Friday, July 1, 2016


Do the stuff people say you shouldn't. Do the stuff that seems impossible, silly, difficult, immature, irrelevant. We can create a long list of reasons why we shouldn't do something, but a very short list of why we should. There is only one reason why we should do that thing that seems impossible or silly or ridiculous.... because you want to!!! Because your heart is telling you to do it, and your heart never lies, so listen to it!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

So What Happens to People After Treatment?? Are They Cured?

This might be a question some of you have asked of this blog or of those you know who received treatment for mental health problems. "Where did she go?" "Is she OK?" "Maybe she's cured and has nothing to talk about any more?" For those of you visiting this blog for the first time, I've chronicled my journey to wellness here, so I invite you to start at the beginning if you or someone you love struggles.

Well, I'm still here, have't really gone anywhere except for Greece and Italy which was AMAZING!!! I'm ok, but I'm certainly not cured!! I wish!! Or do I...

Since leaving the PTSR treatment program at the Homewood in May 2013, a lot has happened. I made a gradual return to full time work over a period of twelve months, I've traveled to far away places for the first time in my life and alone on one particular occasion! Along with my regular day job, I've dabbled in some entrepreneurial work which I continue to develop, I've given talks about transitioning from treatment back into the real world, I've served on committees for mental health in the workplace, and I continue to see my psychiatrist every three months, and I continue to have really bad days and short periods where I fear I may be sinking into darkness again, so am I cured? Absolutely not!! But I am coping well and enjoying a content and balanced life for the most part, but not without a great deal of effort.

My depression over the last couple of months has been mild to moderate on an almost daily basis which creates problems with motivation. Sometimes I feel like working out at the gym or going to yoga which are essential to my treatment and progress and sometimes I don't. I have to exercise compassion for myself while also holding myself accountable, it's a fine line. My lack of motivation and difficulty focusing spills over into my work as well sometimes making me feel inept or "less than"again requiring me to be gentle with myself. Sometimes I need to force myself to go to the gym or do work, and it isn't easy, but I always feel proud of myself after I've done what I didn't have any desire or energy to do earlier.

I also witnessed a horribly fatal car accident this past week where I was witness to a transport truck colliding with an oncoming vehicle killing the driver and orphaning her 11 year old son. Having received treatment for PTSD, I find myself now sorting through the intrusive memories from this event as well as the numbness that accompanies witnessing such a senseless tragedy. I have moments of rage when I hear others complain about the stress of the holidays or who didn't give them what for Christmas, and I expect this will continue for a period of time until I learn to once again employ the tools I was taught to help process this very intense and triggering experience. I also find myself getting angry for having to deal with all these issues all over again!! I did this already!! I spent a great deal of time and energy doing this two years ago, and I don't want to have to do it again! But I do have to do it again, and I expect this most likely will not be the last time I have to do it again, but unlike two years ago, I now understand what happens to the human brain during a trauma like this, and I also know what I need to do to self nurture and promote my own healing.

So what happens to people after treatment?? I suppose one of two things.... sadly, I think some either fall back into being a victim of their illness, criticizing themselves for not doing better or being better and perpetuating the cycle of shame that comes with a diagnosis of mental illness, and relying on old ineffective habits to cope simply because they're easier and more familiar.  Or they work every day, to use those healthy coping tools to make progress, and to learn to enjoy a happy and fulfilled life; they learn to take risks again and to push their own personal expectations so that they can experience more than they're experienced in the past, and we do all of it knowing that any day, something can happen, a neurological imbalance can occur, a medication can stop working, or a tragic life event can side swipe us back into darkness, but we mustn't stop working to be well. None of us, mental health diagnosis or not, must ever stop trying to be the best version of ourselves we can be.

To all of you out there, I hope 2016 brings many opportunities for you to grow and experience the beauty of life and living, and to feel the love the lives inside of each of us!! Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good-Bye, Mr. Williams: Gone but Never Forgotten...

Like millions of others, I was shocked to awaken yesterday morning to the news that Robin Williams had succumbed to an illness that so many of us struggle with daily. Why shocked?? I'm not sure..... Maybe because he just seemed so jolly, happy, gregarious, carefree, comfortable, confident, secure, financially stable, loved and admired by millions, in control of his illness because he was so damn successful. I realize now, it was a mask some of the time, I can fake a smile or laugh on my worst days too. Maybe, even though I suffer from depression as well, the stigma of the illness still lingers within and even I find it difficult to believe he's no longer with us.... when he had so much to live for. Ironically, on the evening he decided the pain was too much to bear, I watched him in the movie, "The Grumpiest Man in Brooklyn". Not one of his finer films, but ironically his character attempts to commit suicide because he is dying. It never occurred to me how much art was imitating life that evening.

