helping to break out of survival mode. He believes that every person has the strength to become well, as long as they are in an environment that inspires and empowers change.

You’ll recognize Doug by the twinkle in his eye, his quick grin, and his cool tattoos. We welcome his leadership and inspired energy. Hmmm, now that I think about it, he doesn’t seem to age… I wonder Doug, do you by any chance eat Jos Louis?

Practicing what we preach

Practicing what we preach

One of the physical hazards of being a psychologist is that much of my working life consists of sitting.  It’s literally killing me… hence part of my motivation to create a program that is engaging and physically active.  I want to move with you.

Have I mentioned that my family is hard core into fitness?  I just returned from a vacation out West where we participated in the Great Canadian Death Race, followed by a back country hiking trip through the Rockies. It’s the Seagram idea of fun. What is the Great Canadian Death Race you ask? It’s 125 km of mountainous terrain covered by a team of five people over a 24 hour period. No, I did not compete… I’m not at that level. I was the support crew.

My daughter Mackenzie, the Landing Strong Director of Wellbeing and Community Engagement, played a vital role with the team, tackling a 38 km mountainous section. She killed it. A graduate from Acadia University with a psychology and nutrition double major, she practices what she preaches. She represented Acadia’s Cross Country Running team for four years, last year making it to Nationals. She has also competed at the Canada Games representing Nova Scotia in a Biathlon; and in her free time summited Mount Kilimanjaro twice. In her down time, she works on getting me to reach for hummus instead of cookies. Shall we say, it’s a work in progress. I’m grateful that we have someone so uniquely qualified to help us get active and engaged! Mackenzie is setting the food plan for Landing Strong, coordinating community activities, and planning outdoor adventures for us. She is also generating much of the health promotion social media content that we are putting out over Facebook and Instagram. The quirky sense of humour… that’s her. I hope you will join me in welcoming her to the Landing Strong Team.

Do I sound like a proud parent? Well I guess I am, but I am also incredibly proud of the huge talent we have assembled in the Landing Strong Team. It’s bursting with passion, expertise, enthusiasm, and commitment. Over the next few weeks, I will be introducing you to various members of the team, so that you have the opportunity to get to know each of us on a more personal level. Over time, perhaps you will share with us details about your journey, so that we might walk together.

[In the team pic attached L to R: Dale Block, Joe Seagram, Kaitlin Proksch, Kyle Seagram, and Mackenzie Seagram.]

What is courage?

What is courage?

“I’m not courageous,” they often say to me, clients who routinely put themselves in harm’s way in service of others. “I was just doing my job.”

“Were you scared ?” I ask.

“Well, I didn’t really think about it. I just did what I had to do, but yes, it was scary.”

To me, that’s courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear… it’s being afraid of something, and still showing up. It may be getting out of bed in the morning and facing people when all you want to do is hide; or summoning the strength to go through a crowded store even though the memories of a crowded marketplace in Kandahar are still vivid; or responding to an accident scene when the last one still causes you to wake up at night. It may even be entertaining the idea of participating in the Landing Strong 12-Week Day Treatment Program when all you want to do is stay at home.

It’s about moving forward when every fibre inside of you is screaming to stop.

My fear… it’s judgement. Being misunderstood. So creating this program kinda puts me way outside of my comfort zone.

So why do it? Because for me, to stop pushing is to stop living. I don’t want to sleepwalk through my life. I want to be out there trying to change things for the better. Making sure that those of you who are struggling have a helping hand and community for support. Ensuring you know that you are not alone.

I’m doing my best to do small acts of courage on a daily basis, hoping that the cumulative effect will amount to something meaningful. Building the center, hiring the team, and creating a program so inspiring that I want to participate in it.

Will you join me?

Consider adding your name to our list of potential program participants. I’m working hard to find funding, so that finances aren’t a barrier to service. The earliest possible start date will be October 22nd, but seats will be filled on a first come first serve basis. If obtaining funding proves difficult, we may need to move our start date to the spring. Certainly demonstrating a need through a list of potential participants will help.

For those looking for leadership opportunities, we hope that some of the first round of program participants will be interested in taking on paraprofessional roles following graduation… being that person who is there for others in their time of struggle. It’s a time of amazing possibility and change.

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