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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.


The Mask of Humor

- by Carolyn Bergen

Robin Williams died last week. 

A man who made us all laugh. I think this was where I first met Mr. Williams:

A man whose movies challenged us to not only laugh but to see how laughter fits in with challenge, and war, with growing up, and loving your kids so much it hurts. Robin Williams' movies were hysterical…but sometimes tears aren't so far away from laughter, eh? 

Dahlia Kurtz sent me this article last week from Psychology Today, looking at how folks use humour in ways that allows a person to hide behind the joke, or conceal their pain underneath the humour. She suggested that we talk about it on air during our next weekly chat.

I asked folks who follow us on Facebook to comment on their perspective of the article. I'm grateful for those who did…some commented on the article on Facebook, others messaged me privately. I'm grateful to you all.

Ways in which humour works to hide pain:

1. It works as a decoy.

Remember those old black and white movies, where we would see a coupla guys (usually wearing a suit and tie) want to rob a bank? And their plan was to light a small fire at the other end of town. We would watch, slapstick comedy style, as all the emergency vehicles drove towards this fire, leaving the crooks free to rob the bank at the other end of town.

It was a diversionary tactic--and it worked with varying success.

A reader wrote:

Humour is always what I used to direct away from the pain, If I was up enough to do it. My friends thought I was hysterical, my husband thinks I should do stand-up (seriously!). I am on antidepressants and I am in therapy. I am okay, for now.

Humor is an attempt to fool people…to have them look over here at this joke, and away from over there at that pain.

2. It works as a mask.

It covers the pain.

Another reader wrote:

A friend once asked of me, "Promise me that you'll always laugh at my jokes!" His humour did make me laugh all the time; he was quick witted, clean thoughts, great at puns and word play, could imitate voices, etc. However, others, even his own wife and family, didn't think he was funny and said so. They saw his humour as a bid for seeking attention and frowned on that. Seems that when they needed him to be serious, he couldn't be what they wanted. His request of me to always laugh at his jokes, may have been a humour mask - to hide insecurities or to be in control and do what he pleased, rather than do the bidding of his family members, or to carve out his own unique niche in his social circle.

Humor is a way to attract a sort of connection…laughter, is after all, a wonderful way for folks to connect. But when it is a way to avoid authentic connection, rather than create it, it becomes a problem.

Some folks will do anything to avoid getting serious. They refuse to talk about the tough stuff.

The very sad part?

For some folks who have used humour as a mask for so long, it's like the mask gets fused to their face. If you ask them to really talk at deeper levels, they aren't even quite sure what you mean. For some folks who use humour often and long enough, they lose connection with parts of themselves that are more complex, that has experienced pain and loss.

no one, for any period of time can wear one face to himself and another to the magnitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.  Quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Poster by Bergen and Associates

They aren't able to empathic with those who reach out to them…and others may stop reaching out…and then it gets lonely. 

The "class clown" who joked to get others' approval now ends up distant and alone.

3. Sarcasm is a "funny" way to get some digs in, but not really

There is a difference between teasing and sarcasm. Sarcasm cuts--it uses humour to make a point, and often hides critical messages. Sarcasm can a way to be mean without owning the anger, or being direct about it.

You know that joke that somebody says about the deadline you missed, or the meeting you forgot…only you're not laughing? Yeah…that's sarcasm…and it can be an indirect way to express pain. It's tricky though, because you're expected to laugh at sarcasm even when it's not funny…and to name it and ask about what's behind the dig often elicits a shrug, and some hands up in a defensive way with a comment about "Don't take it so seriously--I was only joking!"

And the person using sarcasm--not getting their underlying hurt/anger/disappointment dealt with directly--and often, not at all.

4. Self Deprecating humour is a way to cut yourself down

Often self deprecating humour, where one makes jokes at one's own expense is often a way to beat others to the punch. After all, if you're harder on yourself than anybody else, then you can prevent hurt--theoretically, anyway. (What a person might not realize is how traumatizing it is to be beat up by oneself.)

