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. 



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Little Victories

As I continue to build my life in spite of having PTSD, I have come to appreciate what I refer to as the little victories.

The "little victories" are things that were once easy for me, day to day things like grocery shopping, filling my gas tank at a self-serve station, long road trips alone, going to the theatre, being out in crowds at concerts or other public events. Doing things on my own and being able to be alone.  These things were commonplace for me 13 months ago.   They were things I loved to do and did frequently all my adult life.

Then in August of 2014, everything changed.   Witnessing a violent crime left me with PTSD and it changed my life. 

Since then, I have been working to build a new life.  Finding my way through sleepless nights, moments of panic, doubt and frustration. I have a lot of really good days; and some not so good.

What I have learned through all this is to appreciate the little victories and this week there were a couple of them.  The biggest being a road trip alone to a friend's cottage.   Two years ago I wouldn't have even given this a thought, I would have just hopped into my car and gone. Now, it was a very conscious decision and even deciding to go caused a fair amount of anxiety.   The driving itself wasn't the problem, it was the thought of being stuck in traffic and even worse, the thought of having to stop on the way for gas or a bathroom break.   It was challenging and at a couple of points during the drive I thought "I can't do this" especially when traffic slowed to a crawl and I felt trapped and the panic began to rise.  I somehow pressed on.  Then I needed to stop for gas.  It was late on a Friday afternoon, it was a highway stop, so it was busy, so very busy and so many people walking around.  I sat in my car in the parking lot, unable to get out and not willing to drive over to the gas pump.  I knew I was being irrational but knowing didn't change the panic I felt. 

I ended up texting my SO.   He was supportive, calming, and kept texting me until I felt that I could go fill my gas tank. Unfortunately, just as I started to fill the tank a guy came up behind me. He scared the hell out of me.   He was just someone giving a demo of a car product, but I didn't see him approach me and to turn to find someone standing right next to me was just too much for me to take. I stopped the pump, told him I wasn't interested, almost bolted into my car and drove off.  Problem being that I had only managed to put $25 worth of fuel in my car which meant I'd have to stop on my way home to fill up. Yet it was still a little victory because I DID pump gas at a busy station and I didn't have a full blown panic attack; I was simply shaken and a call to my SO was enough to calm me down.  

I made it to the cottage and the relief and happiness I felt was enormous.   It had been over a year since I had driven any distance alone; this was and is one of those little victories that mean so much especially since I really didn't know if I would ever be able to drive long distances alone again. This proved I could and would, in time, be able to travel as I once did. 

Another was going to Stratford to see a play with my SO.  Granted, it was mid-week and the theatre was only 2/3 full, but I was able to be there, surrounded by strangers and still manage to enjoy the production without feeling anxious or overwhelmed. 

They seem small, simple things.  In truth they are, yet through the lens of PTSD they are big for they represent progress; signs that I am moving forward and my life is mine to build each and every day.  I can't change what happened to me, however, I can choose how to build a new life; one I define for myself rather than allowing what happened and PTSD to define me. 

We all get to choose how we move forward. Whether it's through traditional or non-traditional therapies, the choice is ours to make.  There are a lot of therapies available; if something doesn't or isn't working for you, try something else.  You are the best judge of what and who you need to work with to work through your PTSD and build your life anew.

While my work continues to be helping others make the most of their lives, I find myself especially wanting to help those with PTSD because I know what it's like to live with it.  I believe it is possible to build a new, happy, healthy life and we don't have to struggle alone, we simply need to find the right therapy and practitioner to guide us along the way.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Call

It came today.  The phone call I have been dreading; the one that I knew would eventually come.  It took 11 months to arrive, but arrive it did; and I'll be honest, I cried after I hung up.

As you probably know, I witnessed a violent crime last year; a murder.  As horrific as it was, and as challenging as dealing with PTSD is and continues to be, the thing that loomed like a dark presence in my life was "the call".  I knew it would come, I didn't know when, but I knew at some point, the police would contact me to say I was going to have to testify in court.

Today was that day.  The detective was polite and professional.  Simply stating this was a courtesy call to let me know I will be receiving a subpoena to witness in the next few weeks and a meeting will be set for me to meet with the Crown Attorney to discuss the incident.   Since it happened, I have always referred to it as "the incident" and to hear the detective refer to it the same way was a little surprising; then again, I suppose it is less likely to trigger an emotional response, and since I was already near tears, I appreciated the small gesture.

He could not give me an exact date as to when I would be expected in court, but did say the trial will likely take 3 months; from September through November.  So my dark presence is looming closer; hovering there as a constant reminder.  

