I was up here in March. I recognize some faces and see some new faces. As I think I stated in March, you're going to hear it in a soldier's language. I don't beat around the bush. I shoot from the gut. I have nothing to prove to anybody.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at an individual who has suffered with the dreaded affliction known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. I have been suffering with this mental disorder for the past 36 years of my life of 62 years. For the past four years, I have been under the care of medical professionals after being diagnosed with the disease in April 2006.
PTSD is a dreaded disease that one can be suffering with while looking completely normal to anyone who does not know what the veteran is fighting with on a daily basis. In other words, we all look normal. You walk in and see me and think, “There's nothing wrong with that guy. He's normal.” Well, I'm not normal, not mentally anyways.
One of the biggest factors that we constantly endure is the knowledge that once a veteran is diagnosed and the word gets out, then we are looked at as an enigma and are treated with distrust, not to be put into an area of responsibility. Basically we are treated like one with leprosy.
To try to cope and hide the fact that there was something wrong with me, I put on a phony act and tried my hardest to socialize, but in the end it all came crashing down, which damn near destroyed me. Many veterans cannot handle this daily battle with oneself and completely withdraw into a world of depression and what we refer to as “bunkering in”. That is, a veteran goes into his basement or his little room, and he stays there and will not come out. He becomes completely reclusive, not wanting to socialize or be bothered by anyone. There is a complete social breakdown.
As for me, I have been suffering from massive headaches, nightmares on a regular basis, bouts of anger to the point that I have scared individuals, frustration in not knowing what was going on with me, anxiety over having to carry out the simplest tasks, and an unwillingness to fully trust anyone close to me--i.e., at work or at home. I was always on guard, keeping my shield up at all times, constantly vigilant as to what was going on around me. I had social misbehaviour and run-ins with authority. These things are common in men suffering from PTSD. I use the word men because I have never worked with women with PTSD.
These conditions manifested themselves directly when I returned from Cyprus in December 1974, after a United Nations tour with the Canadian Airborne Regiment. After my first marriage broke up in 1982--I had been married for 10 years--my parting wife stated to me that she still loved me but did not know me anymore. Another statement she made was, “You are not the same man I married since coming home from Cyprus in 1974, and at times you actually scare me, as I do not know what to expect from you.” This is another one of the things that we have to face--the family support system, and loss of that system.
After returning from Somalia in 1993, I remarried, hoping beyond hope that I could find normalcy with the woman who I now love. This too fell to the wayside, leaving me in a daily battle with my conditions, which I call the roller-coaster ride of emotions: up one minute and down the next.
Presently, I am still suffering through many of these conditions, even though I am seeing a psychologist on a regular basis. Because of the constant struggle to find meaning in life while suffering from the black dog of depression--that is what I call it--my physical being has taken a beating faster than what I or the medical professionals predicted.
I may be wrong in making this assessment, but I blame the never-ending cycle of emotional ups and downs caused by PTSD for my failing health. To try to find some meaning in all of this, and to make a commitment to myself--in others words, for a get-out-of-the-house project--I volunteered to join the OSISS, occupational stress injury support service, as a peer helper. It is this experience with OSISS, of which I am no longer a member, plus taking on a workload of veterans on my own that I now draw upon.
I did my best, giving 100%-plus to help my fellow veterans until I went through what we call the burnout phase, something all peer helpers like me will go through, because you get too involved with the man that you're working with and you get burned out.
It was during these episodes of burnout that I suffered severe depression and a deep bunkering in period. As you can imagine, this took its toll not only on me but also on my relationship with my loving wife, which was already at the breaking point. It was during these black dog times that I completely cut myself off from the outside world, missing important medical appointments and basically cutting back on my duties to help my fellow veterans.
This part really upset me, as I consider it my duty to keep in contact with them. That's the old thing about soldiering. You help your buddies, and in return they help you. When you can't do that anymore, then it falls on your shoulders: you've let them down. We've all gone through it.
These episodes would last for weeks to months at a time. While I have suffered through these horrible times in my life, my loving wife has constantly stood by my side, even though I would spend days in my bunker, not washing, shaving, or changing my clothes, and only going upstairs to eat every now and again. She has endured quite a lot over my illness through the years, and has even threatened to leave me on a few occasions. I would not blame her in the least if she did, as I think she would be better off without me.
