Posts Tagged ‘Learned Helplessness’

Oh crap! It’s gone. Damn it! Just a few of my thoughts that went through my throbbing head I had just bounced off the bottom of a balcony while emptying out a hoarding situation in an apartment building. My Superman shield marriage band my kids had gotten me had flown into a dumpster and was lost amongst many unmentionable waste items. It was like a piece of my soul had been shredded.

It would be a few days after this occurrence that I would have my second Emergency Room visit, this time with a mysterious 2 plus hour memory loss that has never returned. During this time as well I would lose my Celtic knot work pinky ring my wife gifted me with many years ago, this was within our bedroom or somewhere in the house but lost still the same.

2016 was not shaping up to be a friend for the out word symbols of my love for my wife.

How Many Times did you hit your head?

Now, I admit I entered this world of medical wonder 3 years after my Mum had transitioned to Paradise, but it still shocked me that there is someone out there in the world that knows how many times they have hit their head. Was there a meeting at some point when I was out sick that noted the necessity of tracking this?

Each doctor and neurologist I dealt with asked the question as if the answer should be known. They did not appreciate my jovial “well I was a boy so it may be easier to count the days I have not smacked my head.” Truly, I do not know. I have had some minor concussions in my life, and maybe a few non-minors. I do not recollect ever losing consciousness, but then I would need others around me to note that.

I put this as one of the three major questions I faced because it created a level of frustration. My Dad and I pieced together my family’s health history as best we could, but still were left flummoxed by this query.

It is a query that would persist from May 2016 up until my intake into the week long observation In September 2017. Although the questions around that intake did finally get professionals to look closely at my work and life experience to begin to unpack that it may not simply be Epilepsy.

How are you still alive?

A small piece of dark humour for this question to arise in my 40th year of life, as during my childhood I had a recurring nightmare that I would die before I turned 19 years old; now here was the question before me 21 years past my best before date if you will.

As my diagnosis finally sunk in that it was an a-typical form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a Conversion Disorder that manifested as Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES). Through all the studies, and the fact the medication at such a high dose was not helping… it became clear that I was a pure experience of PNES.

From November 2017 until February 2018 when I would begin treatment I would also experience two falls as a result of seizures as my body continued to attempt to protect myself. The first was on Sunday December 23, 2017 when I would fall off the ramp we have for my son’s wheel chair and bounce my head off our front step breaking my glasses. The second would be on the last Saturday in January 2018 where I would take a multiple seizure and fall on top of my wife while getting ready for our church’s Men’s Prayer Breakfast (suffice it to say I did not attend that morning).

Both left my family shaken having experienced this, and even knowing that it was not Epilepsy and the dangers that come with that diagnosis, that we are far too familiar with as it is one my son has. This PNES was just as dangerous. Yet that was not the full source of the question “How are you still alive?”

The full source, was sharing some of my experiences on the front lines and within management within ministry, politics and the homeless serving sector of Canada.  Some of these experiences were covered in my previous book and writings, but they include and are not limited to: assaults, being shot at, death threats, interrupting suicide attempts, being stalked, being bit, dealing with infestations, being at ground zero of outbreaks, cycles of drug crisis (meth, crack, fentanyl), rescuing children from being trafficked to name but a few occurrences. Not to mention standing up to hate and having many threaten me with my stance of support of being pro-choice and for marriage equality.

The question of how I am still alive speaks to the 6 weeks I continued attempting to serve after my 40-60 seizures a day settled in as the norm. My body and mind telling me, STOP!

These instances left me with the lingering negative soundtrack of “you have not made a difference” and “you have failed” along much other iteration.  As I would work through my first round of therapeutic treatment directed at the PNES, it would be coming to a point of engagement where I could come back with the simple affirmation finally, “I did make a difference” to being more specific to the situation, to even stating “I did what was possible”.

Learned Helplessness


Continually encountering averse or negative situations where one is left feeling alone, or abandoned. That is nothing will change the situation so there is no escape.


Did they believe you were Superman?

This is a question that came up, and was affirmed in my PNES therapy, while working through the safe memories that came to the surface. Safe flashbacks, it is such a unique statement to be making. My flashbacks would be kept behind a concrete wall in my brain. I had so numbed my emotional responses in life at this point that I would make a Vulcan proud. For the non-Trekkie, Vulcans are an alien species on Star Trek that made First Contact with humanity and set in motion the events that would lead to the United Federation of Planets. They were a species that have suppressed emotions through the logical and rational teachings of their Prophet-Teacher Surak.

My flashbacks would be in the form of day or night terrors that I would not remember. In fact, my seizures were my body’s defense mechanism against these persistent traumas. My body shut down completely. When I would see the flashbacks, it was almost a mosaic of stain glass flashes through my brain. This may sound weird, but I am the guy that has dreamed my whole life in 1930’s Technicolor animation, so it works with my brain’s wiring.

