Saturday, August 20, 2016

Like A Thief In The Night

It's been two years since the incident that caused my PTSD happened.  My life has changed dramatically since that fateful day. There are times when I feel I have come to terms with my new reality and then there are times when I long for the life I had pre-PTSD.

For me, PTSD has been like a thief in the night.  It has robbed me of so much.  Just like any robbery, you notice the big stuff that is missing first; the stuff that is obviously gone.  Yet as the initial shock wears off, you begin to notice other things are missing and as time goes on the list seems to grow longer and your sense of loss, frustration and hurt increases.

It's hard to explain what the last two years have been like for me.  The initial shock and terror; the sleepless nights, the nightmares when I did sleep.  The fear of being alone battling with the fear of being around people.  I was shattered, I felt fragile, lost.  Thankfully, I sought and got help early. However, while it made a huge difference in my ability to cope, it couldn't return me to the "me" I used to be.  I miss that me; more than words can say.

My sense of peace and being safe was stolen from me. I couldn't sleep, didn't sleep.  For the longest time I would consider it a good night if I got more than two hours of sleep a night.  Sleeping pills didn't help and the lack of sleep made me feel weak, fragile, brittle.  In the past I never worried about "being safe" I just knew I was and that allowed me the freedom to travel alone, to go wherever I wanted when I wanted. After the incident I had trouble even going grocery shopping alone; I felt robbed of my freedom.

Also stolen was the joy of driving.  Oh how I loved to drive.  Anywhere, everywhere, I would hop in my car and go.  I didn't think twice about travelling alone, going on road trips which were literally thousands of kilometers long.  Traffic and construction never bothered me.  As long as there were tunes to listen to and I was on my way to somewhere, I was happy. For months after the incident, I struggled to make the 30 minute drive to my boyfriend's home.  Traffic caused my heart to race; being stuck in gridlock would give rise to panic. Even stopping at traffic lights was stressful, pedestrians and jaywalkers all became potential threats. Even though I am much more comfortable driving these days, the joy of driving is no longer with me. I hope it will return; it was my bliss.

With time and help, I was able to adjust to my new way of living.  Then I got called to testify as a witness; twice.  Each time I had to go over (and over) what I witnessed. Afterwards, I felt spent and like I was right back at the scene, reliving it all over again and reliving the symptoms the initial experience created.  I felt robbed of the present and pushed back into the past, not once, but twice.  Stress, anxiety, and the feeling like I was living in an unending nightmare is how I felt after each court appearance.

After each court appearance, I waded through months of sleeplessness, moments of blind panic, days where I struggled to get things done. I had family and friends checking in on me.  I know they were worried; perhaps even a little afraid for me and they didn't know what to do to help me.  Funny thing is, I didn't know what they could do to help either. Days became weeks, weeks became months. There were a lot of bad days and also some good days. Then, slowly, the good days began to outnumber the bad until once again I was adjusting to a new norm.

I hoped, after the second court appearance, I would be able to put this all behind me once and for all so I could focus more on the present and future and the life I am now creating. Unfortunately, I will have another court appearance in 2017.While I'm not looking forward to being on the witness stand again, I am looking forward to an end to this chapter of my life. In the meantime, I'm working on staying present and taking each day as it comes.  It's been exactly two years since the incident happened and I can thankfully say in recent months I have had far more good days than bad; though sleep is still elusive at times.

While I have lost so much,  I have gained a lot as well.  The incident changed my priorities and reminded me how blessed I am to be alive.  I very easily could have been "collateral damage" killed because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet I am here. Yes, my life isn't the same, but in some ways it's better.  Now I make time and take time to be with family and friends. Its not always easy, but I don't put off spending time with those who matter because who knows what tomorrow may bring.   I also speak from the heart, I no longer just assume people in my life know how important they are to me; I tell them often. 

Most of all , I was fortunate that I got help literally a week after the incident. I opted for non-traditional modalities which included hypnosis, Timeline Therapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. The same type of work I use with my clients because I know from past experience it works. I have found I am stronger than I ever believed, even though I have moments of weakness.  I have gained a level of knowledge and understanding which allows me to help others through whatever challenges they face. 

