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denial

 

Denial, it is one of the most dangerous mental thought process action that anyone faces.  And, believe me when I say it is even more dangerous when it is coupled with PTSD.  How you ask, can it be dangerous to anyone?  Well, it is and I will try to show just how dangerous it can be as it pertains to the PTSD journey and by extension life in general.

The Before

Almost immediately before a traumatic incident, you begin to enter the world of denial.  As the incident rolls out before you, your mind starts to question if what is happening is real.  The question then leads to a health dose of doubt, “this can’t be real” or “there is no way this is happening right now”.  But sadly, the reality is that it is happening, it is real and your mind is trying to protect you by saying that it isn’t.

The During

Once you get hit with the reality that the traumatic incident that you didn’t believe was actually happening had actually happened, you enter into a whole other level of denial.  And, I think in many ways, this is where the true danger resides for a person with PTSD.  You first begin to doubt that you were affected by the trauma.  I know for myself, this was huge.  There was no way the things that were happening for me had anything to do with the trauma, even though the physical symptoms began to show almost exactly one year after the trauma.  I remember telling myself that there is no way that this is related.  And heck, I did it for a second time when I was being hit physically with the repercussions of my denial.

The denial can become so intense that even when you are diagnosed with PTSD, you question the reality and validity of the diagnosis.  “There is no fucking way in hell that I have PTSD.”  It is the point in which many people avoid getting help.  They isolate themselves trying to convince themselves that their PTSD isn’t real or that it isn’t as bad as what they are saying.  “PTSD isn’t any big deal, I’ll get through this with ease.”  But, what’s really happening is that the denial has decided to bring along its really good friend and lover, FEAR.  Together, the two welcome the darkness where they can flourish without hesitation.  You begin to agree with the denial and almost feel like you have a handle on things because “its not that bad”.

These are the times when you start keeping your PTSD a secret from everyone, including your loved ones.  You have denied it’s existence and therefore, you don’t have it and you definitely don’t need to tell anyone about it.  Your denial pushed by fear tells you things like “people will think you’re crazy” or “you will be stigmatized for life” and my favourite, “no one is going to want to be with you / around you if you have PTSD”.  The denial gets stronger and stronger and so does the isolation because your mind knows that eventually you will be found out.  Your fake smile and happy disposition is about to come down all around you.

And when you finally have no choice but to admit that you have PTSD and seek help, the denial still hangs around.  Lots of times, whether it be in therapy or a peer support group, you will continue to use denial as a coping mechanism.  You hold back from your therapist because if you are honest about what’s really going on, you are afraid you won’t be able to handle reality.  You deny yourself the chance to get better.  In peer settings, you cater your narrative to present as someone who has everything together.  You deny yourself the chance to get the support you need and deserve.  Denial is very dangerous.

The Other Side

For all intent and purpose, you’ve broken through the darkness.  You are back into the light and are feeling pretty good.  Life seems to be getting better and you are beginning to see the positives from all your hard work.  But, and this is a big but, you begin to question it.  Much like how you questioned the trauma actually happening, you now begin to question if you made it through.  You deny that you are on the road to recovery.  Out of fear that what you are experiencing is true, you doubt yourself.  You start to plan for the next shoe to drop again, for a trigger to set you back and for your life to go to shit once again.  You begin to deny yourself the life you worked so fucking hard to achieve.  And, if you’re not careful, this doubt will turn into a massive pitfall for you.

So, what can you do to battle against Denial?  Embrace it, accept it, label it, shelve it, deal with it and put it to bed.  You need to recognize that you are in denial about your PTSD, about the power that it holds over you and the control that you have granted it.  If you continue to deny the existence of denial, you are simply setting yourself to continue in the darkness.  It becomes one of the choices that you have to make and the sooner you make it, the easier it will get.  When you sit down with your therapist, think of it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to deal with all those skeletons in your closet.  Open up and share.  When you are in a peer support group, be honest.  If you are struggling, tell people, ask for help.  Push beyond the denial.

Don’t deny it, lean into it.