People often use humour that is self critical as a way to ensure that others can't hurt them.

One reader wrote a contrasting idea:

My own sense of humour is self-deprecation, sarcasm, quick retorts. I have my own permission to poke fun at myself rather than joke at the expense of other people. I do find it annoying when on occasion someone felt that poking fun at myself meant that I was hiding deeper emotional issues and my own insecurities. I, on the other hand, felt that because I can poke fun at my own insecurities, I'm in a much better shape to deal with them - I don't deny them. Everyone has issues with something - and I'm coping well with mine.

5. Humor is an authentic expression appropriate to the situation, as a temporary mask.

I talked about the use of humour as a mask with a teacher this week. And her response was, "Well, sometimes you have a choice between laughing and crying, and when a whole class is watching, crying doesn't really feel like an option."

There are times in our lives when we'd like to curl up in a ball and hide, or rail against the world while beating our chest, or scold and ridicule a child for their actions…only doing so in that moment wouldn't be authentic to one's core values. There are times when it feels authentic to be professional, or "be the bigger person" or be a parent, and not act on strong feelings that threaten to hijack our ability to be present in the moment the way we authentically want to be.

Humor is a great way to soften the situation, and turn it around…to reconnect with someone under difficult circumstances. To do this may allow you to align with your core values in a real way.

What makes this use of humour different than the standard mask of humour is to consciously choose to use it in the situation (rather than an unconscious default strategy)…and then to later "unpack" the other emotions that weren't attended to, on your own, or ideally, with a friend. 

The mask is something that is used temporarily and consciously, and then removed to acknowledge what is happening. It helps maintain integrity in the situation, and after the situation…it is fully honest.

Humor in it's most pure form, isn't a mask at all, but an acknowledgement of common humanity, of enjoying the lighter side of life:

From a reader:

My sweet husband, who passed away 1 1/2 yrs. ago now, asked me to tone down my sarcasm and I chose not to use it with him - just with my women friends. His sense of humour was a quiet, well-timed, dry-dead pan response - that usually took some time to catch! Miss those so much! No mask there - just delightful interactions with each other for 46 blessed years.

Humor is designed to connect people. Masks, of any kind, disconnect people from each other.

Humor lightens life up. Masks weigh people down…they get heavy and burdensome.

Humor creates energy. Masks consume energy.

Think about the use of humour in your life?
She had blue skin, And so did he. He kept it hid And so did she. They searched for blue Their whole life through, Then passed right by- And never knew. Quote by Shel Silverstein. Poster by Bergen and Assocaites Counselling in Winnipeg

The privilege of grumbling

- by Carolyn Bergen

We can complain that rose bushes have thorns or rejoice that thorn bushes have roses. Abraham Lincoln.  Poster by Bergen and associates.When I was a little girl, I couldn't decide between being a teacher or a nurse or a ballerina when I grew up. But I knew that no matter what, I wanted to be a mother.

Being a ballerina was out pretty quickly, as I never actually took ballet. (Apparently having beautiful ballerina pillow cases doesn't realize a dream). And while I have taught at the university, I'm not actually a teacher. And nursing was out because of the shift work…because it didn't fit for the kind of mother I wanted to be.

Becoming a mother was fraught with trickiness for me…I'm grateful that I am, and I soooo don't take it for granted. Multiple high risk procedures made it possible…and even then, it was only because of an extended hospital stay both before and after the youngest was born.

I am not one to take my Junior Tribe Members for granted. Achieving Motherhood was precarious for me…it then has had a preciousness to me that I've been mindful of these last years.

But that hasn't stopped me from wanting to pull my hair out at various points

One of the JTM's was a highly sensitive child which meant that clothing tags, smells, the sight of food he didn't like, having to choose only one of two good things would send him into a full on meltdown. This, combined with a speech delay which meant I often had little clue about what was upsetting him until his fourth year. Tantrums weren't just daily…often they were hourly…those can wear a mama down.

