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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life


- by Carolyn Bergen

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Quote by Brene Brown. Poster by Bergen and ASsociates Counselling in Winnipeg

Sigh…so many of the things I talk about with people in my day boil down to a simple, but terrifying doubt around the issue of "Am I enough?"

The question comes out in various ways: "Am I pretty enough?", "Will people like me?", "Have I done enough to impress them?", "What will people think of me?".

And, in fear of the answers, we answer for them…in ways which are safe but disparaging…and heart wrenching. We decide for other people how badly they think of us. And we don't truly allow ourselves to be seen and loved for who we are. We just know that "I am ugly", "no one really likes me", "I'm not special".

But often those who love us can seen beyond that, behind the crappy way we feel about ourselves, and see our true beauty…and if we are caught by surprise, we can be blown away by the beauty others see in us.

The people that see you--truly and deeply see you--they see your beauty and how you show love, respect and affection. It matters to them…sometimes they might forget to tell you, but it does. It matters.

Just like this...

 "You are beautiful, not just on the outside, but you are so much on the inside. A moment does not go by that people don't see that."


The Influence of Others

- by Carolyn Bergen

We are wired for connection…

Yeah, I've read that a time or two on this blog, right?

What it means is that we are social creatures, wired to want to belong. We feel better when we have people surrounding us…and it is helpful to split up chores and responsibilities, to band together against the dangers of this world, to keep each other warm, and to stick together to establish safety for the little ones we seek to raise to adulthood.

What it means is that we work to create community--to influence others and be influenced together. When we think together, we become a team. Becoming a team can make the difference between eating lunch and being lunch:

I love watching videos that show flocks of birds…somehow, these birds, which Winnie the Pooh always said were "of very little brain" could move in synchrony with each other in ways that Blow. My. Mind.

How do they do that? How do they work together so fluidly and incredibly?

They influence each other.

Humans may be a lot worse at flying, and a little more sophisticated in differentiating their behaviour, but we influence others.

You don

Recent studies looked at how apathy is contagious:

We interpret the actions of the people around us. When we see people acting indifferently to a task, we know that they are expressing a lack of interest in that task. That lack of interest is then related to our existing commitment to a goal. When we are wavering in our commitment to a goal, then seeing others who are apathetic nudges us in the direction of giving up. When we are highly committed to a goal, then seeing others who are apathetic actually increases our commitment.

Art Markman

In 2007, I took a course where I had to critique research articles. One of the articles was: The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 43 years in The New England Journal of Medicine  The study looked in a complex 3 dimensional way at the relationships up to three connections of over 12000 people over 32 years. Now, 7 years later, when Dahlia Kurtz at CJOB 680 asked me about this topic, I remembered this article because the significance of it stuck with me.

What researchers found was that a person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%. These effects were seen when folks were in significant relationships with others…the effect wasn't among neighbours who merely leaved nearby each other.

Friends of the same gender had greater influence on each other with regard to Body Mass Index than opposite sex friends…makes sense, right? We live a lot of our social (read: eating) lives with our buddies of the same gender.

What this seemed to be about is something like this: if you are at work and finish your lunch in the lunchroom with 20 minutes left in the break, and you hang out with people with poor eating habits, then y'all may decide to head down to the candy machine and have some dessert. If a new staff person starts, and s/he's a triathlete, after you watch him/her munch on their yogurt and veggies and hummus, you may get invited for a brisk walk outside. After several weeks of those noon walks, you may find yourself also changing what you bring for lunch.

I have coffee weekly with a friend of mine…and months ago, she got a wrist band that measured her steps everyday. She talked with me about it over the months…and a few times, we walked during our coffee time so she could get her steps count up. Getting in enough steps everyday became a natural part of her conversation. She never told me to get a wrist band…I just saw how good it was for her to have one.

In June, I got a wrist band as well.

My daily step count has tripled in the last 3 months…because of who I hang out with--M has been a marvellous influence on me. I'm fitter, lost a few pounds, and find myself eating better.

One or two elections past, I was busy during an election. One Junior Tribe Member had a practice at one end of the city, the other a game at the other end. I had messages to return, emails to write, notes to scribe, and milk to pick up…I could go on. I was tempted to skip the voting…after all, I have only one vote amongst a whole city's votes. In my list of tasks, it didn't seem all that important. A colleague overheard me, and sternly (and correctly) stated: "Carolyn, there are people literally dying in parts of the world to have their voice heard in determining the future of their city. They have given up so much in the fight to have influence. Many parts of this world, women are counted as having an opinion. You have a vote handed to you…how can you not exercise your right to vote?" 

Gulp. Right between the eyes. She. Was. Right.

I found time to vote that day. I will always find time to vote. For as long as I live, I will vote every chance I get to honour the lives lost in the struggle to be able to have a vote.

I have that opinion because of L. She influenced me.

Years ago, I worked in a health care institution. It had a large department that I worked in. Morale was low. People complained. A lot. Management was labelled as incompetent. The government was criticized for not understanding health care. We didn't have enough resources.

It rather became part of the culture to use coffee breaks to complain about all that was wrong with the system. It was pervasive and I remember being so very discouraged with all that was wrong with healthcare.

Then I moved cities and changed jobs…and began working for another health care facility. It had a "cup half full" sort of culture. This place had staff that encouraged each other to be involved in the community. We laughed and enjoyed each other's adventures at coffee break. When budget cuts came down the pipe, there were meetings the executive had with each team asking for ideas as we all together brainstormed how we were going to triumph through a challenge without compromising patient care.

It was remarkable how much different two departments could be, given that they were both in the Canadian Health Care System. I could feel the change in my spirit as I worked in the second place…more compassionate and patient, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and doing what I was able to within the system to be part of the solution. Both places were working with imperfect systems run by imperfect people doing the best they can--but the attitude of those around me influenced me hugely.

