Homewood PTSR - 1. Introduction

What is Homewood?

The Homewood Health Centre is a private mental health institution (a psychiatric hospital – or sanitarium as it was called at the time of its creation, more than 130 years ago) located in Guelph, Ontario. According to their web site:

We are unique in Canadian healthcare. We are a 300-bed mental health and addiction facility located on 50-acres on the banks of the Speed River in Guelph, Ontario. We help to improve the lives of people in our community and throughout Canada by delivering highly specialized care.

Other than the Homewood Health Centre, the Homewood Health umbrella comprises several mental health and addiction outpatient care facilities throughout Canada, as well as a research facility: the Homewood Research Institute. Homewood Health is owned by RBJ Schlegel Holdings, which also owns Schlegel Villages, a group of about 18 retirement homes in Southern Ontario. I have frequented one of these Villages prior to my seizure, when I was volunteering for the Canadian Mental Health Association, and it is a nice establishment.

From now on, and for the sake of brievety, I will refer to the Homewood Health Centre as Homewood, and to the Program for Traumatic Stress Recovery as PTSR.

PTSR: the Program for Traumatic Stress Recovery

Although I have been functional almost my entire life, I had not realised until recently how traumatic my childhood had been and how much it had affected me on so many levels. As a young adult I even managed to build my own life and have my own family. I happily went on with my life: I thought I had left the years of abuse behind me, forgotten for good.

But at the age of 40 a chain of events happened in a very short period of time, and their compounded effects summoned back the demons of my past, and provoked what I now recognise as a PTSD episode. It started with flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, hypervigilance, and at the same time I fell in a very deep depression.

I was scared: I did not know what was happening to me, so I went to see my GP who quickly identified a severe depression and a high state of anxiety. He asked me a few questions, and it became apparent that my past abuse as a child was causing a state of distress that was rendering me totally unable to perform normally in my daily life: I was immediately put on medical leave and started medication and counselling.

At the age of 40 a chain of events happened in a very short period of time, and their compounded effects summoned back the demons of my past

So apparently, there is such thing as a midlife crisis.

After two months of leave I returned to work. I was feeling a little better, but it took me a good two years to gain back control over my life. I had made a lot of progress through talk therapy, EMDR and had found the right medication. I resumed my life, considered myself “cured” and forgot about it all. I even felt well enough to eventually quit meds and counselling.

Things went well for over a year, but symptoms eventually came back unexpectedly, causing me to fall back into a brutal relapse. I resumed treatment, and I elbowed my way through life, working at day, crying at night.

Last autumn something happened at work that triggered me badly and caused a permanent state of hypervigilance that was to last at least four months. I don’t know how I survived the sleep deprivation, the jumpiness and the constant fear of impending doom. I was in a rough shape and I knew that if I wanted to survive I had to tackle this PTSD problem.

I decided to go to Homewood and undergo the PTSR program.

Searching for information

It is not a light decision to take, especially given that I have to fund the stay myself (my insurance plan won’t cover this treatment), so I started to research on line. The only useful information I was able to find was from Homewood’s own web site, but I wanted to find out more.

To validate my decision of applying for the PTSR program, I started looking for first-hand accounts but unfortunately I couldn’t find any. People are not necessarily willing to expose themselves and talk about their stay at a psychiatric hospital, so I understand that there is little to be found on line. As a result, information is scarce and I wish I could have put my hands on more before taking the leap.

This is why I intend to write about my personal experience at Homewood. I hope it will help people decide whether or not PTSR at Homewood is what they are looking for.

To be continued…

Emotions 101 - How to be Human

The Labyrinth -- Homewood Health Centre

Home, sweet home: I was discharged from Homewood after successful completion of the Program for Traumatic Stress Recovery (PTSR). Does it mean that I am “fixed” and now rid of PTSD? Of course not: there is no way a two-month treatment will turn me into a new man, erasing 40 years of my life. I am somewhat in better shape than I was before going to Homewood: the reason I decided to undergo the program is because I knew that although I had been mostly functional so far, I felt that I was approaching a breaking point, and that something needed to be done in order to ensure that I would be able to continue on with my life.

