What the Hell Just Happened??

fourthawakening

No I am not referring to any NEWS article or story about a world leader getting caught doing something they shouldn’t be.  Nor, am I thinking about anything going on in my neck of the world.  I am simply thinking about my past week and all the things that happened.

This past week, I went to a residential (live in) treatment program designed to deal with PTSD and Moral Injuries (more about moral injuries will be coming, trust me). Being removed from the program for two days now, I can honestly say that I am still trying to process what exactly went on and the depth of the changes that took place within me.  The despair of PTSD has been morphed into something completely 180 degrees from it and as exciting as it is, it is also scary as all hell.  And now here is the rub, I’m going to tell you about the program without telling you anything about it.  Confused?  Good, now we are on an even playing field.

The program I went to is called Project Trauma Support (PTS) and it is based in a little town called Perth, Ontario.  PTS is geared towards military and first responders suffering from moral injuries and/or PTSD and it takes a completely fresh approach to dealing with the issues attached to both.  After arriving, you quickly learn that you are no longer in Kansas, although there were a few dogs kicking around, and you just have to go with the flow.  Over the following days, something begins to change within you and you start to see things in a very different light.  Your perceptions change and evolve and before you realize it, it is time to pack up and return to your everyday world.

For me, the most impactful part of the week was being able to sit in a room with 7 other individuals who just know exactly what you are going through without having to tell them about it.  We became a tribe of warriors taking on the battle of a lifetime.  I was humbled, brought to tears, emotional beaten up, laughed, cried some more, formed bonds and walked out with my head held high.  I experienced the true meaning of Brotherly (Human) love and felt the support of those around me, who just a few days prior were perfect strangers.  Saying that there were changes and evolution during this time is truly an understatement.  But one thing I realized was just how damaged or to use my exact words “How fucked up I am” from all the things that I have been involved in.

So, after I left, I was thrown into a trial by fire.  As I was heading back to the highway, I was involved in a minor accident.  Did it piss me off, yep.  Did I lose my shit over it, nope.  I just let it happen realizing that I did everything I could (swerved to miss the on coming car) that I could and the rest was out of my control……  Sure I’m sore and stiff but the funny thing is that okay mentally with it.  It didn’t result in some flashback to an accident scene nor did it bring up memories of injuries or death.  I just did what you do after an accident and carried on my merry way.

I suppose it would be fair and safe to say that I now look at my PTSD as a Badge of Honour.  I got it from doing and seeing the things that humans shouldn’t have to be part of.  Basically, I did the dirty work so that others wouldn’t have to do it.  The unfortunate part is that it left me with these battle scares so to speak which will be with me for the rest of my life.  But that is not to say that they will control me for the rest of my life as I am focussing my energy on reframing the negative and using it as a means to grow beyond my current state.  I know, it sounds like a whole bunch of hippie, long hair, drum banging horse shit but I’m going with it.  In a week, it has caused changes to take hold and it is now a part of my journey, a tool if you will, that will help me on my way.

As an example of the results, the other night, I talked in-depth with my wife about some of the incidents I was involved in.  Sure I got sad at the memories as they came flooding back but they didn’t terrorize me.  They didn’t make me freeze up.  They were just there.  I allowed them to happen without consuming me.  And yes, I am aware that I am riding a wave right now and eventually it will crash into the shoreline.  But, I fully believe that when it does crash, it will not be the tsunami coming to shore but more of a gentle rolling wave, hitting the shore and slowly returning to the ocean.

This week, leading up to an important trauma anniversary, I will be discussing moral injuries and sanctuary trauma/injuries a bit as these are two of the main contributors to my PTSD.

The Week that Was

sevendwarfsmarching

Yep, that’s right.  I went to work this week for the first time since May 4.  Ten months to the day not including all the pre-visits that I did leading up to the big day as part of my therapy to get ready for the big day.  Pre visits you ask?  Well, yeah, I did a series of practice runs to get to the office and no it is not because I forgot how to get there.  Prior to going off work and over the last while, any time I travelled int he general direction of the office, I was overcome with anxiety / panic attacks.  The pre visits were meant to help me deal with the anxiety and show myself that nothing would happen.

So, the day arrived and I walked into the office with a whole shit tonne of apprehension and irrational fear that I would be crumbled to nothing in front of my coworkers by some mysterious PTSD force.  Happy to report that didn’t happen but it was far from easy.  But it was not the worse thing that happened to me either.  In fact, when I think back on it, it was an interesting experience for many different reasons.