More Cowbell (is this a metaphor???)

more_cowbell5-1972

Cowbell, and even more cowbell makes everything better.  Don’t believe me, just try it.  Once you start letting cowbell into your life, it will begin to seep into every aspect and before you know it, everywhere you turn, you will see and hear the beauty of the cowbell.  It is versatile, easy to carry anywhere and is extremely cheap.  Heck, in many cases, cowbell is free so you will have no concerns when you give it away.  The song of cowbell can turn the darkest of hearts bright again.  It can even change the world, one note at a time, if you let it.  Cowbell was, is and always will be unconditional when you give it to others and that will help creat the magic.

Okay, in all seriousness, I havent fallen off my rocker.  I’m not in some crazy medicated state that I am seeing rainbows and unicorns dancing around.  Although, many people who don’t believe it or are afraid of it will say I am.  Heck, I fully suspect that some might find this post full of shit and not want anything to do with my Blog anymore.  The idea of cowbell is so radical that the hardcore Tackleberries (Police Academy reference to the hardcore cops who know every piece of tactical equipment around) out there will refuse to accept it as a real possibility in the journey of PTSD.  All I can say is that to those people, all I can do is offer them more cowbell so that maybe they will come around.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, yes cowbell is a metaphor.  But for what you ask?  Well, continue to read on.

I mentioned a few posts back that I was planning a post on a topic that has become near and dear to me, particularly after my time at Project Trauma Support.  And, here we are now, on the verge of the post that I believe is the foundation to helping ourselves and others as we navigate through PTSD on our way to Growth.  It is so simple yet it is so hard to grasp and live by because we were trained away from it all our lives, particularly as military and first responders.  But, here it is, cowbell equals Unconditional LOVE.

Now, let’s get a few things sorted out before I continue.  I am not referring to the love for a spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, mom, dad, child, sibling, pet or anything or anyone that we would commonly say “I love you” to.  No, I am talking about a very different type of love, one that we as a society have moved away from over the course of many generations and a root cause to a lot of the issues we face daily in our lives.  The love I am talking about is the love that you show, express and offer to anyone, anything and everyone you come into contact with in your journey through life.  And, no, I am not suggesting that people should be going around say I love you to every stranger they come across, because that is not the concept of unconditional love.

Unconditional love is simply acceptance and happiness, to others and most importantly ourselves.  That’s it, that’s all.  It’s not a concept of true love, lust, admiration, trust, caring or whatever other act you can think of.  It is an acceptance of who we or the other person is, flaws and all and an unbridled desire to provide happiness to ourselves and others.  And here is the important part, unconditional love is given without a desire or need to receive anything back.

How does this fit in with PTSD you ask?

Well, lets start with ourselves.  For many with PTSD, there is a lot of shame, guilt, embarrassment, self hate / loathing and anger which we project onto ourselves.  You know what I mean, those “How could I have let this happen?”, “Why didn’t I do more?”, “What was I thinking?”.  But, what do you think would happen if instead of beating ourselves up we simply said, “I did the best I could” , “I did what I could do” or even “I survived”.  Then take that one step further and accept that reality as oppose to the negative narrative.  What happens is that you begin to open yourself up to accepting yourself, which in turn will lead to you allowing yourself to feel happiness.  Seeing how happiness and acceptance are the two cornerstones of unconditional love, without any effort to get there, you are knocking at the door to it.

Before we can heal and move forward, we first have to look within.  We need to understand that no matter what happened, at some point, we had no control over what transpired.  And, it is okay that we had no control because in life, sometimes shit just happens.  By accepting that, we just opened the door to our personal healing and more importantly to allowing ourselves to love ourselves unconditionally.  It means accepting all the faults we have, all the positives we bring with us and to begin letting go of the pain, anger, hurt, guilt and shame that we are all carrying.

For me, that meant accepting that I was not responsible for the death of the newborn, nor was anyone else in the hospital room.  I had to understand that there was nothing that could have possibly been done to save the baby by the medical personnel or myself.  It was going to happen regardless because sometimes, fucked up shitty things happen and you have no control over them.  It took 12 years of holding on to the guilt, shame and anger for me to accept this and open myself up to loving myself once again, regardless of what I did or didn’t do in the hospital.   It was when I opened myself up to accepting this that the magic of unconditional love of myself began to take hold.

