PTSD, Guilt, and Shame

Whether the trauma is something that happened to you, or whether it was something you witnessed and were not in a position to stop – feelings of guilt and shame are an extremely common reaction to trauma. Often, you end up going over and over in your head what you could/should/would have done differently, endlessly punishing yourself for whatever you did or didn’t do.

…Ever wonder why that is?

Well – I have an answer for you.

I’ve written previous posts about how PTSD is based on a survival reflex going awry (and if you’ve missed those, go to the “start here” button at the top of the page – they’re all there and you can catch up).

Basically – PTSD is based on a survival reflex. When something bad happens, your survival reflex kicks in to figure out, “How can I protect myself from going through something like this again?”

…The problem is, sometimes you did nothing wrong. Sometimes, there’s nothing you could have done differently. The reality is that the world is sometimes unpredictable, bad things sometimes happen to good people, and sometimes, we don’t have control over our circumstances.

Unfortunately, our survival reflex simply isn’t designed to understand any of that – it has one job, and that is to keep us out of harm’s way. When it can’t, it assumes that we did something wrong and we should have done something different – so, it sends our mind in relentless circles of should/could/would haves, and fills us up with feelings of guilt and shame over whatever actions we took.

Feelings don’t create facts, folks; if they did, then everybody buying a lotto ticket because they’re feelin’ lucky would be a millionaire.

So – just because your survival reflex makes you feel guilt and shame, doesn’t actually mean that you did anything wrong. Those feelings, as intense as they sometimes are -those feelings are simply a byproduct of how reflex works. Your survival reflex is trying to make sense of what happened, is trying to do its job and protect you, and it’s getting stuck.

Do your best to keep that in mind; it’ll help to put the guilt and shame in perspective.

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~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy content, including photographs, from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Pushing People Away, Part 3

I’ve posted before about why we tend to push people away when we need them the most, here. More recently, I also wrote about how childhood trauma can get in the way of building healthy relationships as an adult, here.

This time, I’d like to try and explain to your loved ones why you might seem to be pushing them away.

Imagine the sound of a fire alarm, screaming so loud your ears are ringing and your whole body is vibrating from the sound. Now imagine that it’s stuck inside your head, so you can’t shut it off, can’t get away from it. You’re stuck with it, and it’s driving you bananas.

But your spouse can’t hear it. So, your spouse wants to ask about your day, what you want for dinner, did you pick up the dry cleaning. The kids want to play.

When PTSD acts up, it fills your head with so much stuff that it might as well be a screaming fire alarm in your head. When that happens, all of your energy goes into just trying to shut your head off. You don’t want to smile, make conversation, or even just put up with people being around. It all just feels like more noise, and you can’t bear it. You just want everyone to go away.

To your loved ones, you might come across as cold, distant, callous, and indifferent. They might wonder what they did, and why you seem so angry at them all the time.

Unfortunately, often loved ones react by trying to ask questions, or help, or fix it, because they don’t understand that they didn’t do anything wrong, and you just need to zone out to try to quiet your head.

So, how do you cope? By remembering that it’s not your fault: you’re not trying to be mean, you just can’t take anything else because of all the noise inside your head. It’s also not their fault, and pushing them away is not personal.

MCC1

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy content, including photographs, from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Suicide is Not Selfish, and It Is Not a Choice

HEADS UP, folks. If you’re struggling with the death of someone you care about, this post will grab you by the throat a bit. But if you’re up to it, bear with me, because this is important.

When you lose a loved one to suicide, you go through a whole range of really intense emotions. There’s disbelief, because often, they seemed to have it all together and you never knew how much they were suffering. There’s sadness, and guilt, and lots of wondering if there was some way you should have known, something you should have done, or said, or… Prevented this tragedy somehow.

And, often, there is anger, even rage. We think: how could they do that to their family???

It feels like such a selfish choice.

It feels that way, but it’s actually neither selfish, nor a choice; let me explain.

