Trauma. We’ve all got it. Big, small, convoluted, simple (relatively), life-changing, or seemingly insignificant. Sometimes it’s an isolated incident and we can move through it somewhat easily. Other times, it creeps up without notice and drags us right back to the specific incident. 

The definition of trauma from describes it as “the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.” This definition is rather vague, as it details more about the effects of trauma, yet does not describe what trauma is. This is because trauma is a uniquely individual experience of an event. 

Breaking that down one step further – trauma for one person may not be trauma for another, but the signs and symptoms often look quite similar. Everyone experiences trauma differently, however we process trauma often through fragmented and incomplete segments, because there is no WHY. Many people that I have worked with, as well as family, friends, and even myself have one question when talking about our traumas – WHY? What did I do to deserve this?

Processing trauma in fragmented pieces can be challenging because it can create a loop of fixation on the mini events of the trauma, as we are unable to process them deeply to come to a resolution on our own. This manifests itself as rumination. Although rumination is a very normal process, it is not very helpful in managing and overcoming the aftermath of our traumas. 

Although the WHY is not always an attainable reality, we can learn to cope and grow through our traumas. This process is often painful as it requires reliving or talking about the traumatic event that may be fully or partially blocked from memory. Science has proven that writing about our traumas can help us make them more coherent, so that our brains are not constantly trying to piece together the brokenness of the memory of the event. By thoroughly writing about a trauma we can explore our thoughts and feelings surrounding it, as well as how those involved directly or indirectly to the trauma are impacted. When we write out each individual fragment and process through our thoughts, feelings, and emotions on each piece we slowly build ourselves the whole picture, which may allow us to heal. 

Writing is such a healing process, but it is not our only options when it comes to surviving trauma. When overcoming the terrible effects of going through a trauma, there is often a lot of pain involved, both mentally and physically. It is important to seek help from medical doctors where necessary, as they can also point us in the direction of appropriate counselling or therapy. While we’re at it, can we break that stigma real quick here?! Seeking help does not make us weak; it makes us human. In my opinion, it takes one STRONG person to acknowledge that they are struggling and then DO something about it! One of the most fundamental human needs is to feel connected to each other! YES – that means to feel belonging, warmth, and the presence of those we love. Often, after a trauma, we have tendencies to shut ourselves away from the world and build up a barrier as a means of self-preservation or protection. This actually hinders our ability to heal. We NEED each other, to feel safe, to feel loved, and to feel protected, in order to move through trauma and come out the other side as comfortably as possible.

Other important considerations are exercise, proper sleep, and eating healthy to manage our symptoms. When our bodies are healthy, it helps to keep our brains healthy! This means that we can cope better when our symptoms flare up, and that our symptoms don’t flare up nearly as often.

One of the most important things to remember about trauma is that it is such an independent experience, meaning that you may go through a traumatic event with little to no extenuating or resonating effects while I may develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suffer from many side effects from that same event. Now, there is no quick fix or easy way coping and growing with our traumas however through normalizing talking about trauma and encouraging support, it can be much easier navigated.

– Jess Carberry

The Importance of Sensory Stimulation

Have you ever had the opportunity to just sit and exist on this planet; to really enjoy our human ability to experience our senses? On the flip side,  have you ever imagined what it might be like to lose one of your senses? Maybe your sight, hearing, or even the ability to use your hands? 

In grade school we were taught that we have five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. We have since learned that there is SO much more to our senses as a human! We have the ability to experience balance and acceleration, temperature, and proprioception (where our body is). The human sensory system is so very sensitive and detailed; but why? 

The University of Utah has released a great article ( demonstrating 20 different ways that human can detect senses, and according to the researchers involved in this publication, senses collect a form of information and provide them to the brain in a way that we can understand. In smaller terms, senses help us learn! We use our senses to learn about the environment around us; what it has, what it can provide for us, how it operates, and how we fit into the world around us. We also use our senses to learn about ourselves; what our bodies do, what we are capable of, how we relate to everything around us, and how we can act differently through our learning. To provide a classic example, imagine touching a hot burner. The very millisecond your hand touches that hot burner, your body knows to remove your hand before you ever got a chance to think about what was happening. Following this, you look at what you touched. You see the burner; it’s red. You smell the hot burner; it smells like hot elements. You feel the heat radiating on top of it. All of your senses are now working to determine what happened, and what you can do differently to prevent that burn from occurring again. Now the next time you see, smell, or feel the burners radiating heat, you automatically know not to touch the burner. 