Once we get to that point ourselves, we can start opening up and giving unconditional love to others.  I think that this is best understood through the use of a simple example.  Next time you go for coffee and you are next in line, approach the cashier / barista with a big smile.  Read the name tag, use the person’s name and speak in an upbeat tone.  Say please and thank you and when your done, say “I hope you have an awesome day today.”  That’s it and yes, it is that simply.  You have no idea what that other person has going on for them, whether they were just shit on by another customer or if they are struggling emotionally and like you, simply trying to put on a happy face so that you don’t have to explain what is going on to anyone.  But, in that simply interaction where you were polite,and humanized the interaction, you might have made things that much better, for them and you.

I suppose another way to look at it is to call it compassion.  Regardless of what you call it, compassion, unconditional love, etc, the results are the same in the end.  It makes you and others feel better.  And no, it’s not easy sometimes.  There are more than a few times that I would have preferred reached out and touched someone with a back hand or not interacted at all but this is life and sometimes, life isn’t easy.  But, I keep on trying because I like the feeling I get from it.  It’s like a drug, releasing endorphins in my brain.

It is hard to approach situations from a higher level and not get dragged down into the negative.  It happens all the time and more than once a day I catch myself sliding down too.  But, sometimes you just have to remember a simple phrase to help turn it around.

More Love, Less Judgement.

Try it, just for the hell of it.

Trauma Jumping

jumper

So, this is something that I have been pondering for sometime now and the more I think about it, the more sense it is making to me.  And, because there is a love for snappy phrases or descriptors when you are taking about PTSD, I came up with “Trauma Jumping”.

Trauma Jumping is the repetitive action most first responder, military and heck, really anyone inflicted with PTSD, goes through at one point and time.  For simplicity sake, and this is in no way backed by scientific evidence or research, but trauma jumping is going from one trauma to another without processing the previous trauma.  Mull that over for a second and think back to your own personal story.  See what I mean.  You were either in a repetitive cycle of dealing with trauma after trauma or you self developed a trauma to replace the one that just happened.  I’m going to delve into both in more detail, separately.

Trauma to Trauma……….

I’m going to go out on a limb and automatically group first responders and military into this group.  And it is solely for the reason that by the nature of those occupations, you have no choice but to jump from trauma to trauma / call to call.  The negative impacts of it however happen when there is no debriefing or break in between the situations.  In those cases, you start building up a catalogue of traumas that will surely come back to bite the hand that feeds it, when you least expect it.   To be clear, this can also apply to sanctuary trauma as well.

Self Developed Trauma……..

Something just terrible happened and regardless of your feelings about it, you begin to set up a series of situations that will allow for further trauma.  (No this isn’t victim blaming).  The situations could be interpersonal with family and friends or involving complete strangers.  Now here is the kicker.  This lines up nicely with trauma to trauma people as they seek to get the rush of trauma again.  Yep, that’s right, they become one and the same.

Think of the science behind trauma and how the brain and body react to it.  This is the rush, the adrenaline kick that you get as that old reptilian brain kicks in and you either fight or flight in the situation.  As long as you are trauma jumping, everything is good.  You fuel that addiction to the rush and the world is groovy, even in the worst of moments.  You think you are controlling it and keeping everything in check  Chances are, you are probably right and everything is fine.  But, what happens when you are off and away from the constant rush?

You guess it, you begin to develop situations that will give you a little adrenaline rush.  How many first responders ride motorcycles, skydive, scuba dive, mountain bike, race in marathons or some other sports?  Why is that?  What are they searching for?  Ask them and they will all say the same thing, “I like the feeling……” or some variant of that.  They like the feeling because it gives the same, but lesser, bump that trauma does.  It is pushing that reptilian brain of ours to fire off the flight or fight response.  We get the rush.

Last summer is when I really started noticing this.  I was off work, no longer in the trauma jumpers paradise.  I was down and needed a pick me up.  I turned to weights and mountain biking.  In the gym, I begin pushing myself hard.  I was zeroing in on a 405 lbs deadlift.  My wife asked me why I was pushing so hard.  Pfff, easy answer, “because I can!”  It was also around this time that I kissed the dirt more than a few times on the trails while riding.  I was pushing myself to my extreme and was loving it.  I was developing potential traumas (injuries) in order to get that rush.  I was feeling pain and loved it because for the first time in a long time, I was in control of the pain and not some distant memory causing it.