And I am glad I did.

Childhood trauma has shaped my brain and my belief system

I have learnt a lot about PTSD and about myself: how childhood trauma has shaped my brain and my belief system and how to this day I am unable to experience emotions properly. This is how I have been all my life and not knowing anything else I just thought it was normal. It is not that I am unable to feel, but I don’t know how to access my emotions, acknowledge them and give myself permission to live through them. I have instead compensated by building an emotional centre at a higher cognitive level, which means that I know what I am supposed to feel under certain circumstances, and to a certain degree I feel my emotions in my head rather than in my heart.

It is hard to believe that I have lived my whole life not knowing this, but now I am starting to accept it and it is one of the areas I will have to work on in order to become a complete human. And it is not going to be easy: I have tried to open myself to my heart, access the emotions buried inside me, and the first few attemps have been overwhelming. I am not used to feeling emotions in this way, and what I found in my heart (as opposed to my head) is confusing and difficult to sort. It sent me into a series of flashbacks and dissociative episodes, and I have thus learnt that I need to pace myself and take things slowly.

I am discovering that there is a whole new world of emotions

It is scary, but it is also exciting: I am discovering that there is a whole new world of emotions, a entire side of myself that I have never allowed myself to access, and this is filling me with cautions optimism and hope regarding the future. If I learn to manage and regulate my emotions, not only will I be able to feel more complete, but also I hope it means that I will cease to have these uncontrollable floods of emotions that happen randomly whenever triggered or overwhelmed.

So basically, this is what PTSR is: learning how flawed I am, how incomplete my emotional development is, and acquiring a set of skills and tools to recognise feelings and what to do with them.

I intend to write a little bit more about the program, for there is very little concrete information on line and I believe it could be useful to people who consider applying for PTSD treatment at Homewood. I haven’t figured out yet how I am going to write about it, but stay tuned, I will definitely publish something soon.

Dodo

Eh petit bébé, il faudra se taire
Ouais même si papa frappe ta mère
Bah il faudra s’y faire
Je sais qu’il fait mal
Même quand il s’en va
Mais c’est tout à fait normal
Car papa a les plus gros bras

Et si monsieur louche sur toi
Il faudra se taire
Pendant et après que monsieur te touchera
Chut, chut
Il faudra se taire
C’est dur, ouais, c’est dur, ouais
Mais il faudra s’y faire

[Refrain]
Dodo l’enfant Do
Bébé dormira bien vite
Dodo, l’enfant Do
Bébé dormira

Dodo l’enfant Do
Bébé dormira bien vite
Dodo, l’enfant Do
Bébé dormira bientôt

Et puis tu verras
Que maman n’est pas mieux que papa
Car maman aime voir d’autres monsieur
Et même si c’est bien fait pour papa
Tu n’aimeras pas
Quand papa la tapera elle criera

Car il se fâchera encore une fois
Et il te fera ce qu’on lui faisait
Et il te dira que c’est ta faute à toi
Que les grands hommes mâles ne pleurent pas
Mails qu’ils se battent, enfin battent leur femme
Mais surtout leurs enfants et tu pleureras
Oui c’est pas grave
Oui tu oublieras
Tu verras tu l’feras…

[Refrain]

Plus que quelques fois dormir
Pour que papa n’se lève pas
Même si tu n’seras qu’un peu moins triste quand il disparaîtra
Et encore beaucoup d’fois dormir
Et enfin tu t’reposeras
Pas tout de suite mais dans longtemps, très longtemps tu dormiras

Enfin tu dormiras
Enfin tu dormiras
Enfin tu dormiras

Enfin tu dormiras

On disclosure

Disclosing mental illness may look like a risky thing to do, and in some ways it is. I understand that it may turn people away from me, that it may even make me miss good job opportunities.

