Recently I spent an entire day with a beautiful individual giving our time and raising money to a great charity organization. No one knew that as he was giving so much to others, he was the one that needed the help. Trevor O’Keefe was a decorated RCMP officer, he lived his life constantly giving to other people in need and pushing his personal needs aside. Corporal O’Keefe is one of countless first responders that are suffering from PTSD quietly. First responders are constantly witnessing horrific things and then expected to “suck it up” and continue with their everyday lives. Now that we are more comfortable with speaking out about mental health issues we need to bring the awareness to absolutely everyone regardless of occupation, race, gender, etc. “When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’ illness becomes wellness.” First responders are constantly keeping us safe and making us their first priority but when it comes to their mental health no one is putting them first.
I spent some time away at Nova’s Ark this past March Break and again for two weeks this summer. To say that I learned a lot would a be huge understatement, because the culmination of my experiences there have profoundly impacted me.
How does a mental health oasis sound to you? Hopefully, good, as that’s what it was like being at Nova’s Ark for me. I was able to retreat from the stress of my daily life and get away to a place that encouraged me to think about and reflect upon my emotions. It was also a place that I felt comfortable to be myself and to focus on the things that I wanted to focus on.
The Zones of Regulation
I learned about The Zones of Regulation, “a concept to help [people] learn how to self-regulate. The Zones of Regulation creates a system to categorize how the body feels and emotions into four coloured zones with which people can easily identify”.
Skilled and carefully trained teachers and mentors helped me to articulate how I was feeling, to recognize my triggers, and to help develop my ‘toolbox’ for coping strategies. It sounds easy when I say it like that, but the reality is that figuring this stuff out is quite complex. As someone on the autism spectrum, I already struggle at putting words to how I’m feeling and what to do in stressful situations, so I felt like I had a lot to learn about how the zones applied to my life.
One of the first things I applied to my daily life was using my ‘toolbox’ of coping strategies. This was the easiest list to develop because I had already been implementing many of them in my life over a number of years (if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today) and so it was just a matter of being more intentional and proactive with my ‘toolbox’.
Zones = Rainbow
The next thing I learned is that The Zones of Regulation are not ONLY four colours, regardless of how much easier that would be, and I recognized that it’s much more complex.
This picture I drew gave me insight into how I interpret the zones. Think of this as a cross-section of my brain and the various sections represent the different parts of the brain, such as thinking, motor functions, sensory input etc. First off, there’s four basic colours: blue, green, yellow, and red. However, there are blends, shades, and brightness of these colours that would make it appear more like a rainbow.
Between yellow zone and red zone, there’s an orange zone and sometimes this better describes where I am at better than yellow or red could. Between green zone and yellow zone, there’s lighter green colour with some yellow mixed in etc. You can see in the picture that red and yellow have combined to form orange or blue and red have blended to make purples and pinks.
Even with one colour, such as red, there’s a variance in shades (from light to dark) and being able to differentiate between the shades within a zone is super helpful. The shades apply all the basic colours, plus the ones in-between (like orange, purple, and pink).
Each colour is also expressed in its degree of brightness and how much space it takes up in my ‘brain’. In addition to light and dark sections in my brain, there are also narrow and thick sections too. I would argue that thick, dark red sections are far worse than narrow, light red sections because of the intensity and the length that those bands represent. The darker sections are more problematic from an emotional perspective because it can be harder and take longer to recover from going into a thick, dark red zone. The coping strategies and tools in my box need to reflect the wide variety of zones within my brain and body.
The Green Zone
If you look again at the picture, you’ll see a diagonal band of green ‘brain’ that goes across the whole frame and all the other colours are intersecting with it. The green zone is my default state (and I would assume that for most people), but continuously throughout the day my brain is being challenged (or attacked) by various sensory, emotional, social, and physical inputs and I have to use the coping strategies in my ‘toolbox’ to regulate my responses. I cannot stop the external influx of stimuli to my brain, but I can internally help myself by using coping strategies. For example, sometimes my eyes are sensitive to the lights and my brain starts to go into the yellow zone because it’s an uncomfortable stimuli, but then I wear sunglasses to cope and my brain is no longer stressed and goes back into the green zone.
