By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
I recently received the following message from one of my most prolific guest bloggers, Nathalie Michaud. Nathalie has written (and I’ve chronicled as well) in this space about her life struggles after being diagnosed with PTSD following the death of her husband, and her fire chief, who took his own life at their fire station.
Before getting to Nathalie’s recent message, a bit of background. In June 2015, Nathalie delivered her first public presentation about her experiences as a PTSD suffer and survivor to the British Columbia Fire Chiefs Association Annual Meeting. So, in her message below that is the presentation that she’s referring to having made to her new co-workers.
Since her last posting here, Nathalie has embarked upon a new career with the Brome Lake Fire Department as a Prevention Officer. On her healing journey, Nathalie has also encountered several life challenges, challenges that even those of us not suffering from PTSD would find difficult. So, without further ado, here’s Nathalie in her own words.
After 6 months of home repairs after being flooded and for the past month dealing with replacing my truck that burnt (yes, funny as it happened in the parking of the fire department) I’m starting to try and catch my breath. These situations are stressful on their own however having PTSD makes it a little trickier compared to before.
I have much difficulty with change or any change with which I can’t get comfortable easily. Change plays with, and triggers, my new “friends”: symptom safety, symptom stability and symptom need planning. By my nature, I’m a person who needs a plan and structure and have always had some small issues with changes.
Not talking about clothes, I mean changes of life style, new people and that’s always been because I have difficulty in trusting people. Now with symptoms that pop up, well my nature is being doubly challenged, as it feels I’m losing control or losing my roots.
So, my boyfriend James has been saying how I am better. Of course I am, I’ve been working my ass off for almost three years in healing. He’ll say that I am better even though I don’t think I am. I never respond to that because then I would have to tell the truth of the actual struggles that I go through. Why? Because if I don’t, I trigger his “savior” and “I need to fix it” sides. So, yes I am much better. I’m also much better in hiding the consequences when I’m triggered and just keep it to myself.
A New Job and New Horizons
My new job is simply AMAZING. I was asked to give my PTSD conference presentation to all of my co-workers. That was quite the experience as I’ve never before had the opportunity (or rather took the opportunity) to meet and socialize with people afterward. In my previous deliveries, the PTSD symptoms would rapidly “reappear” as soon as I was finished. Fortunately, James always had my “six” and recognized the “intruder” and would whisk me to safety!
This time, I didn’t have that safety net. I relied on the trust I’ve built with my two friends Brigitte and Steve (co-workers) knowing they would act quickly and without judgment if I triggered too badly (Mind you, Brigitte bringing a special “little drink” didn’t hurt either).
This time it was a little tougher to open up, but at the same time safer because I knew they (my co-workers) would never do anything to make me feel like shit. That opened up another opportunity to speak to firefighters and first responders for another city (Mansonville) in June where I’ll be presenting my talk in my native language, French!
Since then, I’ve been approached by nurses and the police who have requested to hear it, too, to bring awareness. Who knows, maybe things will change here in Quebec?
A New and Helpful Connection
Recently, I met this amazing woman who has suffered a horrible event and battled through it and is now more at peace. She did it all through meditation. I found meditation to be frustrating at first. It’s frustrating because a PTSD brain cannot “shut up” so meditating is very difficult. You must learn to be compassionate with yourself and understanding with yourself. You can’t do it all at once and it takes practice.
Then she blended in yoga, yoga healing, finally dual yoga (which forces you to accept and give human touch and your personal space is totally challenged). She studied and learned the effects of brain injuries on the body, and from that, she developed her very own program for trauma patients.
As she hugged me to thank me for sharing my experience, she offered me an open door: all access and free yoga with her. She wants to LEARN more on PTSD but also wants to work the PTS (post traumatic stress) aspect as it is part of it, too.
I went once and she initiated me to the dual yoga. After about a minute in a specific held position and breathing pace we were both crying without sadness, but we were connected through whatever was going on. It was JUST amazing. Looking at each other, seeing each other cry and letting it be. It was so, so liberating.
One “exercise” was we were both in a relaxation and “receiving” position, but back-to-back. We would practice trust
by rocking back and forth, each using the other to ensure we didn’t fall backwards. Trusting is hard, the possibility of falling backwards is hard and scary, and yet after about five minutes it all became like a gentle rocking caress.
She and I hope to get “workshops” going for people like us. One firefighter came forward after a conference because he and his wife realized what was happening to him. They also recognized that she was also suffering from the consequences of his symptoms. After the conference, they made an appointment to see their doctor ASAP. Turns out that the preliminary diagnosis is she’s suffering from PTS (post traumatic stress) and he is suffering from PTSD.
From the Mouth of a Babe
The yoga teacher has extended her “services” to the spouses and children for FREE! She only asks that we all be her “test yogis” as we openly exchange share our feelings in our bodies, minds and, of course, emotions and we adapt it all to us.
Recently, Sarah (I’ve changed her name to maintain the anonymity of her and her mother), a 4-year-old little girl accompanied her mom to a session of yoga. She loved it! (What 4-year-old doesn’t like being around and playing with big balls right?). After running all over and playing with the balls, she did settle down and we were able to apply lavender on her forehead (lavender is a calming oil and the forehead if the energy chakras of the third eye) and we started the workshop.
Sarah was the “little turd” who became the “unfiltered voice” for all of us. After talking with us and listening to the adults, she turned to her mom and said, “Mum, I think daddy’s like Nathalie. I really think he should come with us, he wouldn’t cry so much!”
4-YEARS-OLD! I was so taken aback. Her Mum cried and we gathered and stayed with her until she felt better. I think we’re starting a support group without even knowing it!
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