I went in determined to not let the environment or people get me down so I found myself going on an offensive of sorts right off the bat.  For me, that is usually using humour to break the ice and that is exactly what I did.  With both the Staff and the Officer in |Charge, I proudly declared that “Space Cadet  Jay is reporting for duty”.  It seemed to take a bit of the edge off for me and I began to navigate the rest of the office.  There were a few genuine reaction to be being back with a colleague’s big hug and exuberant “I’m so glad you are back” topping off the day, heck, the best couple of months for me.  It was an example of why I have seen this person as a support for me that I truly can rely on.

The rest of the time, which was slated for an hour (Gradual return to duty being the key) went by without any major blips.  What became obvious to me is that it is going to be difficult to figure out what my new normal will be at work.  With this restarting of sorts of my career, I need to learn how to work with my triggers and protect myself from allowing myself to take on more trauma.  After the hour, I was wiped.  It is hard to pretend that everything is okay and wear a smile so that others don’t worry about you.  All part of trying not to be the guy with mental health issues.

Thankfully, I am starting to understand this sooner than later.  The next shift I was scheduled for happened to land on a day that the area was dealing with an ice storm.  So, instead of saddling up and making my way in, I simply sent an email stating that risk/reward for me to travel in this weather to say I did an hour sift just wasn’t there.  And you know what, I didn’t feel bad about it.  It was the right thing to do for myself.

I finished off the week with the my involvement in the final step of a Moral Injury research project I got screened into.  Almost one hour of a MRI brain scan while reciting a moral injury situation and a neutral situation, along with questions and two pre and post scans for comparison.  It took a lot out of me but as I was leaving, I spoke with the Research C|oordinator and said that the findings won’t help me but maybe they will be used to help those that will start their PTSD journey.

And now, I have to go and pack.  Tomorrow I leave for a week so that I can take part in a PTSD / Moral Injury residential program.  I am scared of the unknown but excited that this might help put the pieces together.  It will also be the first time since my diagnosis that I will be away from home for a prolonged period of time.  Last time, my world came crashing down, maybe this time, I will be able to further rebuild that world.

Did Sleeping Beauty have PTSD?

sleeping dog

No, I am not going to attack Disney for its portrayal of Sleeping Beauty or any of the Disney characters, although I believe I could make a very strong argument to outline the years of abuse she suffered led to a damaging diagnosis of PTSD.  Seriously, what else would cause someone to sleep all the time?

For me, sleep or being rested in general has been like searching for a unicorn.  Apparently it is possible but it hasn’t been available to me yet.  There are days where shortly after getting out of bed, I am solely focussed on trying not to return to bed to go back to sleep.  I am in a constant state of exhaustion and ever do I feel rested throughout the entire day.

Part of the issue, according to the research I have been doing, is that your mind isn’t working properly so it takes a lot of energy to get through simple tasks.  And I am not talking about anything extreme when I say tasks.  I am referring to daily activities, brushing your teeth, preparing supper, writing a blog…….  They all take a toll on you and can zap your energy fairly quickly.

But, what I find to be the real kicker is just being myself, trying to go about doing normal daily things.  That can be too bad you ask?  Well, when you consider that as soon as you leave you house, you become  hyper vigilant about everything and anything around you, you put on a happy face even if you feel like crap mentally, and you fight back anxiety for being out in public, you can see the amount of energy you need to use to just be me.  It amazes me just how much energy it takes to “put your best foot forward” to help others around you feel that you are doing good.  I know, that sounds funny about even when you are at your lowest or down for the day, you still want to eliminate the worry and concern that others feel for you.  So, the best way to do that is to make it look like you are okay.

But, as you can imagine, it has an impact on you.  For me, it is exhaustion.  For others, it could run the gambit of possibilities.  It all depends and although there are some consistent symptoms and reactions with PTSD, in the ned, it is very individualized.   I tend to take a lot of naps when I am exhausted or have time alone.  I see it as a necessary evil as I know for me to be functioning and in the moment with family, as much as possible that is, I have to take the time to be semi-rested.  Sunday for an example, we did hockey in the am, got back home and within an hour, I was out cold for a good 2 hours.  I missed 2 hours of the day but it gave me the charge to spend the rest of the day doing stuff.

Today, I am going to try a different approach though.  I start my return to work today and although it is only an hour of being in the office, I know I will be drained before too long.  Heck, I am exhausted already and all I did was take the little guy to school and had breakfast.  But regardless, my plan is to get home after, do som mindfulness exercises and stay away from the bed or couch for as long as possible.  That’s the plan.  Hopefully, I can pull it off and not sleep during he day today.  If nt, I am going to have to work in nap time to my work schedule.

Coming Out

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Yes, I understand that potential impact of a title like “Coming Out” but bear with me for a few minutes.  And, no, I am not making a post professing any sexual orientation or perspective.  It will all make sense in a few more lines.

So, tomorrow in Canada, January 30, 2019, is Bel’sl #BellLetsTalk campaign.  For those not in Canada, Bell Media is one of the largest entertainment and communication companies in Canada and every year, they set aside one day in which post, tweets, text, etc that carry the hashtag, #BellLetsTalk, result in a $0.05 donation for every hashtag to Mental Health programs in Canada.  It is a huge step in the right direction to de-stigmatize Mental Illness and also a pretty good fundraising idea to boot.  The most important part of this campaign has been the strategic use of celebrities to tell their stories and the struggles they have faced in overcoming their own mental illnesses.

This is big in the battle.  So, why I am writing about it.  Well, I fully believe that one of the reasons that I have come out and openly discussed by diagnosis of PTSD and Depression has been because of the #BellLetsTalk campaign.  It has opened the door to start the process of normalizing mental illness and making it like any other ailment that people have.  So, yeah, I have a mental illness, deal with it.

But to be honest, the #BellLetsTalk campaign has also had a weird affect on me.  When I first started seeing the commercials for this year’s campaign, I would get upset and sad  because it made me realize that they were targeting me.  Then, I started to get really pissed off at the commercials because they were targeting me (Logically illogical PTSD brain).  It was in these moments of anger that I truly began to realize and accept that “I SUFFER FROM A MENTAL ILLNESS!”

It is hard to accept that your life will forever be different as you see things very differently now but that’s why this is a journey.  The ending hasn’t been written so I have the power to dictate exactly how things go, provided I keep myself on the right path, pick myself up when I fail or trip and rely and trust the people I consider my supports.  And, most importantly, stand up and proudly acknowledge that I am living with a mental illness that is the result of my service to my country.  Something that I am proud to do and would not change for the world, even though this isn’t the result I was hoping for.

But, as I said in a forum the other day, “if me being open and up front about my struggles with PTSD and Depression causes me to be subjected to the stigma of mental illness and treated different, I will gladly take it on if coming out about it helps one other person step away from the darkness.”

Logically illogical

spock-illogical

Damn straight……  I should just leave it at that and be done with the post for today but unfortunately I don’t think that would serve its purpose now would it.  I suppose I should also put a caveat up saying that I am not too sure which direction this post will actually take today, and that’s okay, I think.

One of the strange things that I have noticed is that at times, my mind just doesn’t care about what is logical or illogical.  It just thinks.  And that thinking, is sometimes so out of whack it almost makes sense.  But most of the times, it turns out to be a struggle for  myself as I sit and try to figure out what it was I was thinking about, why I was thinking about that and why the hell would I be thinking about that.

Case in point, the other day I had this strange desire to locate a pair of mitts that I had.  I started looking half ass for them but as I couldn’t find them easily, I began to invest more time and thought into trying to find them.  I began to plan a methodical search, room by room, for these damn mitts.  It began to bother me that I couldn’t find them.  I re-searched the same areas more than once but couldn’t locate them.  Then I began to doubt myself that I was actually looking hard enough to find the mitts.  I even went so far as to think that if I wasn’t searching hard enough that I don’t deserve to find them.  (Notice anything…..)

Yep, my desire to find the mitts began to turn into catastrophic thinking.  Somehow, I went from thinking I should locate my mitts to self-doubt and then to believing that I was sabotaging my own efforts to find them.  Good old PTSD – turning logical thought into illogical panic since May 2018…..  But a strange thing happened.  I was able to stop myself from the downward spiral and I simply gave up before I got too far down the rabbit hole.  I recognized how off my thinking was getting and decided that the most logical response was to stop the illogical search. And yes, I realise that we all go through these little scenarios but the difference is do you think that the worse possible outcome will happen if you don’t find the object you are searching for????  Because somehow, the search for my mitts turned into the quest for the Holy Grail.

Even a few days later, my wife asked if I found the mitts yet, I took a second and then said nope.  It was in the momentary second before I answered that the illogical idea popped up that I could look again for them but, once again, I stopped the though from taking hold.  But damn, even as I am writing this, I am thinking of possible locations for where I could look again to find the mitts.  It’s really that easy for the illogical to take over the logical when it comes to PTSD.  Regardless though, I am proud to say that I am refusing to carry on the search in any way shape or form. for those damn mitts.  It has now become a matter of principle.

That’s right, the illogical has now become logical.