Then I asked my psychologist about it.  Was I intentionally trying to self harm through so-called “legitimate” activities.  Seriously, if I hurt myself pushing weights or riding my mountain bike, people would have just thought that it was my normal accident prone self at play.  No one would question that I was self harming.  Hell, I didn’t even think I was self harming but looking back on it now?????  Damn straight, that’s what it was.  I was self creating trauma.  I was seeking the rush to fill the void.  If I was trauma jumping again I wouldn’t have to feel the pain because I could simply shut it down and shelve it so that I could move onto the next trauma, get my rush, push the emotions down a bit further and repeat.

I stopped the cycle with the advise of my psychologist who wisely stated; “It is self harm if you are intentionally pushing yourself to set up an injury.”  Of course at the time I quickly stated that it is not the case and FIDO (Fuck It and Drive On).  But it stuck with me as most good therapy should and I began to see it for what it truly was.  I was trying to do everything in my power to replace my trauma pain so that I could return to the trauma jumping cycle.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, just think of some of the behaviours associated with PTSD.  You have any number of addictions (alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, etc), erratic behaviours, promiscuous acting out, OCD etc, etc, etc…..  What are they doing to the person, although many time they are hidden by the individual from others, is allowing for the continuation of trauma.  Why?  Well, I fully believe that at some  subconscious level, we have embraced our traumas and through these behaviours, you feel a sense of connection and peace, if that makes sense.  You also see it in people who jump from one treatment program to the next.  Those people caught a high from a treatment program and now they are chasing the dragon so to speak in their quest to feel the rush again.  It’s not destructive but it definitely is yet another form of trauma jumping.

But what can we do?  Well, it becomes a matter of recognizing that we are trauma jumping and put and effort into understanding why.  The only way out of the cycle is to stop the cycle and put the necessary pieces in place to counteract trauma jumping.  For me, that has been meditation, sensible exercise, journaling and this blog.  There is truly something liberating about airing your dirty laundry so to speak……

So, to butcher an old saying, “Next time you’re about to trauma jump, stop and look before you leap and think it out before you do.”

Life

day 4So, I am feeling somewhat apologetic as I have not been maintaining my 7 day rule of trying to keep up with posting new content.  But I can assure you, it has been for a darn good reason.  And, yep, you got it, that reason is LIVING.

A funny thing has happened to me in my journey through PTSD.  I have begun to live life again as if PTSD wasn’t part of my life.  Or maybe a better way to put it is that my PTSD no longer has absolute control over how I live my life.  It really is strange how I got to this point of pushing through to PTSD Growth verse wallowing in the darkness.  As much as I would love to tall how I did it, I can’t tell you the specifics.  But I can tell you a bit of the journey to get here and it is fair to say that Bob was right once again.  Freeing yourself from mental slavery is the biggest part of it.

Although this is going to sound simply, anyone dealing with PTSD will understand just how monumental of a task it is not only to simply live with PTSD but also to do the work required to simply keep living.  For me, this journey has been one year of regular therapy with an awesome psychologist who wasn’t afraid to tell me just how fucked up some of the situations I got into as a police officer were.  She took the oddity of PTSD and normalized it for me making me realize that those things would mess anyone up.  She helped laid the foundation for me to work through my PTSD and helped position me for success as I continued on.

The next step was talking everything I learned about myself and my PTSD and ripping it wide open for others to see.  Now, I am not referring to some public display or uncontrolled outburst.  I am talking about sitting in a group of my peers, all who are also dealing with PTSD, and baring my inner most darkest moments.  And, in the process, I sat and listened to their stories as they related their darkest moments too.  Some amazing things happen when you lean in and allow your mind to begin breaking away from that mental slavery that PTSD commands.  Sometimes, those amazing things are so unexplainable as well that you just have to sit back and go for the ride, taking in everything that happens.