Bottom line: How does a fish know its in water if that's all it knows? It's really hard. We can absorb the influence of others in our surroundings for good or bad without even realizing that it could be any other way.

Mindfulness is critical. When everybody else is complaining about their spouse at the gathering of friends, and you join in to be part of the crowd (because we are hardwired for connection, right?)…you leave with a grumpy feeling towards all that isn't right with your partner. When you go to a different gathering, and you hear people challenging themselves on how to better connect with their partner--well, you go home with a different headspace.

What that means is making choices about what groups to hang around, and being thoughtful about what sort of influence you have in shaping the atmosphere that others are in…because others will conform to the standards that you participate in creating.

We share in the responsibility of creating spaces that build people up, of creating communities where challenge is constructive, of making environments where feedback is productive, and relationships that leave people feeling in a better space to be more authentically who they are.


Hump Day Nudge: Win or lose, we're gonna be OK

- by Carolyn Bergen

I have a deep respect for the energetic wisdom of Apollos Hester. I realize this will date me, but as I watched this man, I kept thinking…"Out of the mouths of babes…" He's hardly a toddler, but his words seem well beyond his years, even as a young adult.


He's clearly excited after a come-from-behind win. His excitement and vigour for life are rather infectious…and sometimes, the clarity of youth can speak to all of us. 

He understand the value of team. He recognizes we belong to each other…and that we are wired for connection. Apollos knows that people do better when other people are around.

This is a nudge to get through your day today. Aren't nudges like this, just what we need sometimes?

Quote by Apollos Hester, high school football athlete who says,"if you fall down, just get up.  If you can

Building Capacity: You Can Do It!

- by Sabrina Friesen

I am not a morning person.

This might be an understatement.

I’m quite certain that all of my college papers were written between the hours of 11:00pm and 1:00am, and that I never really engaged meaningfully in class until after 9am and a few cups of coffee.  Many years later, and in spite of parenting a couple roosters/children, some things don’t change.  After a lazy summer schedule that didn’t beg the alarm to be set I have found the cooler, darker mornings of the structured school year to make it extra hard to get out of bed.  And so in an attempt to combat my reluctance I have started to set the coffee maker the night before, hoping the smell of a fresh pot of dark roast would lure me out of bed.

But my most genius plan yet was hatched just this week; I call it Operation: Breakfast.  With two young kids who are up at the crack of dawn, there are often shuffling feet beside my bed long before I’m ready to get up asking in way-too-alert voices, ‘Can you get me breakfast?’  [insert sigh, and maybe a groan, and a wish for a two hour nap to top off my too-short night of sleep].  

I can admit I am not always proud of how grumpy and rude I sound to two people I really love every now our nightly routine of teeth brushing, story reading, and bedtime snuggles also includes me taking their breakfast orders. 

Before bed I move the toaster to the edge of the counter, pull out butter knives, Nutella, and plastic plates, fill up cups and leave them waiting in the fridge, and pour dry cereal into plastic containers, being sure to leave our teeny tiny toy Tupperware jug filled with milk and slightly open, ready to pour.  

And now the mornings include two excited kids, tag teaming to help each other out while they get themselves breakfast.  

It is genius!  

Now my wake ups, while still early, aren’t filled with the same sense of urgency.  I listen to the coffee dripping into the pot alongside the sound of my children chatting over bagels and Froot Loops. 

It is a beautiful way to start the day.

But it’s not the extra sleep that leaves me so thrilled.  Ok.  So maybe it’s a little bit about the peace of waking up without demands.  

But what struck me this morning as I passed my oldest on the way to his room to get dressed, after he’d toasted and creamcheesed his own bagel before putting his dish in the sink, was how proud of themselves my kids were to be taking on some responsibility for themselves.  

My totally selfish decision to buy a few moments of unrushed calm in the morning not only altered the pace of my day, but inadvertently communicated some really important ideas to my kids.  Letting them show up for themselves and not needing to take charge sent them the message that, ‘I know you can handle this.  I trust you.’   

While it’s true that I have no idea how much creamcheese made it onto said bagel, it’s not really important.  And I’m confident that we’ll have a giant milk spill one of these days, but we’ll just clean it up.  This plan borne out of exhaustion has turned out to be a wonderful experiment in capacity building for my children, as I – after setting the stage – let them learn how to experiment with independence in a safe place. 

As I pondered the idea of capacity building in my kids, I thought of the work I do with people on a regular basis.  Sometimes parents, even parents of adult kids, have held the reigns so tight that they have sent the message to their children that, ‘You don’t know what you’re need my help to make decisions.’  This creates adult children who are scared to death of making a choice, because they’re sure they’ll screw it up.  

Or some who hear from partners that, ‘You folded the towels wrong, I’ll just do it,’ sending the message that their partner is not clearly not capable to handle such a task. This leaves partners choosing to step away, rather than towards someone they love because their efforts never feel good enough.  

Sometimes friends feel the need to chime in on every outfit choice, haircut, or boyfriend in a way that undermines the ability of someone they love to feel confident in their preferences or instinctual decisions.  This leaves a person feeling insecure, and unsure if their ‘friends’ really accept them for who they are.

Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes as people who love people we need to hold up a mirror to poor choices that can have dicey consequences and with wrinkled foreheads say, ‘Really?’  That is part of being a good parent/partner/friend, too.  But I am not talking about the red flag much as the ordinary day-to-day stuff. 

I saw an acquaintance in Costco yesterday.  L was telling me about her uncertainty around a school related decision with one of her kids.  She told me point blank what she and her son wanted; they agreed.  But L stood there, hemming and hawing as she spoke – sharing how other people thought she should go another direction.  This was not a choice that involved sending her son to join the circus, sending him to boot camp, or endangering him in any way.  It was a choice where one option was not obviously better than the other, and where neither choice was poor.  And yet L couldn’t decide.  L could not access her own capacity to choose, for the encouragement (read: judgement) of others had drowned out her own voice.