Our senses work this way for many different situations, including trauma. When something significant happens to us, we remember what it feels like. We may not remember every detail, but we may remember what we saw; maybe it was a pink dress, or a yellow van. Our mind may remember what we heard; maybe there were birds chirping. Maybe someone was yelling. Our mind may remember what we felt; maybe we felt sick to our stomach, or maybe we felt pain. Our mind may remember something that may have seemed insignificant in the whole scheme of things, like the color of the wall, but because or senses detected this input during the traumatic event, we might remember this piece of information for a long time.

Senses are important in all types of life events; major and insignificant. Large and small. We learn from all of it. Some lessons are bigger than others, while others may seem small but are actually quite significant. We need sensory input in our lives. 

So, go out there and get some good sensory input! Our challenge to you is to take some time to be aware of what sensory input you are taking in. What do you hear? What do you see? What do you taste? What do you smell? Check your balance; feel all four corners of your feet flat against the floor. What do you feel? Where are you? 

And on another note; if you are looking for a fun way to experience controlled sensory input in a therapeutic setting, check out the Mountain Plains CSSN completely community accessible certified therapeutic sensory room! Access is available to anyone and everyone for $30 per session (cash only please!). Call us at 780-532-7170 to get your session with our fully trained facilitator booked today! 

Alternative Therapies

So, what exactly is alternative therapy?  According to – “Alternative therapy is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard care.  Standard care is what medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and allied health professionals, such as nurses and physical therapist, practice.”  Wow, that opens us up to a lot more forms of therapy than I had expected! There are SO many options out there. How amazing is that?! 

While I was looking through the different modalities in this area, I realized that so many of us are doing some of these alternative therapies everyday already!  Have you ever come home from a stressful day and just wanted to snuggle with your fur baby? Well, that’s a part of animal therapy. Or how many of you need to get that gym time in, or yoga time?  That’s exercise therapy. I know that personally, I seek out my Chiropractor when I feel my body needs adjusting. To my surprise, chiropractic therapy falls into alternative therapies! Who knew?!  I thought this was pretty cool, because my chiropractor appointments are covered under my work benefits, and I was under the impression that things covered were more “mainstream” practices. But guess what? Massage, acupuncture and acupressure are also alternative therapies.  I think it’s amazing that as a society we are recognizing these “alternative” practices as valuable enough to be covered under our benefit plans. 

There are so many amazing forms of alternative therapy out there to support and complement our more traditional medical therapies.  How many of you take your vitamins and possibly herbs everyday? Yep, it’s herbal therapy! A lot of these modalities we can do ourselves, but I would caution you that with some of these practices and therapies to please talk to your Doctor and/or work with a professional. For instance, I wouldn’t go to the health store and start taking random herbs without consulting my doctor, naturopath or pharmacist, because they can tell me how those herbs might interact with a medical condition or current medication.  That’s important stuff to know. 

However, something I can absolutely administer myself, is a nice long walk in the country!  For me personally, there’s almost nothing better than connecting with nature. While I’m walking, I’m focusing on my breathing and visualizing all that yummy air coming in to support my body. While I’m exhaling, I see all the yucky stuff that I’m choosing to release just evaporate.  I also take time to appreciate the beauty in the trees and plant life, as well as all the little forest critters. That personally, gives me a sense of connection and fills my heart with gratitude that I am alive right here, right now in this amazing time and place. For me, that’s nature therapy; or another term, forest therapy.  While I choose to practice this modality as a solitary experience, there are forest therapy guides who will walk you through your own unique experience.