Imagine you go to your favourite restaurant. You’re hungry, you’re not on any kind of diet, and you don’t have food allergies. You have money just burning a hole in your pocket. When you order your meal, you have a choice: there’s a whole menu full of options, and you can have any of them.

Being selfish also requires a choice: imagine a baby crying because its diaper needs to be changed. If the baby had the choice of learning, right now, how to walk and go use the toilet, then choosing to use the diaper instead would be selfish. But a baby doesn’t have a choice. It’s not selfish; it’s a baby. It doesn’t have a choice.

Suicide is never a choice.

It’s sort of like this: Depression, despair, hopelessness, and isolation form an ocean around you. The waters get rough. You do your best to keep your head above the water, but it feels like you’ve got two broken arms and two broken legs as you helplesslessly, painfully try to swim.

And sometimes, despite your best efforts to keep swimming, you just… drown.

That’s what suicide is.

MC CHarb 3

 

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy content, including photographs, from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Why Do I Push People Away, Part 2

A while back, I wrote about how childhood experiences can impact our ability to cope with stressful events later in life.

Today, I’d like to tell you more about how childhood trauma can impact our relationships in adulthood.

In a healthy childhood, caregivers are reasonable and predictable. Kids get time-out or lose privileges for misbehaving. When they behave well, they get praised. Over time, they learn that their actions impact their environment, and that relationships are relatively stable: mom and dad will always love you, but they’ll take away the Xbox if you don’t stop being a jerk to your little brother.

Kids in abusive homes learn a very different lesson: for them, whether people are nice or mean often has nothing to do with how they behaved: it might be cruel and random, or be based on things the child can’t control: “If Dad gets drunk, he’ll probably beat me”.

Having grown up in this kind of environment, building healthy adult relationships can be challenging. You might see others as either ally or enemy, and even a small misstep might make someone feel like an “enemy”. It can be especially hard to take criticism, which can feel like a betrayal.

People who have these traits tend to be lonely – they long to be close to someone, but they usually break off relationships at the slightest sign of trouble.

If this sounds familiar, a first step is to understand that this pattern is based on an unrealistic expectation: “A real friend would never do anything to make me feel uncomfortable”. That just can’t be true: a real friend is a human who will sometimes goof by accident. Also, a real friend is someone who cares enough to tell you when you’ve got something in your teeth or your fly is undone, because they care enough to let you know before you make a jackass of yourself.

So, you can start the healing process by understanding where this tendency comes from, and by reminding yourself to understand that a real friend is one who is not perfect, and will sometimes disappoint us.

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~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy content, including photographs, from Coming Back Home without permission.

 

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PTSD: Why It’s so Hard to Talk To Your Loved Ones

One of the worst things about PTSD is how it cuts you off from those who want to be there for you: your spouse, and closest friends and family.

When you’re suffering, your loved ones want to help. They ask what’s wrong. You know they’re trying to help… Only, you feel like you can’t talk to them.

Your loved ones can’t understand why you won’t talk about it. They feel shut out and rejected; their feelings are hurt that you won’t let them be there for you. And that makes you feel like a jerk, which doesn’t help: now you’re feeling like a jerk on top of suffering, and your loved one is feeling rejected and helpless. Quite the hot mess, eh?

…If this scenario sounds familiar to you, then I invite you to read this post, and then share it with your loved one. Hopefully, it’ll help both of you understand what’s going on and why. And it’ll help both of you feel better.

A big piece of PTSD is avoidance. Basically, that means even thinking about “that stuff” is about as easy as staring directly into the sun without squinting: just like the glare of the sun, the glare of your feelings around the trauma is too intense. It’s not that you’re trying to shut out your loved one; first and foremost you’re trying to shut yourself out, because thinking about that stuff just feels so awful.

Now, add to the pain of thinking about the stuff, the idea of sharing it with your loved one. That takes it to a whole new level: it feels like taking your most horrible, painful thoughts and feelings, and inflicting them on someone you care about. You can’t bring yourself to do it because you can’t bear to even think about that stuff, can’t bear to hurt them, and can’t bear to watch how it hurts them to know what happened to you.