I stood with L for a few moments, validating how hard it is to parent – and how we never quite feel like we’re making the right choice – and rolled off to the checkout encouraging her to trust herself.  That was my small effort to say, ‘Go Mom!  You’ve got this!’ 

And when my youngest asked me what to wear today I told her that was a decision she could definitely handle on her own, inviting an array of mix-matched disasters, but knowing that the act of choosing for herself was more important than any coordinating colors could ever be.

How do we build capacity into those around us?  

Capacity Building: Loving others in ways that say,"I believe in you. Go for it.  You can do it" Quote by Sabrina Friesen.  Poster by Bergen and Assocaites in Winnipeg

How do we love people in a way that says, ‘I believe in you.  Go for it!  You can make this decision, and I’ll support you,’ and not take over or try and take charge of their stuff?  

Don’t get me wrong, when capacity is inadvertently stripped, I am confident that a lot of the time it is done so with love, and a sincere desire by the other to help improve a situation.  But unfortunately ‘helping’ can send the message that, ‘You can’t take good enough care of yourself...let me do it for you.’ 

I, for one, will keep on taking those breakfast orders each night, and will enjoy the morning chatter between my two lovelies as they take care of each other (and themselves) while the sun is still dark and my coffee is dripping.  

I will resist the urge to reprimand when good efforts don’t produce phenomenal results, and instead celebrate the courage it took to try.  

I will step-the-heck-back out of situations that others can handle, and instead be the steady-on-the-side who cheers others on as they learn to show up and discover just how capable they really are. 

We all need a little more of this in our lives...people to cheer us on and tell us, ‘You can do it!’ 

Fear: Breaking Out from the Prison It Creates

- by Carolyn Bergen

Years ago, I was going through a scary time…didn't know how I would pay the mortgage AND put food on the table. Didn't know how I was going to get all the regular and the extra things done that needed doing before I ran out of week to do them in. I was scrambling and scared, confused and crazed.

But I made it through…each hour, each day, and each week passed--and I didn't drown in debt or responsibilities. I got the papers marked by the deadlines, Junior Tribe Members where they needed to be, and showed up at meetings where major decisions about my life were being made. I was terrified…but somehow, with profound faith, I kept showing up.

Even when I was scared, I kept showing up.

Even terrified, I showed up.

I'd like to say it was because I was brave. It wasn't. I wanted to hide under a blanket. 

Actually, what I really wanted was a coma. A good old fashioned 6 month coma that would allow me to escape the life that had become so unfamiliar and scary, so intimidating and overwhelming.

But alas, the coma didn't happen…and so I showed up…because I. had. to.

I showed up because I didn't have a choice.

So...I showed up and made it through…and realized, through that process, that I am stronger and more capable than I often give myself credit. (Aren't we all?) And I happen to also believe that Help is there when we ask for it, and I got Help when needed.

So…I made a promise to myself and to the Help…from here on in, if I am asked to do something that someone believes I am capable of, I will say, yes.  I have forbidden myself to say no because of fear. I can say no because of boundaries/need to appropriate schedule, because it simply is not in my skill set…but I simply won't say "no" because i'm scared.

Gosh, but that can be inconvenient!

Just over a year ago, this new talk show host, Dahlia Kurtz, asked me to do an interview with her on how parents can help children with school anxiety. 

She asked me to talk about fear reduction…which was ironic…because being on radio terrified me. I believe that when a microphone is put in front of my face, I lose my ability to speak in complete sentences.

I said yes (because by internal contract, I had to). And after the interview, I could think of all sorts of things I could have done differently (read: better). And don't you know it, Dahlia phoned me a week later and asked me to do another interview.

And I cheerfully agreed with her while on the phone (because, you see, I have this internal commitment I've made to myself, even if, gosh darn it, I am kicking myself for this concept that is now completely ridiculous). And after I agreed, I started shaking my head and grumbling and flapping my hands and wondering why I put myself through this.

Why would I agree to a second radio interview in two weeks? Cah-ray-zee!!

I showed up.

Then, Dahlia asked me to speak regularly on her show. And by regularly, she meant weekly


A weekly opportunity to ruin my career by sticking my foot in my mouth and saying something completely nonsensical. A weekly chance to have the entire city of Winnipeg (and surrounding area) discover that I'm a fraud, that I don't know what I'm talking about, and that I should just quit doing all therapy now. A weekly confrontation with fear. (You catastrophize too sometimes, don't you?)

But I said yes. (Cuz I had to). 

I knew it was a cool opportunity. I also "knew" that I couldn't do it.

And thus I became a regular--the "resident therapist" of CJOB's Dahlia Kurtz's afternoon show.

The receptionist at the front desk at CJOB, Lisa, chuckled at me when I would arrive to do my segment. She would get me a half of a glass of water…I needed some water cuz my mouth is so darn dry--but only half a glass, because I didin't trust myself to not spill it or somehow send it flying across the room such that I would independently destroy thousands of dollars of radio equipment. (It never happened, but there was no guarantee).

When friends asked me how long I would do it, I would say, "At least until it no longer terrifies me." (I was thinkin' that might mean forever.)

About two or three months in, Dahlia and I were chatting before we went on-air and she said, "I think you're good on radio, and my boss likes you." (and that's a direct quote because I memorized it and repeated it to myself for months each time a part of me said, "What the heck are you doing? You don't know how to do radio!") Dahlia works on the radio, as a professional radio host, for Pete's sake--and if she says I'm good enough--I better darn well believe her! Wouldn't she be a better judge than I about a successful interview--I mean, seriously?