Honestly, there is such a variety of options to choose from, and the internet will give you a lot of food for thought!  It can even be a little overwhelming when trying to decide which therapy or therapies would be best suited for you. I would encourage you to look them over and see how you feel, maybe talk to your health care professionals to see if they can suggest what would best help support you.  Also keep in mind that a lot of these modalities can be experienced on your own, or you can seek people in your community who can help you. In my opinion, life is a personal and unique journey for each and every one of us, so what might work for you, won’t necessarily work for the person next to you, and vice versa.  And that’s OK! We are all unique individuals, so it makes sense that what we need would also be unique to each of us. And trust me, there is something out there for everyone!

Maybe you love animals but don’t have any yourself.  You could look around your community and find registered therapy animals, or you could volunteer at the pet shelter, or provide dog walking/pet sitting services.  If nature is your thing, you can go for a walk, or join a walking/running/hiking club in your neighbourhood. Maybe sit under your favourite tree and meditate. Prayer is a very popular form of alternative therapy as well.  Perhaps you say a blessing everyday; or belong to a church group or bible study. There are so many options. Below is a list of some types of alternative therapies, but keep in mind the list really is endless! I’m confident that there will be something for all of us that we can incorporate into our lives to support our well-being. I also know that you are worth every effort that you put into being your healthiest, happiest self!  I think you’ll be surprised at how much you already do for yourself too, so yay you! Give yourself a pat on the back! Let’s have a look at a few modalities that fall under the umbrella of Alternative Therapies:

Journaling, Hypnosis, Yoga, Feng Shui, Art, Reading, Earthing, Astrology, Prayer, Chiropractic, Aromatherapy, Sound (crystal bowls, drumming, music, etc.), Dance, Herbal, Acupuncture, Acupressure, Forest/Nature, Energy (Reiki, healing touch, chakra balancing, etc.), Animal, Massage and Reflexology, Meditation, Nutrition, Aqua Therapy, Ayurvedic (herbs and dietary means under supervision), Isolation Therapy (water float pods).  The list really does go on and on, however these are a few to give you something to look more into if you’re interested.

What an amazing time to be alive!  With so many incredible things available to us, to help us support and honour ourselves.  It’s beautiful! And so are YOU! So until next time, take care and have fun! Enjoy the magic that is you!

Many blessings,

Vanessa Zieglgansberger
Wellness Coordinator & Intuitive Energy Practitioner

Being Authentic

I sat down today to start this post all about authenticity- easy right? We preach it every day; ‘be your authentic self’, ‘keep it real’, ‘be true to yourself’.  I should be able to wrap this topic up with a couple quick thoughts, maybe add in a meme for interest, and move on with my day! Well, after starting and restarting a couple dozen times, I ended up doing a Google search on related blogs in an attempt to find inspiration to write my own. It’s wild to think that I felt the need to research authenticity and gather ideas before I felt comfortable writing my own post about authenticity.  Doesn’t this go against the whole ‘do what feels right/be true to yourself’ movement!?! It’s silly, I know. Why is it so hard to write about being yourself? And if it’s this hard to write about it, how are we all supposed to be such masters at it?

We live in a time where we’re constantly being told what to do, what to wear, and how to act. Every platform and form of media is telling us who we should strive to be. We compare our expectations of our own reality to our perceptions of other people’s realities.  Everyone is in a perpetual state of judgement, of ourselves just as much as others! This made me question what it means to be authentic in this century. Here is what I came up with:

Authenticity isn’t just a personality trait, it’s an entire state of being. It means you don’t look to others for opinions, but when you do, you welcome them. You don’t feed off another person’s personality. At least, that’s how I look at it. Would I say I’m authentic? Absolutely. I have values and morals that I don’t compromise for anyone, not even for my career. I speak what I feel about my surroundings instead of judging them (yes, there is a difference). 