Parts of the Brain
I think that different parts of the brain and body can be in different zones at any given time. For example, my body might go into the blue zone if I’ve just finished playing sports, so it’ll be tired, but my mind might still be in the green zone because that’s a part of my brain that wasn’t stressed. I’m sure you can think of other examples of when a certain part of your body or brain are in different zones; this obviously adds a layer of complexity to figuring out triggers and coping strategies. There’s no predetermined time-limit of how long a particular part of your brain will remain in a certain zone or even how long it will take me to recover back to the green zone. Recognizing the transition from zone-to-zone is still something I am working on and it was helpful to be around skilled observers that would communicate clues to me throughout the day.
How Zones Help Me
Learning about The Zones of Regulation has helped me to better identify and articulate my feelings. This process has also help me refine my coping strategies to be more effective and therefore my quality of life has increased. Being in a supportive learning environment incubated my learning and allowed me to practice without failing, and this in turn has given me more confidence to face my daily challenges. I think that most people want to live well and if given the opportunity to learn and grow, they seize that moment with the hopes of becoming a better version of themselves. Another coping strategy that helps me is being around animals and Nova’s Ark provided that opportunity for me. Over the course of the few weeks that I was there, I got to know Ewok (a kinkajou) and we are kind of ‘friends’ and he loves to snuggle. My time at Nova’s Ark has left a positive impact on my mental health and I experienced relief knowing that the problems that I encounter with my emotions are, at worst, temporary and at best, solvable. Having the space and time to process my learning from Nova’s Ark has been and will continue to be a tremendous asset in my daily life; I cannot wait to go back!
I feel like I’m playing a role-playing game (RPG) about a side character who wants to sabotage the main character but cannot do so because they know the main character did nothing wrong. The main character has a happy family, loads of friends, always seems happy. They go on plenty of quests and is adored by all the other game sprites.
The side character did not have that.
They do not want to be a villain but they cannot help but feel anger towards those who were born into an environment that did not reject them for who they are. Everyone ignores them and their story. They disappear into the background at times and no one in the world knows who they are.
They’re scared, they do not want to harm anyone but that rage that burns inside of them feels overwhelming. What is worse is that there is no one who can openly express that they feel the same way. The side character is alone, in the background, without as much detail or expression as the main character. Was it because they were created that way? Or was it because they cannot fathom being a main character.
The whole game is about the side character, who is actually the main character of their own life in game but nothing more. Their part as a main character IS to be a lesser being. But that’s wrong. It feels wrong. But there’s nothing the player can do because that’s just the way the game was developed.
Now, how can I love such a frustrating game? How can I not be envious of the perceived main character?
I tossed the controller down but I keep playing, hoping that life will get better for my avatar. I want them to feel loved. To love. To smile more and cry less. To not have to struggle with the burning jealousy of someone who did not suffer the way my character had. To not desire someone to understand, meaning that others would have experienced the same thing. Being pushed to the side by the game they were created into.
Maybe if I keep leveling, it’ll get better.
Maybe if I keep playing, it’ll get better.
Maybe it’ll get better.
As students we often feel as though we do not have time to relax, or feel guilty when we take a day off from studying. I know I personally do this. I will start watching a movie and feel as though there are 100 other things I should be doing. But sometimes we just need a break.
It’s important to take some time each day to relax. By doing so we reduce our changes of burning out and feel more refreshed once we go back to work.
Exams are creeping up which means everyone is stressed to the max! In order to keep sane, take short breaks while trying to review the entire semester in a few short nights. If you feel as though you can no longer be productive, it is definitely time to take a break. Have a nap, watch an episode or two of your favourite tv show, go outside for a walk, do something that makes you happy and relaxed. This will only help you accomplish more.
Best of luck on all your exams! Remember to make time to relax!
SO I just finished binge watching the new netflix series “13 Reasons Why” (yes I should be studying for exams but this was worth it) and if you guys haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you do. It is about a girl who is bullied throughout high school to the point where she ultimately decides to commit suicide. The experiences the characters go through make this series extremely relatable. As I was watching it, I’ve connected things that have happened in my life to the show, and I think that is why I probably cried every episode (but I cry when I watch anything, it can be a comedy and I’ll cry, I’m an emotional person okay?).