But, don't we often listen to the little gremlins of fear inside of us like they know more than the people in our lives who believe in in us and know what they are talking about?

It took about 9 months of near weekly interviews for me to stop feeling my stomach before each interview. It's taken about a year to actually look forward to the time at the station--a few minutes before and in-between to catch up with Dahlia, someone I now consider a friend--a chance to catch up on her dog, my work, her event, my kids, her parents. I've had a chance to meet interesting people who are in the studio before me, and to be present during "breaking news" as it is relayed to our city. I've been bumped for Juno award winners--how cool is that--to be bumped by VIP's! I know a little of the workings of the inside of a radio studio…and I like to learn new things. It's a rich experience that I wanted to pass up on.

I'm glad I didn't.

See, cuz there are two main ways of getting rid of fear when we are scared of something:

1. Pull back.  

Think about it. Think about how that making that phone call puts you on edge. Think about how it feels better to decide to go do a load of laundry first, and then to rearrange the paperclips on your desk or go get another cup of coffee. Because as long as you stay away from that phone call that makes you uncomfortable, you feel better.

It's easier to not apply for the job, cuz then you don't have to show up for that interview that you are terrified of.

It's easier to watch television rather than have the talk about the credit car bills with your spouse.

Fear is reduced by moving farther away from the feared object…and the idea that this is a good thing is reinforced because we feel better…except we aren't fully and truly engaged with life.

It is tempting each time to reduce my fear of microphones by saying no to interviews of any kind…I don't have to worry about being misquoted, being asked a question I don't have an immediate intelligent response for, or drawing a blank and blurting out something that doesn't make sense. 

And when I do that, I let myself get smaller, my life less rich, and I miss out on something pretty darn cool.

2. Extinguish the fear

The other way to reduce the fear is to do the feared thing and to be underwhelmed by the response. The fear becomes extinguished because life doesn't end, nothing blows up, and the sun rises in the east as per usual the next morning. My family still loves me, and my friends speak to me each week on Fridays, after I do a radio interview on Thursdays, regardless of how it went.

So…I'm apprehensive but I talk to Dahlia anyway. We speak--I may not knock it outta the park with each sentence, but she asks me back. I do good enough. I do it again. And again. Rinse and repeat.

And I am squeezing life for all its worth. Live radio--how fun is that!? Saying "yes" is terrifying--but exhilarating too. Joan Rivers, the comedian who recently passed away, lived a "Yes" life--She said "yes" as a powerful place to come from, and attributed her long and successful career to saying, "yes". She said "yes" to saying what other people were thinking, but dared not say. When I say yes, I am making a choice to fully engage in my life--

  • to show up and find joy, 
  • to show up and connect meaningfully, 
  • to show up and be fully alive.
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.  You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt quote.  Poster by Bergen and Assocaites Cousenlling in Wnnipg

How to extinguish the fear:

1. Show up and be prepared to be underwhelmed (even though you won't feel like it beforehand and even though you will want to run away from the frightening experience as fast as your legs can go). Think of other times you were frightened, persevered, and made it through. Showing up generally pays off.

2. I strive for excellence, but I don't rest my value or as a human being on the outcome. My family and friends love me regardless of any interview on radio. The quality of the radio interview does not determine my worth. I had to remind myself of that often in the early weeks. 

3. I take deep breaths from my belly. I do Amy Cuddy's power posture in the car on the way over and sitting in the green room. I work to physiologically relax my body as I have talked with clients about for years (gosh darn it, it's not easy to take one's own medicine!)

4. I went in ridiculously over prepared with my notes. I was kind and compassionate to myself by asking myself…what can I do to make this marginally less terrifying? How can I be compassionate towards myself to make this do-able from a place of kindness (rather than teeth-gritting-forcing-it-no-matter-what) I read those notes the night before and the morning of, and right before the interview. (for as long as I needed to…I don't anymore--because I don't need to do that to be kind to myself at this point)

5. I remembered that it is ok to feel fear and be brave, to be terrified and courageous in the very same moment. I don't need to wait until the fear is gone to be able to do this (and funny how we often expect ourselves not to be afraid at all to feel good about our ability to do it, eh?) Courage is a huge value that I cherish.

Courage helps us to fully engage with our lives

and, drum roll please, to no regular reader's surprise:

6. We are wired for connection, and as Judith Light said in a recent interview: Listen to the people who love you. Trust them. 

Rely and trust the belief of people who love you more than your own belief in you (because when you are frightened you can't particularly trusting your own judgement of yourself). 

Share your fear with someone you trust--because when your fears are brought out of the darkness into the light, they begin to lose their power. 

Let them remind you that fear doesn't mean you're crazy, it means you're human. They might tell you a fear or two of your own.

For months, on Thursdays at 1:30, I would start to pace and flap my hands a little and regret my decision to do this radio thing aloud with Melanie, our client care manager. She would chuckle and remind me how I "knew" each week that I couldn't do this, and that I lived to tell the tale each week. She wouldn't ridicule or scold me…she just "held" my fear lightly and safely, reassuring and reminding.

Get their support before the scary thing, and call 'em right after. They can remind you after that you were brave, that you are loved, and that you're OK.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity Dahlia has given me to chat with her regularly. It's been great to get to know her, to be able to speak about topics that concern all of us as seek to have better connections in our lives. The opportunity to get to challenge a huge personal fear of mine and to learn that fear can be conquered is something I will always treasure.

Trauma from a Distance

- by Carolyn Bergen

Today, September 11, is a day that I remember well in 2001. I was driving to work when I heard about the World Trade Center tower being hit as the top story of the news. By the time I got to my office, the second tower had been hit. By the time we finished our morning conversation, another plane had gone down. I was working in personal care home at the time, and as I would go off to get 20-30 minutes work done, and then go to a unit lounge to check the news on the TV, another plane had gone down, or a building had collapsed or something equally catastrophic had happened. It became increasingly difficult to leave the TV and get anything done that day.