Motherhood for me, as it does for all mothers, meant there were times when I was foggy with sleep deprivation and I muddled through the day with the only thought of making it until I might collapse into bed. There were times I was absolutely convinced I would never, ever, in my entire lifetime (and quite possibly the next) ever eat while the food was still hot. 

One year, there were long dark nights staying at a friend's cottage where I sought to keep the little one quiet so as not to wake up our hosts, with "imaginary reading". I'd read "Molly moves to Sesame Street" and others so many times I could quote it word for word to the little one in the dark. The others were sleeping--and needed to sleep--and I was awake trying to keep JTM quiet…even though it felt I needed sleep more than anyone else.

I forgot sometimes how much I wanted motherhood, and how I had earlier anguished there would be days that it wouldn't happen. Sometimes I even wondered to myself, "Seriously? This is what I longed for? What was I thinking?"

As the JTM's got older, I did begin to eat a meal while it was still hot. 

I slept through the night and woke up with a clear mind (and I wandered around marvelling: "Does everybody feel this good when they are awake after they've slept through? How come they don't appreciate it as a wondrous wonder?") 

But now, they left a trail of crumbs as they got their own snacks, they left their socks lying on the floor wherever they had taken them off (which was anywhere...and everywhere), they had to be reminded to get ready on time for birthday parties and sports practices which they LOVED (but were still never ready on time for). 

Loud and rambunctious, running full on through the house, grabbing hold of walls with dirty hands as they turned with breakneck speed. It was loud…and the smudges left traces of JTM's everywhere.

Sometimes it felt like I had only one nerve left, and they were busy trying to fray that one!

One JTM is leaving the tribe. 

Oh, he'll still belong to us…but he's moving to a dorm across the country in just a coupla weeks. I didn't think it would end so soon. I didn't know it would feel so fast that the time would come.

Last evening, I sat down to watch a show last night, and had to move a couple dirty socks before I sat. I walked by the washer, and there was dirty socks and Tshirts littered over the floor…right beside the hamper. Seriously?

"Laundry thrown carelessly on the floor right next to the hamper is something I won't miss"

..was what I thought I would think…but it wasn't.

I will miss it. 


In an odd space between the almost but not quite, I'm regretting all the times he won't be in the next room playing his music too loud, or leaving his dishes on the counter, or his flip-flops in the middle of the entry way so I can't even close the back door. I'm gonna miss how he looks suddenly guilty when I ask if he has done the chore I asked him to do yesterday. 

Pretty soon he won't be leaving socks around the house anywhere for me to decide if I should clean up myself, or call him over to learn to take responsibility.

No more socks all over the place.

And in an odd twist that is surprising me, I'm already missing the messiness.

In a world where an unarmed black son gets killed while standing in the street, terrorists end lives and celebrate with arms raised in videos, and a famous comedian who made the world laugh and loves his family can't see a way out of the pain…I realize how blessed I have been to complain about socks and tantrums, and crumbs, and dishes on the counter. 

And how very much I will long for the days when eye rolling and harumphs of frustration could be part of my daily existence…because those frustrations said my JTM was likely in the next room. It meant that he would burst through the door soon wanting to tell me something funny that he saw on YouTube. It meant that we would soon go to a smelly gym where two teams would give their body's best to become a team…it meant this good little boy was on his way to becoming a fine, young man--and I had a front row seat.


Let's celebrate the privilege of grumbling!

…grumbling because our loved ones are around messing up with crumbs and crusts and crying, being inconsiderate, tripping over their foibles as they make their way through life. 

Let's celebrate that grumbling over our loved ones means they are around for us to grumble about.

I know that I'm gonna miss grumbling about him.

Hump Day Nudge: Great Dads

- by Carolyn Bergen

"My name's dad…and proud of it…all dads should be."

I love peanut butter. 