Robin Williams has been on my blog page since I began writing it over two years ago. I chose his image for the exact reasons I'm now shocked that he's gone, because he is all these things while also being open about his struggles with depression and addiction which is also a mental illness. I was also struck by the quote  "I used to think the worse thing was ending up all alone. Now I think the worse thing is ending up with people who make you feel alone." Loneliness and alienation are very familiar to those with depression. I remember when he first confessed to the public his mental health struggles many years ago. I believe he was one of the first of a long line of celebrities to admit their struggles with their mental health. I hadn't been diagnosed as having concurrent illnesses at the time, but I remember being in awe of his courage. Mental illness was far more stigmatized at that time then it is now. Some progress has been made thankfully. In fact, I'm certain many found his admission clear evidence explaining his "wackiness". It wouldn't be the first time a creative genius was revealed to have mental illness. There does seem to be a correlation somehow. 

Another irony, Mork was an alien who was banished from Ork because humour was forbidden. He was sent to Earth to study human emotions and at the end of each episode, Mork would report back to his leader revealing his latest revelations regarding human behaviour. Robin Williams seemed like a wise and gentle man even in those "pretend" reports to his superior.  I wonder what Mork and Robin would have done without humour in their lives.... what would any of us do without it?? Laughter is said to be healing, and sadly even in the throws of his own illness, Robin Williams healed us time and time again. 

I'm angry that he gave up! I'm certain there were other times when he considered ending his pain, but he got through them, we all do, why not this time??!! Why didn't he just ask for help? Why didn't he wait till someone came home?? If he, with all his wealth, success, and admirers cannot find a reason to stay alive, what hope is there for those of us who don't have a fraction of what he had?? What does Joe Blow have to live for if Robin Williams has nothing?? ... This is the nature of depression, he had everything to live for, but his mind told him otherwise. I'm not truly angry, but I know it's how many feel who are left behind to grapple with trying to understand that which is not understandable, that which is completely illogical.... except to those like myself who have had a brief glimpse of that moment, but survived. It's a terrifying question to ask, but what hope is there with a disease that seems to possess the minds of its victims rendering them their own worst enemy possibly even their own executioner?? How do I protect myself from myself??  In that moment, when our brains process a decision that is without logic, a decision that defies our very instinct to survive, when the pain of the illness is so severe that nothing is what it seems, and we compulsively seek to end the pain, at that moment there is no hope, unfortunately.

Hope lies in the days, weeks, and years before that moment. In the treatments and care that need to be accessible to everyone. Hope is in educating families on how to recognize and care for those with mental illnesses just as we educate on how to avoid the flu. Hope is found in a society that doesn't look at Robin Williams and others who have been lost to depression as cowards, or as weak. People who suffer from depression are strong and resilient, they have to be. The decision to end their own lives is not their decision, they are not in their right minds, it is the disease that takes the lives of so many just as cancer does. Hope lies in the radical acceptance that if a loved one suffers from depression there is a possibility that that person might one day arrive at the same moment he did. In that radical acceptance of the illness and all the possible outcomes you can say to that loved one "if that moment arrives when you don't see a future, before you do anything, call me." How do I protect myself from myself?? I don't know if I can except by working hard trying to remain healthy. Don't ever let your loved one feel alone in this struggle. No one should ever leave this world without a loved one holding his/her hand. Yes, we have loved ones tragically ripped from our lives abruptly and violently sometimes which in itself can create a mental health issue, but where ever possible, no one should ever leave this world in absolute solitude, and that requires a profound paradigm shift in regards to how we look at death, life, and love.  

I am profoundly saddened that Robin Williams lost his battle with depression, but I also know that part of what made him someone I admired, someone whose quirkiness was extremely entertaining, someone who was able to make me laugh at the not so pretty people and aspects of life, was probably partly to do with his illness. Exedor was the "crazy" character on "Mork and Mindy" and studio audiences would explode with applause and laughter as soon as his made his entrance in his robes and flourishes. Many of us, myself included, like people who are little wacky when no harm is being done, some of us even admire them for having the courage to be themselves. Personally, because of my depression, I revel in the moments when I don't feel numb or sad. The simplest things give me joy, and I can find humour in almost anything... why not?? Sure as hell beats being depressed!! I believe too I have a lot of compassion for the pain of others, I'm easily moved by an act of kindness or someone else's vulnerability. I'm not saying I'm glad I have depression, I'm just saying that paradox strikes again and perhaps what we loved most about Robin Williams, his authenticity, his humour, his compassion, were the result of the very same thing that took his life. Good and bad exist in everything simultaneously.
Good-bye Mr. Williams. Since my childhood, you've been making me laugh. Thank you for the laughter, for the healing, and thank you for reminding us that there is still much work to be done. I'm grateful your suffering has ended, I'm sorry you couldn't find another way. May you rest in peace, sweet man. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Post Discharge Rant on PTSD Treatment

