My original plan for my next blog post was to write about how to survive moving. I had it all mapped out in my head with all my hard learned lessons included. But then a very unexpected thing happened. After I posted my first blog post I started to receive a ton of communications concerning my first three posts. I heard from military spouses, military members, adult children of former military members, and members of the public. The messaging was all very similar…they all identified the same gap that I felt there was with available supports, they thanked me for speaking out, and asked me to keep writing! WOW! I want to sincerely thank each and every one of you who read my posts, and sent me messages of support. Thank you all for making me feel not alone in this, and I pledge to all of you I will keep supporting you all in my strange little ways.
Speaking of support, one of the most poignant messages I received was from a lady who is in a fairly new relationship with a military member who also is a first line responder. She asked me to write about, and give my thoughts about how does one properly support someone who may see horrible things. This issue has been getting a lot of press in the last several years, but has been a problem since cavemen and women protected their clans with pointy sticks. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can affect anyone when they are exposed to what they interpret as a traumatic event that symptoms persist for a length of time. Due to the nature of the work a military member or first line responder does, the likelihood is higher that this may happen. I am far from an expert in this field, but I would like to relay to you a few stories that may help you get a bit more insight into the issue.
Several years ago, two co-workers of my husband were very excited and proud that they were selected for training to be for lack of better terms – a spy. I always envisioned a Canadian spy interactions to be something like this:
Spy – Excuse me Mr. Insurgent, but could you please provide me with your cell’s plans to take over the universe when you have a free moment?
Insurgent – Well Mr. Spy, if I do that it may have a negative impact on my plans.
Spy – Yes it may, and I am really sorry for that. But if you could please reconsider since it would really help me out. How about we discuss over some Timmy’s?
Insurgent – I would like that, and thank you for being so nice about this. Since you were so kind, please take my world domination plans.
Spy – I really appreciate this (Spy passes Timmy’s to Insurgent). I also was wondering if it would be possible for you and your group to stop all of the suppression, and bad behaviours. I know that this may be a cultural problem for you, but if you can give it some consideration. I would love to schedule some time with you and your leaders to discuss further. I will give you a call early next week to schedule some time.
I was vastly wrong. Almost a year later, I ran into one of the two at a hockey game. The once fun loving, and carefree man visually looked like a shell of his former self. He told me that he was injured from a bomb, and was in a German hospital for months while he healed without his loved ones being aware. He said that he could not do this work any longer, because he could not live with what he had to do in the name of our beloved country. He was completely broken, and it happened over a very short amount of time. The next example that I would like to discuss was more progressive, and will not be what you expect. This is because the example I am using is me.
As those who know me already know, I left high school with dreams of one career. After several years, I had to leave to do something new. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but after going back to school I found myself in the medical field. I then furthered my education within the medical field to allow myself flexibility to be able to easily find work when my spouse was posted. Part of this “resume rounding” lead me to work in front line health care for many years. I find it hard to be able to truly explain this experience. Every day you come to work, and have no idea what you will see or experience. The culture is one of constant high stress, and you are expected to create miracles with little to no resources. Add on top if it you watch people die…over and over again – and often multiple times a day.
I found that soon after I started working in a front line position I turned off. I used to be a person who block my feelings to assist with coping at the moment of an occurrence, but this was not that. It was like I turned off my emotions to survive. My emotions then would turn on and quickly boil over during my outside life…something that reasonably should be small would seem huge and I would lash out in anger or cry uncontrollably. I became sick, and then developed a chronic disease. I had constant migraines, and an underlying sadness I could not shake. I felt under constant attack. I then recognized that not dealing with what I was seeing and having to partake in had damaged me. I decided to make a change. I still work in health care, but no longer in a front line position. I am still able to help, but do so in a way that is healthier for me. I still deal with side effects of this which include still feeling attacked at times, and negative health connotations. I am thankful for my time working in front line healthcare, and know that I had a role in helping many people. I do believe that if I made a different choice that my health would be in a different place than now.
Mental health issues do not discriminate. It affects men or women regardless of age, and can leave permanent marks on one’s soul. When a person starts demonstrating symptoms, they may not realize that it may be PTSD or that there is a problem at all. Many people think it will go away, or are fearful of talking about it because of what other people may think. They may think that people will think that they are weak, but even the most strong of us can be strong for only so long.
Everyone is different and have different experiences, and that is why there is not a cookie cutter solution that helps everyone. Below are my personal thoughts on how you can help someone you love:
- Keep communication lines open – Sometimes the one you love may want to talk, and sometimes they do not. Let them know that you are there for them and am always available to listen. Be prepared that you may hear things that are very hard to listen to, but remember that you only have to listen to it. Your love one lived it.
- Ask your loved one what they need – Some days they may need someone to talk to, and sometimes they will not. Sometimes they may need a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes they may need to joke around. Ask what they need, and what may help them. Sometimes it may be as simple as sending them puppy memes, but the best thing is not to presume you know what they need and ask.
- Do not be afraid to reach out – There are many resources available for military members, and their loved ones to assist with dealing with mental illness, PTSD, and trauma. Do not think that people will think poorly of you if you reach out. In fact, recognizing an issue and getting help for it is one of the strongest things a person can do. Some great resources include (but are not limited to):
You are Not Alone – Canadian Military Member and Family Resources http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/caf-community-health-services-mental/index.page
Canadian Mental Health Association https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/topics/mental-health-wellness.html
Government of Canada Mental Health and Wellness https://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/
Canadian Military Mental Health Resources http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/caf-community-health-services/mental-health-resources.page
Mental health issues are not something to ignore, put aside, or hope it will go away. If you are needing assistance in any way, please reach out for help in any way you feel comfortable. Speak to a professional. They can help.