And that is exactly what I did.  I leaned in and accepted what was happening.  But I never would have expected what happened.  Anger that I thought I dealt with came out.  Pain I never realized I had surfaced and then it happened.  I hit the bottom, looked over at the wonderful person that runs Project Trauma Support, had tears streaming down my face and said “I just realized how fucked up I am.”  I couldn’t hide it, I couldn’t suppress it any longer.  It was all there and I was miles below it looking up trying to figure out what as going to happen next.  I then remember looking at her, seeing unconditional love and acceptance while I was dealing with my lowest of low and heard the words “Now we need to figure out where to go from here.”  But here is the funny part.  I’m not sure who said that to me but it in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Seeing how Avengers was just released, I think it is a perfect depiction of what happened.  In that instance, it was as if Thanos snapped his fingers and things started to disappear.  Everything came to a head and I knew where I needed to go – Upwards out of the darkness.

In that moment, I made the decision that I had to accept that PTSD is part of my life but in no way shape or form is it my LIFE.  I other words, I know that I was the only one that could free my mind and that is exactly what I did.

Has it been easy since that moment.  No fucking way!  It has been a challenge everyday to stay focussed on moving forward and not allowing myself be sucked downward.  And, there have been a few times that the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee took over and started leading me downward but luckily, I have been able to stop the decline.  In those down moments, I make myself rise to the challenge to go through the issue.  I process it, ask what is happening, why is it happening, is this real or something that my PTSD is making me think is real and what do I need to do to get past this?

Usually, this means journaling what is happening, stepping back for a moment and checking in with others to help change the focus.  Most times, it turns around pretty quick but I have had a few moments that lasted.  One of the biggest ones was a trip to the ER with my wife.  It poked the sleeping PTSD dragon in an ugly way and it was few days of processing to work through but I did.  And what was the straw that helped me break free from it?  It was me remembering the expressions on the doctor and nurse’s face when I thanked them that helped break me free from the downward swing.  That simple gesture of giving unconditional love brought back so much in return and it is truly the secret weapon against PTSD (hint: this is definitely be an upcoming post).

Now, I am not suggesting that you have to hit bottom before you can start living again but for me, that was exactly what needed to happen.  I was stuck holding on to anger and I was pretending that my PTSD wasn’t so bad, that it could be handled and controlled.  What I will suggest is that anyone dealing with PTSD needs to 1) find the right people to help them through their journey and 2) at some point, you need to make a mental choice or decision to lean in and move forward from the place you are at, even in a micro way.

And that movement forward doesn’t have to be a monumental step like being the first to step on the moon or to plant the flag on the top of the world.  It can simply be getting out of bed, having something to eat, sitting on the front step on a warm day, calling a friend up out of he blue or smiling and saying thank you to the barista at the local coffee shop.  I doesn’t have to be huge but the results will be.  Eventually, you will notice that for the first time in a long time, you live a little without PTSD being in the forefront.

#morelovelessjudgement

Do triggers really exist?

trigger

I am going to say something that might upset people.  Heck, it might even piss off a few people and cause people to think that I am full of shit and don’t know what I am talking about.  But as always, hear me out til the end.  If you don’t believe I made the point, tell me.  Lets work through this and come to a common ground.  But first and foremost, read on.

When dealing with PTSD we always talk about triggers.  Actions, words, sights, smells, foods, situations or what have you that cause a reaction within us.  We tell ourselves and others that it’s a trigger.  For me, babies under the age of 3 months were huge for me.  Watching a Huggies or Pampers commercial on TV would set off a panic attack of epic proportions.  I would be frozen in fear.  It was ugly and these moments controlled my life and forced me to change-up how I would do things to ensure that I would limit my potential exposure to babies.  It was bad and it was a textbook “trigger” according to the professionals and every piece of research and commentary out there.  But here is the reality……..

Triggers aren’t real.  Literally and figuratively.  They are not real.

I know you are thinking that I just said that I was triggered by babies.  Go back and read that paragraph again.  Did I say that babies were MY trigger?  I did say that it is considered a textbook trigger according to the conventional PTSD theories but I no longer see it as a trigger to me.  So, you are probably a bit amped up right now at this statement and are wondering what the hell are they smart guy if it isn’t a trigger?  Well, simply put it is a MEMORY.

I know you’re thinking that this is wacked.  A memory that causes you to react is a trigger as per the definitions out there so I’m describing a trigger.  Nope………  a trigger is something that you don’t have control over.  Something else is telling you that you are supposed to react to what is being presented and that removes any and all control you have over the situation and how you will deal with the memory.  By buying into the “trigger” concept, we limit ourselves and prevent ourselves from moving forward because we are stuck in fear, terror, anxiety, panic or whatever other emotion cascades over us.