NOTE: This post was originally written June 2, 2013, but for some reason, I never published it. At that time, I was clearly struggling with the changes that needed to be made to manage my illness, and my most recent post "Did my PTSD Treatment Aid my Recovery?"seems to indicate "so far so good". I think you'll definitely notice the difference in tone between this post and the last which is further evidence you have the power to heal.

Okay, I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in one of the best trauma programs in the county, and it was paid for by my insurance. I received something that so many Canadians cannot afford or must wait years to receive while suffering silently. I cannot adequately express the depth of my appreciation. That being said, there's something they didn't teach us.

It's a soft place to land inside. The environment is so supportive that some people don't actually want to leave. All meals are prepared, we receive group therapy three times a week, each patient has an around the clock nurse, our only responsibility as patients is to attend therapy and workshops on Loss, Re-enactments, Self-nurturing etc, and to focus entirely on our healing.

So when you get out, when I got out, sure I have all these great tools and a better understanding of my illness, but my only focus is no longer applying the tools and my healing because now I have children to care for, a mortgage to pay, a house to maintain, friends to support, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, appointments, you get the picture. How do I fit in meditation, relaxation, healthy self rewards, leisure activities, journal writing, and self nuturing, and I'm not even back to work yet! The fact has already been established that PTSD sufferers don't tend to their own needs; now we have been taught how to do that but in reality, there is no time to do that!! They don't tell us that!!! They don't tell us how incredibly difficult it is going to be to change, in my case 40 years of behaviour! They don't tell us that we're going to fail almost everyday for a very long time at implementing these changes. They don't tell us that our feelings of inadequacy are going to be reinforced by these expected failures. They don't tell us that a behaviour must be repeated something like 70 times before it becomes habit. They don't tell us that changing our brain structure is going to take a great deal of time, determination, perserverence, strength, stamina, and support and there will be times when we will feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal! They don't tell us that we need to want, really want to heal, because it's going to take a shit load of work to do it!

A soft place to land is great, but a little "tough love" would have better served me in facing the overwhelming reality I am now facing. Being the perfectionist that I, and most of us, are I am really pissed at myself right now, and I'm really pissed at them for not preparing for THIS part. Life outside? Sucks!

Suicide rate is highest among people with PTSD, and one in ten Canadians has illness. That statistic is prior to treatment I would assume, and I'd be curious to know if it's higher post treatment. Knowing what to do and not being able to do it is kinda hopeless. It's kinda like expecting a chair bound person to be able to walk.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Did my PTSD Treatment Aid my Recovery?

It's been too long since I've written, but I have good reason.... I've been enjoying life!

In May of this year, I "graduated" from a PTSD treatment program and as after any graduation, one wonders how much information was retained. Well I think I might have an idea.

I have been taking my children down East as part of their summer vacation every year for the last eleven years. My family is there, and I wanted my kids to know their very large East coast family. I also miss them terribly as I haven't any family here in Ontario, so it replenishes my spirit to be with them even if only for three weeks a year. The only problem has been I have to drive to get there. Like most, I can't afford to fly the entire family there and back. So we drive, I drive.... 1800km... each way.

Prior to my treatment, this road trip caused me unbearable anxiety, but I forced myself to do it.  I promised my kids we would go every summer till they didn't want to go anymore. Many people with mental illness force themselves to smile, to go to work, to eat, to seem happy, to get out of the house. We force ourselves to do many things that most people do without even thinking, that's the nature of depression or PTSD. Taking an 1800km road trip was something I forced myself to do even though I was terrified of doing it, and I mean terrified! Why? No particular reason and for every possible reason....  I might get lost, I might get caught in between transport trucks, my car might break down, I might not be able to go as fast as the other cars and the drivers' might get angry, or I might have an accident and kill my entire family. That's anxiety, being worried or scared for no good reason. I would be so anxious about the trip that I couldn't sleep for three nights before we left! Yeah, then I got on the road with my three beautiful children and drove 1800km! I promised them, and I loathed myself for not being able to do what most individuals seem to do with ease, drive on the highway. "What is my problem?!" I would judgmentally and unknowingly say to myself.

