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What I am grateful for is……..

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Yep, that simply sentence is so damn powerful. So powerful that science has proven that it has the same beneficial effect as some anti-depressants because byexpressing gratitude, you alter your Brian chemicals and synaptic processes that produce a change. Neat hey. But I’m not here to provide a neurobiology lecture, I’m here to share with you what I am grateful for and why. It will also help put some context to my “This is me” post.

At the end of every peer support meeting, we go around and express what we are grateful for. This is done so that we all leave the meeting realizing that there is always something to be grateful for in our lives despite all the pain and suffering. For me, I am and will be forever grateful for my wife and son. They are my world. I also express gratitude for Project Trauma Support for showing me that PTSD can be the start of something wonderful if you are open to it. And finally, I always express my gratitude for MY PTSD.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. He’s gone Nucking Futs on us. Call the white coats to take him away. He’s grateful for PTSD…………

Go back up to the last sentence on the second paragraph. I said I was grateful for MY PTSD. But just to make it clear for everyone, I am in no way saying that I’m grateful for having PTSD or even for the mere existence of PTSD as a mental health concern. Now, to be even more direct, that would be fucking nuts on a fucking nuts level not yet achieved in this world if I were to be grateful for PTSD. But I am extremely grateful for MY PTSD and let me explain to you why this is the most important lesson I have learned about  my PTSD recovery.

When you are diagnosed with PTSD, or even before diagnosis, you go into hardcore denial.  Denial on the level of substance abuse or gambling addiction denial.  It is something you want to avoid like the black plague.  You know it is a career ender and comes with a stigma that you do not want to have to live with.  So, you start fighting against your PTSD (you see where this is heading?) and the next thing you realize, you are stuck in the fight.  Sure, you use catch phrases like “fighting for my life” or “I’ll beat this” or my favorite, “PTSD won’t rule my life” as a way of trying to regain control.  To put PTSD in its place and show it whose boss.  But there is a flaw in that thinking and you don’t notice it until it is too late and you put all your eggs into one basket.

Despite your best efforts and honourable intentions, you quickly become stuck in a ME versus PTSD battle.  Sure, some people thrive in the battle and make great strides in their recovery.  There is no doubt about that fact, hard work pays off, for some.  But what if I told you that by changing the perspective you hold on PTSD as being a negative, something to be overcome and fought against, you can start working smarter not harder in the fight?  What if, the combative perspective you have against PTSD is actually keeping you stuck in moving forward and reaching some level of Post Traumatic Growth?

For many in the first responder and military worlds, as a result of our training, we tend to embrace those things that make even the simplest of activities harder.  I’ll use my military brethren as an example.  During the long marches and maneuvers in the shit conditions of rain, you embrace the rain.  You relish the rain and move forward.  You accept that you can’t do anything about it so you might as well get on with what you have to do.  Now you have to know where I am going with this right?  If you embrace the negatives, you still get to work on the task at hand, without loosing energy on fighting agaisn thte rain.

So, I made a choice.  I could either accept the perspective that PTSD is a shitty thing to have and fight against it every step of the way or………..  I could take the perspective that maybe, there is something to be learned from PTSD if I stop fighting it and begin to work with it.  To embrace it.  To look at not what it has taken away from me but to focus on what has it given to me.  What can I be grateful for as a result of MY PTSD.

Let me tell you.  This was the biggest turnaround in my thinking since diagnosis and really the point that I began to really change my processing of things.  To see the perspectives that PTSD had hidden from me.  To recognize that there are other wyas of doing things.  So, I know you want to know what has MY PTSD taught me?  Well, here’s the short list;

  • I have learned that the way I was handling stress and trauma in my life were terrible;
  • I have learned that I am more than my career in policing, I’m a husband and father first and foremost;
  • I have learned that damage that has been done to me is vast and deep, but not infinite;
  • I have learned more about myself in the last 30 months of therapy then I ever thought possible;
  • I have learned that the people I have met on this journey are some of the most genuine, supportive and loving people you could ever meet;
  • I have learned what true unconditional love is;
  • I have learned that my vulnerabilities make me perfect and beautiful as I am;
  • I have learned to start living in the moment, not the past and definitely not the future as I have no control over either of those;
  • I have learned that the way I use to live is not sustainable in the long run;
  • I have learned that I will forever be learning more about myself and those around me as I continue with this journey; and
  • I have learned that I have a story to tell and a voice to tell it