But if for example I am not hired for a job because my mental condition may put my abilities in question, then would such a missed opportunity be that much of a good one? Rather, doesn’t it mean that I am dodging a bullet by avoiding a toxic work culture where mental illness is considered weakness or incompetence? Having a good job is not only about having a good salary: it is also very important to be in a space where I can cater to my well-being, which cannot be achieved if I were to face stigma and intolerance on a daily basis.

I wish to fight the stigma around mental illness and contribute to the dialogue

By putting myself out there, blogging candidly about it, and therefore exposing myself, I wish to fight the stigma around mental illness and contribute to the dialogue that is currently going on in Canadian society. I hope that eventually, mental illness will be better understood and that society at large will be able to see beyond the prejudices and stereotypes.

Also, not having to hide is a weight that I allow myself to take off of my shoulders, because I’d rather spend my energy on something more positive, like taking care of myself and making sure that my needs are met (which is a bit of a new concept to me, but that I have come to accept as paramount to a proper recovery).

I have been abused verbally, physically, psychologically during all my childhood. I have suffered neglect. I was sexually molested. I have been homeless. Today I am suffering the consequences and I am bearing the invisible wounds of my screwed up upbringing. My emotional development is flawed and incomplete. I have PTSD.

And yet, I have survived, I have built a decent life, I have my own family and our relations are based on love and mutual respect, not fear. I may not have had a role model to follow, but I was given an example of what I did not want to become. I was still able to build my own set of core values, and because I stuck to them I not only survived, but managed to make what I consider a good life.

Granted, I have issues. But I am working very hard on them, and the present residential treatment at a mental institution is a huge commitment – it is an investment in my future, the future of my family, and I am very determined to better myself. I refuse to be ashamed of it. Isn’t it time I allowed myself to lick my wounds and make sure I can heal, cope and grow in a healthy fashion?

So if I lose a friend, a job, or any opportunity in life due to my fiercely fighting mental illness, whose loss is it, really?

Awareness

I am now half-way through the PTSR (Program for Traumatic Stress Recovery) at the Homewood Health Centre and it feels like it only started yesterday.

One thing this environment offers is a place I share with 30 peers who have personal experiences that are similar to my own to a certain degree. It creates a space in which I can express myself in an open and safe manner, without worrying about being judged or misunderstood. In this context, and through discussions and exchanges of ideas with both co-patients and professional staff, I am learning a lot by seeing things from a different perspective.

I have hidden my emotions my whole life, not only from others but also from myself

The strategies we are learning here are based on DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) and are meant to challenge deeply ingrained thought patterns. In this light, I realise that I am in for an uphill battle, and a big part of it will take some time.

The two challenges I face are the following:

  1. Being aware of my emotions: I have hidden my emotions my whole life, not only from others but also from myself. As a result, I am completely out of touch with my inner feelings and experiencing or even describing my own emotions is something I am incapable of doing. I have to learn to feel, and the way to do it is by being mindful. Mindfulness – living in the present moment and being aware of myself as well as the world that surrounds me – takes practice, and I have barely touched the surface. I strongly believe that awareness is the key to the success of my recovery. I have to be patient and I am convinced that over time I will learn to be more in tune with myself.

  2. Once I am able to observe what is happening inside of me, I will be in a position to apply the techniques and strategies I am learning in order to shift and reshape the way I respond to the world, to other people, and to my own inner experience. This second step, which I can try and start to put into practice as I am also doing step 1, will probably take years to yield noticeable results, but I am hopeful that I will one day be able to reach a point where I can finally have better control and understanding of my emotions, and respond adequately so that I can fulfill my needs in a healthy fashion.

This means that at the term of these two months at Homewood, the PTSR program will have provided me with skills and tools that I will be able to use in my daily life, but it also means that we should not expect me to be miraculously fixed when I walk out of the Homewood Health Centre premises.

The end of the PTSR treatment will mark the beginning of a new journey, one that may take a lifetime, but one that will eventually lead to the reward of a better life for myself and my loved ones.