My hope is once I am through this ordeal I will be able to move forward with my life.  Time will tell.  For now, I simply have to get through each day as they come and do my best to stay in the present moment; for, if nothing else, this experience has taught me we only have the present, the future is not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination.  So the best I can do is to do my best each day, knowing that some days will be better than others....and that "this too shall pass."  I just have to have faith things will get better.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Eight Months Later

It's been eight months since I witnessed a violent crime and subsequently ended up with PTSD.  My journey thus far has been....challenging. One generally associates PTSD with those who serve in the military or are first responders (rightfully so), yet there are others, who, like me, were in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnessed or were victims of a horrific act. 

In the early days, I was just numb, unable  to sleep, I couldn't be in crowds and ironically I also couldn't be alone.   I didn't think I had PTSD: I figured as soon as the shock wore off, I'd be fine and life would return to normal.   The shock wore off, but life didn't return to normal. 

I sought help, I got help; and in the process I also learned first hand what it's like to live with PTSD. In the first couple of months people were shocked to hear of my experience and were sympathetic. Yet as time ticked on, they found it difficult to understand why I wasn't back to my usual self; why wasn't I over it, after all, it happened months ago, all I needed to do was just let it go.

I wish it was that simple.

You see, the incident changed me in a way most people can't imagine or even begin to understand; though I believe those with PTSD know what I'm talking about.  Something within me shattered; it's difficult to put into words.  Perhaps it was my faith in the goodness of people, or justice, or God, or something else that I can't quite name.  What shattered was something that "made".  A part of me that has always existed and now doesn't.  It changed my perspective, it shattered my beliefs, it left me with a void within me which is hard to define and even harder to explain. So like almost all PTSD sufferers, I generally don't talk about it with anyone; not even my SO who happens to be a first responder.  How ironic, I had been worried about him ending up with PTSD and I am the one with it.

So often people will have an experience which "changes their life forever".   Usually, it's a positive experience; a chance meeting, an amazing opportunity, just being at the right place at the right time and being blessed in some way.  It is life changing in the best possible way.  My life changing moment was something horrific rather than something wonderful.

There are things that I had always done without giving them a second thought; things like travelling alone or even being home alone. Neither of which I can do right now.  It frustrates me. It angers me. I feel that I have been robbed of the life I have always had and left with just a shell of a life.  As rotten as that is, it is also a blessing. Why?  Because I'm alive.  I could have easily been killed.  So I feel it's up to me to find a way to move forward; to make a difference, to build my life into the life I want from this new place.   The life I had is gone, the life I have is mine to do with what I want.  I'm just stubborn enough to refuse to let an act of violence define me and rob me of the rest of my life. 

Those with PTSD need to talk about it to someone who can relate to and understand what it's like to have your world changed so dramatically.   Often that means sharing with others with PTSD.   Together we can support each other and find ways to move forward. I'm willing to help others find their way forward too because even though our experiences may be vastly different, we understand each other in ways most people can't.  

So on I go with my new life and my work and with the hope that I can make a difference.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

That Which Does Not Kill You...

"That which does not kill you, only makes you stronger."

How often have we heard these words? We never really know the toll it takes to have the strength to carry on through some of life's most difficult, challenging, and in some cases, life threatening moments. 

2014 was my most challenging year; at times I honestly didn't think I had the strength needed to get through it.  It was a seemingly unending series of loss, heartache and shock so close together it gave me no time to grieve.  2014 took five, yes, FIVE members of my family and one lifelong family friend.  Six deaths in one year.   Through it all we worried about yet another family member who had taken ill and was seemingly deteriorating before our eyes.

If that wasn't enough, I found myself looking down the barrel of a gun; literally.  For a few moments in time, I actually thought that 2014 was going to kill me.   Instead, I ended up witnessing a murder.   It was my breaking point.  I cannot put into words what it is like to witness an act of violence that takes a life.  The details are here:  The Day Death Passed Me By.  I wrote that post days after the shooting and at the time, I thought I was actually handling the trauma quite well and life would eventually return to normal.

That however, was not the case.

It's now been months since that fateful day.  My life hasn't returned to normal because the reality is, the person I was prior to the shooting no longer exists.  I'm different and therefore my life moving forward will be different.  I need to create and build upon what I refer to as ''the new normal".   I had an earlier traumatic experience when I was fourteen. At that time, I was told I was suffering from grief and shock and I'd "get over it".  My perspective on life changed dramatically back then and it took me the better part of two decades to find the help I needed to "get over it".

For the record, you don't 'get over it' you come to terms with it; you learn to live with it; you make peace with it so it doesn't consume you or your life.  During the two decades, I had tried both conventional/traditional therapies as well as some alternative/non-traditional therapies.  Each had helped to some degree.  When I finally found the therapy which worked for me, I was so overjoyed and relieved, I actually took the necessary training needed to incorporate it into my work with my clients.  I never expected that I would again be in a position where a traumatic event would be so horrific that I would need to again undergo therapy in order to come to terms with it.