Yes, that’s the short list a.k.a. the things that I feel okay sharing with the world but that really is not the point.  The point is that this was only possible because I chose to embrace MY PTSD.  To work with it as oppose to fighting against it.  I look at it as say “what do you got for me today, you beautifully fucked up son of a bitch” as oppose to saying “you again fucker”.

Yes, PTSD is shitty and fucked up beyond belief.  But, if you open yourself up to another perspective about it, you might find out that YOUR PTSD can teach you some beautiful lessons about yourself and life in general.  Now, I am not suggesting that you jump up and yell that you are grateful for having PTSD but maybe just start with seeing what positive lessons you have learned along the way.

But for me, I have openly embraced MY PTSD and everything it has taught me and given me.  So, I am honest when I tell you that everyday I wake up, I am grateful for MY PTSD.  It has saved my life.

 

 

This is me.

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Yes, this is me.

This is me sitting outside of my psychologist office waiting for my appointment.

This is me riddled with anxiety as I know that this session is going to be difficult.

This is me wanting to leave to avoid what I know is coming up.

This is me knowing that as much as I want to have an easy session I know that is not in the cards.

This is me getting ready to rip yet another PTSD scar open so that it can heal.

This is me dealing with a bout of Depression.

This is me being grateful for what MY PTSD has made me learn about myself.

This is me, living with PTSD.

It has been a bit of time since I last wrote a blog post and to be honest, it was before this little thing called COVID happened that I posted last.  With all that stay at home, self isolation / quarantine time I went through the past months I should have been posting up a storm but I wasn’t.  Hopefully, this post will explain why.

As you can tell from the intro, even after two plus years of therapy, I am still hammering away. PTSD therapy is not a walk in the park in any way shape or form.  It is not something that you get into and after a few sessions you start coming out of it.  There is no magic pill and no instructional manual to get you through either. It takes time and hard work.  That’s it.  As of late, the work has gotten a little harder but it is welcomed as I see where it is leading and I have seen the benefits of all the hard work I have already put in.  And, as hard as it is to understand, I am grateful for all that has happened and what I have learned during my PTSD journey.

It has been over the past few months in which the world slowed down that I really began to notice what has been happening with me and to me over the last few years and more specifically, months.  In many ways, I knew that things were changing but I really didn’t grasp the depth of those changes, until more recently and it also explains why I haven’t been able to put my thoughts down on the blog.  PTSD is not the sole cause of these changes but it sure as hell has been the catalyst that brought about the start of these changes.  In fact, I would say that these changes are also in part brough on by COVID and the life changes that resulted as well as my return to university to get my Master of Social Work degree.

The result has been that this unnatural trinity (PTSD, COVID and University) sparked a fire that I had long ago extinguished or thought that I had.  Maybe it is better to say that this trinity began to stoke the embers that were sitting, waiting for the right time to erupt back into a roaring fire.  Regardless, things are burning again and there has been a reconciling of sorts that has encompassed all aspects of my life including my policing career, my PTSD, education, family and my past.  It has actually been something that I was not expecting in any way shape or form but now that I am an active participant in the process, I am enthralled by what I am learning.  I suppose you can say that I have slid fully into what many professionals refer to as Post Traumatic Growth.

One seemingly innocuous incident occurred that brought this to the forefront and has been the impetus for this little detour.  One night, I was watching a documentary about a Canadian program that attempted to educate people about the issues faced by indigenous people.  The program was so hard hitting that as they were showing a Northern First Nation, I was thrusted into a full blown flashback of my time spent policing on First Nations in Northern and Central Manitoba.  And, for clarity, when I say flashbacks, I mean an aggressive and in your face rolling slide show of images.  It really is fun (insert sarcastic chuckle here…..).