It’s not a choice, it’s a symptom. So, stop beating up on yourself about it – you’re just making yourself feel worse for something you can’t control right now. Instead tell your loved one something like, “Thank you for caring about me. Your support means a lot. I wish I could talk to you about it, but right now I just can’t. Even thinking about it to myself is too much.”

If you’re the loved one on the other end of this, understand that it can be too painful for the person with PTSD to talk about their trauma. It’s not a choice; it’s not a reflection of how much they trust you, so please don’t make it a test of your relationship. Know that if they could, they would tell you. Let them know that you support them, and ask how you can be helpful. Realize that sometimes, being helpful might mean backing off, or helping them distract from their feelings.

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Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy content, including photographs, from Coming Back Home without permission.

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The Trouble with Positive Thinking

Hi everyone!

I’d like to talk to you about positive thinking. It’s a popular concept, right? You hear about it all the time: “Just think positive!” It’s supposed to make you feel better and get you out of a rut if you’re feeling stuck.

Well – it’s not quite that simple. And sometimes, “just thinking positive” is not actually a good thing. Let me try to explain that with an example.

Say a little kid is afraid of a monster under the bed. You’re trying to make him feel better. What would you do?

Would you tell him to stop worrying about the monster and “just think positive”? Or, would you look under the bed, tell him there is no monster, and invite him to get down on the floor and take a look for himself?

(…If you didn’t pick up on the subtle hint there, I was kind of hoping you’d go with option B).

Folks – when you’re feeling concerned about something, that ‘what-if’ is a bit like feeling there might be a grizzly bear standing behind you. “Thinking positive” is like telling yourself to ignore the possibility of A BEAR, and just look at the pretty meadow in front of you.

…First of all, it doesn’t work. It’s a bleeping BEAR. Expecting yourself to ignore your fear is ridiculous!!! You can’t get your mind off the bear, no matter how hard you try to make yourself think of the meadow instead. And when you can’t do it, you feel like a failure. So now, you’re feeling scared of the bear, pressured to not feel scared of the bear, and ashamed that you can’t stop feeling scared of the bear. Gee, that’s a much bigger mess than just being scared, now isn’t it?

…Second – trying to force the bear out of your mind is exhausting. It takes up all of your energy, and makes it hard to focus on anything else.

…And third – it’s basically avoidance. Avoidance feeds the fear, and keeps it growing.

So – what can you do instead?

Well – I’m guessing that most of your concerns are a little more complicated than imaginary bears and monsters. You can’t just make the concern go away by checking behind you or under the bed.

Start by reminding yourself that feelings are reactions to events, and you are not making a choice to feel worried: your feeling is a natural reaction to events. Then, at least you aren’t piling shame and guilt on top of the worrying. That doesn’t fix whatever you’re worried about, but at least it frees up some mental space for problem-solving…

Blog from bro

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy content, including photographs, from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Your Love-Hate Relationship with your Anxiety

Hi everyone!

In past posts, I’ve talked about relaxation – how important it is; how and why to relax; when to do it. For some people, the basic information on when, how, and why is all they need to start a habit of healthy mental hygiene.

If you’re thinking, “good for those people”, then this post is for you.

When anxiety has been a big part of your life for a long time, you and your anxiety become so tangled up in each other that it gets hard to imagine yourself without it. You develop a love-hate relationship with your anxiety:

In many ways, you see your anxiety as an enemy: it prevents you from being able to sleep; it turns your stomach inside out when you try to eat; it makes you clench your jaw and grind your teeth. You’re exhausted and in pain, and a part of you is so sick of your anxiety that you just want to get rid of it.

On the other hand, you might feel like there were times in your life when being on high alert saved your bacon (or times when you got hurt that you blame on not being alert enough). So, a part of you may feel like your anxiety is a friend and protector that keeps you safe, and just the thought of letting it go might make you feel exposed and vulnerable to danger.