At noon, I left the personal care home, and came to the office. One of the guys from another business had gone out and purchased a television during the morning, and we had it on…and visions of the towers falling, and grainy, shaky footage of the planes going into the building replayed over and over and over and over (and over) again. That day, and the next and the next. And the televisions were on, every where, it seemed, replaying the events over and over…as commentators and experts mulled over the tragedy, looking at it from every possible angle. It was impossible to ignore--and I wouldn't have wanted to ignore it--I was riveted by the tragedy and the suffering and the loss. And it seemed important to honour lives lost by being very mindful of the tragedy in the days, weeks and months following--so I watched. We watched.

..and the towers kept falling. 

In our collective consciousness, we could see the towers falling when we fell asleep, and when we woke. When we ate and talked and exercised. When we read the newspaper, went online, opened a magazine, or went to the coffee shop…we were saturated with the images and discussion of the tragedy.

These days, news is filled with violence in Syria, Iraq, and the Ukraine. Large planes with many people have gone down in recent months. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders specifically excludes media based exposure as a trigger for trauma response. 

I'm not sure what they were thinking, but the evidence disputes that. Dr. Roxane Cohen Silver, in her research found that, "early and repeated exposure to violent images from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the Iraz War may have led to an increase in physical and psychological ailments up to three years" later. 

Researchers surveyed a national sample of 4,675 adults two to four weeks after the 2013 Boston Marathon to assess acute stress responses to the bombings, the degree of direct exposure to the bombings, indirect exposure through media and prior exposure to other recent community-based traumas.

People exposed to six or more hours per day of bombing-related media coverage were nine times more likely to report high acute stress than those with minimal media exposure (less than one hour daily).

This acute stress is characterized by hypervigilance, feeling "on edge", intrusive thoughts, avoiding reminders of the event, and feeling oddly detached. Sleep and other activities can be affected.

The effect of being traumatized by continually seeing these events replayed on the media can have a greater effect on those who have struggle with mental illness, those with a history of trauma in their own lives, and those who have been previously exposure to "collective traumas" such as the Newtown school shootings, and other violent and grisly events that we have collectively viewed repeatedly.

Dr.E. Alison Hoffman states clearly that:

“Our new findings contribute to the growing body of research suggesting that there is no psychological benefit to repeated exposure to graphic images of horror.”

"Prolonged media exposure can turn what was an acute experience into something that is a chronic form of stress" says this important article

Information reduces fear, but media saturation increases trauma and fear.  Helping can heal. Quote by Brene Brown. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

Please understand when something pretty awful in the news has happened, that sensitivity at the coffee shop, or at the water cooler is important. There are some who need to avoid the discussion of traumatic events--even ones that occur halfway around the world:
  1. People who struggle with the residual effects of trauma from events as varied as childhood sexual abuse, a car accident, an abusive relationship. When that person's body feels the tightening, chest constricting, heart pounding fear associated with these events, their body won't know that the current media tragedy is triggering a memory of the past event. The memory won't be acting as a memory--it will forget the memory is a memory--and the past trauma comes flooding all back.
  2. People who are exposed to witnessing trauma as a part of their job need a break from it. Police officers, military folk, paramedics, trauma nurses, sometimes therapists/social workers/psychologists--these people are trained and steeled to deal with it as a vital part of their job. They bear witness to horrors as a part of their job…but they need a break from it when possible. These folks will often avoid telling you such, but while they are willing to expose themselves to others' trauma as part of their professional service, they just can't hear it discussed in idle conversation.
  3. People who have had similar experiences may find that media events "hit a little close to home". Robin Williams recent suicide created sleepless nights for many that week as they remembered a family member who attempted or completed suicide. These folks don't have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in that they are leading symptom free lives, but this event evokes powerful memories. What made it more difficult was that social media sites like Facebook had posts and reposts of videos, thoughts, and reflections on his life and his mental health and substance abuse challenges. It was difficult to get away from the sad news of Robin Williams without completing unplugging.
For these folks, not viewing it, talking about it, rehashing it, processing it, etc. is vital to get through the day. If they are ambushed by discussion of horrible news events, they may lose sleep, have horrible nightmares, be unable to concentrate at work, snap at their children, be distracted drivers, not engage with friends, avoid going out, etc.

The thing about the news is that it is time limited…we witness highlights of multiple stories. Media sites, eager for market share are eager to show images that grab, capture and hold your attention. The most graphic images with the most compelling facts are what's shown…these news sources are competing with each other for viewers.

But what that means is we get a distorted view of the event. I love this video:

Look for the helpers…and there you will find hope.

I blogged about my experience visiting ground zero in New York City. I walked around the site, viewed the stories and artifacts…but was most struck by the memories and stories shared in St. Paul's church, which was only a block away from the World Trade Center. It was a place of helping and healing. It was a place of goodness and support and love. It opened its doors to emergency and rescue personnel right away, and stayed open for months. That didn't make the headlines, yet was just as much a part of the story as the buildings falling down…but I bet you didn't know about it.

Recently, I wrote about the time I spent about 4 hours at the scene of a horrific bus accident on the Coquihalla Highway near Merritt, British Columbia. I saw the blood and the broken glass, heard the screams and the sirens, and felt the weltering sun and wind of the helicopters, and witnessed the injuries of the dozens of folks who were in the bus when it rolled. You saw that part of the story on the news, too.

But what I also saw was incredible teamwork of emergency personnel and folks who stopped instead of driving by. I saw pillows and blankets appear out of no where…they could have only come from passersby. I saw hugs and gentle talk to victims. I saw competence and caring. I saw victims caring and weeping for their fellow victims. You didn't see all that in the news. 

I saw the beauty and the horror. You only saw the horror…who do you think has the worst memory of the event?