So what does all this have to do with me?  Well, I have been FORCED and THRUSTED into a self-examination of who I am, including taking stock in what I believe to be true, what is important to me and what my worldview is.  I have dived deep to what I considered was the foundation of all that I am, only to find a void of sorts.  What I found was that the foundation that I previous thought was secure was in actuality, put together by a mosaic piecemeal of disjointed values and belief skewed by my PTSD.  In fact, the more I began to dig, the more I began to learn about who I truly am and what I truly believe about myself and the world around me.

So, this post is more of an awareness for others, as well as a reminder for myself.  PTSD has caused changes in the way I view, think and do things in my life.  COVID and a return to academia has propelled those changes to the forefront.  So, in other words, I’m not the person I was before PTSD.  I have changed on many levels, so it is now up to others to learn, understand and accept that This is Me.

Choices…… It really does comes down to a choice.

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Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist of Jewish descent, who also survived the Holocaust.  The above quote is from his book Man’s Search for Meaning that talks about his life in the concentration camps of WWII and the impact it had on him. Let’s just say that it is without a doubt, a must-read book for anyone suffering from PTSD.  And, this little quote is the exact thing that I am going to expound upon in this post.

Over the past almost two years of therapy and self discovery I have come to accept that I am a Jungian when it comes to psychoanalytical beliefs and it is probably why I latched on to Frankl in the process.  For me, the ability and power to choose and/or make choices during my journey has been paramount.  Regardless of how shitty I felt or how strong the Itty Bitty Shitty committee in my head was trying to keep me down, I learned that I had a choice.  I could listen to the Committee or simply accept that my day is shitty and stay in bed, isolate myself and dive headfirst into the rabbit hole, or……….  I could make choice for something else.  And, believe me, it is really that simple.  Let me explain why.

Just over a year ago, I was taking part in a residential treatment program for PTSD called Project Trauma Support.  During one of the sharing sessions, I was hit hard with he realization that my PTSD was not the result of a single incident but was a collection of MANY situations.  I was devastated at this realization and I have told others that this was the lowest point in my journey because it was the moment, I understood just how fucked up my PTSD was.  I sat there after the session and cried and cried and cried.  I remember being asked what was the matter and I remember saying “I just realized how fucked up I am.” And I remember being asked by someone, to this day I do not know who, “So what are you going to do about it?”

There it is the question that led me to make a choice.  Do you want to stay “Fucked up” or do you want to move forward?  Do you like the darkness or do you want to get back to the light?  That’s it, that is how simply it is.  A choice to keep on wallowing away in misery or work towards something else.  So, I made a choice and haven’t looked back since.

I know.  You guys and gals are yelling out BULLSHIT on this.  PTSD has nothing to do with making a choice.  It’s not that simple.  You can’t simply decide that you don’t have PTSD anymore.  PTSD is an injury just like getting injured and becoming paralyzed, its not a choice.  Or my favourite, obviously your PTSD isn’t that bad if you think you can choice to be better (yes, someone actually made that comment).  But to all the nigh sayers I will respond with “No bullshit about, sit back and listen”.

Let me peel off the one common argument that being injured isn’t a choice nor is it what we signed up for when we joined the military or became a first responder.  I agree 100%, nobody chooses to get PTSD.   I think we can all agree that PTSD is an injury or illness or disorder that affects first responders and military more than anyone else.  But like any other injury, you have choices to make along the road to recovery.  Simple ones like taking meds, going to physio / rehab, eating healthy, taking care of yourself etc.  Choices to get better.  So no, the injury isn’t a choice but what we do with the injury is our choice.

I know what your thinking, what if the injury is something that you can’t get better from, then what.  Well, let’s talk about Christopher Reeves or Stephen Hawking.  Both were subjected to varying degrees of paralysis brought on by a) a traumatic event and b) a slow degenerative illness, yet both made clear and definitive CHOICES to move forward.  Being dependent on a wheelchair and or various forms of life sustaining treatment were not their choice to make but how they accepted their situation and using it to move forward was their choice.  Reeves went on to live the rest of his life as an advocate for spinal cord research and pushed for many of the advancements we see today in the regeneration of spinal cord injuries.  And Stephen Hawking, well what is there to say.  I am pretty sure everyone knowns what he ended up doing because he chose to move forward and not accept what was happening to him.  (and I mean the science stuff, not that fact that he starred in Big Band Theory.)

