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Is recovery from PTSD possible?

Is recovery from PTSD possible?

It’s not uncommon to hear people say that there’s no recovery from PTSD.  

Well, in my mind, that’s simply not the case.

It’s true that you’ll never go back to being exactly the same person you were before you were injured.  But when you think about it, how many of us are ever the same as we used to be?  As we learn and grow in life, we can’t help but grow from our experiences.  What I’m referring to is post traumatic growth.

Sure, life might have been easier if I hadn’t logged seven years working in one of Canada’s largest penitentiaries.  I might not have been injured.  But then I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I’m kinda liking her.

Don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want to go back to being my high school self (although the flare jeans with Canada flag inserts were quite fetching).

I definitely do not want to relive the angst of my twenties.

I may have a few more bumps, and scars on me now, but they serve as a testament to the fact that I have truly lived.  I have a massive scar across my right knee that I got while building a school in Tanzania.  I’m proud of it, and in no way want to erase that experience.  

If I work too hard my muscles flare up – reminders of the need to pace myself better. Areas where I have previously been injured will always be vulnerable during times of stress.  They serve as my personal barometers for health.  I thank these symptoms for gently reminding me when I’m not paying close enough attention to my needs or limits.

I guess I’m saying that I work hard each day to keep the superwoman cape in the closet. It’s not easy because it feels oh so comfortable.   I try to simply focus on having a good day, going to bed at night feeling satisfied with whatever small thing I might have been able to accomplish.

So, it’s true, you will never be the same person you were before.  It is possible, though, to become someone capable of living a rich and full life, wiser for all the things you have experienced.

Warm wishes,

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

It’s all a matter of perspective

It’s all a matter of perspective

Last week was a bit of a rough one for me, and my brother, bless his heart, sent me flowers.

Touched by the gesture, I brought the flowers to work so that they could be enjoyed by all.  The first client who walked in the building noticed them immediately.

“Who died?” he asked.

The second person who entered the building was someone we’ve known for a while.  When she saw the flowers she leaned over, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  Sighing, she sat down to wait for her appointment, a serene expression on her face. 

The exact same experience, but very different reactions.  Proof that emotions aren’t created by situations… rather, they are the result of how we interpret them.  It’s our thoughts that determine how we feel, not the actual events. The wonderful thing about this is that it gives us a powerful degree of control over how we experience the world.

If you want to learn more, give us a call or send a message.  We’re gathering names for out next Emotions group, starting in the near future.  If you’ve already taken the Emotions program, the Healthy Living course may be for you.  It’s a hands-on chance to apply all that we’ve learned to our daily lives.

Warm wishes,

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

PTSD: disorder or injury?

PTSD: disorder or injury?

Let’s face it, PTSD is a label.  Having a diagnosis can be very helpful as it allows clients to access appropriate resources and supports.  However, it doesn’t accurately reflect the experience of recovering from trauma.  

When healthy people are repeatedly exposed to traumatic and dangerous situations, it’s normal that there’s a residual effect.  Like an athlete that runs too many marathons without enough recovery time, injuries are sustained that can be lingering or career-threatening.  

The word “disorder” does a disservice to the injuries suffered by those who put themselves in harm’s way in the course of their work.  People with PTSD are not disordered, they are injured.  Their wounds originate from repeated or severe exposure to trauma.  There’s nothing disordered about that, it’s a natural and predictable reaction to unnatural events or situations.  

Just because it’s invisible, doesn’t mean it’s not real.  We’re going to increasingly be using the term PTSI in our communications.  These injuries are significant, severe, and potentially life threatening if not tended to in a thoughtful, compassionate manner.  As with any injury, there’s a continuum of severity, ranging from mildly disruptive to debilitating.  Not everyone who has these injuries is the same.  The mechanism of injury, presentation of symptoms, and severity of harm may vary from person to person.  Nonetheless, everyone has an equal right to access treatment and care in a timely manner.  

Disorders are something we stick in the corner and don’t quite know what to do with.  Injuries are something we heal.  So we get it, without the label, it’s impossible to access appropriate care.  But between you and me, we’ll be calling it an injury. 

Warm wishes,

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

Life is a struggle vs life is a climb

Life is a struggle vs life is a climb

Glancing through Facebook, it’s easy to believe that for most people, life is a series of joyful moments.  Even knowing that social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives, it’s easy to start believing that others are always happy.  
 
In reality, I think of life as more of a climb.  Some days a struggle, but most often a climb. 
 
I’ve had the opportunity to climb Mount Kilimanjaro twice.  The night before the summit push is long, cold, dark, and tortuous.  There are many times I asked myself why I was doing it.  Reaching Uhuru peak at the break of dawn, it all made sense.  When we’re in the struggle, it’s often hard to see the point.  Glancing back in the darkness, the distant glow of headlamps of the other groups weaving their way up the mountain reminded me of how far we’d come, even though we weren’t yet at the top. 
 
