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What if we were royalty?

What if we were royalty?

Recently I’ve been enjoying the television series The Crown, and find my thoughts returning to a scene where Queen Mary explains to her granddaughter the young Queen Elizabeth, the importance of remaining impartial: 

“To do nothing is the hardest job of all. And it will take every ounce of energy that you have. To be impartial is not natural, not human. People will always want you to smile or agree or frown and the minute you do, you will have declared a position, a point of view…and that is the one thing as Sovereign that you are not entitled to do.”  “Well that’s fine for the Sovereign… but where does that leave me?” Queen Elizabeth responds sadly.
 
It strikes me this conversation is not limited to royalty. Many of us are in service related professions where we routinely perform duties that may not be in line with personal beliefs or preferences.  Putting on a “game face” is part of the job, and a display of emotion can compromise our ability to do so effectively.  

Soldiers are asked to go onto the battlefield, defending a cause they may not believe in. They do not have the privilege of evaluating whether they want to advance when ordered to do so.

Police are asked to place themselves in the midst of violent situations, working to protect those who, a moment earlier, may have been threatening them.

Paramedics repeatedly respond to calls at the same house for drug overdoses.

To be of service means, by definition, to put our needs aside and tend to those of others.  There comes a time, though, when we need to put ourselves first.  Recognizing what we are experiencing, and finding a safe place to work through the emotional residue.

Only then do we truly care for ourselves.  Separate and distinct from the work we do.

Warm regards,

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

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

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

Trust is not a four letter word

Trust is not a four letter word

“I don’t trust anyone.” 

It’s a phrase I hear quite often, usually by people who’ve had harmful experiences that left them feeling disillusioned or hurt.

It’s natural to build walls to protect ourselves when we feel threatened.  The problem is, trust is often described in black and white terms: it’s there or it isn’t.

In reality, I see trust as having many dimensions.  Let’s think about it for a moment.  If we were facing a zombie apocalypse, who would you most want by your side?  Is it the same person who you’d hire to care for your children or grandchildren?  Probably not.  Mary Poppins and Van Diesel definitely fall into different categories of trust. Trusting someone with your physical safety needs is different that trusting them to care for your children.

I trust my husband Joe implicitly, but he might not be my first choice when it comes to decorating cupcakes (flashback to our wedding where we decorated our own bride and groom cakes.  Joe’s cake consisted of a war scene with Tonka tanks, explosions and GI Joe parachuting down into the middle).  Yeah…I definitely don’t trust my husband when it comes to decorating cakes… but,  I do trust him to be there for me when it comes to the really important stuff.  

I like to think of trust as a three dimensional star with many prongs.  I can trust some people along many dimensions, others along only a few.  That’s okay, as long as I don’t trust people in areas that aren’t their strength.

So if you catch yourself thinking “people can’t be trusted,” try looking for exceptions in this “all or nothing” thinking pattern.  It may be there are some things they do well. See what happens if you modify your expectations accordingly.  
 
Warmly, 

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

The business of getting better: part 3

The business of getting better: part 3

Changing the world, one conversation at a time.

When we run programs at Landing Strong, we spend quite a bit of time discussing how to create an environment that feels comfortable and safe. Participants tell me that it’s not uncommon to walk into a community coffee group where they’re initially having a good time, only to have the mood shift once the subject of politics comes up. Suddenly the tone is angry and loud. Instead of ideas and insights forming the discussion, hard opinions become the propulsion for discussion.  Listening decreases as each person fixates on ensuring their “truth” is heard.  

 When this happens, I know it’s just a matter of time until the conversation shuts down, and the potential for insights and wisdom arising from the discussion are lost. 

Speaking truthfully without hurting feelings, writes Cheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, is an acquired skill.  It’s that wonderful balance between appropriateness and authenticity. 

In her book Lean In, Sandberg notes “When communicating hard truths, less is more…The ability to listen is as important as the ability to speak.”

What if we all made it our mission to seek to understand the opinions of others, without needing to be right?  How would the world change?  We may disagree with what we hear, but at least by listening we are inviting an opportunity for dialogue. Sowing the seeds of change.  If we are able to shift our focus from being heard, to accepting the uniqueness of each person’s truth, the discussion becomes richer.

I have to admit, I don’t always master this art.  But I try.

Please join me in noticing the tone and manner in which we communicate with others.  Is it inviting or overbearing? Welcoming or deflective?

As Sandberg confirms, being aware of the problem is the first step to correcting it.

Warm regards,

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