Monday, April 14, 2014

Down a Rabbit Hole

Every so often the chronic pain condition I have lived with since my early twenties likes to sneak up on me and whack me on the head . . . and the back . . . and the feet . . . and the elbows . . . and the knees . . . you get the picture.  Because I have around 30 years' experience with this particular demon, I have built into my life escape ramps that allow me to pull over to the side of the road and weather the flare ups with minimal damage to my life.

Friends and family who have known me for a long time know that when I am gripped at the throat by my nemesis they cannot expect much from me.  My energy stores and number of functional hours per day are limited.  Unfortunately, since I have to earn a living, the functional hours generally get used up at work, where I need to get things done and appear to be paying attention (as opposed to being curled up in a ball under my desk).  This leaves little energy or patience for hearth and home.

I am in the first real flare since my new guy and I have been involved.  I've had 'mini-flares' -- where things clear up within a day or so -- a couple of times.  But not one as hard hitting as what I've been experiencing the last few days.  The fatigue and body pain are in the forefront.  I hold it together at work. . . and even manage to get things done and done well.  Once I get home. . . different story altogether.  Expectant faces wanting dinner are disappointed.  Expectant faces wanting long walks in the bark park are disappointed.  But not as disappointed as I am.  But I focus on not letting my frustration add another layer of discomfort to my already full plate of blah.

My body is a map of pain . . . my feet feel like they have been crushed in a vise, my back aches, my shoulders are in knots.  I have spent the entire day holding it together -- pushing the pain down and focusing on my job.  I have cracked jokes and laughed - - to distract myself.  By the time the work day ends, my ability to suppress the pain is wearing thin.  When I walk through the door my first thought is that I just want to keep walking to my bed and go to sleep.

So now I am doing the things I know will shorten the flare -- I am sleeping - - as much as I can.  I am not pushing myself, even when I feel like maybe I can.  I know the outcome will be a longer flare.  I am waiting patiently for my body to respond positively.  It will happen.  Things will improve.  The important thing is to focus on the movement toward healing and not the place I am now at.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Like that's really 'news' . . . .

The RCMP are missing the mark in assisting members with mental health issues and PTSD in particular.  Recent news stories are being reported and someone seems to have noticed that the number of members on long-term disability due to PTSD has DOUBLED in recent years.  My only comment, as a former RCMP wife, is "Well, DUH?!?!?"

As a society we hold our first responders to a level of super-humanness that is not only unreasonable, but deadly.  When I was in my late teens and my Mom worked as a guard for the local RCMP detachment I remember talking with some of my friends about the newly-minted Mounties that got sent to our town.  My view was:  "When you take any red-blooded Canadian boy, put him in a red suit, give him a gun, a fast car and tell him he is the national image, do NOT be surprised when he gets a big ego."  Sadly, as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

I dated a Mountie back in my old home town when I was in my early 20s.  I remember him commenting that to ask for any type of psychological help was a "career limiting move".  He and his colleagues dealt with the stress the old fashioned way -- they drank, smoked and behaved like rowdy teenagers when off duty.

When Renfrew decided he wanted to be a cop in the early days of our marriage, I said "Anything but RCMP."  He capitulated.  After many different roads, they all lead to red serge.  I sighed and capitulated.

For those not in Canada, the RCMP train in one location and one location only:  Regina, Saskatchewan.  The training course, when Renfrew did it was 22 weeks.  It is now 24.  That is a LONG time to separate a family.  Especially a young family.  Pumpkin turned 3 while her daddy was away.  She went from a 'baby' to a 'big girl' in many, many ways.  He missed it.  Before he left for training, she was definitely 'Daddy's Girl' and the two of them went on adventures on his days off [he was working shift work as a corrections officer and had random days off].  When he got back, things were different.

So, first your spouse is gone for half a year and THEN you find out where you are moving.  No matter how much you prepare yourself for move, it is still world rocking.  For most of the graduates the move was away from where they had lived although a few of Renfrew's classmates went 'home'.  So, a month before he graduated we found out that we would be moving . . . 4 1/2 hours North of where we lived.  At this point, I was still a lawyer.  So, in 30 days I wound down my practice, sold our house, bought a house in the new location (aka the "Middle of Nowhere"), and dealt with a 3 year old whose biggest concern was how she would get to play with her best friend who lived across the street.

