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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

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

Recovery isn’t linear

Recovery isn’t linear

High performance athletes can’t always do what’s expected.  Occasionally, they might have a minor sprain or injury that needs nurturing.  In the case of a major setback, they might be on the sidelines for a longer period of time.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t a top performer.  It simply means that no matter what we’re good at, or what we’re trying to work on, none of us can be good at it all of the time.  
 
Sometimes when we have a setback, it might be easy to doubt whether we’ve made any progress at all.  
 
Maybe the good mood I had last month wasn’t real…”
 
I feel like I’m back at square one”
 
I thought I was doing so much better, what does it mean now that I’m really struggling?”
 
As in any journey, the path has peaks and valleys.  The emotions you feel at any one point in time will never be a constant.  True, the good times will pass… but so will the bad. 
 
The most important thing to remember in those moments of self-doubt is that’s the time to reach out.  It’s totally counter-intuitive, but a certain way to turn things around quickly.  When we most want to retreat, that’s actually when we need to advance.  
 
Don’t wait until you’re feeling good to join one of our groups… it would be a very empty room if we all took that approach.  Take a look at the programs we’re offering in the new year and see if there’s one that seems right for you.  There’s a seat waiting for you. 

Warm regards, 

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

What keeps you awake at night?

What keeps you awake at night?

This week, I’m on the South Shore running an intensive Veterans Retreat.  It’s a chance to disconnect from everything, and spend uninterrupted time devoted to assisting injured veterans and first responders recover from trauma exposure.

We sit in a close knit circle, and start each morning by asking participants how they slept, and whether they had any new insights following the work we did on the previous day.  Most importantly, we ask them if they had any dreams.  Whether they’re good or bad, I’ve come to appreciate the value of dreams in trauma recovery.

No one likes having nightmares.  As children, we’re taught to try to not think about them, distracting ourselves from the images that most disturb us.

The problem with trying to suppress thoughts is that it keeps them bubbling to the surface while we sleep.  Let’s call it our nocturnal internal guidance system.

The brain knows what it wants to process.  Whether we like it or not, bad dreams are our mind’s way of letting us know that we have unprocessed memories or emotions that need unloading.

So, I bet you know what I’m going to say next…the only way to stop the bad dreams is to work through the underlying cause.  

It’s only by shining a light on our darkest places that we are able to remove the threat… see what needs to be seen so that we can move forward.

Strange as it seems, dreams (good or bad) are our friends.  They serve as our inner compass, pointing us in the direction of where we need to look.

So instead of shying away from bad dreams, consider leaning forward, taking a closer look at what your subconscious is trying to tell you.  It’ll generally point you in the direction of health.

Warm regards, 

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

The stories we tell

The stories we tell

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

Each time we tell our story, it changes.  An evolving narrative that morphs depending on who we tell it to and how we’re received.  It is easy to get stuck, repeating the same tale internally in a repeated manner.  Through sharing, we open the window to new ways of viewing ourselves, and differing interpretations of the past.  

It’s not what happened to us that causes trauma, but rather the meaning of the experience that determines its impact.

We may have experienced a trauma alone, but in the retelling be supported, diminishing our sense of isolation. 

We may judge ourselves negatively from the perspective of our youth, but through our adult lens, find the wisdom of compassion. 

We may only be able to see something from one perspective, but with the compassion of peers open our eyes to other possibilities.

In this technological society that we live in, it’s easy to feel lonely despite a multitude of internet connections. I invite you to take the time to share even a small bit of your story in real time with someone you trust.  Notice what small shifts might occur when you no longer carry the experience alone.

Warm regards, 

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