My kids quickly learned that they weren't to talk to me or argue with one another for at least two hours after our departure. My anxiety was so intense that the slightest distraction could bring me to tears. My knuckles were white for those first two hours as I gripped the steering wheel as if our lives depended on it.  Somehow I felt I could control the situation if I tightly held that steering wheel, and that was the main issue, a perceived lack of control. Change, transitions, or a perceived loss of control are extremely anxiety inducing for PTSD survivors. Once I had driven for a couple of hours, I began to believe that I did have control so I could loosen my grip, and my kids could behave like kids again. When we finally arrived at our destination, I would be exhausted from the 21 hour drive, which I divided between two days, not to mention the anxiety and lack of sleep. It would take at least three days for me to catch up on my rest, we would stay for another 12 days or so, but the anticipation of the return trip started the whole cycle again three days before we started our trek back. Not fun. This year, however, was different.

Four days before we were to embark on our pilgrimage, my daughter came to me and asked "are we still going down East this year?" I was curious about her question and responded "yes, why do you ask?" She observed that I hadn't packed yet, and I usually start doing that a week before we leave, and now I only had four days left to do it! I was sleeping normally, and I didn't seem the least bit irritable or stressed about the impending road trip. All astute observations which made me go "hmmmm". I slept fine the three nights before we left, and I actually was kind of excited about hitting the road and seeing the family! Unusual. As opposed to thinking I had to rush to get there as fast as possible to get myself and my children off the road as soon as possible, I decided to take my time. I gave myself permission to take my time. We spent two nights in Ottawa visiting a friend, and one night in Edmunston on the way down. I didn't grip the steering wheel ever, and instead of never veering from a very strict schedule as I had always done in past trips, I decided we should stay an extra couple of days because we wanted to. Suffice to say it was a relaxing, extremely enjoyable journey unlike the nightmares I had experienced in the past. So what was different this time?

I was in full fledged recovery. What exactly does that look like?

Not minimizing my trauma as "that's the way it goes", and accepting it for how traumatic it really was and how it affected me. I lost so much because of my trauma, I lost of my sense of security; I lost loss trust in living in a safe world; I lost trust in myself; I lost my childhood; I lost the ability to have healthy relationships; I lost understanding my own needs. I lost me. Finally, I allowed myself feel the pain of those losses and to grieve which was a huge load off my psyche.

Understanding how I continued to be a victim and my own abuser by denying my own needs, never treating myself, believing I'm not worthy or deserving of anything good. AS well, not even understanding what my own needs were let alone how to take care of them. I was addicted to productivity and care-taking. I took care of everyone else's needs, and I kept myself busy 14 hours a day so I wouldn't have to face my own problems. In doing this, I wouldn't have to do anything differently, because as unhealthy as my relationship was with myself , it was familiar, it was my only sense of security and that's what mattered most. I learned, however, that I had to get up the courage to start doing things differently in order to heal.

Finally, realizing how I constantly was living in fear of the past and the future. Fear any of the choices I had made may have been wrong, fear that I would never be rid of my past, fear that I wasn't a good mother to my children during their formative years, fear I would always be alone, fear of crashing my car. Fear prevented me from doing so many things, it prevented me from truly living. Every decision I made was based on fear, because this is an unsafe world, and I can't trust myself to make the right decisions.  I never lived in the now because the now meant I had to face my own problems, feelings, and needs, and  I had never learned how to do that.

So now I meditate almost every day because it clears my mind, and I know how flippin cluttered my mind can get if I let it. I go to yoga. I get outside every day, so I can feel grounded. I try to stay in touch with what I'm feeling and what I can do to take care of those feelings. I assert my needs when necessary. In general, I have a greater sense of trust in myself and the world around me or at the very least, I have choices about what I can do to feel safe in this world. So often I would say "I have no choice", I was trapped or so I thought.

I was truly blessed to be able to participate in such an amazing treatment program, and I wish everyone who needed it could have access to such treatment, but that's another entry altogether. If you are suffering from PTSD and feel nothing is ever going to change, you're not alone, there are support groups and lots of information out there that will help. I can say with certainty there is hope, but you will have to be brave and trust. We can fasten our seat belts, brace ourselves, grab hold of that wheel for dear life because we believe it's going to be a bumpy, hair raising ride right to the exhausting and bitter end, or we can collect what we need for our journey, lean back, get comfortable, and enjoy the ride trusting that the road we're on will ultimately lead us to our glorious and final destination. Give yourself permission to heal, you deserve a pleasant journey.