The concept of Superman came up as I would share about working on clearing buildings of Bed Bug infestations. These are insidious insects that there really is no way outside of dumb luck to not bring them back to your home. Yeah for dumb luck, but it created a constant state in my system of fight in the flight, fight or freeze response (the seizures would be the freeze). Other things throughout my career like sword affidavits to deal with criminal elements within shelters and buildings that put my full name and contact information out there. To the times of having to be the advocate for the community and the person when organizations attempted to “kill with kindness” by not knowing what to do with former staff/volunteers/donors who had become clients as my moral compass dictated to work with the person before me regardless of the political or institutional backlash.

The other side of the coin being the lynch mobs that would form in circles of ministries I served in as I was not “Christian” in their definition. It created a storm when I would advocate for harm reduction, or trauma informed care, use of actual debriefing techniques for staff, volunteers and community that was not simply go to church and pray more. The idea that these were needed stipulated to some a weak faith, and that was enough for them to come after me. The other pieces being I am a child of a multi-cultural country, and as such I seek to create spaces of diversity and belonging.

As I would work through these challenges, constantly doing more with less, more and more responsibility I would take on. Ensuring the staff team as a whole (upper management, teammates, volunteers and students) were cared for and held together (more than once I was described as the glue that held things together). For me it was relationship, and seeing the person not their label or coding, those were things that stipulated supports for success. A way to create accessibility (removal of physical barriers) and inclusion (having a space) but it was the relationship that created belonging. The messiness of life, where when they were gone they would be missed—613 deaths I was present for, 613 missing persons. That is not dealing with the times when we had to transition to higher level of care, or evict because no matter what happened the individual just did not want to have a home.

That does not even touch upon church ministry within the mainline church. The do more with less was the rallying cry. In fact, it was what was sought after within the United Church of Canada Calgary Presbytery. They did not want qualified individuals building youth ministries, for they cost too much. If they paid it was set at barely enough to cover the wages for the youth nights, never mind prep work or all the meetings they wanted you to attend. There was a trickle down of ill health and burn out for the one working to orchestrate was within their own struggles, even though their soul and heart were good they were in need of Sabbath, and that was impossible. It took its toll on the young leaders.

So too did a church mourning and grieving the loss of Christendom, and that the way things were done in the 1950’s were never coming back. It created predatory congregations who were out to exert this pain on targets, and sadly those targets became the youth leaders, like me, and the youth who had their own struggles looking for belonging.

It was within this concept as I worked through my PNES healing that the concept of Learned Helplessness came through. Knowing that even though I had an assertive voice (sometimes it would go full aggressive; I am human and err as well).

Looking at what was safe to come through. The amount of times my job was threatened and I was written up for caring for others as I stepped outside imaginary lines of protocol it added more rips to the soul. I was hemorrhaging my compassion. Not necessarily for others, though I was becoming numb to feeling, but I had definitely ejected compassion for myself. That is I had broken the circle of Holy Love. I could say I loved the Holy Mystery and loved my neighbour, but by failing to love myself the other two were false statements.

Add into this the response of the City of Calgary to removing spaces where people can simply be. That is my routing of morning meditation, writing and coffee before work had no space, and the practice was interrupted. My day was no longer centered.


The work of care continued.

Without care from the institution for staff, without being able to slow down as always needing to accomplish more with less whether it was staff, volunteers, students, resources… the list would go on and on.

Was I Superman?

Often throughout the past two and bit decades I was asked to do that thing I do, pull of another miracle.

Finally, my own brain and body needed to stop the hemorrhaging of my soul. I needed to end the learned helplessness. I needed out.

May 2016 after a mysterious mini-stroke, my way out pathway would begin to be laid.


3 questions

Posted: April 28, 2019 by Ty in Soul Psalms
Tags: , , , , ,

On the healing journey, it is like peeling an onion, never able to be constantly positive, and fresh eyes for one’s own history…the journey continues.

It first started asking

how many times have you hit your head?

To morphing along the path,

once narrowed to healing,

to a simple query of…

“how are you still alive?”

Renewing feelings long shut out

becoming complete of heart

soul, mind, and body

in touch

and exploring

deep diving into the memories

the body deems safe to explore

covering horrors most will never speak of…

simple things in ministry, writing and helping others

“Do the thing you do”

“Just one more miracle”

A miracle worker

some dubbed Cain, like an old television show

creating space

assertive advocate

speaking many times into the void

left to twist in the wind

no money for it

no cause for more staff

they do not fit our ideology-belief not allowed

want one more qualified

code for we want someone that will work for

pennies, and do what we say

not what those served strive for

removal of the advocates voice

heart and passion

learned to be helpless

assertiveness can become screaming

into the void


the body and soul

say no more

and a life almost lost…

the long road back…

who is coming back?

What is left behind?

The question ringing in the soul,

Did they honestly think I was Superman?