The Thin Blue Line

The Thin Blue Line

Those of you who have signed up for careers in the military or as first responders understand what it means to be dedicated to a life of service.  Family members also become part of this commitment, making sacrifices so that others may be safe.

I was speaking with a law enforcement officer today who described the “thin blue line” that has become synonymous with the police line of duty.  The black space above the line commonly represents society, order and peace, while the black space below, crime, anarchy and chaos.  It’s a thin blue line (police) that runs between the two, keeping society protected.  Uniforms often reflect the thin blue line, or variations of it.  Although the stripe on your uniform may be a different colour, the unifying theme is the commitment to service and duty.
 
I’m often struck how deep and automatic the dedication to service runs: putting oneself in harm’s way so that others might be protected.  Even after long careers, veterans often search for ways to “give back” or be “of service” to their communities.  Many people describe repeatedly volunteering for horrific duties so that others won’t have to.  Whether it’s volunteering to assist with the Swissair disaster, responded to a fatal house fire, working daily with gangs, investigating homicides, or being first at the scene after a horrific car accident, someone always steps forward, putting themselves at risk so that their friends, colleagues, and community, may be protected.  As you well know, this is not without a toll.  Not feeling the injury while at work doesn’t mean that a deep-seeded pain isn’t there.
 
What happens when the uniform comes off?

Whether it’s at the end of a long shift, during a break following injury, or after a long career, knowing how to care for oneself is not always simple.  I often hear people talk about “becoming the job.”  Family members fret that their loved ones no longer feel the same.

It’s for this reason we are launching our new program Identity and Transition: discovering who you are when the uniform comes off Whether you’re on active duty, in transition, or retired. This course is for you. If you’re not yet ready to sign up for the program, we hope that you’ll follow our online resources related to this important topic. 
 
Warmly, 

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

What does it mean to relax?

What does it mean to relax?

As is the case with any vacation, my goal is to relax and recharge, allowing me to give my full attention and energy to the things I care about once I return home.

How do I do this?

For the next seven days, I’ll be back-country canoe tripping through Killarney Provincial Park, one of Ontario’s most pristine and spectacular wilderness preserves.  It’s inevitable that at times I‘ll be uncomfortable: fending off bugs, carrying heavy backpacks over long portages, or sleeping on bumpy ground. Joe, Kyle and Mackenzie are psyched about eating porridge every morning…me not so much so.

I know from past experience though, that it’ll be well worth it.  I can relax by doing less, or challenge myself by doing more. Generally speaking, the most important aspects of self-care that I practice involve expending energy. It may involve camping, doing art, reading, writing or walking in nature.  Some part of me is generally in motion.  Sometimes I do it well, sometimes not.

We often think of relaxation as being a passive activity: slowing down, watching Netflix, and giving ourselves permission to do less. Sometimes this is true, but if it becomes a pattern, it’s no longer relaxation.  It becomes a pattern of existing. 

So this week I’ll expend some energy to get out of my head, and into nature and connection with people I love.

I know some of you are off doing the same – playing music, camping, fishing and surfing.

If your old interests aren’t serving as a source of inspiration anymore, it might be time to try something new.  As we change, so do our needs.  That’s why we’re introducing “Community Connection” days into our programming at Landing Strong.  Open to anyone who is on the path of recovery and has participated in one of our workshops, these days will offer a chance to get together in a fun and restorative way. We’ll start advertising them in the next few weeks.

If you haven’t participated in any of our programs yet, consider signing up for one this fall. We are always welcoming new community members.
 
Warmly, 

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

The meaning is what allows us to tolerate the pain

The meaning is what allows us to tolerate the pain

Every military member and first responder signs up knowing their job involves risk.  You may not know exactly what the risks are, but have a general sense that things could get very ugly.  Why do we do it?  Why expose ourselves to harmful things when we know that there’s a significant chance of personal injury?
 
Why support a family member who may be taking these risks?
 
Why would someone willingly enter a burning building, respond to a fatal motor vehicle accident, take on the responsibility of making life-or-death decisions, or be in the role of caring for those who have injured others?  
 
We do it because deep down, we believe we can make a difference. 
 
Whether it’s through direct exposure in the field, or more indirectly through the viewing of images and videos, there’s no doubt that repeated trauma exposure takes a toll.   
 
Through witnessing one another’s experiences, we’re able to appreciate the difference each person made.  We’re a community that walks with you to understand your injury and help you reclaim parts of your life that may have been lost.  
 