I did some Facebook research in order to see how my friends and family define ‘authenticity’. They described it as being honest, having integrity, and following your instincts and beliefs. They also described it as being selfless and putting others before themselves. They described it as staying self-aware when everyone around you is conforming to social norms. Someone said it was putting aside all her anxieties about being authentic and genuine. She also expressed the feeling of having to speak up and defend negative comments about women. And if she doesn’t, she is muting her experience as a woman and discrediting her, therefore, making her inauthentic. My favourite response was, “The space surrounding inauthenticity. Once you remove the social pressures that influence a person to adopt false values you are left with authenticity. It is the absence of bad faith”. I think this sums it up perfectly. It’s like thinking outside the box, except backwards. The box is authenticity, the outside of the box is conformity. The conformed are always judging you, like a box in the middle of a big empty space. 

Did you notice that I asked for other opinions instead of just giving you my own? This is part of my authenticity. I encourage other people’s opinions and values, and I use them to create a structured and formal response. My authenticity is not only having my own opinions and values, but also being comfortable and confident enough with my own thoughts that I can ask for other’s opinions and welcome them with an open-mind.

What does it mean to you to be authentic? The more we ask ourselves that question, the easier being authentic and genuine will be.

To be authentic, we must cultivate the courage to be imperfect – and vulnerable. We have to believe that we are fundamentally worthy of love and acceptance, just as we are. I’ve learned that there is no better way to invite more grace, gratitude and joy into our lives than by mindfully practicing authenticity – Brene Brown 

Kati McIntyre – Aurora Group Care

Motivation: How to Harness it for Good

Have you ever needed to do something but just could NOT bring yourself to do it? Maybe you’re sitting on your couch binge watching your favourite Netflix series while that pile of laundry in the corner grows and grows. We’ve all been there. It can seem nearly impossible to leave the comfort of your couch and do what needs to be done, especially during long winter months. Canadian problems, eh?
What does motivation even mean? The dictionary provides one of those very unhelpful definitions that seems to be cyclical and leaves you even more confused. According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, motivation is the act or process of getting motivated. So, what does it mean to be motivated? According to the same dictionary, motivated means to provide with a motive. Great. The term motive is something that causes a person to act. After that merry-go-round I think it is fair to come to the conclusion that motivation, deriving from the terms motivate and motive, means that something causes a person to act and do something.

Several months ago I took a 3-day course on the Foundations of Motivational Interviewing hosted by the Paul Burke Training Group. In this course we talked about what motivation means. The instructor spoke on how frequently we as caregivers, siblings, mothers, neighbours, and community members are quick to call someone ‘unmotivated.’ We come up with ideas of what another person should be doing or how they should behave, and when they do not complete OUR ideas of what THEY should be doing, we assume that they are lazy or unmotivated. Reflecting back on the dictionary definition, let’s remember that motivation is something that drives an act. This something and the following act are not set in stone by definition. So, what about what THEY want to do? The key point here is that they ARE in fact motivated, but instead of what we are wanting for them, they are motivated for what they want. *gasp* This means that when you are putting off your laundry it is not that you are unmotivated; you are simply more motivated to watch Netflix. As Paul Burke highlighted; “People are not unmotivated. They are just motivated for something else.”
Alright, so what’s next? How do I get motivated for what ‘should’ be done?

You have a choice to make. Do you want to do laundry, or do you want to sit on the couch and binge watch TV? Both have pros and cons; start by identifying these. “If I tackle the laundry I’ll have a tidier home. I’ll have clean clothes for work tomorrow (important)…but at the same time laundry is tedious and time consuming. This Netlflix show is exciting and entertaining! TV is self-care for me. On the other hand, I get enough screen time throughout the day, and I’m not really doing anything productive with my time when I’m plopped on the couch.” What sounds more convincing? If you really want to motivate yourself to make a choice, you can then highlight the pros of that particular choice and the cons of the other options. “I mean, I really do want a tidier house, and I want to look nice in public in clean clothes. If I watch TV I’ll be wasting my time; but if I get the laundry done it’ll be out of the way.” You may have to have this conversation with yourself for a while before you finally decide. The point here is that you need to make a choice. The only person that should be making a choice for yourself is YOU. Don’t worry what others think about you. Make a choice that makes YOU happy, but make sure that you weigh the pros and cons first!
Finally, because the world is not black and white and not everything works out like a Cinderella story: compromise with yourself. Negotiate even! If you have already laid out all pros and cons that you can possibly think of, yet you still have not been able to make a decision that you are content with; find a happy medium. Maybe this means doing laundry during commercial breaks (or when Netflix judgingly asks you if you’re still watching), or maybe folding laundry in front of the TV. At the end of the day, just be kind to yourself and find what works for YOU.
What motivation techniques work for you? How do you keep motivated when doing mundane tasks?
Please Note: While many thoughts from this post reflect Motivational Interviewing approaches, it is important to be aware that there is much more to the actual Motivational Interviewing technique that is not represented by this discussion. I highly recommend the training on this topic instructed by Paul Burke. For more information on this training follow the link below:

-Thoughts from Michelle Cronkhite, the Service Enhancement Coordinator at MPCSSN

Secondary Trauma

Real talk: working in the helping field is hard. I absolutely love my job and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but it is hard.

People come into the helping field for many different reasons. Some people enter the field because their family worked in the field. Your mom was a social worker, so you become one too. Others enter the field because they have some sort of engrained passion for helping people in difficult situations. A third group is those that join the field as what we like to call the ‘wounded healer.’ These people have been hurt by something similar to what they deal with in the helping field and have used this hurt to drive them forward to help others dealing with similar struggles. For example, a kid in foster care may grow up to want to become a foster parent or work in the foster care system. Despite the reason for becoming a helper, it is important to ensure that we are protected from something called secondary trauma.

By the nature of my work, I am exposed nearly every day to extremely heart wrenching stories of kids that have gone through such horrible things. I find myself wanting to scoop up all these hurt kiddos and squeeze them until the pain just disappears. If only it was that easy! Instead, I do my best to become the person they can count on to be there unconditionally. I lend a listening ear, and when (or if) they are ready, they pour their hearts out. As they share their story, my heart breaks a little more for them. I hear the pain in their voice as they talk about their long history of heartbreak, trauma, and loss. This happens time and again; my heart breaks more with each person I work with. Unfortunately, there came a point for me in which I began feeling myself spiraling downward. I became angry at the world as I started to believe there was no justice for these hurt kids. How is it fair that such small people experience such big pain? And why does it keep happening??? I started to lose my faith in society, believing there was no good in the world. I became wary of strangers and started to see the bad in everyone. I started to get so sad that I became angry. I began losing sleep over the situations these kids were in. My social life dwindled as I began losing the will to get out of my bed – because why should I? Why should I stand up and fight when there is just no justice? This. This is secondary trauma. This is the point nobody wants to reach in their line of work, but unfortunately, it is all too common.

The scary part is that secondary trauma is not just about ‘feeling down’ or feeling sad about someone else’s situation. Secondary trauma, when untreated, can very quickly turn into something much more serious. It can cause you to become depressed and unable to function normally in your life. You may start feeling sick, irritable, angry, sad, and achy. You may even have troubles focusing or participating in regular everyday tasks that you normally perform amazingly in. Secondary trauma is hard, and it can be very scary. As caregivers, family members, friends, social workers, psychologists, community support workers, health care aides, and emergency personnel, it is important that we stay in tune with our mental and physical health. We need to know when we are starting to feel the burn of secondary trauma, and then we need to learn to reach out in the early stages instead of when it is in the late stages where it begins to impact your ability to function normally.

I am grateful to report that following my journey with secondary trauma, I was successful in getting the help I needed and am in a much healthier spot today. I now reach out and get help when I need it instead of letting it build up to wreak havoc on my soul. Help can look different for everyone. Some people benefit from formal or group therapy, while others benefit from regular nights out with friends. Some benefit from yoga or a walk, while others benefit from heavy exercise. The point is that you need to stay in tune with yourself. Know your warning signs. Know when your mental (or physical!) health is starting to decline and deal with it right away. No more excuses. We both know that when we say ‘I will do it tomorrow,’ it’s not going to happen. Do it, and do it now. Your health is important. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup!

-Thoughts from Michelle Cronkhite, the Service Enhancement Coordinator at MPCSSN

Have you experienced secondary trauma? How do you recognize the signs and take care of yourself?