As global citizens, we have a responsibility to be aware of what's going on in the world.  We dare not turn a blind eye to senseless violence…it is our awareness and horror of it that places pressure on the system to put an end to violence, injustice and all the human carnage that is a part of that. The Civil Rights movement, the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin wall, and so on occur because national and global pressure that has arisen from the horror says: NO MORE.

However, it would seem that we also have a responsibility to view it, and then STOP viewing it. We can remember what we saw, people…without continually reviewing it. When the news says that a video shows a beheading of a prisoner, we can trust the news source, and not hunt the actual video out online to see it for ourselves. We can watch the 6:00 news…and trust that little has changed…we don't need to watch the 11 o'clock news for a chance to re-traumatize ourselves (or even worse, continually re-watch it every 10 or 15 minutes on CNN.

By only viewing it once, we can be better parents, better spouses, more present for the immediate needs around us. We are in a better position not to be paralyzed by the events, or numbed into inaction. 

We are better able to write letters, donate funds, mobilize resources to make a difference in the horrors of our world by doing what we can to make a difference in our corner of the world. 

It does not honour the tragedy of others to traumatize ourselves…let's channel the energy we often use in watching the horrors of the day into positive, life-giving action that changes the world.
Tags: Trauma

Hump Day Nudge: You Don't Have to Walk Alone

- by Carolyn Bergen


I love a cappella music…voices blending together in beautiful harmony just melts me

There's something about voices giving beauty to each other. When a voice finds its pitch in relationship to others, well...that seems exquisite to me. Voices supporting each other, adding to the others by their own unique contribution. 

In a cappella music, each voice is distinct and vital and essential…and the sum of the whole is so much greater than its parts.

And music sung without any instruments, save the ones on the end of the arms--well, the rhythm of the hands only further adds to the whole.

(and the coordination, well, it. blows. me. away. …how do they do it?)

So, here, filmed in a single take, is a little tune that I just know will make your day--it made mine!

This song talks about the magic that happens when a person thinks of a loved one…it makes the journey more do-able. Thinking of a loved one lifts your spirits when down. Thinking of a loved one helps a person find their way.

If you're thinking of a loved one right now who helps you to "not walk alone"…because you keep them in your heart no matter where you are…send them a text right now…and let 'em know. Let'em know how s/he lifts your spirits!

Or tweet them. #IDontHaveToWalkAlone

Treasure those who walk with you…and show them some loooove.  :)

The Five Regrets of the Dying/The Five Opportunities for the Living

- by Carolyn Bergen

Chatting about this with Dahlia on CJOB today…we have choices that we will have to live with for the rest of our lives. Why not invest some time in finding out how those who are dying wished they chose differently?

From our series:

Opportunity #1: Authenticity challenge the possibility of the first regret: I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Fitting in vs. Belonging. Poster by Bergen and Associates

Opportunity #2: Work well

…to challenge the possibility of the second regret: I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

Opportunity #3: Express your feelings

….to challenge the possibility of the third regret: I wish I'd the courage to express my feelings

Opportunity #4: Have good friends

…to challenge the possibility of the fourth regret: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

Opportunity #5 Deciding for joy

…to challenge the possibility of the fifth regret: I wish I had let myself be happier.

Accident on the Coquihalla

- by Carolyn Bergen

**Trigger warning…some graphic accident into described. Stop reading if you could be triggered, please. :)

After 4 days of travel, we were on the Coquihalla, almost to our destination on the West Coast…and then we came upon the scene. The tour bus had done a complete roll, landing on the side of the highway…missing all the windows on the side I could see.

My thoughts are as jumbled as the scene we came upon. I find myself remembering snippets of the four hours we spent at the site…in snapshots and slices; in a disjointed jumble of jarring images not unlike the scene itself.

I remember the blood.

So. much. blood. 

Everyone in the accident had blood on them. Everyone.

Running down arms. Little rivulets drying half way down a cheek. Big splotches on shirts. Everyone was bleeding.

I remember the chaos.

So many injured. So. many. injured.

My Junior Tribe Member (JTM) and I came upon the accident maybe several minutes after it happened. We arrived about the same time as the first police car and ambulance. A few uniforms and so many more injured…tho in the chao, who knew how many. We now know over 50. People in the bus, and outside of it. So many seriously injured on the bus…and how to get them help and get them off…gosh, it was a mess.

"All those that can walk…go over to that truck."

"No, all those that can walk…go over this way."

"Put the stretchers waiting for an ambulance over here."

"Hey, who put these stretchers here? The ambulances can't get through!"

"Has anybody thought to look under the bus to see if anybody is under there? NO??? ok…go look!"

The aftermath of the bus accident on Highway Number One near Merritt in August 2014

I remember the order arising from the chaos.

Two emergency room physicians and an off duty firefighter/on duty trucker and a first aid teacher were at the scene within minutes. (Amazing that, isn't it?)

By the time I arrived the injured had plastic tags…red for needing critical attention, yellow for seriously injured but not critical, and green for minor injuries.

The red tagged folks were focused on first. My JTM was involved as they carefully compressed bleeding wounds, put folks on backboards, and prepared them to be flown away. IV's were started, vitals were taken, charts were started.

A Cantonese speaking by-stander began asking questions and interpreting answers…and emergency personnel began to call her this way and that to establish order.

Cases of bottled water showed up, as did pillows, and blankets. Rolled up Tshirts compressed to broad gashed tied with strips of random cloth, gradually were replaced with more sterile bandages and gauze.

The folks with yellow strips had bystanders with them…shielding them from the blinding sun on the gravel side of the Number 1 highway…I sat with two different families over the four hours…keeping her conscious, letting a little one play with my phone, checking vitals, soothing and helping them to know they weren't forgotten, even as it was taking time for them to get medical attention. Eventually, the physicians attended to them. A "green" fellow quickly changed to "yellow" as his symptoms worsened and was immediately attended to…the situation became well in hand.