This reality for RCMP recruit families, I am sad to say, is typical.  The RCMP is a dictatorship -- it did not matter that I had a career I had been building for 10 years.  It did not matter that our child had friends and connections.  Nope.  Sign on the dotted line and you go where they tell you.  I cannot even imagine how it would have been with a teenager or even an older child who could comprehend how far we were going.

When the 'usual' events in the lives of new RCMP recruits and their families are added up using the Stress Life Event Scale created in 1967 by Holmes and Rahe it looks something like this:  marital separation (the chart does not specify the reason) 65; change in financial state (5 months with reduced family income) 38; change to a different line of work 36; mortgage or loan for a major purpose 31; change in responsibilities at work 29; spouse begins or ends work 26; begin or end school 26; change in work hours 20; change in residence 20; change in sleep habits (welcome to shift work) 16.  This totals 307 -- 80% chance of stress related illness.  Add to that the reality of work as a police officer -- situations that would make the normal person fall apart are just the everyday reality, it is actually amazing that more officers are not on stress leave.

As noted above, the 'Force' has had its collective head in the sand for a very, very long time.  It is not going to change over night or probably even 'over a couple of decades.'  The Members with PTSD are the canaries in the coal mine.  I hope that they are being not only heard, but helped.

Since I do not believe in pointing fingers without offering suggestions for change I would suggest at a minimum level of psychological and psycho-social assistant for RCMP officers rather than "[t]he clinical psychologist works with cadets who consult on a voluntary basis," as described in the Family Information Guide.  Psychological health should be considered every bit as important as physical health, with regular check ups during training.

After graduation, psychological services should be provided to Members on a non-voluntary basis for the first few years.  If the Member is married, then marital counseling should also be non-optional.  Why?  Simple --> if everyone participates then stigma is reduced because it is normalized.  Further, issues can be discovered and dealt with before they reach the boiling point.  Resilience can be built both in the individual Member and the family.  

Having watched not only my marriage, but the marriages of other new RCMP members, slowly break apart, I believe that had a regular psychological check been in place things may have turned out differently.  After our split I did my work and faced my monsters under the bed.  Renfrew did as well.  We have both grown to a point of forgiveness and peace.  But the pain it took before the work began was heart shaking.

The current reality is that the psychologists who do end up involved with RCMP officers and their families are most often like firefighters arriving at a burned-out house.  Their only job is to clean up the mess and put the hot spots out. 

So, I say Bravo to the RCMP Brass for acknowledging the problem.  What they do about it will be the real test.  The lives of our first responders are on the line. 


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dishonourably Discontinued - or I sure hope they are cancelling all the sports' programs too

When I was a kid I wasn't good at sports.  I wasn't popular.  I didn't sing, dance or act (which in a predominately Mormon town is quite a handicap).

But there was ONE THING that I was good at.  I was smart.  I read before I started school. By the middle of grade 6 I had charged through and completed all the pre-packaged curriculum units  in English that were favoured in the mid-seventies to allow kids to 'work at their own pace'. The program still exists and, yes, I remembered correctly.  I finished the 'Year 9' programming when I was 11.  Our grade of about 120 students was divided for 'core' classes by the level at which students were learning.  Those of us who were quick studies were grouped with like students.  Those students who needed more help and different learning strategies were kept together.

Somewhere in the 1980s or 1990s (not having a school-aged child until the 2000s I didn't really pay that much attention to educational philosophy changes) the grouping of classes based on learning level and style fell from grace.  Students of all abilities were grouped together in classes, often large classes.  For the most part, the quick learners whose learning style lined up with the way things were taught generally still excelled.  Kids who learned differently, who needed extra help, well they often had trouble.  This was the era of 'social passes', when some children were moved from grade to grade without having learned even the basic skills.

By the time my girl-child started school, most elementary schools were hesitant to give children actual 'grades', instead opting to use measures of progress that simply said "meets expectations" or "participates in class".   When she started junior high actual percentage and letter grade marks were finally part of the report card experience.  Now that she is in high school and getting prepared to apply for University, grades are somewhat more important.

One of the "perks" of getting higher than average marks has always been a place on the school's "Honour Role".  Most schools have some type of assembly and/or certificate to recognize those students who have put time and effort into their studies and excelled as a result.  The Pumpkin has been on the Honour Role pretty much every year and she is proud of her work and so are her parents.