If this is you, then step #1 is to stop thinking of it as all-or-nothing. Start thinking of your anxiety on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being none and 10 being the worst possible anxiety. Where on this scale might you be on a typical day?

Try to imagine turning the dial back by just a smidge – maybe 1/4 of a point. You’re still alert enough to react when necessary, but you’re starting to very gently balance that so you can sleep better and have less pain.

The idea is to slowly dial back your anxiety, one tiny bit at a time, and help yourself learn to tolerate calm. Gradually, you will teach yourself that you don’t need to be wound so tight to stay alert and keep yourself safe.

Simple, right? Yeah, but simple and easy are two very different things… Be patient with yourself.

AE2V0113

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Getting through November 11th: A brief how-to guide

Hi, everyone!

With less than a week to go, and especially after the stuff that’s been going on lately – a lot of you are probably looking at the calendar and hearing that music from JAWS playing in the back of your head.

I know – you don’t want to think about it. But, not thinking about it means you rob yourself of the opportunity to prepare.

Here’s a few ideas for how to get through it:

Start with a review of what you did last year. Who did you spend the day with? What did you do? What parts of that worked, and what parts need improving? This is your best starting point for getting a sense of what you need: if you spent the day with friends but felt exhausted by the end, then perhaps you need some more time to yourself. If you were by yourself but felt isolated, then consider spending part of the day with people.

This is going to sound cheesy, but: give yourself permission to feel. Military culture means that you expect yourself to be this unwavering wall of steel, where nothing gets under your skin. Well – this is a day that’s supposed to get under your skin, because you care.

So – this year, instead of telling yourself to suck it up harder and make sure you don’t choke up or let a tear slip out – tell yourself something like this: “Hey, you know what? This day is to remember all the sacrifices. Yeah, I’m going to get choked up – and if anyone’s got a problem with that, then they need to get their compassion chip adjusted!!!”

That way, you don’t have to worry about getting emotional – it takes a lot of pressure off of yourself, and might make it easier to get through the day.

 

Now – that’s all pretty light and fluffy so far, right? Heads up – this next part digs deeper, so you may not want to read it in public.

 

Lots of people struggle with a sense of guilt and shame about fallen comrades, because you lived and they didn’t so, somehow, your brain twists this into being all your fault. Maybe you even realize that these feelings don’t make logical sense, and you kick yourself to stop feeling this way but can’t let it go. That makes getting through this day particularly tricky. If you’re hoping I’ve got words of wisdom that’ll help you skip through the day like it’s full of puppy dogs and rainbows and butterflies – um, just to warn you, you may be a little disappointed…

If this is you, then here’s a tough question to ask yourself: what are you doing to remember and honour the fallen today… and what are you doing just to punish yourself for having lived?

There’s a difference. If it feels like you’re punishing yourself, then you’re not genuinely honouring anyone.

So – switch gears. Work hard to remember one happy memory about your friend. Try to remember it in as much detail as you can. Do your best smile like you mean it. Spend a little less time and energy on punishing yourself.

There – you’ve just honoured and remembered them. Well done.

 

MCC12

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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“Others have it so much worse than me”

Folks –

The title of today’s post is the bane of my existence. Seriously – if only we could give up those words, the world would be a healthier place.

I hear some version of it every day.

Usually, it goes something like this: something happens, and you feel sadness, disappointment, frustration. And then…

“…I shouldn’t feel that way, because others have it so much worse than me.”

Well – you’re half right. The world is full of people who have it worse than you: if you’re reading this, then you have access to the internet. You probably also have other luxuries, like running water, electricity, food, and shoes. Other people don’t, and that’s awful.

But… you know what?

How exactly are you helping them by laying on the guilt?

Think about it: if you’re feeling sad, frustrated, nervous, or whatever, you are reacting to something, and that emotion is real. Sure, your something may be smaller than somebody else’s something, but it is no less real.