Throughout our day, we are usually bombarded with lots of memories from our past, both bad and good.  But, we aren’t set off by all of these memories.  Why is that?  It comes down to us not giving up control of those emotional memories and living through and with them.  Even when I think of times that I might have gotten hurt as a kid, as bad as the memory of the pain and fear might be, it ends with the memory of my mom taking care of me, nurturing the pain away and cleaning up the wound.  Sure, I could sit there and focus on the injury, the pain and the fear but the focus becomes the mother’s love given at a time of need.  So, in essence, I controlled the narrative of the memory and shaped it to my liking.

Now consider that same scenario as it could apply to a PTSD memory or by definition a trigger.  What if instead of allowing the memory to dictate the narrative, you decided to focus on a positive from the memory and keep that focus while you rode out the memory?  If you can’t see one right off the bat, the easiest one is “You made it through it once, you lived”.  That’s the biggest positive so focus on that to start as you move forward.  You will see more and more moments that are actually positives that you experienced.  You will also begin to take control over the memories and dictate how they impact on you.

Believe me, I know this sounds simplistic and far-fetched but it does work.  And it is hard work but we all have a choice to make and sometimes, it’s the uncomfortable choices that we need to make to move forward.  Remember I said babies were bad jub-jub for me?  Well, I practice what I preach and with a combination of prolonged exposure, talking and some hard work, I took that memory and made it mine.  I accepted all the bad that happened, got mad and then took control over the memory by saying it was “sad” that it happened.  It is still a memory that comes up every once and awhile but I control the narrative and what part I want to focus on instead of allowing it to control me.

To explain what I mean is actually pretty easy.  I can now watch any Huggies commercial and see the beauty of a newborn child.  Hell, I even watched an episode of Greys Anatomy where a 21 week old premie was born and died (This is identical to my moral injury with the exception of what happened after the birth) but I watched the whole damn thing, without going off the deep end.  Afterwards I simply thought to myself, that this is such a sad situation and I know exactly how they feel.  Full stop.  Nothing more, nothing less.

There are so many aspects of PTSD and it’s associated behaviours that we can’t control.  Yet one area that we can begin to take back that control is one of the scariest.  And, I am not saying to go all radical and put yourself in front of a screen and play a loop of your triggers.  That is a set up for failure and not recommended in any way shape or manner.  Instead, when you are triggerd by a memory, take the first step and stop calling it a trigger.  Call it what it is –  a memory.  Next put the adjective to it –  a sad memory, a scary memory.  Then you will start to do the hard work to recognize that even in the worst moments of our trauma, there are positives that happened that we need to find and learn from them.

So, yes, our triggers aren’t real.  They are simply memories of things that have happened in the past.  By controlling the narrative of our memories and focussing on the positives, we start to move away from Post Traumatic Stress and begin the journey to Post Traumatic Growth.  And let me tell you, Post Traumatic Growth is a beautiful thing to experience.

 

Why is this happening?

Well, I was actually going to be writing about the power of music but the events of this past week made me change it up.  And, before I go any further, this might be a trigger filled post for some.  Heck the pic is enough to cause a reaction or two on its own.

Another member of a law enforcement agency in Canada took his own life this past week.  He died from suicide.  He killed himself.  The reasons for him believing this was the only means for him to help himself end the pain he was enduring will probably never be known, as is usually the case.  Suicide leaves a lot of unanswered questions in its wake and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change it.  I am sorry that he didn’t see any other route.  It saddens me that he saw this as his own viable option to help himself.  I’m hurting that yet another Brother within the policing family and more so of the human family decided to take his own life to end his suffering and pain.  But, I want to make this absolutely clear, I’m not mad at him for doing this.

What I am mad at……  No correction, what I am FUCKING PISSED about to the depth of my core is what is going on behind the scene.  The inaction by agencies, including military commands, to step up and deal with the issues that are causing the respective members to seek out suicide as a means of stopping their pain.  Pain, which in many instances is exacerbated by the ongoing sanctuary trauma that is inflicted day in and day out.  But as has been the case for the past while, the “leaders” step up to the pulpit and decree that we “are awaiting the results of a study” or “we are researching ways to help” or “we are looking at how we can support our members”………………  Well, here’s a news flash, the answers are already right in fucking front of these “leaders” but no one is willing to step up and do what needs to be done or said.

