Recovering from trauma and growing optimism
By Jenn Watt
Nancy Brownsberger’s family lost many of their possessions on a cold March day in 2014. She watched as local firefighters hurried to rescue the things they could from her Eagle Lake home before fire claimed the rest. She stood there for four hours.
A busy, go-getter type, Brownsberger tried to return to normal life soon after, but the imprint the trauma had made was deep. Within a few weeks she was exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. By the end of the summer it was full blown complete with nightmares, panic attacks and fatigue.
“It affects you on a sensory level,” she says. “If I heard anything that sounded like the fire, I would be up like a shot.”
Months later, she found herself pressed against the side of Country Pickin’s clothing store in Haliburton on the day of the Rotary carnival, propelled into panic at the sight of fire trucks in the parade.
“You think you’re losing your mind,” says Brownsberger, a lifelong social worker who had just taken a new position with Community Support Services doing community outreach. PTSD permeated all aspects of her life.
“I could be in the middle of doing one task at work and completely lose where I was and actually be lost. I couldn’t figure out where to go next and if I had more than one task to do I would become completely immobilized,” she says.
Perhaps because of her time in social work, Brownsberger sought help right away. A group of medical professionals helped her through the long process of recovery, first getting the exhaustion, fatigue and panic under control and then changing the foundation of her life itself.
More balance was needed in her life, Brownsberger was told. She had to slow down, live more and plant her feet more firmly on the ground to gain the stability she needed to truly deal with the PTSD.
“I was given the gift of six months of intense therapy where I was told a year ago by the medical team that was assisting in my plan of care that I needed to change the way that I react in the world or I would never be able to come out the other side of PTSD as successfully as I did,” she says.
Brownsberger’s reactions to the world could be frenetic, she says, motivated to do more and be better, to the detriment of herself. “My motto before the fire was go faster, do more, be better,” she laughs. “ I think a lot of women do that.”
The lessons she learned from her six months of soul searching can be applied to people more generally, she says, and has recently embarked on a new venture: GO Consultants. GO stands for “grow optimism.”
The life coaching is for anyone who wants to make a change. Brownsberger stresses that she’s not a therapist and life coaching is not for anyone struggling with mental health issues – it’s for those wanting to shift gears on something in their lives whether it be changing jobs or improving relationships.
She is also offering a series of workshops beginning Saturday, Nov. 14: the Sunny Saturday Morning Series.
“I want to teach. I want to teach what I learned,” she says. “I learned about being present every day and finding abundance and joy in life, even when we’re so busy. It can happen. You can do it.”
The first of the three-part series is called Finding Your Giggle.
“What is it that creates that abandon in your body to be completely present and happy?” she says. Putting your toes in the sand, building a sand castle, blowing bubbles, colouring, swimming, playing a board game – these all fall into the category of play, which is the first tenet of what Brownsberger learned.
The second is “nurture,” or learning to be mindful, and the third is “grow,” putting together play and mindfulness to stay grounded. “There’s neurological research out there that’s now proving that we as a society or a generation believe that busyness is equated with success. And I’m here to say no,” she says.
It took a different kind of soul searching for Brownsberger to decide to tell everyone about her struggle with PTSD, but she says it’s important to talk about it openly.
“It was very interesting to me, and this is what gobsmacked me, that even professionals, health-care professionals, had no idea [about PTSD] and massive judgment,” she says.
She says she received incredible support from her medical team, family, friends and community members, but acceptance was not universal.
“It was baffling to me that in 2015 the stigma that is still associated with mental illness and the intolerance and judgments that go along with that. It’s abhorrent.”
She says her experience made her want to speak out more about mental health issues.
“Yes, I’m launching my business because I really want to reach out. I really want to help people. I do it in my professional daily life ... but I also want to raise awareness to the stigma of mental health in our community,” she says.
Coming through the other side of PTSD ended up being one of the most beautiful things to have happened in her life, Brownsberger says.
Now she wants to share it.
For life coaching or to RSVP for the Sunny Saturday Morning Series, you can contact Brownsberger at 705-854-1189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first in the series is Saturday, Nov. 14 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Skye Cycle in the Halco Plaza in Haliburton, 83 Maple Ave. Cost is $25 a person.