But I'm not at all sure about mixing peanut butter and Cheerios.

I am completely sure that this is the sort of dad that is inspiring… I think it's something about the encouragement, empowerment, boundaries, playfulness, affirmation towards his children and confidence in his own ability to pull it off in a crazy, imperfect, messy sort of way that just warms me.

In a world that is too quick to tell us what we need by what we haven't got, I'm kinda inspired by a model that is respectful to dads, and celebrates the contribution of men in the lives of their children.

Go Cheerios! You're not just for amusement of little-tiny-preschoolers-whose-desperate-parents-put-cheerios-on-their-high-chairs-to-get-5-more-minutes-peace-to-finish-their-dinner anymore!

Cheerios…you nailed a model of fatherhood that is fun and gentle and encouraging and validating. Thank you.

Dads are important. The research says it, and my walls have heard it over and over.

Listen to dads and boys talk about it:

"BEing there counts" Poster by Bergen and Associates

Meet our new intern...Heather Pringle

- by Carolyn Bergen

Introducing Heather Pringle!

Heather pringle is an intern counsellor with affordable rates.

We, at Bergen and Associates Counselling are thrilled to let y'all know that Heather Pringle is joining our team, beginning to see clients at the beginning of September.

It has been tradition, ever since our first loved intern, Rod Minaker, phoned me up and told me how much sense it made for us to have an intern. I'd never really thought of it before, and had no idea what it would look like, but with his workhorse ethic, he assured me that it was do-able, and he could help me figure out how to make it happen. He literally created his own internship--he did an excellent job doing so, and actually helped create the template for interns that then followed. He is leaving us at the end of this month, and while we will certainly miss his input to our clients--way more than than, we're just gonna plain miss him. We have come to love his learning spirit, his passion for the profession, his playfulness and his giggle…and all that makes Rod…well, Rod.

A lovely line of interns followed…each one meets with myself (Carolyn Bergen) regularly to consult about the situations and the clients they are working with…we brainstorm together how they might help a client approach their issues in fresh and life giving ways; how they might authentically connect with clients as they explore matters that are deeply personal and troubling; and how they might help create space and momentum for moving forward in ways that create new energy and life.

Last Thursday, it so happened that I met Kevin Beauchamp, our intern from 2011-2013 for breakfast. He introduced me to his lovely fiancé, who was actually a student that I taught at the University of Manitoba last year. He was excited to tell me of his life post internship…and it was beautiful to hear him reflect on what life has taught him, and the joy he has. 

I drove from the breakfast to my office where I met Yok Knight, our intern from 2009…and she introduced me to her baby, named after a civil rights activist Rosa Parks. Yok's sense of justice, and desire for reconciliation and authentic peace is powerful. She caught me up on her travels and adventures as she has furthered her education and lived in various parts of North America. It was cool to see her growth, and to meet her little one.

Now..Heather Pringle joins us. We value our interns…and she comes to us soooo highly regarded. We've been impressed with her right from the time we received her first interest in joining us. I spent a couple of hours with her last week, explaining some of how we do things…and you know how sometimes you can tell it's a good fit? Let's just say, we had a great orientation. 

I got a good feeling about having her around.

She will be seeing clients for 60 minute sessions on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons with a rate of $45.00 per session (including GST). She is at the end of her studies, and is nearing completion of her degree…and she, like all the other interns, will be regularly consulting with Carolyn Bergen.

We recognize that the full clinical rate is out of reach for a lot of people who would still value therapy…and so we are delighted to give the public an option that is within reach for more people.

Contact us via our request form or call us at 204 275 1045 to book a session with Heather Pringle!

**Please note that Heather and I are "as is" on the above photo…no blemishes photoshopped out, no wrinkles smoothed, no teeth whitenedWe present the shot unretouched--intentionally

Clients are their honest, truest, most authentic selves with us…the least we can do is be the same with you. 