I’m not going to give the show away to you guys, but I thought I would talk about an experience of mine that may help you make decisions about your friendships. Have you ever been in a toxic friendship? Or maybe you currently are in one and do not realize, or do not want to realize.
I was best friends with someone for years. Every single secret or big thing that happened in my life, this person was the first to know, before my own parents. Some things you just don’t tell your parents, even if you realize you should have. Every person needs a friend, someone they can talk to and open up to about situations you wouldn’t disclose to just anyone. Things started changing, this person began to put me down, talk behind my back, and tell some of the personal things I have told her to others. I am not a confrontational person, which sometimes SUCKS, because during this time I still remained her friend, because I did not have anyone else. We were known as a pair, everyone knew we were inseparable, so imagining us not as friends was strange.
I would ask why she did things but she would deny it all. I knew she was lying, but I did not want to be alone. I am an introvert in the sense that she introduced me to people and brought me out to parties, I never did that stuff on my own. I felt like I was walking on eggshells, I was so afraid to do something wrong because I thought she would make fun of me again, or tell other people my secrets out of spite. She would be happy and normal around me, but once I was gone she was different. She would talk about me to her other friends, and I still don’t understand why. I never did anything to hurt her or to betray her trust, but it was like a Jekyll and Hyde relationship!
The turning point was when I had a traumatic experience happen to me, and I immediately called her. I told her what happened, but she didn’t believe me. She also didn’t tell me I was on speaker phone and her other friends were there, which meant they all know what happened as well, and they didn’t believe me either. I heard the snickering in the background and that is when I realized I was already alone this whole time. I hung on to something so toxic, that I didn’t realize being alone was probably better for me anyways.
Toxic relationships are not only intimate relationships, they can be friendships too. But, they are just as bad, and just as hard to get over. I look back at what happened to me and wish I would have had the courage to stick up for myself and walk away before things got worse. A friend shouldn’t be judgemental and gossipy, they shouldn’t discredit you, make fun of you, be resentful, or be self-centred in the relationship. If you feel uneasy around a “friend” because you are afraid they will hurt you, make fun of you, or tell people your secrets, it is time to walk away. Do what I couldn’t do, and make the decision which will benefit your mental health and your life. When you are in toxic relationships like the one I experienced, you feel depressed, anxious, and nervous all the time.
When I decided to stop the friendship, it was hard. I slowly stopped messaging her and segregated myself from her friends. We went to different schools so it was a little easier for me, because I did not have to face her everyday. The friendship really took a toll on my life – it took me a very long time to have a “best friend” again, I think it was because I was weary of getting close with another person. I can promise once you leave, it will get better. The anxious feelings and the overthinking subsides, and you will find your groove again. Learn from every experience you have, and make yourself a better person from them. You will know what is right and what is wrong, and what works best for you.
When someone is seeking answers to something, they seek out the experts. Meeting and speaking with them, hoping that spilling their innermost thoughts and feelings and presenting the facts that match to things that they know, they hope to receive an answer that matches the research they themselves have conducted. As for myself, I think I’m afraid to know, but desperate to confirm.
I hate jumping to conclusions and I hate diagnosing myself before a doctor can, but as I have been waiting this long to know what is wrong with me, it is only natural that a paranoid, anxious psychology student would start seeing parallels with the many mental illnesses I study within myself.
Last week, I found myself switching from general anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and depression, as those can be diagnosed by a GP, to thinking I might have a more severe condition. Thoughts of bipolar disorders and cyclothymia crossed my mind. I almost drove myself nuts seeing if my symptoms matched the reported symptoms of these disorders. However, I am my own worst doctor, I will always think I am over-exaggerating or under-reporting my own symptoms. I don’t condone Google-diagnosis, but I still find myself doing it, in my endless search for answers.
I can’t seem to sit still, my mind is both exhausted and racing everyday, and I just want to keep moving forward but feel so stuck. The anticipation of finally getting some confirmation and answers are almost overbearing. The stress of this term has taken its toll now; I have felt an anxious nausea sitting in my stomach for almost two weeks, feeling both hungry and repulsed by food, yet still overeating. The weather has had me down for so long, my emotions feel blunted to the point I can’t remember what a strong emotion feels like, and the world is both too bright and too dull. I feel crazy and calm all at once.