It's hard for friends and family to understand the long term impact trauma can have; let alone grasp the multitude of ways, both big and small, it changes your life, thoughts, beliefs and even your values.   Yet when you realize there is help available (both traditional and non-traditional) which will help you move forward, then there is hope for you to have a happier, healthier life.  Seek out what works for you; if you aren't getting results, try something else and keeping trying until you find one which gives you the results you are seeking. You know better than anyone what is right for you; and it's all about you getting the help you need in a way which works for you.

While some days life is rough, believe there are better days ahead.  Ask me,  I know and I can help.

~ Bren 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What's Your Strategy?

Let's talk strategies.  More specifically let's talk about the difference between "Away From" strategies and "Toward" strategies.  Why are they different, which strategy do you regularly use, why it's important to know, and how to tell the difference.

Before we can talk strategies, we first need grasp on how we express them; quite literally, our choice of words.  The words we choose reveal far more about our thought processes than most of us realize. We like to believe we are "thinking and speaking" in positive terms, yet, more often than not, we are unconsciously choosing to focus on the negative.  Having a hard time believing that?  Let me give you a quick example.

If I were to ask you, "How are you?"  what would your immediate answer be?

Most people would respond "Not bad".  There it is, the negative focus.  Why?  Because what word in that phrase is positive?  Neither of them. The positive response to the question is "Good"...or "Fine" or even "OK". Any of these are better than "not bad."

Let me give you another example to wrap your mind around.  Take a look at the two phrases below; you may even want to read them aloud so you can see which sounds and feels positive.

"Don't fall"
"Be careful"

"Don't fall" puts emphasis on what you don't want someone to do. Again, because neither word in the phrase is a positive one, its a negative statement. "Be careful" puts emphasis exactly where it should be, encouraging someone to take care.

Get it?  Good.  Now let's apply that to the concept of  Away From Strategies vs. Towards Strategies.

Away From strategies are driven by the need to get away from something (a negative). Therefore, your motivation to change whatever the issue is begins to fade as soon as you are far enough away from whatever is causing you discomfort/pain/anxiety.

Toward strategies are driven by the desire to move toward (achieve) something (positive). Therefore, motivation to change is maintained until you achieve your goal and new habits/behaviours are created through the process of achieving the goal.

At first glance, you may feel they are the same, however, let me explain why they are different and why it's important to know which strategy you tend to favour.

Let's use weight as an example,

You step on the scales one morning and you see your weight is up to "Y" which is a number you really don't like. In that moment you decide you need to do something about it. You decide to lose weight.

OK.  You made the decision.  You decide you have to lose weight to get away from the number "Y". This is the basis of an Away From strategy.  It's about being uncomfortable where you are and needing to get away from there.  The problem with Away From strategies is it creates a yo-yo affect. So the initial drive to lose weight is solely driven by the need to not weigh"Y". So as soon as you are far enough away from "Y", your motivation fades. Note too the choice of words "lose weight" the focus is negative because it's about "losing" and "weight".

Let me outline it for you.
1. You see "Y" on the scale and decide it's an unacceptable weight for you
2. You decide to do something about it - lose weight  (this is your motivation)
3. You start dieting and exercising and you begin losing weight.
4. As the numbers on the scale decrease and move away from "Y" your motivation to diet and exercise starts to lag a bit because now you have lost enough weight to be a comfortable/safe number of pounds away from "Y" though not necessarily at a weight you would like to be.
5. As your motivation dwindles you decide a little "cheat" here and there won't hurt
6. Weight loss slows but it's OK because you are still losing though you still aren't at a weight you would like to be.
7. Then your weight loss stalls then stops - you're no longer losing weight but you don't weigh "Y" so it's still OK.
8. Then, over time your weight begins to slowly climb again to "Y"
9. Suddenly you're at Y again, and that's unacceptable, and so you begin the pattern again by deciding it's time to lose weight.

