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PTSD and Bees - A complicated connection!

November 2nd.

What is PTSD and what do Bees have to do with this story?

This blog will focus on the mental health illness known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and its impact on members of our military, mainly me - as I am one of those military members who have been diagnosed with PTSD. How it connects to Bees will come in a bit. defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a condition that was often referred to as shell shock or combat stress, and states that it occurs after experiencing severe trauma or a life-threatening event. It’s normal for the mind and body to be in shock after such an event, but this normal response becomes PTSD when your nervous system gets “stuck.”

Again from, using the “stuck” analogy, our nervous system has three ways of responding to stressful events:

  • Social engagement is the most evolved strategy. Socially interacting with another person—making eye contact, listening, talking—can quickly calm you down and put the brakes on “fight-or-flight.”

  • Mobilization, or the fight-or-flight response, occurs when social engagement isn’t appropriate—such as in combat—and you need to defend yourself or escape danger. Your heart pounds faster, blood pressure rises, and muscles tighten, increasing your strength and speed. Once the danger has passed, your nervous system calms your body, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and winding back down to its normal balance.

  • Immobilization occurs when you’ve experienced too much stress in a situation and, while the danger has passed, you find yourself “stuck.” Your nervous system is unable to return to its normal state of balance and you’re unable to move on from the event. This is PTSD.

Recovering from PTSD involves transitioning out of the mental and emotional war zone you’re still living in and helping your nervous system become "unstuck." There has been much research put into getting someone unstuck, and without a doubt, cognitive behavioral therapy has proven itself to be an extremely effective tool in treating PTSD. Many survivors come out of treatment with an entirely different view on life, a new sense of self, a desire to do the right thing, all great discoveries in your life, but also incredibly intimidating. Picture this – you live for 50 years with a set of morals and cultural norms, things that make the world right in your mind and help define who you are, but then you come out of treatment with an entirely different view on life, and find yourself searching for a purpose, a cause into which you can invest to make the world a better place.

With my own case, I found that it was helping others survive mental health issues that was to be the purpose into which I diverted all my energy and I did so with steadfast determination. Unfortunately for me, I forgot about taking time for myself, and directed all my energy into my new found purpose. The result? The darkness that I knew in those 6 years of treatment announced it was just around the corner waiting to fill the void in my life.

What does this have to do with bees you wonder? It has everything to do with needing a hobby to immerse myself in, something to give me that quiet time to focus on something other than PTSD. The bee component was entirely an accident; a result of trying to figure out what hobby to try and seeing a Discovery Channel special on bees and BINGO, the connection was made, I would try beekeeping as a hobby.

In the next installment, I will examine how the bees fit into my new life, and the impact that they have had on my PTSD.

Cole Harbour, NS Canada
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