I try to keep my mind away from focusing on things like this too much, but sometimes its all I can focus on. I really just want confirmation, so that I can stop adding the disclaimer *not yet diagnosed* to my statements on mental health. I hope someone else who is struggling with a lack of diagnosis can relate to my feelings, and maybe feel less alone. I hope if you are reading this, everything will fall in place for both of us in time.
Til then, good luck and much love.
- Caution, Please read with care as it may trigger some people
So, roughly a year ago my sister and her friends were on their way home from a hockey game when my mom got a frantic call from my sister… her friends and her were hit by another car. On the phone, she sounded fine and didn’t think she was badly hurt. It wasn’t until when my mom and I go to the accident site when we realized how bad it was.
The scene was three side streets long and through a main intersection. I looked and thought, how did no one die? I was stunned and I broke down. I was angry at the people who were gawking and taking pictures, even though the police told them not to. I was broken, I didn’t know where my sister was and I started to panic. I could see the truck they were driving in and I needed to see my sister right away to make sure she was okay. After about 5 minutes (which felt like 30) an officer comes up to my mom and I, and tells my mom she can ride with my sister to the hospital – I can’t drive so my mom told me to go. The truck engine was across the street and we later found out the car did a 360 turn.
So, the officer walks me over to the ambulance and tells me everything will be okay. I was terrified as I wear my heart on my sleeve, so my emotions are very visible. I was in shock, I had never witnessed a car accident at this point. My sister was strapped into the gurney and all I wanted to tell her was that everything was going to be okay. She didn’t look too hurt, compared to what I had braced myself for. We get to the hospital and I tried to keep her calm while were in the trauma bay. I held her hand and didn’t want to let go for the life of me. My parents arrived soon after we did but, they had to take turns coming back since I came with her.
My sister was attended to the best that they could since all four people from the accident were rushed to the same hospital. While my parents and my other sister took turns coming in to see her, she said she was sorry for what had happened, even though she wasn’t driving and they were the ones who got hit. Her friends got to the hospital shortly after she did and she wanted me to go see how they were – the nursing staff did not like that at all. I was so angry – they told me that I had to go back to my sister’s room or I’d be taken back out when my sister’s friend’s dad calls me. Thankfully they let me see him so I could tell my sister her friends are doing well. This really annoyed me because I told the staff my sister was just in an accident she wants to make sure her friends are okay.
Just before my sister goes for her x-ray the police constable came into my sister’s room and asked what happened. He was very nice and assured her her friends were the ones who were hit not the ones who hit the other car. I overheard them saying they were hit at 190 KM/HR. This made my heart sink to know that if the truck they were driving in was an inch further out – it could have been a very different story.
So, how has this affected me, well to start off I am terrified to drive because at this moment I can’t put my life at risk and drive – I know I am a good driver but there are a lot of people who shouldn’t drive. I get very anxious when my friends drive and I have had a panic attack. I am still dealing with this accident and I wasn’t even in the car. I sometimes feel guilty because I feel this way. Hopefully, by writing this, it helps make people more cautious when the drive and will help heal me.
I just want to thank my sister for allowing me to share this and for the miracle that happened that night.
I have committed high treason…against myself…AGAIN! I once again have begun to spread myself to thin. Breaking promises I told myself like, “I’ll go to bed by 10:00pm” or “I’ll stay on top of things”, and the classic “I’m fine, of course I’m not taking on too much”. But I’m not fine.
School, work, friends, family, volunteering, applications, planning for my future, meetings! (in no particular order). Sometimes it just gets to be to much. Constantly being pulled one way, whilst another part is being pulled in the opposite direction, all by my own hand. My decisions, and mine alone cause me stress, panic, and anxiety. And I can’t stop. Apart of me wants to, but another part of me knows (or at least thinks it knows) what’s best for me. I can’t tell anymore whether I’m worthy of a break, or if my judgement is on point, I just don’t know.