Hopefully, you are starting to see what I am getting at.  Yes, getting PTSD is not a choice any of us make nor would we wish it upon anyone.  However, how we use it to move forward is definitely our choice and something that we should be proud to own.  Even when we are at our lowest, we make choices everyday.  Just think of yourself in your journey.  Everyday, you make a choice to get out of bed, to have breakfast, to sit in front of the TV, to take your meds, etc.  Not all our choices are the move mountain types of choices at first, but they are definitely choices.  As the journey continues however, there comes a time when you begin to make those “move mountain” type choices.  This is when you decide that you no longer want to feel the way you do and you begin to make choices to move forward (yes, unfortunately, this is also the point when some people make a choice to end their suffering but I believe that there are other underlying issues that lead to this choice.  Maybe I will get into this at another time.)  But, choosing to remain on the positive track, this is when you choose to take the next step forward.

And yes, this is when you also begin to enter the fabled land of Post Traumatic Growth.  You chose to get a therapist or switch to a new one.  You chose to begin sharing with family and friends (one of the means of attacking stigma and moving away from suicide) that you have PTSD.  You chose to break your isolation.  You seek out peer support and you begin to live for the moment and dream of a future again.  It’s the effect of Growth and my choice to thrive in it that has led me to the understanding that I am grateful for my PTSD.  It has put me on a journey / path for my future, allowed me to met some of the strongest people I will ever know, learn so much about myself and the people I love and that I have the power to choose to move forward towards my dreams.

Making a CHOICE.  It really is simply a question asked, but it is the hardest question that you must answer.  By no means do I have this perfected.  I still make bad choices from time to time, but I recognize them and try to readjust, if I catch it in time.  If not, I try to learn from the wrong choices for the future.  But I made a choice.  And I will continue to make them, good and bad, so that I can continue to move forward.

Just do me a favour.  Start making choices for yourself that will help move you forward, you will be surprised at what happens along the way.

I believe, Do you?

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Yeah, you read that right. I believe in Santa Claus.  What’s it to ya????

No, seriously, as a 47-year-old adult who spent the past 19 years witnessing the most dreadful acts that humans can inflict upon each other and what humans endure to survive every day, I believe in Santa.  (insert comparison to believe in anything else that is important to others for a cheap chuckle…….  Not going to happen).  This belief stems from the fact that I have witnessed the power of Santa Claus everyday this month, as I have for the past 47 years of my life.  And this belief has only gotten stronger since my son has ben with us.  So let me explain why, I believe that Santa Claus is real.

My son is 9 this year so I know that the pure innocence of the belief in Santa will be challenged in the coming years, but I have been planning for it now for the past few years.  We have begun to get the questions like, “Dad, do you believe in Santa?” to which I have always answered “Yep” in short order with a definitive reassurance in my voice.  The next question usually is about Santa’s magic to which I reply, “Buddy, you have no idea just how powerful Santa’s magic is.”  So far, that is the extent of the questioning, but I know more is coming, that’s why I laid the foundation for belief early.  Particularly, when it comes to Santa’s magic, post innocence.

What the hell is post innocence you ask?  Well, it is that time after little Billy blabs to his friends that he found out that Santa is his parents, or some other caregiver in his life.  No longer is there an open-ended belief in a charismatic, kind figure who brings joy and gifts to the children of the world.  Innocence is lost.  But what if I said that once the innocence is lost on the belief of Santa, the ideals of Santa become even stronger.

I said that I began to lay the foundation in describing the powerful nature of Santa’s magic and I full heartedly believe that to this day.  Santa’s magic is huge.  Even placing aside, the fables of Kris Kringle, St, Nicholas or whatever other moniker you want to use, there is no denying that Santa is magical, especially when it comes to grown adults with kids.  Who else can make parents repeat the stories of their youth so that they can bring joy and happiness to children?  Who else can make parents pretend to be an Elf for 24 straight days, making sure that the Elf changes locations and disappears at times?  Who else brings joy and happiness to children around the world, if only for just one day?

