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

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

Spring cleaning your emotional closet

Spring cleaning your emotional closet

When I was a little girl, I was sure that there were monsters in the basement.  I remember running full speed up the stairs, away from the dark cellar so that the monsters didn’t get me.  They were huge, scary and dangerous.  Avoiding it kept me afraid.  Had I faced them, I would have discovered it was just the furnace making a weird noise.  Slightly unsettling but not scary at all. Certainly not unmanageable.

Sometimes when we don’t want to feel something, it’s easier to compartmentalize our emotions.  We run away from them so that they can’t hurt us.  The problem with this is that our fear of them is usually greater than the pain they can cause us.  We feed our fears by looking away.  They get their power from silence and being ignored or hidden.  

By talking about them, we take away their power.

This May, we’re offering a repeat of our trauma program: Your Past is Not your Future: Master Strategies to Overcome Trauma.  For those of you who have already taken this course, try Mind Body Health and Recovery, an exciting new program co-facilitated by Naturopathic Doctor Adrienne Wood. Program size is limited, so sign up now to avoid disappointment. 

Warm wishes,

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

Knowing when you’ve arrived

Knowing when you’ve arrived

When I was young, my parents would take me and my three siblings on road trips to visit the East Coast.  We loved exploring Nova Scotia’s beaches and would spend hours looking for ‘beach treasures’ that had been left behind by the tide.  It’s a long drive from Toronto, and eager to start our holiday, we tried to make the trip with as few detours as possible.  

On one of these trips, we were on a remote road in Nova Scotia when my younger sister complained of feeling nauseous.
  
“Are we there yet?”  she asked, holding her belly.

If we were smart, we would have pulled over quickly. Unfortunately, we didn’t.  Minutes later, all I can say is that we all got an unpleasant lesson in wind velocity and splatter patterns.  

Had we paced ourselves better, this likely could’ve been avoided.  Taking needed breaks is very important, even though it makes the trip a bit longer.

I recently spoke to my good friend Finka about pacing myself at work, and I was wondering aloud about when I’d know when I’d “arrived”.  At what point would I get that sense of accomplishment that the job was done, and I could take my foot off the gas for a while and not have a never ending “to do” list in my head.

“Ah, that’s the myth,” she smiled wryly, “It doesn’t matter how successful you are, in any business, each success brings more challenges.  Challenge is the one thing that’s constant”

I thought long and hard about this.  I’ve been operating on the principle that one day, I will arrive.  My job will be done.  I realize now that life simply isn’t like that.  The more I do, the more I open the possibility for more to be done.

So what if recovery is like that?  It’s a steady stream of building, growing and understanding.  Each day we evolve into a better version of ourselves, whether we have PTSD or not.  If that’s the case, the need for pacing becomes incredibly important.  Maybe the point is not arriving, but the journey itself.  I’ll need to be sure to stop and enjoy the view, taking a breather when needed.  

What if we remind ourselves to take those precious moment to appreciate the little things.  Thoughtful interactions, humorous moments, small victories.  These are indeed the stuff life is made of.

Warm wishes,

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