It could be weight loss (or gain), smoking, school grades, finances, working on goals; anything in which you are seeking a certain outcome.  Whatever it is, an Away From strategy is only going to get you so far because the motivation for change decreases as you move away from whatever is causing the concern/problem.  As soon as you are far enough away from "it", it feel comfortable, your motivation to continue stalls and you don't reach your goal. Away From strategies create frustration and a sense of failure because you are unable to reach your goal or maintain it if you should achieve it.

So what is a Towards Stratgey?

Towards strategies are based on moving towards something.  Let's use the weight loss scenario again so you can fully grasp the concept.

1. You see "Y" on the scale and decide it's an unacceptable weight for you
2. You decide to do something about it  - You focus on becoming healthier and weighing X - this is your motivation (note the positive phrasing)
3. You create a plan (milestones/steps) to eat better, be more active, create healthy habits which in turn start lowering the number on the scale. .
4. As the scale moves down towards "X" you feel physically better and more energized which encourages to continue on and make any necessary adjustments needed to continue your progress to becoming healthy.
5. Because the motivation is health based instead of based on getting away from weighing "Y", it is easier to stick to it because you can feel yourself getting healthier and see you are getting closer to weighing X.
6. When the goal is reached, new healthier routines/habits have been created through the process and has created a desire to stay healthy which, in turn, will help you maintain a healthy weight.

Which strategy do you usually use?  If you are regularly using an Away From strategy it is likely you spend a lot of time and energy trying to 'fix' the same thing over and over again (yo-yo dieting it a great example of this).  It's time, now, to consciously choose a Towards Strategy so you can achieve what you want, when you want it.

As always, the choice is yours to make.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Say What?

In working with clients I often find myself explaining the importance and power of words; the words we choose to say to others and the words we say to ourselves (our self-talk).  While we know the words we choose to say to others has the ability to lift them up or tear them down,  most people don't realize their self-talk has the same power.

Self-talk.  We all do it; whether consciously or unconsciously.  It's the running commentary in our heads which occasionally also passes over our lips so we physically hear ourselves.  Comments like "I'm so stupid", "I have no willpower", "I can't do this", "I'm not smart/thin/young enough" (or anything else you believe you're "not").  You get the idea.  Often the things we say to ourselves are far from supportive, positive or nice. We are critical, judgmental and, well, downright mean to ourselves. Beating ourselves up lowers our self-esteem and saps our ability to believe in ourselves.

This kind of negative self-talk undermines you and your goals.  You see, your unconscious mind takes in all you say to yourself and about yourself; and it happens in the blink of an eye.  Now, you may say, "yeah, I said I was stupid...but I didn't mean it." However, your unconscious mind doesn't judge or filter what it hears and holds on to; it simply takes it all in.

Consider this, you start your day feeling happy and physically well.  Now, you happen to run into a friend or colleague and after a brief greeting this person says to you "You look tired, are you feeling OK?"  In a flash your unconscious mind clicks onto the statement and you suddenly start to feel tired and you wonder if you might be coming down with something.  It happens so quickly you don't even realize it. Now, if someone else can have this kind of an impact on you, just imagine the impact your own thoughts and words have on your mental, emotional and physical well-being.

It's within our self-talk that we create a lot of our self-limiting beliefs which in turn sabotage our goals.  Self-limiting beliefs stop us from trying new things and make our world smaller and less fulfilling.   In some ways, it is our unconscious way of "staying safe" by limiting us to what we know and believe, even if it makes us miserable because the limitations are familiar and therefore safer than the unknown.

When your negative self-talk robs you from: achieving goals, taking a chance on an opportunity, growing personally or professionally, developing new relationships, trying new things or going to new places, then the reality is you are robbing yourself of living life fully.

There is so much life has to offer and there is so much you have to offer life; it's time to ditch the negative self-talk and empower yourself.

As with everything in life ~ the choice is yours.

~ Bren

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Do The Right Thing

I believe most people were raised not only with the understanding of right and wrong, but also taught to 'do the right thing'.