Come walk with us this Fall, we’re running group programs that are well-suited for both new and returning members of our team.  We’ll be sharing details on our social media pages this week so be sure to check us out on Facebook or our website
 
With gratitude, 

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

Acknowledgment of Invisible Injuries

Acknowledgment of Invisible Injuries

Most new start-ups fail within the first three years.  Trying something new is hard, and keeping it going can be even harder.  Whether it’s an exercise program, a change of eating habits, or setting the goal of launching a world class treatment centre, holding true to a vision of where you want to be is never easy. 
 
Starting up Landing Strong is something I’ve dreamt of for years, but couldn’t quite find the courage to do.  The risks were great, but the community’s needs were even greater. Surrounded by a team of incredibly committed professionals, we launched Landing Strong.  We didn’t know when we opened the doors whether anyone would come.  Thanks to you, our programs and hearts are full, particularly this week after receiving word that we are being awarded funding from the Veteran Family and Well-Being Fund.  Veterans Affairs Canada is solidly in our corner, helping to make this dream a reality.  A special thanks to the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia for helping us secure this funding.  
 
We’ll continue to submit funding proposals so that we may offer barrier free access to care.  
 
For this moment, we’re pausing to celebrate the assurance that we’ll not just survive, but thrive in the critical first few years of operation.  
 
With gratitude, 
 

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

Mowing your lawn one line at a time

Mowing your lawn one line at a time

One of the challenges of PTSD and depression is that tasks can feel overwhelming.  A simple chore, such as mowing the lawn, can feel much larger than it actually is.  Perhaps when you’re mowing, you notice that the flowerbeds need weeding, or the lawn furniture is in need of repair.  And while you’re at it, you notice the back side of the house needs painting.  And you may kick yourself silently for not doing it last year, when you first noticed it was peeling.  Suddenly, mowing the lawn becomes a list of everything you haven’t done right in your life over the last six months.  
 
A wise first responder shared an insight recently,

“It’s okay to mow just one line, if that’s all you’re up to.  Doing a little bit is better than nothing.”
 
He spoke of the importance of simply starting, without being paralyzed by the need to finish everything completely.  
 
We’ve taken this to heart, and have been applying this principle across different aspects of our lives.  Perhaps, I only have the energy to clean half my kitchen.  That’s okay.  
 
Today, I decided to text a friend because I didn’t feel up to a phone call.  
 
Small steps toward a larger goal get us there a lot faster than trying to do too much, too quickly.
 

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

It doesn’t matter what others think

It doesn’t matter what others think

It doesn’t matter what others think.  If it’s real for you then it’s important.

People often apologize for being injured.

“I shouldn’t be this way, I was never deployed.”

“I shouldn’t be struggling, I only went to Afghanistan once and my buddy over there is fine and he was there twice”

“I shouldn’t be taking up a seat in this group, there must be others who need it more than me.”

In fact, I’m not sure I have ever run a group where a large proportion of the members don’t somehow feel that they didn’t earn the right to be there.

I remember a day in my private practice when I saw an army intelligence officer who was struggling.  During a tour overseas he was required to witness countless satellite images that haunted him.  After returning home, he walked with shoulders slumped, burdened by his experiences. Working together, we tried to lighten his load.

Sitting patiently in the waiting room, waiting for her appointment, sat an anxious petite 10-year-old blonde girl.  Her forehead was creased with worry wrinkles, her nails bitten to the quick.  Her hand wringing as she anticipated speaking of the things which were most upsetting to her. 

Did both have an equal right to treatment?  I believe so.  Certainly their experiences are very different.  In my mind, it isn’t about measuring the degree of pain one has experienced.  Rather, it’s about noticing the impact those experiences have on our ability to navigate our way through life.  Whether we have been hit by missiles or paralyzed with anxiety, the pain is real.

It’s not our place to judge whether or not you should feel a certain way.  If it’s real for you, that’s all that matters.  

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

The business of getting better: part 6

The business of getting better: part 6

Intoxicating anger

Anger is intoxicating.  There’s no doubt about it.  It’s powerful, and has the illusion of strength.  People will often respond to us more quickly if we’re angry.

Anger can be a force to be reckoned with.  The military recognizes this, teaching people to harness their anger as vehicles for mobilization during difficult moments.

“Don’t get sad, get mad”

The problem is, power gleaned through anger is power taken, not power earned.