Well, it now seems that some educational gurus are challenging the use of singling out those students with high marks for special recognition.  Recently I saw that a Calgary School was talking about getting rid of the honour role system "so as not to hurt the feelings of those who don’t make the cut".   What the Heck?  Seriously.  What about the self-esteem of those students for whom academic excellence is their only claim to fame?  The recognition I got for high marks was the only thing that got me through much of my adolescence.  It told me I had something special about me.  The way that shooting baskets and acting in the community theatre told other of my classmates that they had a special talent.  Unless schools are also going to get rid of all sports' teams, so as not to hurt the feelings of the kid who doesn't make the cut. AND get rid of any type of drama or musical programs, so as not to hurt the feelings of the kid who doesn't make the cut.  AND get rid of student council, so as not to hurt the feelings of the kid who doesn't make the cut.   Why don't we accept that everyone has different gifts and talents.  Celebrate the diversity and find the 'thing' that each child does best.  This would lead to success for that child in other areas.     

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Paying it Forward

First, let me apologise for abandoning the Blogging A to Z Challenge . . . I learned an important lesson:  Starting a new job is kind of a time-suck for anything else you think you may have to do in your life.  Yup, I started a new job half way through April and the rest as they say, is not history . . . .That new job, however, has taken me back to working in an area that means a great deal to me . . . an area that I would call my dharma.

Everyone has a 'calling'.  For some that calling whispers in the quiet of the night and they spend their waking hours trying to remember the sound and shape of the words.  Some people just know their calling from infancy and move toward it without many sidelines or detours.  Sadly, some people spend their entire lives not just unaware of their personal calling, but also oblivious that such things exist.

In the past several years, my calling has become clear to me.  I seem to have a gift as somewhat of a life change mentor.  Given that my initial career choice was divorce lawyer, this does not seem much of a stretch.  Getting divorced rates right up there on the life change scale. 

I always gravitated toward clients who were stuck in the mire that is left in the wake of disintegrating relationship.  The sludge that pulls even the most gentle souls into the abyss of anger and self-loathing over what was both done and left undone.  I listened patiently to tales of spousal betrayal and broken promises.  Witnessing their stories often gave them the opportunity for closure and healing.  Just as often it inspired a higher level of hatred and anger.  I learned to focus on the factual bits.  The details that were uncontroverted and unarguable.  Things like the date of marriage and the kids names and birthdates.  I changed my process to require new clients to write out their story for me.  This gave them the opportunity to vent their spleen and sprew the nasties on paper, where I could read through and pull out the germaine information that I needed to properly frame and present their claim.  But there was always something missing, something wrong with the system I was working within.

For example, I was somewhat limited in my ability to tell my client he/she was being a completely unreasonable idiot.  Which I never really knew, in any event, because I had only one side of the story.  And a very, very, very biased one side at that.  Sure, I would get the other party's version of events in the battle of the affidavits and letters from opposing counsel. 

As I edged toward burn out, I found myself exhausted from suffering fools.  Not just my clients, but the other lawyers and often even the judges who were charged with figuring out a solution to the client-created messes.  Most days I just wanted to sit and cry.  Tears for the clients and their former partners, but mostly tears for the children caught in the tangled webs of lies, anger, sorrow and mistrust that had been nurtured, fertilized and grown by their parents.  It was a relief when we left the Back of Beyond and I was able to take some time off.

The time off did not renew my desire to continue my former profession, much to Renfrew's chagrin.  He was quite taken with being the professional's husband. . . although I'm not sure why.  Once I realized that the law bus had left the station and I was happy just waving as it pulled passed, I began to look for other career options. 

For 3 years I had my 'dream job'.  I worked within the court system helping family law clients work out child support and helping self-represented family law litigants in the superior court with procedure and the organization of their materials.  I did not take sides and gave information freely to those who asked, including providing computer calculations for child support situations.  I explained forms and documentary requirements and tried to demystify court room protocol and process.  For the average person, speaking in court is not unlike confronting the Great Oz.  Terrifying.  By explaining the process and acting as cheerleader, I like to think I helped individuals present their cases in calm and clear fashion.

But in reality, I was only play-acting at understanding my clients until my own marriage dissolved near the end of my first year in this position.  Seriously, I try to empathize with the broken hearts and the feelings of anger and abandonment, but it was nothing I had ever experienced. 