So many things and so little time. Or maybe its just my time management skills. Because honestly I can’t tell anymore. So much work and effort has been put into making me who I am, because no task is to big or to small when others ask; it’s not a problem. But I think I have a problem, or maybe I don’t and its just the lack of sleep. I just want…to be happy I guess. And I know this anxiety, this ball of fire in my chest burning me from the inside out will die down, maybe even go away entirely (eventually). But right now, all I want to do is lay down and not think.
I’m always thinking. Brain racing, head thumping constant reminders that there’s still so much to do. My future is riding on what I do, on my choices and it scares the hell out of me. Like a deck of cards, one small move, one misplaced card and all my hard work is gone. As if it was never there. Poof! And then what? Disappointment. The ever crushing, self loathing, let everyone down type of disappointment. The type of disappointment that makes your body feel like a thousand pounds, and yet like it’s floating. Untethered with nothing to keep you from floating away, from losing yourself, from ever caring again. So many expectations, and so many things to tend to. And sometimes, its all too much.
Being pulled apart sucks, its sucks a lot more when you are actively doing it to yourself. And I wish I had some positive ending statement about hope floats and precious words of encouragement, but I can’t even believe the ones I tell myself right now. But I’ll still be here. Day after day. Grinning and baring it till I get home, back to my bed, my safe place where I retreat inside my head. I really wish I had something more positive to say, but I can’t. I can’t lie to myself or anyone else and say it will be okay. Especially when there is nothing wrong with NOT being okay. No one has to be it all, no one has to achieve it all. I don’t just want to be good, I want to be great, to surpass everyone. But who I should really be focusing on is myself. I want to be better, I want to be stronger…but right now I can’t. And I have to learn to be okay with that.
“Sometimes the person you’d take a bullet for is the one standing behind the trigger”
I wasn’t quite sure if I should post this. A piece of me hopes that he reads this. But in a way if he does, it makes me vulnerable.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this post. Coincidentally, much like my life lately. I’m not sure where things are heading. It’s not just one feeling, it’s a million feelings coming at me like a tidal wave. I’ve been going through the motions lately. I’ve had no choice but to ride this tidal wave and take everything that’s come at me.
In may of 2016, I met my best friend, at my UOIT orientation. Instantly we became friends, it was like we had an instant connection. Best friend, that’s not a title I give to everyone. We both had finished Police Foundations at different schools and were starting similar programs here. Neither of us had a lot of friends, but the friendship that we did share was a close one. For awhile we were attached to the hip, we spent every test studying together, spent everyday in class together and every break. Coffee and vent sessions were a daily thing for us. He took the time to get to know me and understand me, he liked me for who I was. Talking to him was the easiest thing in the world, and I knew that he was always there to support me. He was kind to me. I built an attachment to this individual like no other and started to look at him as an over protective brother. That’s one thing that I always liked about him, I’ve never really had that. I’ve never had a close relationship with my brothers and I’ve never had someone protective of me like he was. He knows what I’ve been through. I thought I knew him, I thought he understood me, I trusted him, and I thought he was the one person who wouldn’t hurt me. I let my guard down. I thought I meant more to him, I thought I was worth more as a person. I thought I was more than just a page in his book.
But the wave came crashing down. This time it was a tsunami, and I wasn’t ready for it. There was no warning. Quickly, the good turned bad. Gradually, he stopped having time for me. We were toxic for each other. As the friendship was going downhill, so was my mental health. Soon I became suicidal, I still haven’t been able to shake the feeling.
In a way, what I’ve been through is emotional abuse. My counsellor described it as gaslighting. To me, it’s all the same.