As I sit here, outside a courtroom, waiting to be called to testify in a homicide case, I have time to think about the vast difference between knowing what's right and doing what's right.

Just over a year ago, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up witnessing what turned out to be a homicide.  When it happened, I knew the right thing to do was to stay and talk to the police. However, I was terrified.  I had been literally within feet of the shooter, the gun at one point had been pointed at me and in the moments after the shooting had taken place, I had lost track of where the shooter went.  I knew the right thing was to stay, yet the sheer terror of what happened pushed me to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Yet here I am, outside a courtroom. Why?  Because I knew the right thing was to talk to the police. Granted, I left the scene, however, hours later I walked into a police station and told them I had witnessed the shooting.  Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, it wasn't easy because I knew what was likely to happen; that eventually I would end up in court as a witness.... and here I am.

What I have learned over the past year is it often takes courage to 'do the right thing'.  When the shooting happened there were easily 200 people around if not more; yet only 16 people gave statements to the police.   I get it.  It was surreal, it was terrifying, and giving a statement to the police puts you in a position where you are likely going to have to testify at a trial.  Not only that, there are other things to think about.  What about the risk?  By giving a statement to the police are you putting yourself or your loved ones in the cross-hairs?  How long before it goes to trial?  If it does, do you have testify?  How will it impact your life?  Will it ever really be over?  Trust me, I get it.  I've been there....I AM there.  Yet even with all these thoughts, knowing this was going to be impacting my life for a long time, I still gave the police a statement.


Simply because I could have easily been killed that day. I know my family would hope there would be someone who would come forward with information.  Someone had died that day for whatever reason.  They had family and friends who loved them, and deserve some sort of closure. The only way that will happen is through the help of strangers who were there who were willing to provide statements to the police.

Doing the right thing isn't easy; in fact, in this instance, it has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do.  I may end up in court three more times before this is over and it may take until some time in 2017 before it's finally finished.  While at times I feel like my life is on hold until it's done, I can, at least, take comfort in the fact that while I may lose sleep over what I saw, at least I'm not losing sleep over not doing what I know what the right thing.  

As they say "This too shall pass".

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Year Later

It's been just over a year since PTSD changed my life.  Some days it seems like it happened yesterday, other days it feels like I've been dealing with it forever.  While my SO tells me I'm doing great, I must admit I don't feel like I am.  Perhaps I'm just being overly self-critical; it's been known to happen as anyone who knows me will attest.

Yesterday, the homicide detective I spoke with last year called me with some more news.  You see, I'm expected to testify in court later this month.  I've known since July which is when the subpoena arrived. I've had many sleepless nights since then. At the same time, I kept thinking "at least this will close this chapter of my life". I was wrong.

The detective informed me they had two people in custody and both were being charged with murder and attempted murder.   There will be separate trials and, unfortunately, this means I will be expected to testify at both preliminary hearings and both trials.

This also means meetings with the Crown (prosecuting) attorney and the detective prior to all these events. The detective was almost apologetic as he told me this, probably because he knew how this news would affect me. 

There was not much I could say or do other than set up a date and time to meet with the detective and Crown attorney.  

So my journey continues.  While I know and believe "This too shall pass" at the present time it doesn't feel that way.  I feel tired, frustrated, heartbroken, fragile. In the big scheme of things I know it's OK to feel this way; really, when you think about it, who wouldn't? 

I know in a few days, maybe a week, I will once again strengthen my resolve and move forward.  But for now, I am just overwhelmed. I need to allow myself to adjust to this new development and then do what I need to do to get through this next stage.  I know I am not alone; I have a great deal of love and support around me which I am beyond thankful for.  

What I have learned in the past year through this experience is the therapies I use while working with clients (and the ones I chose for my own healing) make it easier to adjust to whatever life brings.  

My experience has given me the ability to assist my clients in new ways because I have a deeper understanding of their challenges.  They say "there's a reason for everything"; so perhaps the reason I am going through this is so I can be of assistance to others.  Being able to better help others with PTSD would make this all worth it.