So, without receiving any of the millions in government funding to look for the answers, I will give the solution that every first responder agency and military is avoiding like the plague.  Ready for it?

The leaders of these groups, or even the government, need to come out and clearly state that “We have a mental health crisis on our hands brought on by the service these women and men take upon themselves to help others.  We are failing in this battle.”  End of statement, full stop.  That fucking simply.  I know you are now wanting to call bullshit that it isn’t that simple but please indulge me a bit further and you will see how such a small and simply statement would make a difference.  When I’m done, if you still want to call bullshit, feel free but keep reading first.

The simply act of admitting that there is a crisis opens up the issue for everyone to see.  It takes away the power from those that are trying to cover up the reality of the crisis and forces them to acknowledge, against their professional or personal desires, that there is a problem.  It also opens the conversation up in a big way with the rank and file, knowing that the bosses have come out and said we have a problem.  There is no more hiding behind the vail or waiting for a study or review to be completed before comment.  The band-aid has been ripped off and oozing scab is there for everyone to see.  Don’t hid the fact that some members make a choice to end their lives by suicide.  Do you get the idea?

Once the leader of any organization says that there is a crisis in regards to mental health, it can no longer be denied in the open forum (although I fully believe some would still cry foul that there isn’t a crisis).  Meaningful steps can be put into place to help deal with the crisis in a fulsome way and not the lipstick on a pig approach we now have.  If the message comes from the top down, the change starts happening from the top down (I am a firm believer that change at the working level has already begun to take hold).  And with the change, there can start to be healing and hope brought into the picture.  At some point, you achieve 360 degree communication on the mental health crisis and it becomes normalized in everyday conversation.  And, that is when the true battle can be fought and won.  The leaders need to admit that their respective organization / agency is broken so that they can start to fix it.

But, sadly, this will never happen, regardless of how simple it would be to start.  The reason is unfortunately equally as simply but uglier than having to deal with another member who took their life by suicide.  The reason is LIABILITY.  The almighty dollars and cents.  The only reason why no “leader” has stepped up and publicly said there is a crisis and we are failing in dealing with it.  That would imply that they recognize that the traumas endured through doing the job and the trauma inflicted via coworkers and supervisors is causing unheard of numbers of members to be diagnosed with PTSD  and a few to take their own lives by suicide.  It would be a financial suicide for the agency / organization or I should say that they think and believe it to be…….

Well, fuck LIABILITY, stand up, do what’s right and make suicide an “ON DUTY INJURY”! Recognize it as such, pay out the benefits entitled to an on-duty death, full regimental/agency honours,  and take ownership that the agency failed one of its own.  Imagine what would happen if an agency leader did that.

I would work for any leader that had the guts to stand up and say that they failed the member that took their own life by suicide.  Or that they took their own life because we didn’t do enough to normalize the conversation about mental health, didn’t make the process of getting help easier and allowed bullies to remain in positions of leadership.  That would be a true leader looking out for their charges.  Sadly, the fear of admitting liability is keeping the appointed leaders from stepping up and doing this.

So there you go.  One simply statement that could change the mental health crisis battle if it came from the leaders of the agencies, organizations or even governments that hold power.  The rank and file have been screaming this for years yet no one higher up is willing to join the screams.  And unfortunately, until they do, suicide will still be an answer that some see as away out of the pain and countless others will continue to suffer from the damages their service has caused.

RIP Brother.  May your death by suicide help bring the change needed to end suicide as an option.

As a post script, go back and re-read the post.  Count how many times I used the word suicide.  It needs to be said openly, all the time, without hesitation.  It is not a dirty word or an offensive word.  If you want the suicide of first responder, military and any human being to stop, you need to use the fucking word.  Suicide – it is only deadly when we don’t talk about it.

More love, less judgement.

The sound of Music

yelling marmot

A great warrior once told me that “Pearl Jam” has the depth of emotional range that really hits you”.  Now I am not going to spend the entire post speaking the values and benefits of Pearl Jam (which I believe to be one of the better bands out there) but I am going to talk about music.  And more particularly, the power that music can have for us and over us.