In comparing past behaviour to present, it's safe to say my treatment was instrumental in my ongoing recovery.

#posttraumaticstress #PTSDrecovery #healing

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Triggers, Will They Ever Stop???!!!

Do you know what it feels like to be taken completely by surprise by your brain, kidnapped, and dragged back into your past kicking and screaming? 

Actually, never mind the dramatics, there isn't really time for kicking and screaming, before you even know it, you're there. That's a PTSD trigger.

After having been through the eight week treatment program, I guess I hoped my triggers had all been identified, and I didn't need to fear embarrassingly losing my shit in front of anyone again..... haha how foolish are we human beings, especially us mentally ill ones ;) Just a couple of days ago, I was visiting a friend, and she was telling a news story about a poor young woman who witnessed her father murdering her mother. Seemed like your average news story to me, which I diligently try to avoid for obvious reasons, but suddenly I found myself backing away from the conversation, covering my ears, and pleading with her "please don't say anymore, I can't listen". Without any warning, I was violently yanked back as if by a rope to when my father tried to kill my mother with a very large kitchen knife. I had no control over what was happening to my body, it was remembering the traumatic event, and there was nothing I could do to stop it at that moment. My heart raced, my shoulders tightened so much they hurt, my stomach seized, I had difficulty breathing, and I sobbed uncontrollably while the horrifying image of my past froze in front of my eyes. Another part of my brain knew what was happening, and because of my treatment program, I knew what I had to do, and so did my friend because I had told her before. I sat on a chair with my bare feet on the floor, my friend handed me an ice pack to hold on to, the coldness keeps us present, then I cognitively battled with my past as I tried to slow my breathing while looking around me naming the various objects and people I could see. My friend stayed with me for support and encouragement, when I stopped talking she would gently ask "what else do you see?". This brings us back to the present, if we can remain focused and grounded, much easier said then done.

Triggers can be extreme such as the one I just described, or they can manifest as an intense anxiety that simply requires one remove oneself from the situation. In any case, I don't think I've seen the last of them. I know that violence against women, real or otherwise, actually any violence, women screaming, men raising their voices, children screaming, guns, dishes breaking, or feeling trapped are some of my triggers, but I'm sure there are others I just haven't discovered yet. My awareness and the skills I'm developing will help me manage my triggers so that I'm not emotionally annihilated for the remainder of the day, but I do have a disability. Someone not knowing I have PTSD might fear I'm having a heart attack or suffocating, very traumatic for the person watching. So if you suffer from this disorder or you know someone who does, please talk about it, so everyone can feel in control, understood, and not be afraid. This is the stigma of mental illness. No one knows what to do or say, so they just back away from the situation, or act embarrassed, or minimize. Many individuals with PTSD won't even leave their homes, because they fear the embarrassment of  being triggered and what that will look like to someone else...that's not fair to anyone. For someone else to be imprisoned in their own home for fear of how they might make someone else feel or for someone else to see a stranger in agony and not know what to do is not fair to anyone. I think we should wear PTSD bracelets with instructions on the back of how to handle the situation namely that an ambulance is not required, but an ice pack might be helpful.

If you have PTSD, please talk about it to anyone who will listen because you know what?? Those triggers are never going to stop.

For more info check out this site.

#PTSD, #triggers #PTSD sypmtoms, #dialogue about mental illness

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Police Need Support for PTSD

PTSD is especially prevalent among certain professions such as policing and emergency services. Unfortunately, they don't receive much support for putting their lives on the line every day.  Those officers and emergency personnel are suffering and they're in our "our own backyards".

This is an article about a Waterloo Constable who suffers from PTSD and was entrapped then charged for his addiction which I already mentioned is a common symptom of PTSD. He will be appealing his conviction, but the "holes" in "brass" arguments are already being scrutinized by blogger, Alan Marshall, who has been following Const. Robson's case.

This is the article to which blogger, Alan Marshall, refers.

Now RCMP are bringing attention to this serious and life threatening illness in this Globe and Mail article:

Sadly, when officers are diagnosed with PTSD they are considered "broken" and the very "family" they once served and socialized with turns it's back on them entirely. I have know three police officers diagnosed with PTSD and the story has been the same in every case.

I'd love to hear your opinion...... should police and emergency personnel be forced to retire/resign or be alienated after a diagnosis of PTSD? If not, what support should they receive?

#PTSD #mental illness #RCMP #OPP #Waterloo Regional police #police suicide


Do the stuff people say you shouldn't. Do the stuff that seems impossible, silly, difficult, immature, irrelevant. We can creat...