Over the past few years, I've written extensively about, and on many occasions have spoken candidly of my struggles with addiction, mental health issues, and sexual violence. I have grown to believe that the greatest antidote to fear is honesty, and it's with this in mind, that I share the following with you. For the past few months, I've engaged in a convoluted relationship with time. It all started out rather innocent. Hours were slipping away from me, and I had absolutely no idea how to account for that lost time.
As a scared child, I ran away from the abuse around me, and as an adult, I used drugs and alcohol to run away from the trauma inside me. But here's the interesting part -- shortly after I got clean and sober, I actually took up the sport of running. This fall, I will be running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon three times in the same day (126.6 km), not as a fundraiser, but simply to show others how resilient we are, even after the trauma of sexual violence. But most importantly, I hope that my campaign will build upon the momentum we are starting to see in the media about the prevalence of sexual violence and the need to address the countless lives that lay in its wake.
My name is Jean-Paul, and I am in treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Hearing me say that usually elicits one of two responses in people -- abject pity or recoiling fear. I want you to know that I understand where you're coming from, but allow me a few minutes to see if we can change this dialogue.
When Canadian soldiers returned from World War II, local business and community leaders formed committees to ensure vets had jobs and the support they needed to start a new life. It's time to re-examine that idea. Soldiers deserve more than a handshake when their service ends. "Support our Troops" must be more than an empty slogan on a bumper sticker.
I have openly talked about my use of laxatives for years; I make no secret of the hours and days spent avoiding food, and more specifically eating it; I talk about my death and my desire to die as though I were sharing a favourite recipe; my naps are long, and often I refuse to actually wake from them, instead pulling covers over my head and pointing to the door with a hissed, "Get out get out."
In a recent news conference over the ongoing kidnapping crisis in Nigeria, the national chairman of the Kibaku (Chibok) Area Development Association has stated that at least seven parents of kidnapped girls have died due to trauma. According to Dr. Pogu Bitrus, delays in the government response to free the girls has taken a toll on parents as a result.
I know PTSD. I live it. I am assailed by the images every day; images which have made me fall to my knees as flashbacks so vivid and ugly wrapped themselves around my eyes like a blindfold. The incident plays on a constant loop in my broken brain, sometimes slowing down long enough to allow me a moment to breathe; other times the nightmare so real I forget I'm no longer that young child pinned underneath a grown man.
General, might I offer up that, at the heart of the problem of suicide in the Forces, is that soldiers feel trapped and with no way out? That the widespread stigma against mental injury and illness, that the attitude you present -- that helping is coddling, and that your condescending attitude exemplifies the problem which soldiers face?
In seven days, Canada lost four soldiers to suicide. They died of despair. Suffering mental wounds from their service, able to foresee the end of their careers but unable to see how they could survive after, they succumbed to their injuries and took their own lives. We might give it fancy clinical names, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Operational Stress Injury, but that doesn't change the condition: broken mind.
When I read that Romeo Dallaire had been in a car accident on Parliament Hill just outside of East Block, I wondered if it was due to fatigue. I have never known him to be other than fully occupied and frequently exhausted in the course of his heavy schedule. Romeo has a lot more than just memories to fight. As he explained this week, he fights depression and remains medicated for PTSD. But he has turned his pain into a purpose, and in so doing he can get up every day.
For a soldier, the battle does not end once you leave the warzone. I will be fighting the effects of my injuries from "the incident" for the rest of my life, and that is why I am writing this piece. Over the past seven years I have been fighting another battle, one for a pension that befits the injury and the effects that the terrible day in Afghanistan left me with. I have sought the help of my MP, doctors, the media, the military ombudsmen, and Veterans Affairs, but they have all left me no further ahead than when I started, and with the startling conclusion that 5% of a soldier's brain is worth a mere $22,000.