We judged our movement by the needs of the group, taking breaks if people were struggling, telling stories, and singing songs when spirits needed to be lifted.  We knew we were going to do this as a team, and that we would leave no one behind.  
 
By husband Joe has led over 7 school groups up Kilimanjaro.  Of the people who attempt to summit Kilimanjaro, about 50% are successful.  With these school groups, after months of training, group work, and team building, the success rate is almost 100%.  What I have learned from this, is that we work best in teams.  The second time I summitted felt harder than the first.  Although the photos look the same, they represent two completely different experiences.  Both of which were preceded by many months of training. 
 
Perhaps life is like this, a climb, punctuated by triumphs and joyful moments.  If I’m not having fun today, that’s okay, as long as I’m content with the longer term journey.  Wherever you are on your journey, we invite you to reach out and join us as we move forward, together.  

Warm wishes,

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

Honouring who we are

Honouring who we are

This week, I devoted time to sort through stuff in my basement with the intention of clearing out junk that has accumulated over the years.  I found a box filled with all of my report cards from elementary school to the end of high school, as well as some journals, creative writing assignments, and art books.  I’ve always believed that life is about constant change, striving to be a better person, growing, adapting and taking on new challenges.  Looking back at my younger self, I’m not so sure that I’ve actually changed.  There’s a consistency to who I’ve always been that’s reflected through the art, writing, and report cards of my younger self.  
 
Striving for personal growth, fighting for social justice, practicing the voice of leadership, and expressing my thoughts through writing and art are themes that have been consistent through my entire life.
 
Even in grade five, my stories were about trauma and redemption.  I wrote about hardship, regrouping, and finding the strength to get life back on track.  In all of these stories, people had to trust in themselves and others in order to move forward.   
 
There are many days in my adult life where I question myself, and wonder if I have what it takes. Looking back, I realize I’m on the right path.  Some days, I’ll do it well.  Some days… not so much.  
 
Despite how much I think I’ve changed, maybe underneath it all we’re not that much different from who we’ve always been.  The gifts we’re born with that make us unique, are there from the beginning.  It’s a matter of how much we honour and develop them that determines whether or not we’re on the right path. 
 
If you’re injured or finding yourself off-track, it’s likely not because you’re a different person now, but rather, that you haven’t yet figured out how to continue being the person you’ve always been.  
 
We’re not just a trauma recovery centre.  We’re also a centre for resiliency and personal growth, for both those who have been injured as well as those who love and support them.  
 
If you’re interested, we still have space in our next caregiver program.  Honour who you’ve always been, but learn to take care of yourself in the process.  

Warm wishes,

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

Snow day

Snow day

Do you remember dreaming of snow days as a child?  I’d cross my fingers in hopes that school would be cancelled.  Snow day.  These two beautiful words evoke excitement and anticipation, with the thought of an unstructured and unsupervised day laying ahead.  Even as we grow older, the freedom associated with snow days persists.  Some of us might make a last-minute rush to the grocery store to stock up on storm chips.  Others might curl up on the couch for Netflix marathons.  
 
Although I know that heavy snowfalls will precipitate massive cancellations in my client schedule, I have to confess… a part of me gets excited.  I’ll have a whole day of no structure, and little supervision.  What kind of trouble can I get myself into, I wonder?
 
Okay, I know I’ll end up using this time to catch up on overdue work.  But it’s incredibly satisfying knowing that I don’t have to. 
 
At Landing Strong, we recognize that snow days aren’t as much fun for everyone.  Driving in such conditions is stressful.  For those of you in first responder roles, we acknowledge that you are putting your coats on as we are coming home and taking ours off.  For this, we thank you.  
 
Snow days are a reminder that the emotional meaning of current events is coloured by the lens of past experiences.  What might be positive for one person could be alarming or stressful to another.  Trauma is like that too. 
 
Trauma isn’t about what happens to us, rather, it’s the personal meaning of the event in the context of our lives that’s important. 
 
That’s why we can’t judge others’ reactions to things when they differ from ours.  We haven’t walked in their shoes, or seen things through the lens of their experiences.  By seeking to understand, we diminish the aloneness of their experience. 

Warm wishes,

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

Being the architect of my universe

Being the architect of my universe

I fully enjoyed my holidays, but have to admit…the thought of returning to work is somewhat daunting. 

I can’t help but think of the large to do list awaiting me.  The tightness in my chest serves as a reminder that I may be expecting too much of myself.  I don’t think I’m alone in this regard.

“I am the architect of my universe,” I remind myself.  “If I don’t like the way something feels, it’s no one’s job but mine to change it”. 

