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Holy Smokes!

This entire info offering is about the mechanics of stress, at least that was the bit of inspiration that got me going. I’ve been meaning to toss in a new info kernel as grist for the mill for a while now. Take a look at what’s happening around us now. It sure seemed like a long time of being constantly aware of Covid 19’s influence on our lives. For me – that was a long term stressor and it still is on the stage in my little theatre, however with the vaccines getting doled out and case numbers crashing amongst those who have been vaccinated…Covid is no longer playing the lead as a ‘Hot Button’ for me. I’ve been jabbed twice now.

Wild fires have now taken over as my primary stressor! Was there even a moment of quiet calm between these two storms? I don’t think so. The threat of Wild Fire is another long term stressor, and let’s be clear – I am not even in harm’s way at the moment. The fires are in the News everyday…with towns being burned, thousands of homes being evacuated and a veil of smoke blanketing almost everywhere. Is there anyone that this isn’t being affected right now!? I can tell you that I am stressed by it and having to put my resilience resources into practice everyday.

An ounce of prevention is definitely worth a 0.5 kilograms (~a pound) of cure. Front load for long term stressors with resilience training because if you wait until something breaks under the strain – it can be a very long road back to health. Resilience strategies are a part of this site. Pick one and build it into your practice. The rewards can be felt quite quickly.

In the meantime, for some instant relief I go to a simple breathing exercise. Try to clear my mind…and

  1. Breathe in to the count of 3
  2. Hold for a count of 3
  3. Breathe out to the count of 3
  4. Repeat 3 times

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Run up the Flags…

Apparently men with depression present with irritability. I’ve been thinking about this, and in my case it is certainly true. My diagnosis includes mood swings in both directions, depressive dips and manic moments. It strikes me that both directions of travel must therefore have a signal flag. In my case, irritability travels hand-in-hand with my depressive cycles. On the opposite end – being manic, I am argumentative. I can use both of these states; they will be my signal flags.

Recognize that being irritable, and being argumentative are two completely different and recognizable frames of mind in my world. Each can be equated to a direction of travel: up into mania or down into depression. The trick lies in being aware, and in the moment to recognize the path you are on, when either of these two flags are/have been flapping in your prevailing wind.

  • Depression: I’ll notice that I start grumbling under my breathe towards people I love, particularly my wife. She’ll make a suggestion of some sort or ask me to do something and my immediate reaction is very negative and usually internalized. I am smart enough not to say everything out loud! Usually the first few trending reactions will slip under my radar, but I will eventually recognize this early onset behavior and I can then label the direction of my travel toward a depression. I then go to my resilience and recovery model to select strategies that will bend the latest depressive curve into an upward climb. Typically, I go to strategies like exercise, hobbies, social supports and sleeping habits to accomplish this intervention.
  • Mania: I argue while manic because I’ve thought about my latest idea’s a whole lot more than you have. I’ve run the ideas through my mind repetitively 24/7 and have been so excited by my latest branches of discovery that my mind refuses to slow down or squeeze in a healthy sleep …anyone else would be left exhausted. You are asking me to slow down and explain the many facets of my thinking to you. I can tell you that my super energetic powers will lend themselves to some delusional beliefs that you are probably not going to buy into, at least not without a healthy dose of convincing. There’s an argument brewing in this somewhere I’m sure!! When I recognize the urge to argue, the direction of travel for me is going to be manic. I turn again to my resilience and recovery model to select strategies that will bend this ascending curve back toward comfortable middle ground. I like to explore strategies of relaxation at this point to slow my mind down.

My argumentative look is different from my snarly, irritable appearance. Learning to recognize both of these mood flags has been an enormous help in being better able to manage my own mental illness.

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Healing with a Healthy Hyphen

The Dash Poem (Read by Author) Linda’s web site: www.LindaEllis.life – YouTube

www.lindaellis.life

A number of years ago I attended the funeral of a friend and heard for the first time a eulogy that included the reading of a beautiful poem written by Linda Ellis – “The Dash”.  It had the impact of shifting my entire paradigm.   If you don’t know it – check it out!  Then this past weekend, I saw a story on the BCTV Global Morning News that was about somebody clearly living on the path of “The Dash”.

The story featured a new young author, Christie Lea, who has written a Children’s Picture Book titled, “Safe in Starry Arms”.  The book was written to help children with issues of anxiety, mental health and through a journey of recovery.  Link: www.christieleaauthor.com

I was blown away to learn that Christie Lea had been a busy first responder as a 911 call-centre dispatcher until a couple of years ago when she was ‘taken out of that game’ with a diagnosis of Complex PTSD.  I would say now  that Christie Lea is winning her battles against the stigma that associates with mental illness.  I can also say from personal experience (and now with Christie Lea’s effort) that a recovery really gains traction when we reach out to honestly help someone else.  The poem speaks it clearly; a contemplation of our dashes can produce some really healthy lifetime hyphens!  Well done, Christie Lea!