Suddenly the affidavits of those both applying for and defending against protection orders seemed less crazy.  Now, don't get me wrong there was NEVER a hint of seriously angry words, much less actions, in my marriage or during its demise.  We were always civil, if not particularly kind.  However, I can admit that there were moments when I had Carrie Underwood thoughts of baseball bats and Renfrew's Mustang.  The only difference between me and my clients was:  I would never have acted on those thoughts.  Not in my DNA to act out violently.  And whether that disinclination was from some hardwired, genetic trait or just how my Mom raised me, I don't know.  But I'm glad for it.

Anyway, it wasn't until my own personal sh*t storm struck that I truly understood how bereft a person can become when those things that were TRUE no longer are.  How having the floor drop out from under your feet can send you on a spiral of pain and bad choices.  There was a part of me (probably the same baseball bat referenced part noted above) that wanted to become a screaming crazed scorned ex-wife complete with wild eyes and frothing mouth.  You know what I mean.  But I didn't.  It would have hurt not just Renfrew but also the Pumpkin. 

Strangely one of the things that I believe not only got me through those first several months, but ultimately allowed me to find a path to healing, was helping my clients.  I truly got on a deep level that helping others, helps us.  As I made suggestions to them on constructive, positive ways to try to deal with their situations, I took the advice myself.  I could see a little part of me in almost every situation.

In counseling my clients to remember the good things that attracted them to their former partners, I remembered the good in Renfrew.  I bent over backwards trying to involve Renfrew (who had his own way of dealing with the separation) in the Pumpkin's life. 

As time passed, I felt growth in parts of my character and soul that I didn't realize could grow.  Everytime I gave Renfrew the benefit of the doubt, I was equal parts irritated and genuinely forgiving.  Everything I saw my kid hug us both with abandon and talk about her dad with the adoration a 9 year old has for the man who is EVERYTHING to her, my heart grew.  I knew that my hurt and anger had NOTHING to do with her feelings for her dad and she needed those feelings to be strong.  He was the man who would teach her what a man is supposed to be.

Since my dream job ended I haven't had much chance to encounter people in that life change blender that is divorce.  Several of my old friends have sought me out and I like to think I talked them off the ledge and gave them some different ideas about how to look at their situation.

So how does this relate to my job change?  I am now working in a family law office . . . not as a lawyer, that is no longer something I have the desire to do . . . I am the assistant who deals with the clients.  My concern is helping my boss get the information she needs from the clients.  If I help some of those clients see their situation as a growth opportunity, that is even better.




Sunday, April 14, 2013

"L" is for "Love Truly"

According to A Course in Miracles, Love is the CONTENT of all relationships.  The form may change, but the content does not.

Love isn't about romance . . . or sex . . . or possession.  LOVE is about wanting for others what you want for yourself . . . PEACE.

I not-so-jokingly say that getting divorced was the best thing Renfrew and I did for our relationship.  It is true.  While we 'loved' each other, the form and function of marriage had stopped working for us.  I had turned into a nagging shrew and he had closed himself off into a passive aggressive non-participant.  At some point in the process of divorce, I stopped wanting to control the outcome and sincerely prayed for both of us to be HEALED of our pain.  It worked (at least it did as far as I am concerned).  I began to look at Renfrew with softer eyes and saw the pain we were causing each other.  I finally let go  . . . .

It is trusting that a step taken with LOVE will get you where you need to be, even though that may not be where you think you want to be.

Namaste.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"K" is for "Keep Confidences"

Secrets come in many forms . . . some secrets  - - - like your friend confessing her first kiss or the plans for your nephew's surprise party are serious business.  Little drops of trust that build an ocean that is a relationship.

Other secrets, like a co-workers negotiations with a potential new employer or your bosses plans to retire, are important because someday you may need the favour returned.

I come from a family where "secrets" are few and far between.  We all pretty much lay everything out on the table and deal with it.  It works for us.

My main thought to guide what secrets are meant to be kept is simple:  Does keeping this secret put anyone in harm's way?  Telling about harmful behaviour -- either harm of another or self harm is necessary.  It can save a life.



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"J" is for "Jettison Anger"

Just to clue everyone in on where I am getting my alphabet from . . . it is from the plaque that hangs in my entryway.

So today is the day to jettison anger . . . .

One thing I have learned about anger is that most of the time the person who are angry with DOESN'T CARE.  Anger is a *reaction* that is chosen.  It leads to fuming and rehashing of whatever trigger of the anger was.

The question to ask when anger strikes is not "how can I make the person who 'made' me angry change".  The question to ask is what is this feeling here to show me about MYSELF.

Just ask that question . . . then listen for the answer.