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Measuring growth

Measuring growth

On the surface, a young seedling looks fragile. In fact, it has likely spent a good deal of energy and time growing roots, and building strength even before it breaks the earth’s surface.

Trauma recovery is like that.  Chances are, a great deal of growth happens even before anyone notices.  When people come for their first group session or counselling appointment, they have usually started a change process even before walking through the door.  Merely deciding to make a change is a step in the right direction.

You may be unsure if you are ready to join a group, but the fact that you are starting to think about it is evidence that you may be further along than you think.  Some people may get a new plant and think it is just beginning.  In truth, we know that it has already had to prove it’s resilience by making it this far.

We invite you to imagine how it might feel to sit in a group with others who understand what it took for you to get here, as they have had to do the same.

A strand of trees grows stronger than a single seedling. 

This fall we are offering a number of groups. Something for everyone, irrespective of where they are in their recovery.


If you’re thinking you may be ready to join a group this September, give us a call.  

We’d love to hear from you.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

You do you

You do you

It’s been a few weeks now since we’ve been allowed out and I still can’t get my haircut. Things are returning to normal, but not for me.  My roots are exposed, clear as day for everyone to see.  I feel vulnerable, and less than my best self. 

Everyone around me is looking good while somehow I got left behind.  I even know someone who has had his hair cut twice already.  How did I end up I the slow lane, I wonder?

In groups, it’s inevitable that some members will recover quickly, while others, who do the exact same programs, may take longer.  It’s easy to fall into the comparison game, measuring ourselves by the progress of those around us.  

I do have a hair appointment, but it isn’t for three more weeks.  I tell myself it’ll be worth the wait.  I imagine myself emerging from the salon thrilled and confident with the transformation that will inevitably occur.  I hope you can do the same.  Do recovery on your time.  You do you, and don’t worry about the rest.  As long as you keep plugging away, it’ll come…in good time.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Two steps forward, one step back

Two steps forward, one step back

They may reappear when you least expect it.  Just when things were getting better, a symptom returns, reminding you of a past that you had hoped was left behind. 

What does it mean when old symptoms reappear?  

Even when you’re working hard on your recovery, it’s normal for symptoms to occasionally come back.  

It’s really hard to feel like you’re not making forward progress, or that you’re not recovering even though you’re doing the work.  But we know that recovery isn’t linear.  Our symptoms serve as indicators that our total load has crept up higher than is healthy.  By paying attention to it, we are able to examine the areas of our life that need to be addressed.  

There’s a lot of background stress these days, so don’t be surprised if the buffer is thin.  The amount of stress we can handle under normal conditions isn’t the same as what we can handle during challenging times.  Instead of judging ourselves, let’s try to practice compassion.  See if there is anything you can do to lighten your load, and remember… this too shall pass.  

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Dawn of a new beginning

Dawn of a new beginning

Today is the day things start to return to normal.  The dawn of a new beginning.  Stores will open.  We can go out for dinner again.  Heck if I’m lucky I may even score a haircut in the near future.

When we are faced with threat, it’s normal to be hesitant to step back out there.

It’s like falling off a horse… it can be hard to get back on.  The problem is, if we don’t, it will be hard to get back into a normal routine.  A natural recovery curve happens after any traumatic exposure.  It’s natural to want to hide in order to keep ourselves safe, but we will never really know that the danger has passed until we leave our rabbit holes. It’s only by putting ourselves out there, that we are able to know that we can experience new things without negative consequences.  

If we avoid going out, we never learn that it’s safe. That’s when we get stuck.

So I encourage you to go out.  Do it safely, of course, practicing social distancing and proper health precautions.  But take the steps necessary to restore a semblance of normalcy to your life.

Enjoy the beauty of the sunrise.  Laugh with a neighbour.  Share a meal with a friend.

Warm regards,

The trouble with trauma

The trouble with trauma

The trouble with traumatic memories is that we play the same internal tape over and over again.  Like an LP on repeat, they seldom vary.  We get stuck in a loop that doesn’t allow us to see things through a different lens. If we keep our thoughts and feelings inside, they don’t shift.

U2’s Bono said it right when he sang about being stuck in a moment that you can’t get out of

That’s why I love group work. It’s hard, to be sure, but the insights and reflections of others allow us to see ourselves in a different light. Experiences that might originally have been terrifying, can transform to courageous in the retelling.

There is a traditional Lakota expression that says “Healing takes place in the spaces between people.”