First time…Hindsight is 2020 for Everyone!

It’s a brand new day! It’s a brand new Year! I don’t think that ‘brain rest’ is a high priority for many right now. Maybe it should be! When I ask you what do you do to relax, chances are you might respond with sleep, take a nap, listen to music, go for a walk, exercise, eat, read a book, take a vacation…(these used to be my answers too!) Exercise, sleeping and smart nutrition are already separate strategies for stress management so we are talking about something unique here when we say ‘relaxation’. Finding a space to meditate allows me the freedom to exercise my own brand of ‘brain rest’.

One Stressor after another! BUT STILL RELAXED!

My brain was, and still is, very capable of addressing very stressful situations using the skills I have learned through life and through the specialized training I’ve gleaned along the way. My brain is always watching for any sign of trouble with very little down time – it’s cell connections clean and quick. I had to be told, after my break-down, that my brain’s ‘on’ switch needed to be balanced with an ‘off’ switch, AND that it was important enough to be one of my highest priorities.

I used to think I totally sucked at meditation. Nobody told me it takes time and practice…not just once or twice – try six weeks worth! This is because the brain needs this time to create new new cell connections so it can answer the new, rested environment. I tried to meditate a number of times and quit because nothing was changing…now I know why! I found this fun way to get started and it’s worth a try. Without giving too much away – you’ll never look at a raisin the same way again after you’ve done this a few times. You can find audio downloads if you wish. Start by looking up Jon Cabot Zinn.

Here’s a link to a great starting point to one form of meditation:

Raisin Meditation | Practice | Greater Good in Action (berkeley.edu)

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Feels like Shouting into the Wind…

What has changed since my last post? We’ve had Covid casualties, but now we’ve got stress casualties mounting!

I grow increasingly concerned as I watch the news around the ballooning numbers of Covid 19 cases and the piling death toll this virus has exacted from our communities. The headlines are now, after 9 months of this, starting to focus on the price being paid by our frontline personnel – drawing our attention to their fatigue, helpless exhaustion and smoldering burn-outs. Try to imagine what it must be like! Few if any days off, long shifts, staffing shortages, a selfless sense of duty to save lives, and a pleading cry to limit social contacts, wash hands often, and wear a mask. I can only imagine the cauldron of frustration and anger that must be lurking beneath the surface of many – 100 % compliance and assistance is what our frontline people deserve. That’s not what they are getting with political bickering, non-maskers and those who have called their reality a ‘Hoax’. Stir these ingredients into the old cauldron along with that trusty ‘eye of newt’ and you are brewing the perfect pot of stress-related curses.

I hatched this website because I’ve been there, done that and bought the T-Shirt from the gift shop, as I exited the ride. Long-term stress from multiple sources took me out. It killed my career. It murdered my marriage and flipped the lifeboat of family to which I had been clinging. In order to survive beyond my breakdowns, mental, physical and social – I needed to retool, learn and rethink myself back to wellness. The menacing path I’d escaped had been narrow, steep and extremely slippery. ALL OF THE MEDICAL CAREGIVERS I’M SEEING ON THE NEWS LATELY APPEAR TO BE ON THAT VERY SAME PATH. IT COULD EASILY HAVE KILLED ME. I GOT LUCKY – IT ONLY WRECKED ME!

This website has been up for a couple of years now. It provides some comprehensive strategies designed to strengthen one’s resilience to the effects of stress that are proven effective. The site’s stats bear out that very few individuals have found it or responded to it. That’s why the message feels like it’s being shouted into the wind. I think there is a desperate need for pre-emptive thinking. When a body calls upon it’s various systems to meet the challenges of such long-term stress and the response is “no gas left in the tank”, or “no more oil”, or “oops, a crucial component of this system has broken”; the results are very serious.

If you read this and agree…pass it on. If you know a medical first responder, ask them to seriously consider adding strategies to whatever it is they are already doing. When it comes to stress – the more facets of address we can muster – the stronger our resilience becomes. Finally, remember that the work is much easier when done before something hurts. After the fact, you may be stuck with trying to make something good out of “The damage is done”.

The Pandemic Stressor

My family and I are cooped up at home attempting to cope with our social distances and this covert Covid-19 threat, or the invisible enemy, as it has now been termed. The three of us in this household all have reason to respect the new rules – one of us is 97 years old (not me). We started our exile by attempting to watch more television. Unfortunately, news of this adversary is on every channel…there’s no escape.

