PTSD: Lest We Forget

Posted: November 8, 2015 in Humour
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November. If there is a time of year where we remember our soldiers, for their sacrifices, their efforts, for performing their duties in the name of whichever cause holds sway at that time, then this is surely it.

Most of us at the very least know someone who has served their country in the armed forces. My own father served for 22 years in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and many other years as a civilian working for DND. We were fortunate that he served at a time where we had no conflicts as a nation. He served proudly, and as a family we were particularly attuned to the nature of the armed forces.

While it is of supreme importance to remember those who fell in the service of our country, it is also as important to remember and help those who have more recently fallen, or in the case of one of the best friends I ever had, are still falling. We have borne witness to the plethora of soldiers suffering from PTSD, and it is time we as a nation more adroitly attend to their needs.

My friend served many years, mostly as a tanker, and while in Bosnia, experienced things most of us could not even fathom. It’s one thing to see things on a screen….but when you are there, and you smell the smells, hear the awful truth, the noises that cannot be blocked out, the feelings, the textures of warfare and atrocities, and witness what people can actually do to each other…..the human psyche can only bear so much. It is like delicate pastries…..layers upon layers, some obvious, some not so much, but each layer bearing the weight that is necessary to keep the entire thing whole.

When one returns from such a posting, you can’t help but coming back a changed person. A part of you is left behind. You are thrust back into a life which outwardly looks the same, but inside is vastly different. Each case of PTSD is different, as experiences and perspective differ from person to person.

My friend’s wife has explained to me what loving a soldier with PTSD is like. She told me soldiers are trained to be willing to lay everything on the line to protect the innocent. To the point where it is instinct. And soldiers that experience combat and situations where they are at risk bear this burden willingly. Yet they suffer the hidden wounds that we as humans are not ready for. Physical wounds are difficult enough. Damage to our minds is much more difficult to rectify and heal.

She wrote: ‘Those of us who love a soldier with PTSD can tell you that their struggles and their pain are revealed not so much by their words, but by their actions.  For example, you and your soldier could be walking into a pub. While you are thinking about how the Habs, Leafs, or Jets are going to do tonight, your soldier is silently scanning for a safe place where he can sit with his back against the wall.  Or you and your soldier could be stopping by a grocery store.  And while you are checking at the best-before date on a loaf of rye bread, your soldier has just smelled something burning in the bakery, and is silently reliving a terrible fire that destroyed an entire village. He then stops, frozen in his tracks. Or you and your soldier could be raking leaves.  And while you are raising your face to enjoy the warm rays of the autumn sun, your soldier is suddenly overcome with sadness and guilt over his soldier friend who tragically took his own life a few autumns ago to ease his own pain.  He can’t breathe.  He is gasping.  He can’t speak.’

As a nation that sends our soldiers into harm’s way, and with the plethora of evidence already out there that PTSD is a really big issue, we owe it to these brave people to take care of them when they return. To be patient. To listen. To help the families of these soldiers, who bear the brunt of it and often feel helpless for their loved ones. We owe them.

Lest we forget.

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