Boxes of gloves, boxes of IV bags, tin foil blankets to stave off shock showed up in good supply. Styrofoam neck supports for all those who didn't have a collar…and eventually, everyone had the support…and then they became useful mini-stools for those of us who had been sitting on the dusty highway for hours.

Order after the chaos in the BC bus accident on the Coquihilla in August 2014

I remember the sounds

Helicopters are loud, up close--I had no idea how loud. I learned to mimic the ambulance folk…as one was taking off, we'd stop our tasks, and turn our backs to the incredible dust that was kicked up…and shield our victims--especially the open wounds--from the worst of it.

I remember the quiet. Sometimes, there were period of no sirens and no helicopters. The highway was closed in both directions--no traffic sounds. So many of the victims knew no English, or very little…and many, when they spoke, did so very quietly, and had to be asked to repeat themselves louder.

The front of the bus after the Super Vacation bus tour flipped on the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia

I remember the tears

I sat first with two "yellows"-- a university student (bashed arms and bad scrapes) and his mother (significant trunk injuries). The mother, S., cried twice.

Once when one of the "reds" near her was being put on the backboard. Her screams were loud and tortured. S. cried as she heard her fellow traveller in agony.

The second time was when her son, J, was having his arms given proper first aid. He screamed as they poured liquid on the long open gash on his arm and they straightened it--was his elbow broken? She wept as her son was in anguish.

My second family was a "yellow" mom, Y., with a "green" husband and toddler daughter. Y's mom was also on the bus…a "red" victim, bleeding badly from critical spots and had been heli-ported. Y. was one of the last victims to leave the scene…it was going on 4 hours and she had no idea how her mother was doing. She wept talking about her concern for her mother.

The crying--it was accident victims weeping for the others.

I remember the humanness of it all

I sat, for what I found out later, was a total of 4 hours, with two different families. That's a long time…and while some of it was providing care, and supporting the work of the emergency workers…there was a lot of time to just "be". 

To be with victims, to support them, to get to know them…to while away the hours in a way that was "least worst".

I offered my phone to J. to call his dad in Beijing. His cell phone was missing in the chaos. We giggled as one hand was too mangled to tap numbers, and the other arm's elbow couldn't bend to dial. I tried to understand his broken and frightened English to dial for him…until his seriously injured mother told him to not call--she was worried about bothering him in his busy schedule.

I was encouraging J. to drink in the blistering heat…and held the bottle to his lips. After a while, he shyly explained his reluctance to drink too much. His arms and hands were both injured, and he didn't know what he'd do if he had to pee. We laughed at that too.

Wondering about finding passports…or leaving them inside the bus while they went away…the ordinary stuff of life even as we wondered about lives lost, and the severity of injuries of those waiting for hospital yet.

Y spoke great English…and we spoke about raising children, and university education, and matters of faith. She spoke about taking her child to preschool, and I spoke about taking mine to university. We talked about Lake Louise and canoeing and the beauty of the mountains. We visited…sounds odd, but when you've been on a hard backboard for 3 hours and that alone is darn uncomfortable, and you've lost your glasses and can see very little…I think the chatter was a great distraction. She was a lovely lady. We prayed together.

She spoke about her fear of closing her eyes at night because of the images of blood she knew she'd see. I didn't tell her then--it wouldn't have been right--but I shared that fear. She and her husband told stories of the accident…and I found out for the first time that it was a busload of Mandarin speaking folks heading home from their tour.

We became friends…and exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. Folks sharing a horrific experience and being human within it all--and connecting deeply.

I remember the community that quickly developed

The accident victims outnumbered the paramedics. The doctors on site knew what they were doing. Important assistance was given before the uniform--paramedics, RCMP and firefighters arrived--and when they arrived, they seamlessly joined in the team…respecting us roadside volunteers, while we respected their ability to do their jobs.

When it was time to roll a victim onto a spinal board, someone would call out and 8-10 people would quickly gather to gingerly do the job…and then, on one paramedic's count--on three--together lift the board onto a stretcher. 

Strangers worked together cooperatively in ways that I marvelled at, even at the time. A firefighter started a file on S.--I was closer to her son, and asked the questions to gather history--while she scribed the responses. She called on passersby for a pen…and then later gave the pen to another who needed it. 

Later, when J and S were stowed in the ambulance, both attendants left to go get one more victim to fill the ambulance…and asked me to look after the victims in the ambulance for the 10 minutes they were gone. They trusted me, a stranger…and then chuckled as J and I exchanged a meaningful good-by and a promise to text each other.

I remember the love and the gratitude.

The feeling of community was palpable…as the last of the victims were being loaded, I went to give one of the physicians a hug…she had been working tirelessly for 4 hours--and I wanted to see how she was doing. She quickly hugged me and said, "I gotta go find that young man in the striped shirt…he was incredible"--and went to go give my JTM a hug of gratitude and encouragement for his role in helping her. 

The RCMP officer in charge spent a few minutes with us…and also expressed her gratitude at the "helpful young man"…the first aid teacher--he told me to have some more kids just like him.

I remember the text I got from J yesterday…he and his mom are on the mend, and in his broken English, he said: "Thank you very much, Carolyn. I will never forget you. I love you."

Not sure how his injured fingers, hands and arms worked to be able to send that text--I know it couldn't have been easy…and yet he troubled himself to send it. That sort of gratitude--the thinking outside of himself, even at such a time of tragedy--moves me.

I remember being parked on the tire marks

As the last two victims awaited their turn to be transported, an RCMP officer called my name out at the scene--odd, I thought, that he had my name.