That’s right, Santa.  The magical part of Santa is that adults spread the magic to children.  What is more magical then making children happy I ask?  So, even when you find out what you believe is the truth about Santa and you enter that period of post innocence, your eyes open up to the realization that even though Santa might not be a real, flesh and body person, the magic and energy that represents Santa is as real as you and I.

Merry Christmas everyone and take a moment today and tomorrow to spread Santa’s magic.

 

PS: This isnt a metaphorical story about Christianity.  It truly is simply the reason why I believe in Santa.  Just enjoy the idea of amgic that one idea can bring to millions.

Gotta have Faith – The George Michael kind.

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Now let’s be clear, I am not talking about religious faith.  If that’s your idea or definition of faith, have at ‘er.  But it is not what I am talking about here nor would I post about religion as that is not my thing.  It’s not up to me to tell someone else what they should or shouldn’t believe.  With that out of the way, lets get back to the post.

The faith I am talking about is something completely different and is more along the lines of hope, with a twist though.  You know what I mean because we all do it everyday of our lives.  We get faced with a choice and when we decide on what choice best fits, we begin to hope that we made the right choice.  But here’s the twist or problem with hope in this context.   When we “hope”, we take ownership away from ourselves and thrust it out to the universe.  We believe that by hoping the planets will align, the birds will soar overhead, the sun will shine the waters will calm and everything will happen as you had “hoped” it would.  It would be great if that happened but ask yourself, how often have the thing you hoped for turned out exactly how you wanted them too?

What if you begin to replace hope with faith?  So, when you get presented with a choice, you make it and have faith that you made the choice that was best for you.  You then sit back, figuratively that is, and let things happen.  You take ownership for what you decided and the course of action you put into motion.  If things work out, you bask in the glory of it all.  If it doesn’t work out, you have faith that you will make a better choice next time because of your learned experiences from making the wrong choice.  See the difference?  Very subtle but the results are huge, especially when you extrapolate them across your lifetime.

Now I know you are wonder why are you reading this philosophical dribble on a blog about PTSD.  Well, if you have been following from the start, you know that sometimes my PTSD brain takes me on these wild SQUIRREL ! moments.  But, I can usually right the ship and get back on course so here’s the reason.

Since my diagnosis, I have been functioning on the premise of faith, although I didn’t really realize it.  At first, I thought it was hope but over the last few months I came to the realization that it has always been faith.  Faith that what I am doing is the right things for me to do.  Faith that if I get up out of bed each morning, I will be able to put yet another piece of my PTSD  puzzle in the right spot and get closer to the big picture view I am seeking.  Faith that if I put in the work, I will reap the rewards.  And, faith that my PTSD isn’t in vain, that there is a reason and purpose for it.

I also began to realize that at various points in time during this journey, I have taken a number of leaps of faith, both figuratively and literally.  But let me tell you about the literal leap of faith that I believe was the most instrumental in my healing.  I had the ability to take part in a high ropes exercise in which, while rigged up with ropes, I jumped off a very shoddy platform that I feared would collapse under my weight.  I jumped trusting or more appropriately having faith in the climb Master’s skills and abilities, particularly his math skills in properly calculating the weight to stress ratio on the ropes.  I had faith that I would be okay if I just jumped and that is exactly what I did.  I jumped and my life was forever changed for the experience.

What I learned was that there will be times during my PTSD journey that I will be in uncomfortable positions in which I will be forced to make a choice.  At those times, I must accept that I just “gotta have faith” and make the choice that I think is the right one.  So far, it has been working for me.  But there are also times that I fear what it would be like if I didn’t have faith that my PTSD journey is unfolding exactly as it is supposed to happen.  When that doubt arises, its easily pushed away by remembering that this type of faith isn’t something that lasts an hour, a day, a week or years.  It becomes ingrained within your thoughts and evolves into part how you live your life.  So, you might not reap the rewards in the near future but if you truly have faith in what you are doing, at some point, you will begin to see the fruit of your labours.

Faith, you gotta have it.