Is it possible, I wonder, to have power without exerting our will over others?

Maybe what we are really talking about is leadership.  

Certainly, there are many different styles of leadership.  We are all familiar with dictatorships, where those in power exert their control over others. Failure to conform is associated with profound negative consequences. We are fearful of their anger.  Think Stalin.

Charismatic leaders, on the other hand, rely on the leader’s charm and attraction to inspire devotion among followers. After meeting with Charismatic leaders, we are inspired to be of service.  We leave feeling they are special. Televangelist Billy Graham is a famous example of this style of leadership.

Transformation leaders, on the other hand, inspire greatness. They instill valuable and positive change with a vision of developing followers into leaders. After meeting with these leaders, we feel special: confident and inspired to be more. Nelson Mandela is an example of such a leader.

I think we have all had times when we realized our anger had power.  It’s a hard habit to break, particularly if we don’t feel safe.

Is this a time when transformational leadership might be an option for you?  Maybe you are already practicing it. What does it look like in your life?

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

The business of getting better: part 5

The business of getting better: part 5

The freedom of choice.
 
Many years ago I attended a work seminar where the facilitator spoke of the importance of developing a Plan B for any major venture you take on.  His words struck a chord, for at the time I was working in a federal penitentiary.  I wasn’t sure how long I would remain there.  Every day, I was surrounded by people who repeatedly reported how many years they had until retirement. 
 
“Good morning” they would greet me cheerfully, “only six years left ‘till retirement”.  

It was the institutional running joke, with people reporting the time they had left on their “sentences” prior to being released.  Like the inmates they were supervising, they were serving life sentences on the installment plan. 
 
This prompted me to develop a solid Plan B.
 
From that moment forward, every day that I went to work became a choice.  I could continue, or I could change, but I would not allow myself to complain about it because I had the freedom to exercise my will.
 
Even now, every day I go to work knowing that I have options.  My Plan B may not make much money, but it’s always less stressful and generally involves doing something creative. Somehow, that allows me to go to work each day with joy, owning the decision to be there.
 
It may be your Plan B involves taking time off work so that you can take proper care of yourself. That in itself is a plan.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

The business of getting better: part 4

The business of getting better: part 4

Developing a solid Plan B

In her book Option B, Sheryl Sandberg describes the devastating impact of unexpectedly losing her husband Dave during a trip to Mexico.  The purpose of the trip was to renew their wedding vows after eleven years of marriage.  One minute he’s on the elliptical trainer climbing his way to health, and the next moment he is lying on the floor, gone.  Suddenly, she found herself in a deep void attempting to begin a life that she did not imagine nor choose.  She described feeling completely unprepared and alone. Grief became a demanding companion, with ordinary events like school parents’ night becoming unexpected landmines.

Her friend and Psychologist Adam Grant flew across the country to support her.  His words of comfort were that she would need to allow her grief to run its course.  She asked Adam how she could get some resiliency.  He told her that resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity.  It isn’t about having a backbone, but rather, about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.

I know that many of you have endured life altering loses.  “Option A” of life, as we originally expected it, no longer exists. It might be the loss of a person, of health, of your identity, or of your belief in the world.  For some reason, the unfolding of your existence has been irrevocably altered.

What do we do in such times? In Sheryl’s case, it was to recognize that Option A as she put it, life with her husband Dave, was no longer available. The only option, according to her friend Adam, was to “kick the shit” out of Option B. 

What stage are you in? 

Have you started to allow yourself the possibility of developing an alternative option for yourself?

Like Sheryl, we encourage you to allow others in, to assist in the re-visioning and restructuring of your life.  Know that we are here for you.

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong

D-Day Commemoration

D-Day Commemoration

It was on the night of June 5, 1944 that Winston expressed to his wife that they were going to bed with the knowledge that by morning, 20,000 soldiers may have lost their lives.

He was referring to Operation Overlord, the biggest seaborne operation in history.  An event that served to turn the tide of the Second World War as 156,000 Allied forces united to storm the beaches of Normandy in an effort to liberate the country from Nazi occupation.

More than 10,000 people lost their lives in an all or nothing gamble that paid off, but at tremendous cost.

Yesterday marks the seventy-five anniversary of the D-Day landings.

I woke up this morning with gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifice of those who paved the way for the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today.  

To the soldiers, the veterans, their families, and the leaders who bore the weight of such heavy decisions.  I give thanks.   
 

Warm regards,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Founder, Landing Strong