I decided to set aside some time this afternoon and draw up lists.  Get those “to do” things out of my head and onto paper.  I assigned them priorities. The list isn’t actually as long as I thought.  

The beauty of the sun glistening on the lake reminds me that deadlines are arbitrary.  There is really nothing that is urgent: no one is going to die if I don’t get it all done immediately. Instead of things I have to do, I’ll view my tasks as things I can feel good about accomplishing.

Most importantly, I’ll make sure to add a bunch of fun and creative things to my list.  If this is to be my job description for the next year…I want it to be creative, engaging and enjoyable.

I add an extra list…creative hobby ideas, and feel myself lighten.

Changing the world might be important, but so is enjoying the day 🙂 

Warm wishes,

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

Have you met Max?

Have you met Max?

He’s Doug’s dog.  Max may greet you cheerfully when you walk in the door at Landing Strong.  Wagging his fluffy white tail while showing off his fabulous winter sweater.  

Max comes in to work because he hasn’t had an easy time lately.  His lifelong companion Murphy passed away and the adjustment has been hard on him.  Always together, Max suddenly found himself without his best friend.  When I first met Max he was sad and somewhat withdrawn.  Overtime, he’s growing in confidence and is coming out of his bed more often.  The more he interacts, the better he does.

Grief is like that.  Isolating and all encompassing.  It makes it hard to get up and go out…particularly if all we want to do is lie in bed.  The thing is, grief is not meant to be experienced alone.  There’s power and strength in expressing the roar of pain associated with loss.  Pain is meant to be seen and heard…that’s why we cry out.  It’s an invitation for connection…for recovery never happens in isolation.

Extending our thoughts and hearts to each and every one of you who are experiencing the pain of loss.  Know that you are not alone.

Warm wishes,

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

Small flakes big snow

Small flakes big snow

This week I looked out the window and noticed a flurry of tiny snowflakes making their way down from the skies. Weather forecasters were calling for a large storm, and I knew that was going to make for a complicated day at the office.

“Small flakes big snow” one of the clients mentioned on their way out, “get your snow shovels ready!”

I’ve heard that expression before, and wondered about its origins.  Is there some ancient wisdom I’m unaware of that would allow me to be able to better predict my day simply by looking at the size of snowflakes?   A few minutes of google research later, I realize it’s not quite so simple.  Warmer temperatures lead to higher water content, and thus larger flakes.  Colder atmospheric temperature forms smaller flakes because there isn’t as much sticky stuff to hold the flakes together.  So in a way It’s true: if it’s warm outside it isn’t likely to stay snowy for long…it might turn to slushy wet stuff or rain.  Small snowflakes and lower temperatures are a sign that whatever falls is likely to hang around for longer.

It strikes me that change is a bit like the snow.  If we try to do too much too soon (large flakes) it isn’t likely to be lasting.  Small repeated steps in the right direction, however, accumulate over time and can lead to a mountain of change. If we turn the heat up on ourselves too quickly, it’s not sustainable.   If I want to take up running, for example, and start by trying to run 5 km at once, it’s likely too much.  Sure I did it some years ago, but that doesn’t mean my body will recognize that movement now.  A series of small steps, building up over time will increase my stamina so that I’m better equipped to do the run.  Maybe a better goal is to start walking 10,000 steps a day instead.   If I want any positive change to be lasting, easing in with gradual small changes is the way to go.

Keeping in line with our New Year commitment to self-compassion, I will embrace my inner (running) warrior, and enjoy pleasant walks through the snow this winter. Enjoying each small flake as it accumulates into something bigger. Maybe you will too?

Warm wishes,

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

Savouring what matters

Savouring what matters

The Holidays can be a difficult time for many, with increased expectations around social engagements, drinking, crowds and overindulgences.  What if we simply focus on what the holiday spirit truly means.  No matter what our spiritual beliefs may be, it’s a time when people come together to celebrate, offer support to one another, and reflect on the passing year.  

It’s undeniably a time of year where shopping, preparing elaborate meals, and commercialism seemingly take over.  It’s also true that almost half of all charitable donations made by Canadians happen in the last two months of the year.  This suggests that despite the stress associated with the season, it’s a time when people are thinking of those who face more challenging circumstances.  

In the midst of one of the busiest times of the year, we are able to set aside our differences and recognize our shared humanity.  When people are spending the most and perhaps are feeling the stress of their financial state, they recognize that this discomfort isn’t temporary for many.  When they are surrounded by those they love, thoughts turn to those who may not be as fortunate.  

We hope you’re able to take some time over the holidays to reflect on all the small things that are meaningful to you in your life.  We are grateful for our connection with you, our sense of shared purpose as we support those who are injured, and our appreciation for those who continue to put themselves in harm’s way so we may be safe.

Warmest wishes for a safe and happy holiday season,

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