This high quality photo taken by Doug Little, our next door neighbour at the office…but only until the end of the month. We will miss you, Doug!

6 Facts about Mental Health and Money

- by Carolyn Bergen

How does mental health and money intersect?

Well, so glad you asked!

As I've been doing some reading and listening lately, the topic of a person's relationship to money and how that impacts the relationship to themselves and others has come up lately.

What I've discovered is this:

1. A minimum amount of money is important to mental health and to raising kids well. But too much money can be a barrier to parenting well.

It is stressful to be stretched and strained…to wonder how the rent will be paid, or wonder if the grocery money will last until the end of the month. When finances are so tight that there isn't enough for basic expenses, it affects mental health. 

It's a lousy feeling to not know if you can provide for your kids. Absolutely.

Poverty is exhausting and stressful. And having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet is hard on relationships.

However, we often have the notion that happiness can only increase as income increases. The more money one has, the common thinking goes, the easier it is to provide for children, and give them what they need.

"The scholars who research happiness suggest that more money stops making people happier at a family income of around $75000/year" (David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, p. 50) And actually, "when the income of parents gets high enough, then parenting starts to be harder again"…as teaching a work ethic and modelling a successful struggle to achieve family success becomes difficult. It's harder to say, "No, we won't" than, "No, we can't".

2. Our culture of scarcity is what can create the problems

We live in a scarcity culture…one where the fear of "not enough" is ever present. Media/advertising often tell us that we should be using better shampoo, have a nicer car, have a phone with more features, bump up our RRSP contributions…and we are often chasing "more" to ensure we have "enough".

This is despite the fact that our houses are much larger than 20 years ago, and there is double the square footage of home per person today than a generation ago. Things that didn't even exist a hundred years ago and were considered luxury a generation ago are not considered standard (think air conditioning, dishwashers, cell phones).

In our pursuit of "enough" in this scarcity culture, we become anxious and focused on what's not right/enough and become single minded in correcting this. Consumer debt load continues to rise. We are more in debt than ever before.

Debt creates its own stress. 

3. Money does buy happiness…but only if you spend it in a certain way

Love this TED talk that makes the above claim:

Money does buy happiness…but only if you spend it the right way…on others. When we use our money to be kind…we experience a greater level of joy and life satisfaction

A guy named Michael Norton did some research at UBC in Vancouver had scientists give folks some money in the morning--…and if they were told to spend it on themselves, it had no effect on their mood. Others were also given money, only were told to spend it on others in whatever they chose…they bought someone a coffee,gave it to the homeless, or bought a small toy for a child…when they got a call at suppertime later that day, the folks who spent it on others…they had improved mood. 

The research found that even small ways of spending money on others gave just as powerful an effect. you don't have to do amazing things with your money to make yourself happy. You can do small, trivial things and yet still get these benefits from doing this.  

Turns out that when you give the members of a team…from a financial sales team or a dodge ball team…when you give each team member money to spend on themselves, it’s spent with no effect.  It’s gone.  When you give team members money and ask them to spend it on their team members, something quite incredible happens.  Spending money on others has a much bigger return. Sale numbers of sales teams go up…substantially.  Dodge ball teams start cleaning up in the league.  When team members are provided with resources and encouraged to be kind to each other, team work gets better, and the team becomes more successful. 

This group looked across the world—how broad is this effect that being kind with your money improves life satisfaction. Michael Norton and his team got data from the Gallup Organization. They ask people, "Did you donate money to charity recently?" and they ask them, "How happy are you with your life in general?" …In almost every country in the world where data can be gathered, people who give money to charity are happier people that people who don't give money to charity. 

4. Words communicate messages more clearly than money. Talking by money does not enhance relationships.

One of the most common things for couples to fight about is money. 

One of the main reasons couples fight about money is that they use money to say things in the relationship.