Look at it another way: say you’re out in the sun on a really hot day. You get a little sweaty. Would you feel guilty for sweating, because other people live in the tropics or the desert and they have so much hotter and you?

… Yeah. Probably not.

Feelings are a natural, reflex reaction to stuff that happens. We don’t choose to feel them – if we did, no one would choose to feel jealous, disappointed, or sad, because it’s no fun. Feelings are reactions – same as sweating is a reaction to being too warm. We cannot stop or control them.

If we were able to just accept our feelings, we’d be much happier (this is why I talk about mindfulness).

Unfortunately, we usually judge ourselves for having feelings: feeling guilty for being sad because “others have it so much worse than me”. Feeling ashamed for being scared, frustrated, angry, whatever.

Sure, sometimes your feelings are as inconvenient or unpleasant as bad breath, body odour, or pimples. But like it or not, your feelings are real.  Feeling guilt or shame about them doesn’t make them go away, it just makes you feel miserable.

Try this exercise: Give yourself permission to feel. Observe your feelings, without judging them. If you catch yourself thinking stuff like, “Isn’t that horrible? What kind of a person would feel that way?”, tell that judging voice that a healthy person would feel that way – because having real feelings without guilt or self-judgment is a healthy thing to do.

It won’t be easy at first – you might catch yourself criticizing and judging a LOT.

Don’t give up – keep trying!!! It will get easier with practice, and it will make a difference.

MCC8

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Mindfulness: Learning to Observe Without Judging

Folks,

As I was saying a couple of post ago – mindfulness is about learning to be fully present in the moment.

Tall order, I know. Hey – it’s a skill. You know how you develop skills? Through practice.

One of the things that keeps us from being in the present is a tendency to constantly critique what we’re doing and how we’re doing it: chances are, whatever you do, there’s a little voice in the back of your head. Let’s call it The Critic. When you’re trying to do something, The Critic may offer up all sorts of unhelpful commentary:

“Seriously? What’s taking you so long? Do you realize how many other things you need to get done today? You’re already running late! You’ll never get it all finished at this rate – so you’ll have to do some of it tomorrow. You’re already late for tomorrow – you’ve just ruined the whole week!!!”

The Critic quickly fills up your head with unpleasant thoughts coming at you a mile a minute; when you’re taking that kind of fire inside your own head, it’s hard to focus on what you’re actually trying to do. Your own brain is wasting a ridiculous amount of time and energy bullying you and slowing you down.

So – one important step toward mindfulness is learning to silence The Critic.

How do you do that?

You remind yourself that The Critic doesn’t help you get things done; it just fills your head up with negativity and worry, and messes everything up.

Start by just trying to notice The Critic when it starts nattering at you. When you get good at doing this, you might be shocked at how it criticizes your every move.

Then, once you get good at noticing that it’s happening – you’re ready for Phase Two.

Phase Two basically means, every time you hear The Critic inside your head – you tell it to go pound salt, and tell yourself to go back to paying attention to what you’re doing.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Yeah – well, simple and easy are two very different things – and Phase Two will take lots of practice.

Then, mindfulness is basically paying attention to what you’re doing as you’re doing it, without The Critic commenting on your every move.

MCC11

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Relaxation: How to Actually *DO* It

Folks – in previous posts, I’ve talked about relaxation; how important it is; what to do; and how doing it regularly can help manage your symptoms, bla, bla, bla.

Face it – if you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, then you’ve heard that relaxation is good for you so often that you almost think it’s low in fat and full of fibre.

What I haven’t covered enough is the HOWhow do you actually relax, when you’re so wound up that you can’t relax?

Obviously, if you could just calm down when you wanted to, then you would just do so. And then you’d be fine, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

The problem is, you can’t relax just because you’d like to.