For weeks after the murder I slept very little and when I did sleep for an hour or so, there were horrific nightmares.  The less I slept the more fragile I felt.  I had always been independent, a free spirit, and now I found it nearly impossible to be alone and at the same time, I found it difficult to be around a lot of people.  I was suddenly trying to find the balance between the two.  The biggest challenge for me was around feeling safe.  All my life I had unconsciously felt safe no matter where I was; whether at home or travelling the globe.  Even when I traveled alone, through foreign cities and lands, I never felt uneasy or in danger.  All that changed.   While my mind told me that I'm safe, my emotions told a much different story.  I was anxious and edgy, even when I was at home.  There were other symptoms as well.  A lack of focus; the conflicting emotions between things I had always done and the inability to do them now.  The me I had always been had vanished and the person I had become was a stranger to me and one I didn't like or want to be.  

While I didn't think in terms of having PTSD, I did realize I needed help to get through this trauma.   I knew I wanted to deal with this new trauma with the non-traditional methods as I had used in the past which had given me the best results; so I turned to a trusted colleague for help.

One of the hardest things I had to do was to drive to my colleague's place for my first session.  I used to love to drive; it always gave me a sense of joy and freedom.  I no longer felt that way.  In fact, having to stop at a red light or a stop sign made my heart race. Pedestrians and jaywalkers created an undeniable feeling of panic.  Road construction, bumper-to-bumper traffic made me feel trapped with no escape and the anxiety that caused created such a feeling of blind terror its hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it. The drive to that first appointment took an hour and a half; the last 45 minutes of it was bumper to bumper traffic caused by road construction.  By the time I arrived at my colleague's place, I was practically in tears. 

Through all this I tried to maintain a "brave face" for family and friends because I didn't want them to worry about me.  While I'd admit to people that witnessing the shooting was terrifying, I always followed it up with "but I'm OK" when I fact I was far from OK.

A few people within my circle of friends suggested it's likely I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); I dismissed the idea. To me, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something those who are constantly in situations which put them in harm's way (like those serving in the military or first responders) are at risk of experiencing.   I am simply someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I couldn't possibly have PTSD; could I? Apparently I could...and do.   My struggle with accepting it comes from my own self-judgment.  I compare my single traumatic event to the multitude of events soldiers and first responders experience on a daily basis and to me, I feel my situation is far less traumatic because it was a single event which is unlikely to be repeated.

I have since learned a single horrific event can cause PTSD.  While PTSD is labelled a mental health issue, to me it's an overall health issue because it impacts body, mind and spirit; not just the mind.   I have also learned family and friends are rarely able to relate to what it's like to have PTSD.  I have had family members say "aren't you over it yet?  It happened months ago" another said "It was obviously a targeted shooting, so you weren't really in any danger."

The nature of my own work with clients gives me a better understanding of my family and friends responses so I don't take their comments to heart. I understand they have no frame of reference, no way of truly understanding what it was like for me to witness a murder.  I also know their own unconscious fear plays a big part in their response.  After all, if it could happen to me, it could happen to them and the fear of that reality is not something they want to consider or accept so it is better to reduce or dismiss the event than to acknowledge it.

At the same time though, it also makes me realize how difficult it must be for others suffering with PTSD to find the support and help needed to come to terms with their own experience(s) and move forward with their lives.  After all, if your own family, closest friends and colleagues can't understand it, then the feeling of being alone and isolated weighs even more heavily upon you.

I am thankful I knew what I needed to help myself through this trauma and had a colleague I trusted to help me deal with it very early on. After a number of sessions, I am in a much better place mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  I am still working through a few remaining physiological symptoms and figuring out what my "new normal" is and moving forward with my life.  I admit it's a strange headspace to be in.  It's like hitting a reset button on your life.  Creating a new foundation on which to build upon;  including finding a way to reconnect to family and friends in order to have the love and support needed to move forward and live life.

My own PTSD journey has given me the opportunity to develop a new way to work with clients with PTSD.  Even though symptoms may be similar or even the same, each person is unique and our work together needs to be developed based on their needs.  What works for one, may not work for someone else; that includes the number of sessions and the type of therapy (whether traditional or non-traditional).

The most important thing, the only thing which truly matters, is finding the right person/therapist/therapy that works for you.  If you don't feel comfortable or connected to the person/therapist or don't feel you are benefiting from the therapy - try someone or something else and keep trying until you find the right one because the right one IS out there. Traditional/Non-Traditional/Alternative - only you know what is working best for you so it is up to you to do what works for you.

Knowing you need help is the first step; finding the help you need is the second; and taking the time you need is the third.  There are better days ahead.  You can't go back to the life you had, however, you can move forward into a new life which includes your family and friends, laughter, love, health, wealth and happiness.  It's all within you; and it all starts with getting the help you need, now.