No truer words were ever spoken.  I’d like to take my hat off to the twenty courageous men and women who recently successfully completed the Emotions Management and Healthy Living programs.  Even with the multiple layers of challenge going on in Nova Scotia, they stepped forward, ready to tackle material that has for years kept them from living their fullest lives.  They started the process of reshaping history in the retelling.  It was a unique experience to be sure, to be processing, in real time, layers of trauma as it unfolded in our province.  

Congratulations as well to twenty new people who have stepped forward for the Trauma Recovery and Body and Mind Health and Recovery programs.  The world may be on pause, but there’s a powerful, strong group of you moving forward. 

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

How do we mark the passage of time?

How do we mark the passage of time?

Many people I’ve talked to recently complain about the challenge of feeling unmotivated.  It seems they’re working twice as hard as usual, less than usual, or having to balance a full work load while co-habitating an overcrowded house. The consistent theme is that they don’t feel motivated. 

I often think of my working life as blocks of concentrated energy punctuated by tantalizing rewards.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I love it even more when I know there is a vacation coming, or a family outing.  Or even a simple night out with friends at the movies or local pub.  

The strange thing about time recently is that many days feel the same.  Excitement consists of the sun coming out, or having time to work the garden in the evening.  Such is life.

Today I noticed a few businesses starting to open their doors.  It felt like spring was finally here.  Perhaps we’ll all catch that forward momentum as we look ahead.

If you’re looking to boost your energy and motivation, check out our new on-line course starting next Friday:  Mind/Body Health and Recovery.  A holistic look at getting better. Each day, we’ll spend time checking in with each person to see how they’re doing, and do some fun exercises with Dr. Adrienne Wood to learn how making a few simple changes can have a profound impact on health. Sleep better, look better…feel better.  I’m in.

Now that’s something to look forward to.  Hope to see you there!  We still have few seats left.

Starting May 28: Mind Body Health and Recovery

Warm wishes,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Keeping your head above water

Keeping your head above water

I’m not a surfer, but I have a world of respect for those who have mastered the skill. It’s a sport that’s both thrilling, and terrifying.  

We took a family trip to Florida once, and devoted ourselves to learning to surf.  I did manage to get up a few times, but when I fell off, I wasn’t prepared for the crushing blow of the waves that snuck up from behind, pummeling me further under.  Just as I was coming up for air,  a massive wave would crash on top of me, leaving me coughing, disoriented, and gasping.  I just couldn’t catch my breath.

In many ways, recent news has been like that.  Just when we think we’re starting to get a handle on the latest events, another wave comes pounding down upon us, leaving us reeling. Canada (and Nova Scotia) has suffered another devastating loss with the recent crash of a Cyclone helicopter off the coast of Greece.  Our hearts and prayers extend the the families of those who who were on that flight.  The military is an extended family, and any losses or injuries cut deeply.

If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt so much.

I don’t recall a time when there have been so many repeated waves of challenge and tragedy in such a short space of time.  At least not in my generation…and not in this country.

It’s important to acknowledge that there’s a backdrop to all of these current events.  Personal challenges or struggles each of us face in our immediate circles.  Family members who are sick or struggling, losses that people can’t formally grieve, economic hardship and uncertainty.

Yes, it is important to stay informed.  But it’s equally important not to oversaturate oneself with the news.  I’ve spoken with many veterans and first responders in recent weeks who’ve been glued to their televisions trying to get a handle on the steadily changing state of things.  Doing their best to be prepared.  After all, knowledge is power.

Or is it? If we watch too much, it starts to control us.  Maybe it’s time we cut way back, limiting our news exposure to a few basics.  Taking a break entirely, or limiting our exposure to a few minutes per day so that we gain the latest highlights. 

Putting distance between ourselves and the news does not mean that we don’t care.  It’s evidence that we do.  Because we care so much, it’s important that we don’t immerse ourselves in it.

So if you can, this weekend, turn off your electronics.  Go for a walk.  Bake, cook and be creative.  It’s a great time to make some flower boxes in preparation for transplanting your indoor garden outside.  Ride a bike, enjoy a hike and take some time to enjoy the signs of spring.  

Take some time to catch your breath, allowing ourselves to realize that this too shall pass.

Warm Regards,
Belinda

What makes Nova Scotians strong

What makes Nova Scotians strong

It’s been a challenging week to say the least.  I look out the window waiting for the sunshine and warmth to come out while listening to the ghastly news stories unfold.  An unspeakable sadness and heartache has enveloped our province following the mass shooting last weekend. Certainly the COVID-19 backdrop complicates things further.  Those of us working in first responder roles and helping professions face a double challenge: We take care of the needs of others at work, and then return home where we continue to be immersed in the emotional wake of what has happened.   With most of us working from home, the usual separation between family life and work life no longer exists.