You might have tried the relaxation exercises I posted earlier; chances are, here’s how it went:

  1. You got distracted pretty much immediately;
  2. Once you got distracted, a little voice in the back of your head said, “Seriously??? It’s been like, half a second. Not even a whole second, and I’m already distracted. Well, this is great!!! That’s completely useless. I can’t do this crap. I’m NOT relaxed – I’m even more stressed out than I was before I started trying to relax, because now I’m ticked off that I can’t even relax for half a second. I’m done with this crap, all it’s doing is making me feel like a failure.”

Look – relaxation is about learning to get to a state of calm. And when your threat-response system is going off all the time, staying to a state of calm is – at first – just about impossible.

When you first start trying to relax, I need you to expect to lose your focus almost immediately: don’t be disappointed when this happens – relaxation is NOT about seeing how long you can go without getting distracted; the goal is to keep getting back to it when you do lose your focus, and trying again.

Yeah – at first, you’re going to feel like you’re falling off the horse as soon as you try to get back on. That’s normal; the trick is to resist the temptation to get sucked into getting frustrated about it, and go back to try again.

Eventually, that half a second before you fall off will turn into a whole second, then two, then five, and then even more.

If you keep working at it, you will start to see that work paying off.

Seriously.

I promise.

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Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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PTSD and the science behind why you can’t just “get over it”

Folks,

This question comes up a lot.

If it’s something you ask yourself, please read this. If other people ask you why you aren’t over it yet – please share this with them, and maybe it will help them to understand.

Trauma memories aren’t like other memories – they don’t fade over time. Every time you think of them, they feel like they just happened yesterday (or worse – like they’re happening now).

Here’s why, in a nutshell:

Think of your brain as having two main parts:

Part 1 is your “Thinking Brain”. Thinking Brain is smart, rational and fact-based. We’re conscious of the thoughts it comes up with. It plans, organizes, and problem-solves.

When it stores a memory, it’s like a librarian – it organizes by theme and date. So, its memories of your senior year of high school, might include the music you liked that year; the person you had a crush on; the part-time job you worked; and, oh dear, that goofy haircut you had that was so cool back then. Remembering these memories feels like you’re looking through an old photo album – there’s a distinct sense of “me-now” remembering what happened to “me-then”.

Part 2 is your “Threat-Response Brain”. We’ve talked about this one before, here, here, and here; it’s not smart, it’s not rational, and you’re not consciously aware of what it thinks.

Your Threat Brain stores memory very differently – and it does so on purpose.

Pretend you touched a hot stove once, when you were a kid; you burned your hand and cried.

To be good at predicting future threats, your Threat Brain needs to know that “hot things hurt“. Time and context don’t matter: you don’t want a Threat Brain that thinks “Yeah, I hurt myself on a hot stove – but it was Grandma’s old gas stove, back when I was a kid, and she was cooking breakfast; I’m an adult now, in my house, making dinner, and my stove is electric, so let’s try touching it, because maybe it’ll feel good.”

Folks – that really wouldn’t help much, now would it?

The way the Threat Brain works is: “Every time I see/hear/smell something that reminds me of the hurt, there might be danger.” The threat brain also generalizes to similar threats – so, if you hurt yourself by touching a hot stove, you don’t need to also touch a hot iron, and stick your hand in a campfire – your threat brain learns that hot = pain.

This is why memories of trauma stay fresh and vivid in your mind, even years or decades later: they are kept in a different part of your brain than other memories. The point of the Threat Brain is to protect you – so it makes sure you remember danger as if it had just happened.

So – how do you cope with this stuff, when it gets triggered? You use grounding skills. Remind yourself that feeling triggered means that your Threat Brain is reacting – it doesn’t mean that you’re in danger. Tell yourself, “my threat brain is reacting right now because this looks/smells/sounds similar to my trauma – but that was X years ago, and I’m here now, and that’s not happening anymore. I’m okay.” This helps you refocus on the here-and-now.

To fine-tune your Threat Brain’s reactions, there are no quick and easy tricks I can teach you in a blog post – but, there are specific therapies out there (EMDR for example) that can help with that.