When I use to work in the treatment centre before I became a police officer, you could always tell the tone of the unit by the type of music that was being played by the kids.  Up beat, happy, dance type music and you were walking onto a unit that was good and settled.  Angry gangsta rap, metal, death metal or worse, the slow love ballad and you were guaranteed to be in for a no stop evening of issues and problem.  When you actually sit down and look at it, it wasn’t so much that music set the tone but more aptly told you the tone.  But what if I told you that it wasn’t that the music was telling the tone in so much as the music was expressing the tone of the individual kids for that day.

In the course of my treatment for PTSD, I have personally experienced the power of music in regards to the good and bad it can produce.  Music, regardless of genre, can lift your day, elevate your mood and put you on the right track.  Unfortunately, it can also do the exact opposite and push you further down the rabbit hole.  It tends to be the latter that PTSD tends to drag you towards as it always easier to slip then climb.  The trick is learning what power music has over you and how to try to use it for your personal growth vs destruction.

The challenge then becomes how can we use music to alter our mood and lift us out of the darkness vs keeping us down.  I wish I could give some detailed list of steps to use but it isn’t like that.  There is no trick to it but is very hard to grasp at times because we like to seek out our comfort at times of anxiety, pain and discomfort.  If we are made, we go to the hard-driving tunes to push us along because that is what the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee tells us to listen to.  Once the Committee takes hold and gains that control, you go with the flow and the deeper you go.

But, what would happen if in that moment, you shut down the Committee in your head and do a 180 degree change with the music your are listen to.  Push away from the hard-driving tune and find something upbeat.  And yes, I know shutting down the Committee is fucking hard and sometimes it feels comforting to just ride the wave.  It is known, it is what we perceive at the time as being a comfort to us as we convince ourselves that it is letting the anger and pain out.  Yet, the only thing the hard-driving song is doing is escalating our trip into the darkness.  And please don’t get me wrong, it isn’t necessarily hard-driving tunes that will do this.  It is as individual as PTSD is.  Some people are triggered by slow, descriptive songs about love, lost and pain.

That’s the power of music and PTSD.  It doesn’t care what genre you like, it will find the weakness and run with it.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say polka tunes will set someone off but that’s the point, you don’t know until it happens.  Heck, if I am going to be honest, I might be pushed to anger if I was subjected to polka.  It’s individual and specific to the person listening to the song.

Knowing this power of music, I have made sure that I have a variety of music on my phone which includes Buddhist meditative chanting.  When I notice that I might be slipping because of what I am listening to, I change it up and pick something that I know will have a more positive impact.  For me right now, it is Weezer’s Teal album which is all covers of songs that I use to listen to growing up, including my favourite, Africa.  That’s my go to as I know it will pick me up.  For others, including my Warrior brother, it is Pearl Jam.  But, as I am typing this, i am hearing Weezere’s version of Take On Me by Ahha.  The happy memories are flooding in and it’s hard to keep focus on writing.

That’s the power of music.  It can be a wonderful tool for our growth and benefit and yet if we are not careful, it can be our bane.  And yes, that is a singing beaver picture…….

Wait, I didn’t explain how the power of music pushed me….

Before I shut this on down, I guess I should explain how music helped me in my treatment.  I harboured a lot of anger that related to my involvement with the baby death.  When I say a lot, I mean a lot.  I kept it suppressed and refused to let it go.  It was a comfort in some ways.  I now know that it was actually what was holding me back from moving forward.  Through the use of music, that anger came out and it was cathartic.  Luckily, it happened in a very controlled and safe environment as it was one of the most powerful thing I have ever experienced.  I felt the anger build up inside of me and it ripping out of my body.  All from music.

Shortly after the release of anger, I then experienced the beauty of music and it was the most uplifting thing I have ever felt.  With the anger released, I was open to the experiences around me and I felt true, unconditional love, peace and calm.  Think of a mother’s compassion for a sick child.  Music was that powerful for me.

I know people are thinking that I am off my rocker but I also know that it has and had the same effects on others.  Music is powerful and that power can be harnessed to aid us in our growth instead of exacerbating our pain.