  • "I love you unconditionally" translates into saying nothing when one partner is overspending…and a spouse doesn't know how to raise a conversation about the bank balance
  • Anger at a spouse's excess work hours or excessively expensive tastes becomes expressed by overspending oneself on one's own interests or clothes or whatever. 
  • or conversely, anger at one's spouse is expressed by the withholding of money, "I can't give you any more money for groceries this month" (even though there is still money for other things)
  • Shame (that feeling of being flawed and therefore 'not good enough") means that a person shops for prettier clothes, fancier furniture, or more expensive steaks to ensure that a spouse is/stays happy in the relationship. 
  • Wanting to "make up" for a deficit of working too hard or really being insensitive by purchasing an expensive gift or meal at a fancy restaurant that one can't really afford but is a huge gesture to demonstrate a desire to repair the relationship
Using money to communicate anger, fear, or love may work, but it's expensive. And not just monetarily. 

Using your words to communicate the desire to be close, to feel good enough, to express disappointment or love will always be more effective than communicating with money.

5. Spending money is a only a very short term buzz to improve mental health

People who enjoy shopping will often buy an item when feeling especially stressed after a hard day's work, or getting dumped, or after an argument with someone important to them.

The purchase gives a bit of a pleasant buzz…it feels good to have something new. It is an attempt to numb the uncomfortable/painful feeling with a shiny new object.

Truly, a cute dress doesn't really numb the pain…and if your closet is already full, and your credit card already has a balance…it actually will increase the pain in the long run, after the immediate buzz wears off.

Spending money to feel better doesn't work.

5. Your approach to time affects your spending habits

Researchers [Clements and Zimbardo] looked at how [3000] people view the past, present and future.

They found that people who are excessively focused on the past—for example, the grandmother who says stuff like "things were so much better when I young"—aren't likely to take financial risks.

For people who focus on the present, there are hedonists and fatalists.

A hedonist is a pleasure-seeker and tends not to think about consequences. People in this category aren't typically in good financial situations, even if they are good at math.

For example, Clements said he has known investment bankers who used payday lenders. They could deal with incredibly complex financial problems, but they couldn't control their impulses, he said.

Fatalists are the people who feel stuck and hopeless in their situation, he said. It might be a single mother who is making trade-offs, working endlessly and feeling like she isn't making a dent in her debt.

Banks love hedonists and fatalists, Clements said. All they have to do is get a credit card into the hands of a hedonist and give a fatalist a bad deal so that their situation doesn't improve.

People who are future-oriented tend to rank themselves high in financial literacy, but their excessive focus on what might happen can be to their detriment, Clements said.

For example, they might overpay for insurance because it sounds like a good deal and they want insurance.

Further…some languages do not have a future tense--"futureless languages"--(e.g.Keith Chen says, "A Chinese speaker can basically say something that sounds very strange to an English speaker's ears. They can say, 'Yesterday it rain,' 'Now it rain,' 'Tomorrow it rain.' In some deep sense, Chinese doesn't divide up the time spectrum in the same way that English forces us to constantly do in order to speak correctly."

In languages that do not have a future tense, the speakers see the present and future more fluidly…and that changes their spending patterns: "futureless language speakers, even after this level of control, are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year. Does this have cumulative effects? Yes, by the time they retire, futureless language speakers, holding constant their income, are going to retire with 25 percent more in savings."

For more on this intriguing idea...

6. We tend to place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on money for happiness

Our culture often equates income with happiness. We esteem those who have more disposable income. Our culture often measures success by the size of a person's home, the number of bells and whistles on their vehicle, or the manufacturers of their clothes. This occurs for both genders, but men tend to be more harshly evaluated on their "ability to provide".

I wrote a series about the regrets of the dying. When folks are in their last days, confronting their own mortality, they are not wishing they had made more money, or had a bigger house. They are wishing they hadn't worked so hard, that they had put more emphasis on relationships and quality of life.

Bronnie Ware writes: "By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle."

Anybody who thinks money will make you happy, hasn


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Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

September 11, 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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