MCC6

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (as in therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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UNmindfulness, or “the art of furiously doing”

Hello again, folks!

I know I’ve been away for quite a bit. I’m hoping to get back to writing regularly.

When we left off, I was talking about mindfulness, and promising to explain what it’s all about.

Mindfulness is basically the opposite of what you’re probably doing now: When your threat-response reflex is constantly stuck in overdrive, all that adrenalin running through your body makes everything feel like a crisis, and makes you feel like you’re always in a mad rush. So, as a result – you’re constantly, furiously, doing.

“Furiously doing” can take on a number of forms – some people are workaholics. Some become obsessive about keeping their house clean; some get addicted to gambling, pornography, you name it. You may be so wound up that you find it difficult to finish stuff you start, especially boring tedious things – your constant adrenalin rush makes it hard to slow down enough to focus on that stuff for long. It might be that even when you aren’t running around, your mind will still be going a hundred miles a minute: by “furiously doing”, I mean being unable to just sit and be.

When you’re good at furiously doing, you might enjoy how efficient or productive it makes you feel. You might find yourself impatient with people who can’t keep up with your pace; it might feel like those people are getting in the way of your mission.

You might notice that the list of stuff that needs doing never gets any smaller, and you don’t get much satisfaction from getting stuff done – you just feel like a hamster on a wheel, running mainly for the sake of running.

One really key thing to understand is – you’re not furiously doing to get stuff done. You’re actually furiously doing, because you’re so wound up that you can’t not furiously do.

When you function like this, your loved ones might feel like the stuff you’re doing always seems to be more important than spending time with them; they might think that they don’t matter enough to you, and they might blame themselves. It’s hard for them to understand why you can’t just take some time for them. When you try to force yourself to slow down, you might come across as irritated. They might ask why you’re angry, and you might wonder why they have to take so long to do the smallest things.

Mindfulness is about learning to just be: to stop furiously doing, and become fully engaged in the here and now, to be 100% in this moment.

Learning mindfulness will take a lot of hard work – but, it’s important to have the choice to shut off the autopilot sometimes, and feel like you’re actually engaged in living your life.

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Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (like, therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Military Training vs. Mindfulness

Hi, folks!

I’ve missed you, and I’m happy to be getting back to blogging. I’ve neglected you for far too long.

New topic today, folks: mindfulness. I’m going to take a few posts to talk about it, because it’s important.

If it’s a buzzword you haven’t heard yet, then boy oh boy, are you in for a treat! Mindfulness is a way to let go of the self-criticism, shame and guilt that keeps you stuck in misery.

Mindfuless is so awesome, I could almost say it’s nutritious and delicious, and I’d only be exaggerating a little.

Not only that, but mindfulness is… the exact opposite of everything you have learned in your entire military career, EVER.

So, wrapping your head around it is going to feel a bit like learning to live life on an alien planet.

In the military, you learn to push yourself to your limits, and then to push yourself some more. If that doesn’t work, then the answer is to push yourself even harder – never yield, never, ever give up.

Now – I’m not pointing this out to in any way disrespect military culture – as I have said before, your perseverance is something that I respect and admire. I understand that, in your line of work, expecting yourself to succeed against impossible odds is necessary.

Here’s the thing, though: when dealing with your mental health, that dogged determination is precisely what bites you in the six, and grinds you deeper and deeper into your misery.

It’s like this: maybe you went through some stuff, and it rattled you, and you just can’t shake it. But, you believe that failure is unacceptable, and you feel like a failure that you can’t shake it. You also believe that the way to success is to push yourself harder. The thing is – when you’re depressed, overwhelmed, stressed out, not sleeping well, having nightmares and panic attacks – then pushing yourself harder, and expecting yourself to suck it up and soldier on doesn’t magically make your issues go away. It does just the opposite – it makes you feel worse. So, you push ever harder – and as a result, you feel even worse.

In your work, pushing yourself harder is your best tool. In your mental health, it’s your worst enemy.