Like many, I sometimes wake up in the night, processing recent events. Once I’m able to push beyond the shock and horror of the situation, I find myself contemplating the qualities that make Nova Scotian’s particularly well equipped to survive this.  I find these thought reassuring, and thought I’d take a moment to share them with you:
 
1.We take care of one another
Nova Scotia has its cities, but for the most part, we are a series of connected villages and towns.  We value our neighbours, and our impulse during hardship is to reach out and care for one another.  Yesterday at the end of the working day I found a bottle of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice sitting on my step.  No note, just the gift. Our family sat around the dinner table trying to figure out who it came from.  We honestly didn’t know, as we were aware it could be from one of many neighbours or people in our community.  A text later in the day identified the giver (thanks Monica). That’s Nova Scotia for you. Acts of kindness are the norm, not the exception.
 
2.We are welcoming
I have lived in this province for twelve years.  Like many, I came from away.  Despite that, when I first moved here, I was struck by how immediately it felt like home. People welcomed me like family.  Even those who were born here often have to travel elsewhere for work.  We have a disproportionate percentage of military members living in this province relative to the rest of the country, many who have lived throughout Canada (and the world).  Our RCMP members are accustomed to moving.  Out of necessity, we’ve learned how to get comfortable and acquainted quickly.  We know how to throw a kitchen party, and we know how to come together, despite restrictions of physical distancing.
 
3.We are compassionate
Everyone has their own unique response to this tragedy.  I have heard many people use the word “gutted” so deep is their loss. Anger is a common response, yet the bigger reaction is love and compassion.  It’s astonishing how many people have chosen hearts (not hatred) to symbolize their response to the tragedy. We speak lovingly and appreciatively of the contribution of community members whose lives were lost, paying little heed to he who shall not be named.
 
4.We are problem solvers
In the past I have spoken with people who work “away.” Out West on the oil rigs, or overseas on deployment.  I consistently hear feedback that employers or military leaders love people from the Maritimes.  When faced with a challenge, such as a broken machine, Nova Scotians don’t tend to sit back and wait for the part.  They are famous for “MacGuivering” and adapting to overcome obstacles.  Probably an offshoot of learning to make do during times of scarcity.  
 
5.We are resourceful
During this COVID pandemic, I’m struck by the number of people who have planted gardens.  Anticipating the possibility of scarcity, we plan ahead, ensure we will have enough produce not just for ourselves, but also for our neighbours.  I’ve learned that if you save the stalk of a romaine lettuce and plant it in water, a new head will grow.  My window ledge is filled with lush romaine heads, pushing their way to health, oblivious of the challenges around them.  In our house, we laughingly refer to this as the rise of our Romaine Empire. A symbol, I think, of resilience.
 
6.We never lose our sense of humour
Even when we’re down, we know how to laugh. My Romaine Empire is destined to join the other vegetables I’ve grown from seed in what I jokingly refer to as my “Doomsday Garden.”  Our neighbour recently posted a hilarious video of himself going to work in the morning suit and tie on, leaving the back door and entering his house from the side, greeting his family as though they were co-workers.  Even when the chips are down, we’re there for one another with a smile and words of encouragement.
 
7.We recognize our strength comes from community
We have two programs currently running: Emotions Management and Healthy Living.  In both of these groups, we had the chance to process our feelings regarding the hardships and losses of the recent tragedy. Some of our first responder group members are still active duty and were immediately involved.  Many people knew Heidi Stevenson on a person level.  Others were friends or coworkers of community members who lost their lives. We’re a small province with very few degrees of separation.  As people summoned the courage to share their experiences, we felt the divide that separated us lessen.  There was recognition that we were all in the shit together.  No-one had to save or fix anyone, we were just able to make space, without judgement, witnessing and supporting one another.
 
8.We are action oriented.
Many of us are current or former first responders, helping professions or caregivers.  In times of hardship, our immediate impulse is to be operational, setting aside our personal needs in service of others.  Many active duty first responders I work with had to cancel their personal appointments this week as they are busy responding to the needs of others.  They have been coming in proactively, doing resiliency building work to protect themselves against the repeated effects of workplace trauma exposure.  They know to take action to stay healthy. For those who cannot be operational, they know the solution lies in being relational…reaching out and connecting with one another. 

