In this new series, Veteran Robert Simpson represents all military people who are suffering/coping with post-traumatic stress disorder or the more modern term operational stress injury. His intent is to help you face it and understand that there is government and professional support along with personal interface available. He is taking the shame out of PTSD and giving it light. You can go from hell to a life worth living again.
There is one common concept amongst the military and veterans, however, that I personally cannot accept. It is this: Those suffering with PTSD assume their families and loved ones cannot understand because they weren’t there, and so you don’t reach out to them.
As a journalist, I have listened to what peacekeepers and soldiers have seen and experienced even though I was not there with you, and I have been able to empathize because I can imagine what you are talking about. When you talk about what has happened to you, your loved ones listen to you with their heart. They may not have been there, but they can picture what you saw, what happened to you and the horror of how you felt. Let me tell you, it’s no fun watching the ones you love suffer and be made to feel helpless because they have shut you out. I’ve been there too.
Please don’t sell your loved ones short. Talk to them. Share how you feel and what you fear most. Pushing the ones away who care the most is isolating you even more and intensifying this feeling of loneliness for you both, not just you alone.
And this is why Robert has titled his first article, “One.” It’s a myth only you believe. BONNIE
O N E
By Robert Simpson
Ex 8CH 3rd SSF Cyprus Oct 1978 – April 1979
It can be such a lonely number when it is one person alone. This is how we feel with our operational stress injury (OSI), more commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) When we suffer from this wound, we feel so totally alone. In our mind, no one can feel this way. Because we’re weak, the others are brave and true soldiers. So, we cannot let them know, or they will think we are not worthy. In our mind, we think, “But the dreams keep coming. I’m scared and I shouldn’t be. I’m a Soldier. I’m weak. I’m letting the rest down.”
I’m ONE ALONE. Sound familiar?
Most Soldiers and Veterans don’t like fireworks or balloons popping. Why? It’s too close to shell fire and rifles shooting. When you suffer this wound–and it is a wound–it happens to the best of us: Men and women who did what no one else could do in battle suffer; we all suffer.
But, we believe we are ONE ALONE. And we believe others will think less of us.
In the old days, you would be told to suck it up and be a man. If you’re having trouble, drink more beer! You older Soldiers or Veterans can back me up on this one. That’s how they treated our OSIs. Why because they knew how to treat a drunk, but they didn’t know how to treat us. So, this brings us back to one. It is a lonely number.
Your wife or husband can hold you to try to comfort you, but unless they’ve served on a tour, they can never understand. So, we are back at to ONE ALONE, and most likely, afraid to speak. Am I weak? Will the others find out and think I’ve failed. Why me?
But it does not have to be ONE ALONE. Why? Well, first off, there are tens of thousands in the same boat. They are all around you in your unit, the other units. Yes, they don’t show it, just like you don’t show it. But it’s there eating us all up in side.
So, there is no being ONE ALONE, you see. In fact, there are groups setting up all over in which the Soldier, Veteran and most importantly the families are coming together to talk about our experiences during our overseas tours. We are working together to find a way home from the hell in our minds.
I want to say also that we see horrific things here in Canada too. I’ve carried bodies of lost people found in the woods. Usually they have been dead for a while. It’s ugly and you never forget the sight or the smell. But, you still have that feeling of being alone.
On overseas tours you see it all, and at times, you have to take lives so you can survive and protect those around you. You see poverty, people torn apart by explosives. Old and young ravaged by war, with no food, shelter or hope. It overwhelms you no matter if you experience it once or many times. So, you are not ONE ALONE. In fact, you are ONE OF MANY.
So, how do you get help? There is help out there and serving Soldiers have that help readily available to them. Veterans have that help too.
So, now ONE becomes STEP ONE.
That first step is hard. I know. I took it, and many others have taken that first step. You have to reach out for help by telling someone. For a serving Soldier, talk to your sergeant, lientenant, the Padre, even someone in your squad. Today, the Military has people trained in every unit to help guide you to help. To a Veteran, it means calling Veterans Affairs Canada at 1-866-522-2122 and speaking to someone about help. They will start the ball rolling for you, and you’ll be sent to the nearest Operational Stress Injury Clinic. I made that first step seven years ago, and I am glad I did. The doctors and councilors there saved my life. What we don’t realize is that they (the doctors and councilors) are learning all the time on how to help and guide us as we try to get a handle on what is happening inside our minds.
Now I will say this: if you are feeling so depressed that suicidal thoughts run through your mind, please go to the local ER or call 911. Please family members: if your loved one is acting like he or she wants to end it all, step in and get them help. No matter how bad it was or is, we can ALL be saved. But you have to take that first, one step towards safety.
As I go on with these writings, I am going to talk about how things were, the steps travelled, how things have improved and how my life got better. I hope that this will help you take the step of going from ONE ALONE to ONE STEP towards living again.
LEST WE FORGET!
Note: Robert Simpson knows what loss is. In 1991, his son Joey died trying to save a friend who had fallen through the ice. At the beginning of his Canadian military career, he served as a Trooper in the 8TH Canadian Hussars based in CFB Petawawa. In 1977, this regiment became part of the 3rd Special Service Force. Between 1978 and 79, Robert spent a six-month tour on a United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Cyprus, which was anything but peaceful. On the third night, he and a buddy fought for their lives in a sneak attack by 40 Turkish commandos. This mission was constantly under fire, and Robert was shot. He lived to beat up the shooter, but under the constant tensions, with only two weeks left in his tour, Robert almost shot a six-year-old who fired a cap gun in his group’s direction while driving out to the east line. This battle-ridden backdrop created his PTSD. In 2005, Colleen Garlough of Veterans Affairs Canada asked him to go to the London Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Parkwood. Therapy helped him regain his life and he even found the love of his life, Debbie. Today, Robert is the founder of the Wallaceburg Veterans and Families Support Group based out of First Baptist Church at 99 Thomas Avenue in Wallaceburg, Ontario. The group is open to all Veterans, serving Soldiers, Police as well as Families living on the border with the U.S.A. In fact, one member is a Vietnam Veteran. The group meets on the 3rd Tuesdays of each month. They talk in a healing circle, using techniques Robert learned at the OSI Clinic. Family members are also encouraged to express their thoughts and worries as both sides come to reconcile the nightmare of PTSD that’s ruining all their lives. Each year, the group not only helps with the Salvation Army’s food Hamper deliveries but also holds their own group meals several times a year. To find out more, you can email Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.