So – this is why we’re going to learn about mindfulness. Mindfulness is about noticing our own experience without judging it; no shame, no guilt, no self-criticism, just a “here’s where I’m at now”.

NO, it doesn’t magically solve all of your problems – but, it gives you a chance to stop being your own worst enemy. And once you stop putting all of your energy into beating the crap out of yourself, well, then it actually becomes a lot easier to cope.

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Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (like, therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by Larry M. Jaipaul, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Relaxation to Control Panic: What You’re Doing Wrong

So – we’ve been talking about panic – where it comes from, and some basic fears and facts.

You may have read those posts, tried some of the strategies, and concluded that they don’t work.

They do work; let’s just tweak how and when you use them.

Let’s put anxiety on a scale of 0 to 10. 0 means you’re so relaxed you’re barely conscious; 10 is a full-blown panic attack.

Chances are, you never actually get all the way down to 0; your best day is a 5. Your average day is a 7.

Folks – that means that on an average day, you’re already two-thirds of the way to panic. (Yes, this is precisely why I keep yammering about relaxation – because even if you get your average down to a 6, you’ve already given yourself a little extra breathing room).

So – on a typical day, even something pretty small is enough to get your anxiety to start creeping up.

You feel the familiar tell-tale signs – your heart starts beating a little quicker. Your muscles start to tense up. You feel a little more nervous.

And what do you do? You do your best to ignore it.

It’s kind of like a really annoying neighbour. The kind who talks your ear off about nothing, boring you to tears. If that dude is knocking on your door, you sit really quietly and hope he goes away. That’s how you react to anxiety.

Well – it might work with your neighbour. But with anxiety? Here’s what your head is doing while you’re trying to ignore anxiety:

“Uh oh… I know that feeling… Oh crap, are we gonna do this again? CRAP. I really hate this. I really, really hate this. I don’t want this to happen again. Please, please, please, not this nonsense again….”

Yeah. Just reading that makes you feel a little nervous right? Stop. Breathe. You’re okay.

The point is – thinking that way makes you feel completely helpless, and that makes the panic worse. So, while you’re busy trying to ignore your panic – it just builds and builds. And then, when you get to a 9.5 out of 10 – then you think: “Oh, crap. It’s coming. Quick – what was I supposed to do? Breathe, and tell myself some reassuring stuff? How did that go again?”

Folks – by the time you get to 9.5, trying to remember what you’re supposed to do to relax is a lot like trying to hold back Niagara Falls with a paperclip. It ain’t gonna do squat to help you out at that point.

Your timing’s off. You’re doing the right things, at the wrong time.

Here’s how to tweak it to get more control: the moment you start to feel your anxiety inching up – right when you start to get the urge to try to ignore it – that is when you need to remind yourself that you are not helpless. Now is your chance to be proactive and take control. Yes this will be unpleasant – but it can’t kill you, and the more you focus on taking control, the more you’ll be successful in making this kind of thing shorter and less frequent.

…And when you start your slow, deep breathing, keep breathing – your panic will make you want to give up after just a few seconds and go, “It’s not working, it’s not working!!! I can’t do this!”

Hey – it’s not working yet, okay? It works. Keep doing it. Give it at least ten minutes of good, focused, slow, deep breaths. It’ll work. And with practice, it’ll get easier.

MC Charb 1

Please share this post, and any other on this blog, with anyone who might benefit.

I’d love to have you share your comments and questions – but before you post, can you take a quick peek at the guidelines? (Basically, please don’t post trauma details that will trigger other people, please don’t sell stuff, and be respectful to others when you post.)

If you’d like to get more updates from me, you can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fine print: Reading this blog is a good start, but if you’re having a hard time, it’s no substitute for getting actual help (like, therapy). It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling, and to seek help. Getting help is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

Really fine print: Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photo gracing today’s post was taken by M & C Charbonneau, and I’d like to thank them for generously allowing me to use their work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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