Warm Regards,
Belinda

Things you can do to make a difference

Things you can do to make a difference

At times like this, it’s easy to feel helpless.  In reality, there’s a lot that you can do to make a difference.  If you feel compelled to take action, I encourage you to reach out. Let those who have lost loved ones know they are supported.  Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing.  Just knowing you are there and thinking of them will make a difference. 
 
Let the first responders in your community know that you appreciate them.  They haven’t yet had time to emotionally process what has happened as they are busy putting themselves out there doing their best to keep us safe. There are great people doing hard work in an imperfect system.  They’ve lost a loved one, some are carrying the burden of recently having to take a life, and are still expected to report to work every morning.  When they come home, ask them how they are doing, not details of what they have done.  Now is a time to let them know you have their back.  
 
Do not suffer in isolation.  Let people know how you feel.  Take time for yourself when you are not working, and do something just to care for yourself. Look under the anger and allow yourself to be vulnerable, noticing the deeper feelings. Resist anger and hatred and connect with the deeper feelings that unite us.
 
Be a good listener.  We want to be able to support others without judgement.  Don’t try to fix them or change the way they feel, just allow them to share their experience so that they are not alone.  That’s the most powerful possible intervention.  Decreasing people’s sense of isolation.
 
Resist interpreting one horrific action as evidence that the world is unsafe and people can’t be trusted.  Notice the overwhelming number of exceptions to the rule: huge numbers of unsolicited acts of kindness and solidarity.
 
If you want your assistance to be more concrete, consider reaching out to financially support families who have lost loved ones. Donate to the Red Cross Stronger Together Nova Scotia Fund 
 
If you would like to help support on an organizational level, consider supporting a Nova Scotia based organization that is supporting others. Many non-profit organization are struggling right now.  Keep your money and support local. 
 
Consider sponsoring a seat for a first responder to be able to attend a program.  We are a non-profit, and have many unfunded first responders and caregivers reaching out for help.  Your support would make a real difference. The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is able to accept directed donations on our behalf.  The  Dollar a Day Foundation has also been a big supporter.
 
If you’d like to be a part of supporting first responders and their families, join our Landing Strong Community. Word of mouth (or sharing electronically) is the most powerful way of spreading a message.  Help us spread the word though “likes” sharing our posts so that people are aware of our services.  We are currently enrolling participants for our Trauma and Resiliency program and our Mind-Body Health and Recovery Group.  Ideally people do this work before they become injured, allowing them to stay in their jobs longer.
 
Thinking of you all, and wishing you a safe and supported weekend.

Warm Regards,
Belinda

ps. a special thank-you to Helen Painter for creating the beautiful artwork

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Embracing the power of positive change

Embracing the power of positive change

My dogs are completely ridiculous.  When I come home each day, they charge towards me at top speed, so filled with glee that they can hardly contain themselves.  They are so excited that they start jumping on one another in a playful Ninja manner, the little dog trying to nip the haunches of her older sister in an effort to reach me first.  They quickly become a blurred black and white explosion of play and energy, forgetting the fact that they were even coming to see me. 

When they are relaxed, it’s not uncommon to see them mirroring one another, their bodies unconsciously copying the posture and mood of the other.  What we are witnessing is co-regulation in action.  Because they are close, the mood and actions of one significantly affects the mood and actions of the other.

Co-regulation is that moment by moment interaction between the central nervous system of one person (or dog) with another.  

When you laugh, I laugh with you.  

When you cry, I feel the heaviness in my chest, and instinctively reach out.

Being in close proximity with one another during this COVID crisis, we can’t help but have a profound effect on those around us.  Our central nervous systems are in synchronicity, constantly interacting, bouncing off one another and mirroring emotions that we may not even be aware of.  How I am feeling has a huge effect on my household, and how others are feeling affects me.  At this time in particular, it’s incredibly important that we are aware of the manner in which we are contributing to, or detracting from the health and well-being of those in our circle.

Co-regulation doesn’t just happen in person.  It can also travel through the internet.  Another person’s anger can transmit virtually.  So can joy.  I’m careful in deciding which news to watch, because in general, bad news sells.  This morning CTV focussed on new vaccination efforts, miracle plane landings, and funny bad haircuts, and I started my day off with a smile.

I invite you to take the time to notice what you are feeling, and set an intention about the mood you want to spread to those you love.  Attached is a fun exercise called “Cookie breathing” developed by Liana Lowenstein which might help.  Try practicing, and see if you experience an internal shift.

Warm Regards,
Belinda

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong