Sunday, April 5, 2015

Day in the Life - Mental Health Minute 2

Do you remember my blog post from March 9th?  The one where I shared what 'a day in the life of someone with PTSD' is like?  Well, last week I got a do-over.  A take two.  A chance to film the CTV's Mental Health Minute segment all over again.

I was a bit anxious driving to the location where we were taping, remembering what happened the first time.  I told myself to breathe.  Relax.  You got this and you know this.  I prayed.  But, the anxiety was still there and I have to admit, I did think about cancelling but I knew that if I did, then fear would win.  PTSD would win.  I would lose.  I told myself, "Laurel, you are doing this and you're gonna rock this and you're going to win."  

We all have a choice about how to respond to the circumstances in our lives and it's the only thing WE control.  That's a lot of control.  Think about it.  We decide what is going to hold the power in our lives.  I know that it's not always that simple if you deal with triggers and flashbacks because sometimes that overrides any ability to have a rational response, but we have a choice whether to let fear win or not.  (Sidenote: Have you read Fearless Living by Rhonda Britten??? If not, check it out and read how much of a role fear plays in our lives.  Rhonda is one of my everyday heroes and she thrived after trauma and has an amazing story.)

It's my current self-challenge right now, to fight fear when it appears.  It won't necessarily go away completely, but feel the fear and do it anyway.  Push through, don't let it steal opportunities from you and if necessary, ask for help when you need it.  

So, here is the result of the taping of our segment on CTV Atlantic's Mental Health Minute - take number two - that aired this past week.  Click on the link and the video will pop up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dixon's Story, PTSD Service Dog - a Guest Post by L.A.

Laurel's Note: Welcome to the Blog World, L.A. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience, and Dixon, with us!

For years the casual consideration to blog about my PTSD experience has been quelled by procrastination, a disguise of vulnerability at least until today.  Today’s motivation to blog comes from what actually happened to my service dog, Dixon.  My story can wait another day but his cannot because his story represents many others.  

Dixon as a Puppy-in-training with National Service Dogs
His story is about the life and duty of every National Service Dog.  His is one based on careful selection of trusted breeds, generationally sound genetics, kind and willing temperament, but most importantly the ability to demonstrate selflessness well into white whiskers.  For most pups training begins at 9 weeks of age when dedicated puppy raisers pour love and affection into precious souls in order to build a puppy into a stellar dog, a dog with confidence, a dog with an imbedded sense of responsibility. With tears of sacrifice and trepidation puppy raisers relinquish their beloved companions over to the next level of intensive training.  The puppy raiser’s gift is not only in the dog but rather their committed investment into the life of another human being. Because of this unparalleled kindness a service dog gives from the overflow of what has been given to him.  Service dogs behave due to the consistency of qualified training that takes a third of their lives to accomplish under stringent rules and frequent testing.  Once they have acquired the mastery of their tasks they are then certified with supporting documentation for public access.  It takes hundreds of thousands of volunteer and trainer hours to achieve this feat.

Like any soldier or first responder there is pride in the uniform from the second it goes on, it is a badge of courage and honour that few aspire.  One stands a little taller, a little prouder knowing they earned it with a contentious work ethic of determination regardless of circumstances. It is similar with a working service dog, the carefree whimsical manner instantly stands aside while on duty in jacket.  The distinguishable vest is their marching orders to be respectful and diligent of their charge while remaining polite and considerate of the on looking public.  So today, when Dixon was refused entry to a local restaurant by an angry owner, my heart sank not so much for me but for him.  I wanted to melt into the floor.  Going out for lunch with my elderly mom was to be a good occasion not an uproar and for those seated simply enjoying their lunch it was awkward and unfriendly. We all seemed to muddle through by avoiding eye contact, but Dixon cast his eyes down as if he had done something terribly wrong.  If only I could explain it was not his doing, he behaved like a champion.

My persistence and proof of accreditation to management did nothing to improve our circumstance.

You see Dixon and I are newly assigned partners, so to write this blog is me standing up for him, I have his back just like he has mine.  Today we did not get the opportunity to eat at one of my family’s favourite places but instead we walked away believing the best course of action is to bring awareness to the role of service dogs in our community. 

Dixon (centre) & the National Service Dogs
 Class of 2015 PTSD Service Dogs
They are not pets, they are not out for a walk, they have earned their credentials, they are on duty.  They are working so a disabled person can have an improved quality of lifeSometimes the brightest part of cold week in March is a good meal outside the four walls.  It should be available to all.

- L.A. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

New guy in town!

This is the newest member on my work team with Bit by Bit Trauma Training.  He's also the newest four-legged love in my heart, but I have yet to meet him - hopefully in April.  
L.A., who is also on the team and is the Founder of Bit by Bit and this guy's new Handler - will be guest blogging right here later this week. Dixon is a PTSD Service Dog, trained by National Service Dogs, the only ADI accredited service dog training school in Canada providing certified service dogs for PTSD. To say the depth of his training and what he can do is phenomenal, would be an understatement.  I will save the details for L.A. to share in her post and I can't wait for you guys to read all about it.  

Stay tuned for more about how, when and why I finally found treatment for PTSD and what that journey entailed, coming this week, too, right here. 

You can Like Bit by Bit Trauma Training on Facebook at and Follow us on Twitter @BITbyBITPROJECT

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Day in the Life of Someone with PTSD

I live with PTSD.  I live with everything that comes with that diagnosis which sometimes includes insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, depression, and intrusive memories, to name just a few of my symptoms.  I also live with triggers associated with my trauma.  On Wednesday of last week, I was triggered, on my way to do a taping for CTV Atlantic’s Mental Health Minute segment at the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) of NS. 

I really want to share with you what happened that day and how PTSD impacts my life.  I can’t speak for how PTSD affects those also living with the diagnosis because the symptoms and triggers and impact is so individual to each person, but I do want to give you a window into my own world.  Throughout my journey of being diagnosed with PTSD, going to Ontario for intensive treatment and spending the past couple of years implementing what I learned into my daily life, I have become pretty adept to riding the waves that trauma brought into my life.  However, there are still moments where I get thrown off my feet, sucked under by the current and tossed into the rocks. 

Wednesday was one of those moments and – if I’m honest – I’m still feeling the effects. 

I was about 10 minutes away from arriving at the MHF for the taping and I had a flashback.  If you know what a flashback is, I’m sorry.  If you don’t know what a flashback is, it is an involuntary, sudden and disturbing memory of an event in the past.  Flashbacks are sudden and are like re-living and re-experiencing the traumatic event you survived.  It’s basically like going through the traumatic event again.  And, it’s not that I’m just seeing it play over again, but I also feel it. 

My body tenses, my anxiety level shoots up, my head begins to hurt, my breathing quickens and it feels like I can’t get enough air, I get shaky, my hands begin to sweat profusely, my stomach cramps and I feel like I am going to vomit.  I see the events, step by step, leading up to this trauma…the actions I made, what I purchased from the Dollarama that day and then I’m there, in it.  I can smell the event, literally, and see every single detail.  I can hear my pulse in my ears, I know my face is red and I start to feel dizzy. 

I pull into a parking spot and know that I have two minutes before my time slot and fumble with change to put into the parking metre.  My head feels like it’s under pressure and I ask myself why I didn’t do something different that day and my anxiety rises.  I walk into the building, take a quick look in the mirror and make sure I don’t have lipstick on my teeth while also checking to see where the nearest washroom is in case I do get sick. 

I walk into the MHF and am greeted, as always, by the awesome crew there.  A CTV producer introduces herself to me and I can see people smiling and saying hello, but I can’t really hear what they are saying to me.  I nod and smile and when asked how I’m doing reply that I’ve never been better.  I know I’m shaky.  I also know I’m supposed to be interviewed about Bit by Bit Trauma Training and the educational program we offer called TASC (Trauma Awareness Skills Courses).  I know Bit by Bit and TASC inside and out, but not today. 

I am seated with a camera and light on me and I can feel myself sweating and again my mind shoves me back to that day and I remember, specifically, the items I purchased for the gift bag for my friend.  I remember the look on her face the day I gave this gift to her at one of the lowest points in her life.

Someone is talking to me.

“So, tell me about TASC and Bit by Bit Trauma Training,” says the producer and smiles kindly at me.  We are taping.  The light from the camera is bright and the camera-man adjusts it.  I remind myself why I am here and say what TASC stands for and something about how Bit by Bit began.  I can still hear my pulse in my ears and I’m certain I might need that washroom that is sitting open behind the producer I’m speaking with. 

“Who should take TASC?” asks the producer.  I think hard about the answer and then am back at the scene of the traumatic event and I can vividly see it all.  The room I was in that day - I could re-create in one minute…even though it was a complete mess, I know where all of the mess belongs.  “Can you ask me that question again, sorry, I’m not sure what’s wrong with me,” I answer and the sweet producer says not to worry and asks me the question again. 

Thinking about it, today, I know that I should have just stated what I needed at that moment, which would have been to go to a quiet place, go outside for some air and remove myself from this situation.  What I instead chose to do was to push through and pretend like everything was fine when in actuality, my mind and body were re-experiencing one of the most horrific days of my life. 

As someone trained in media and knowing how to speak in succinct clips that are usable by the media, I felt like an amateur when the interview was over.  The producer said she had enough to use for the brief segment, but I knew that I did not represent myself or TASC very well.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t even answer, “What is trauma?” coherently.  I just needed to get out of there and by the time I made it to the door, silent tears started to roll down my cheeks and by the time I made it to my vehicle and got into the driver’s seat, my body was sobbing.  I sat and sobbed and tried to ground myself. 

After 10 minutes, I called my mother and, as usual, she talked me through most of my hysterical-ness and reminded me who I am.  I texted with my bestie, Court, and she also reminded me who I am.  I breathed.  I remembered that I survived the trauma.  I looked around and noted the people walking by and the snow and ice covering mostly everything in sight.  I remembered the trauma and that it was in the past and wasn’t happening again.  I wiped away the mascara dripping down my face with a tissue and decided that the interview I just did could not be used and that what happened is an example of a day in the life of someone living with PTSD.  I also knew that my contact at the MHF would understand and would have compassion.  I could breathe and rest. 

Like many people on this earth, I live with PTSD.  I have PTSD. 

But, I, myself, am NOT PTSD.  I am not what happened to me and the traumas I experienced and survived.  My life has certainly been impacted by trauma and PTSD and I live with the effects one day at a time.  Some days are smooth and bright and others…well, are more like what I just shared with you. 

I was completely drained and exhausted after this day and the entire event really shook me up, made me question the work I do and whether I should be doing it and I felt a great sense of loss.  Loss for the life I lived before trauma.  I felt embarrassed, ashamed, broken and dirty.  My flashback was like re-experiencing my trauma and my body physically felt the effects. 

PTSD is painful and life-stealing.  But, again, I am not PTSD and I remind myself of that and fight the stigma of it every day. Yes, I have PTSD and my life is impacted by that every day but it doesn’t change my ability to live a full life and achieve my dreams and goals.  Who better to talk, teach and share about PTSD than someone who lives with it every day?  Who better to give hope that recovery and healing from trauma is possible than someone who knows this? 

There is purpose to the pain we experience in life, if we are willing to look close enough and search for it.  Hope is very real and recovery and healing is possible.  I am living proof of this. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Thriving after trauma & blogging about it!

I'm really excited to have my blog re-designed and to, again, have a platform to share my thoughts on.  Thank you to those of you that knew me when I began my blog some years ago and shared my thoughts and feelings about being an adoptee and what reunion was like with my birth-family.  I may still share some of those thoughts, but as life moves along, so does my blog.  

I love to write, so thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts and please bookmark my page and check back often for updates.  I hope to blog at least three times a week and some posts will be about my personal journey with PTSD, depression and anxiety and why, how and when I really jumped into recovery.  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to attend Ontario's Homewood Health Centre's Integrated Mood and Anxiety Program and then the Post Traumatic Stress Recovery program and these both taught me how to save my own life and I'll share what this involved.

After taking a couple of years to integrate everything I've learned into my daily life, here I am. Proof that it's not only possible to survive trauma but to thrive after trauma.  I'm looking forward to having some guest bloggers, video blogs, and keeping you all up to date on the really awesome things happening in my life, one of them being working with Bit by Bit, a Charitable Organization that gives me 'Hope to Cope' (more on that soon!) and inspires me on a daily basis to do what I do.  

Check out my blog site and make sure to read my last blog post from November 14th about A Weekend in Jail.  I had this adventure with my colleague and Founder of Bit by Bit Trauma Training and it was amazing! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Weekend in Jail

I spent a weekend in prison.  Actually, truth be told, it was only 16 hours of a 48 hour period and unlike most of the folks I spent my time with, I was allowed to leave.

Bit by Bit ran a two-day pilot project Trauma Awareness Skills Courses (TASC) workshop at a male prison and it was an interesting two days.  L.A. (Founder & Volunteer Coordinator of Bit by Bit/TASC) and I taught the workshop together.  After a bit of a struggle to get INTO the jail (apparently it's more difficult than one would think to get in), we were greeted by 20 men from various backgrounds serving different lengths of sentences for various reasons.  Some participants had committed very violent crimes and some were in for crimes of a less violent nature (think business fraud).  Some men had life sentences and some are returning to general society in a matter of weeks.  It was a fascinating group of men and I found the majority of them to be respectful, thoughtful, honest, funny and seemingly remorseful for the crimes they were found guilty of and for the people they harmed.

I was grateful for the honesty from the men over the two days and I feel like I learned more from them than they did from me.  They were like sponges, wanting the information and education on trauma and what it is and isn't, how it affects people differently, and helpful coping tools for their futures.

We all have choices to make in life and though I can't make a correlation between violent traumas in childhood to violent crimes committed by the trauma victim as an adult, what I can connect is how trauma impacts not just the life of the trauma victim, but everyone connected to them.  The affects of trauma can sweep through a person's being, their families, loved ones and community like wild fire.  Trauma changes the person that experiences it.  How much we let it change us is up to us - if we are given the tools and recovery opportunities to heal and rise above the traumatic event.

It's easy to sit back and judge someone's choices in life, not knowing what they went through in their childhood, what resources they had or didn't have and what healthy supports they may or may not have had in their lifetime.  It's especially easy to do this while sitting in a comfy and cozy chair on the free side of the gates and barbed-wire fence.

We all have choices in life and our life experiences can impact the choices that we see available to us.  Trauma has impacted my life and has impacted the choices and decisions that I have made in the past, make in the present and will likely do so to some degree in the future.  That said, I know that I can use my experiences to sit on the sidelines of life and use them as an excuse to not make the best choices or make the choice to work hard to develop healthy habits and coping tools to live in a way that my traumas will not steal my future.  That’s what I have been doing.

And, it won’t.  I will not let trauma define how I live, think and feel.  I won’t let my past dictate the success of my future...because that’s what trauma can do.

The men that we spent the weekend with wake up every morning reminded immediately of the terrible choices they made in life.  I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t be there – all choices have consequences that we each must be responsible for.  My time with them made me acutely aware of the need for trauma education.  We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge or understand.

One man in particular said to me, that had he been equipped with the knowledge that he learned over the weekend and had the tools in his hands to cope with life and the traumatic experiences he went through in a healthier way, he might not be serving a life sentence today.  That was profound and made me consider how trauma can sentence you to life ‘in prison’ even on the outside...if you’re not equipped with resources and support to overcome.

I’m so thankful for my time in jail.  I’m thankful for my own life journey and I’m grateful that there has been a purpose to my pain and that it took me somewhere I never thought I would ever go.  Jail.