I started this web site project to share some of what I’ve learned about stress in life. You might have thought when I started that this idea was good information for ‘First Responders’, having come from a former ‘First Responder’. Compartmental thinking at its best. I think our clan’s brand of exposure has just grown exponentially due to this pandemic emergency. Let me explain:

  1. Episodic stressors are not as dangerous as chronic, non-stop marathons of stress response.
  2. Pre-Pandemic most of us were enjoying the roller-coaster of episodic excitement, suspense and disappointments. The benefit to that way of life was that there was usually a space of time between each trial to recover and prepare for the next test.
  3. We are now in the Pandemic – The world is making dramatic and rapid shifts at the hands of a very frightening problem to which we don’t have a fix yet. The best case scenario for any solution is predicted to be a year away. People are already asking, “How much longer do I have to stay inside?” Meanwhile, the media is showing us the worst of the worst, thousands of people are dead and more are destined to die – while networks are competing for viewership. That in of itself is particularly stressful for me and makes this, our new state of being, a chronic, non-stop marathon of stress response. Are you with me?
  4. Social distancing practice has taken away a number of stress coping strategies that many of us have previously enjoyed in the past – now what??!! We are all in the same non-stop stress boat now. This open-circuit of fight/flight reactions happening in us all will start taking some tolls soon without an intervention. We need to come up with a good, proven plan.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chronicstress.jpg
A Non-Stop Marathon of Stress Responses

Attack this kind of stress with a comprehensive strategy of balance. I suggest balancing an approach of mind-rest with physical exercise. Find some free examples of ‘progressive muscle relaxation exercises‘ for your mind’s sake and practice them. There are many such sources on line. Balance these with some brisk walking – 15 to 20 minutes a day to start. Just these two tools (described in more detail further into this site) will get you started on a good footing that will favorably impact the negative effects that stress is having on you now, if you are doing nothing to mitigate it.

If you are reading this and find the information on this site helpful then please share the site with others in your circle of influence. I paid a price for being naive to the stressors that took me down twenty years ago. My only goal now is to be a part of preventing my same fate from befalling another unsuspecting victim.

Be safe…

Always Learning…

I was recently on one of my teaching trips back down to Orange County, California when a good friend of mine urged me to have a look at video he’d captured on his laptop.  It was a ‘TED Talks‘ session featuring Psychologist Kelly McGonigal speaking about some recent science she had come upon relating to stress.  The segment is about 14 minutes in length and talks in large part about your mindset’s effect on stress.  Here is the link:

I was particularly interested in what she had to say about oxytocin and the social contexts associated with it’s release into our systems.  When I marry this science up to the separate information about ‘telomerase’ showing up to repair our stress-worn & shrinking ‘telomeres’ – I can’t help but bowing my head in reverence to the miracle of life.  (Information about our telomeres presented in link relating to ‘Stress: Portrait of a Killer’.)

In terms of recovery – I can certainly attest to the power of reaching out to help others.  Human connection is a very powerful tool for healing and strength.  I must have some oxytocin flowing in my veins!

Until next time…

Eighteen Years and Counting…

I was medically discharged from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in July 2000.  It’s now December 8, 2018 and I am reading about Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, his stress-related departure from the RCMP and ultimately his suicide.  I recognize most of the environmentally adverse conditions that tortured Pierre as being present and fully accounted for during my decline from health and the Force as well.  In terms of cultural change within the RCMP – it does appear that change has been moving at a pace that can only be described as thick and slow.  I don’t think I am the only one saying it, either.

I’ve just moved back to Vancouver Island after spending 15 years in California.  While down south, I was invited to assist in the training of law enforcement officers on the topic of mental illness.  We started out with a 16 hours Basic Level course and it has built up into a full 40-hours Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training that has now expanded to include an additional 16-hours of training specifically for Dispatch personnel.

When I got back up here, I started asking some of the officers I encountered, “What does your Crisis Intervention Team training look like around here?”  I was surprised by the consistent answers I got.  Apparently there is a 3 or 4 hour on-line training exercise that is mandatory for all officers to complete.  News Flash…A short session of mandatory on-line presence is not doing or even practicing CIT and cultural shifting will not take place in front of a computer. Really…have you ever taken a mandatory, on-line training that is timed?  I’ve usually walked away from such sessions with the driving urge to purge the whole thing!

Crisis Intervention Team Training has been around for 30 years now.  The driving organization, CIT International, has spokes that reach far and wide including pockets of activity in Ontario!  It’s about more than just training – it’s all about improving crisis response.

To add injury to insult – the tragic loss of Sgt. Lemaitre began with a group of responding officers’ fatal handling of a mentally distressed Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport years ago.    Two people died.  The RCMP received a large blackeye over its handling of the Dziekanski case then, and it looks like the Coroner’s Jury has more recently pointed out some systemic issues that continue to plague the Force – Our Crisis Response must improve.

The Crisis Intervention Team International hosts a large conference every year in August.  Next year’s conference (2019) is being held in Seattle, Wash.  Here is the link with all the information.  http://www.citinternational.org/events

This conference brings together international law enforcement officers, mental health care providers, advocacy groups and persons with lived-experience.  I challenge the decision makers, particularly in Western Canada, to participate in the 2019 Seattle conference and compare what you’ll find there, to what you’ve got here.  Maybe it’s the first step.

D. Scott Whyte