It started with small fights, with each fight they got bigger and bigger. Over the course 8 months I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told that I’m “psycho”, how many times I’ve been blamed, the amount of times I’ve apologized but have been the one sobbing on my bathroom floor and shaking and screaming, the amount of times I’ve felt worthless. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had my mistakes held against me or thrown in my face. It takes a toll on a person hearing negative things over and over from someone whose opinions mean everything to you. Eventually you start to believe all the negative things, because if it’s true to them then it must be the truth. It eats you alive every day. On one occasion after we drunkenly made out with each other, I was upset. Somehow, it was wrong for me to be upset and I was the crazy one. Piece by piece, it takes over you, and you start to become this person that they’ve envisioned and created. I started to think maybe I was “psycho”, maybe I was dramatic and crazy and all of these other negative things. Maybe everything bad that happened was my fault. I lost track of the amount of times this person knowingly let their friends bully me, say rude things about me, threaten me, and when I did stand up for myself I was told that I was in the wrong for doing so. But when it came to me not meeting his morals, I was dropped faster than the speed of light. When he dropped me it was so easy for him, he made it look so easy, like I was never his friend. In the end he made it known that I was crazy, that it was my fault, and that I’m a terrible person. Those were pretty much the last words he spoke to me. These words still linger every day, they’re the first thoughts in my head when I start my day. When I look back at the person I thought I knew, I don’t recognize this person at all, he’s a monster. How can someone be so cruel and unfair?
Losing him has been one of the hardest things for me. I still breakdown every day, I replay everything that’s happened in my head over and over again. I’ve asked myself why. I’m still trying to figure out where things went wrong and what I can do to fix it. Believe me when I say tried relentlessly to fix things. I would have done anything to make things better. When he blocked one social media account, I made new ones and tried to talk to him. Every time I opened up and tried to fix things was like a slap in the face. A week ago, police got involved. I guess this time, there’s truly no going back. I never thought he’d do this to me.
It’s been 2 months since that dreadful December day. I still remember it like it was yesterday. It’s not easy when someone who you once looked up to and thought so highly of drops you like you’re nothing. I truly thought that I meant more to him than that, but that day I realized that I am nothing to him. I am nothing. Those words sting. The good memories that I’m supposed to laugh about now make me cry, there’s a whole playlist of songs that I can’t listen to anymore. We were supposed to make more memories and graduate university together. Instead I’m skipping classes so I don’t have to see him, I’m skipping meals, I’m losing sleep, I’m smoking cigarettes and trying to find ways to kill the pain that he’s caused me.
Now he’s just a memory, a stranger who simply knows everything about me. He didn’t break me, he ruined me. Everything that I once was is now shattered pieces that I cut myself on every day trying to put back together. There’s still so many emotions and feelings that I can’t even begin to explain. There’s so many things I wish I could say to him. I want to feel normal again, I don’t want to cry every day, I want to smile again, I want to feel whole and not this emptiness. I’m still trying to figure out why this has happened to me and what to do next, the wound is still fresh. So I guess for now I have to learn to ride the waves.
Coming back to school after the winter break has been especially hard for me. I don’t really know 100% why but it has been tough trying to get back into the groove of things. I have always been a person who loves school and learning, but lately I always find myself asking why am I here and is this what I really want to be doing. When truth be told I just want to be home with my family. I have always found myself to get home sick, and living away from home hasn’t really been easy for me. Trying to deal with new roommate and trying to get comfortable somewhere that just doesn’t feel like home. Let me tell you it sucks. I’ve never really been a person who makes friends easily, and it’s not because I’m mean or cocky or anything, but more that I am an extreme introvert and unless someone full out makes the attempt to talk to me I’ll just keep to myself. Out of my three years at university so far, I find that returning to school now has been the hardest and most stressful time yet. I find it hard for myself to pay attention and stay focused because all I want to do is be home with my family. My family and I have tried to see if me commuting every day would be worth it, but it is not. I live far and I actually would spend double the amount of time commuting, than the time I would spend in class, so that was out of the question. So it was either live in Oshawa or switch Universities, yet I do love this school and don’t want to change. So it is as if I am having a tug-a-war with myself and its draining me so much that I just don’t have any energy left for school. On top of it I am always stressed, I’m talking stressed about things that there should be no reason to be stressed over. So between the wanting to be home and the stressing over my school work and just school in general, it is as if I have come to a fork in the road and cannot decide which way to go if any, or if I should just turn around. My parents have asked me if I would like to take the rest of the year off or if I need a break, but the issue is I don’t know what I want. I don’t know if I am just going through a phase of feeling alone and actually missing home, or if the stress and exhaustion that school puts on me is doing this.
All this to say that I guess I am only to take it one day at a time, because how am I to make a decision if I don’t actually know what I want?
If you guys have any tips on being home sick or stressed please share 🙂