I left my car a couple of dozen yards back on the inside lane of the highway, window wide open and doors unlocked, purse inside--leaving for what I thought was a minute--not realizing it would be 4 hours before I would return. He had opened the glove compartment to see who owned the vehicle. I ran back, thinking of the vehicle for the first time…so many people had been around the scene--and my unlocked car with my purse sitting on the front seat.

It was all safely untouched.

There is a lot more going right in this world than going wrong with it, I think.

Unbeknownest to me, hours earlier, I had parked on the tire tracks of the bus, where the terrible scene had begun. Now, before opening the highway, they needed to measure the scene for the investigation…so I needed to move my car.

Tire tracks on the Coquihalla highway #1 outside Merritt after the bus accident in August 2014

Isn't that so often what life is like? We can park ourselves on the accident scenes of others without even knowing we are--and for hours be blissfully ignorant that we are firmly planted on catastrophe without awareness. 

I had thought I was fine--I was calm--after all, I wasn't in the accident, right? 

I drove over one of the cones designed to protect the scene. 

It was bright orange…pretty difficult to miss…but I missed it.

Trauma…even being a bystander--affects us, even when we may not be aware of it--decreases sensitivity, increases response times…just making a person a little more clumsy in trauma's wake.

The RCMP officer…he was kind and gentle and appreciative to me…even as he was going about his official investigation with his colleagues.

The story, as I remember it--well, it will include the blood and the blood-curdling screams--but it will also even more include the cooperation, the gratitude, the teamwork, and the friendships.

Post-summer parenting shame

- by Sabrina Friesen

It's that time of year again, where parents pull out school supply lists and dust off indoor shoes to see if they still fit for the upcoming year. Lazy summer routines make way for structure, and boxes of KD head back to the pantry in favor of bagged lunches and portable snacks. 

For some people, it's the most wonderful time of the year. It means the end of keeping bored kids busy, of scrounging change for slurpees, and a blessed return to the structure of a school calendar. 

For others, it's a time where they lament the lazy, hazy days of summer where children played and adults relaxed with a drink by the beach. 

For many it's a mix of both.

What it can be for a lot of parents, too, is a time where post-summer shame kicks in. As colleagues return to the office from their weeks away and kids make their way back to school, the summer activities are reviewed and compared. It seems the days of letting kids run loose around the neighborhood with local kids are gone, with structured camps, day trips, and sometimes elaborate family holidays taking center stage. 

What some people may not realize is how the end of summer can weigh heavy on the hearts of parents, as they step back and take stock of what they did (or didn't) do.

A few conversations with mom friends confirmed a truth I had already suspected. Lurking sneakily beneath the surface as we chat about the upcoming school year, I hear it

In lingers in heavy sighs and tired eyes, and surfaces in every conversation about the upcoming end of summer. 

It's the dreaded parent-guilt. 

As we compared the events of this summer to last, one friend wondered, "Did I do enough to make it feel like summer break? We went on a 3 week vacation last year, and this year we stayed home."  For another friend, the demands of work were dramatically increased over the summer months - which meant more time in daycare and less 'fun' time with mom for her young ones. She too has looked back with regret - and perhaps a side of fear, wondering if her kids begrudge the summertime schedule. As I think of my own summer and of the interruptions of regular life that didn't pay heed to the short sunny season we have - I found myself tempted to 'make up' for the parts of the break that really didn't deliver for my own crew.

When did summer break turn into a two month long event? 

And when did we start getting scored on our performance?

I am curious what would happen if we were to look back on the summer with a side of "que sera sera", rather than with a dip in deep pools of regret. How would we feel about the transition to a new season of school if we were able to step back and realize summer is over and done, and there is not a thing we can do to change it

What if we were to give ourselves a break and stop comparing the events of our summer to those around us

Maybe that sleepover in the backyard that you thought was amazing, until you heard of a friend's two week trip to Florida, really was as special as you thought it was. Perhaps puddle jumping or frog hunting or that singular s'mores episode were all you had in you. Maybe you were stressed out to the max, and simply signed your kid up for every daycamp out there so you could simply. get. through. Or perhaps yours was the kid who stayed home and watched TV every day while you worked, because there were no room for extras in the budget.

Your summer could have been great. Or maybe it was total crap. 

Could we, parents, take a collective deep breath, and give ourselves permission to have done the best with what we had at the time

Could we stop kicking ourselves for all that we didn't do, and give pause to think of one thing this summer we enjoyed?  

It doesn't have to be something worthy of an Instagram post, just something that filled your heart with some measure of joy. Even if it was dropping your kids off at overnight camp. And while you're at it, maybe hug your kids. Or ask them about their day, or their favorite summer memory. 

Whether it's summer or spring, or the dark days of winter that are coming, what would happen if we compared less and showed up more for those we love? 

What if we traded the time we spent fretting over whether or not we are enough for our kids, and spent it trying to connect with them instead? Quote by Sabrina Friesen, Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg  

Let's give ourselves permission to opt out of the event-based, one-upping culture that we so often get tangled in and give space to celebrate what we have to offer, no matter how big or small it seems.

And while you're at it, why don't you take a moment and share something about your own summer that stood out for you - parents or not. We'd love to celebrate the small things with you.


Older posts »

Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

September 29, 2014

Watching horrific things on video is traumatizing…repeatedly watching is as or more traumatizing than being there at the actual occurrence. How can we honour tragedy in a way other than traumatizing ourselves?

Hump Day Nudge: Voices blending in an epic patty cake song…reminding us in word and rhythm that we walk together…not alone

On CJOB with Dahlia Kurtz…the top 5 regrets of the dying can become the top 5 opportunities of the living…at the beginning of September, let's learn the life lessons those at the end of life wish they had learnt!

Carolyn was one of the first responders at the bus accident last week on the Coquihalla Highway near Merrit last week in BC…her experience of being with those in trauma...

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