As time passed and my condition worsened, she kept cutting back on her hours at work so she could be with me more and more as she was concerned that I was going to kill myself. When she could not cope anymore at work, she decided to quit her job to be with me at all times. Even though this was a great boon to me, it cost us dearly financially, but we manage. This is more stress put upon us. Besides all this, I have not been able to sexually satisfy her for over 10 years. You can imagine what stress this has put on our relationship.
I see my life as one of constant pain and suffering. My life as I knew it is in ruins, and at times I feel that there is no sense in carrying on under these relentless circumstances. I have to admit and I say without malice that PTSD has taken a great toll on me and on hundreds of other veterans.
This is what I have experienced over the past four years.
First, PTSD will ruin the veteran's family and social life until they turn to addictions such as alcohol and prescribed or illicit drugs, gambling to the point where they are no longer in control of their finances, or dangerous sexual overactivity that may turn to prostitution. Or they might become workaholics. By carrying out these manifestations, they ruin any chance of getting self-respect or battling the effects of PTSD.
Also, I must state that when someone is suffering from one or more of these addictions, it makes the diagnosis of PTSD more difficult, as the person must first be treated for these addictions. This period of assessment is very stressful to the member, as it will more than likely ruin his marriage, if he is married, or any relationship that he is in. With the loss of family support, which is critical for the veteran's recovery process, he will more than likely end up as a recluse or come to the point of attempting suicide.
If he can maintain family support, which is hard and stressful not only to the veteran but to the family as well, then he has a much better chance of living with the effects of PTSD. On the other hand, if a member is single, then the battle is waged on a different scale--that is to say, it is harder on him to seek help and he will probably turn to other means such as addictions. If he is not fortunate enough to get medical help immediately, he will normally self-destruct.
Because of the constant mistrust by veterans towards authority and the banishment they feel by the system in place, they will rebuke any help and form themselves into splinter groups to seek advice and help from one another. This is what I refer to as a speeding car going down a one-way street--a very dangerous street at that. Instead of gaining help from one another, all they are doing is putting their lives in jeopardy by not seeking proper medical assistance. Meeting in one's basement or a garage does not solve anything, especially when they do most of their discussions over a couple of cases of beer or illegal tobacco. All they end up achieving is more anger, frustration, mistrust, and the threat of oncoming deep depression. I have personally witnessed these occasions twice, and must admit that it totally shocked the hell out of me.
I have personally attended two group sessions held by my psychologist, which have helped me considerably to further understand the effects and causes of PTSD. These, as well as one-on-one sessions, have taught me how to cope during times of undue stress and anxiety, and have taught me the triggers that set me off. These sessions have considerably helped numerous fellow veterans to try to live a normal life. I will not go as far as to state that they are a magic cure, because they are not designed as such, but they will further benefit the veteran in their daily battles with PTSD and help them put trust in one another. The veteran can only get out of the program what they are willing to put into it. In other words, what I've put into it is what I receive. If I don't want to meet the psychologist halfway, he will not meet me. Then it's a waste of time for both individuals.
Many veterans have been refused help from the medical system because many doctors and psychologists refuse to take us on as patients. They do not know how to treat us, nor do they understand the effects PTSD can cause on the human body. Training is also a big issue. By their refusal, veterans feel even more isolated and mistrustful toward the system. This is one of the main causes of mistrust. If I go looking for help and I can't find it, I don't trust anybody. Then we go to the splinter groups. It's like you're on a speeding car going down a fast hill with a brick wall in front of you. There's no way out of it.
One other major factor that we all suffer from is trying to be understood and properly cared for by a respectful system. That can have very serious effects on the veteran if not found in time. Without proper medical facilities and care, we are basically doomed.
Suicide is on the rise, and I again refer to my own personal experience in stating this. During the last group session I put forward a question to my fellow veterans in attendance. When I asked how many in the group had contemplated suicide, seven out of eight put up their hands. When I asked how many had plans to carry it through, four put up their hands. When I asked how many had tried, three put up their hands. I was one of the three. I have personally suffered through five suicides plus numerous attempts. This has taken its toll on me, as can be well imagined.
Before closing I would like to state that PTSD—and this is coming from a veteran—cannot be cured, but it can be controlled if caught in the early stages. I was not lucky enough to be properly treated at an early stage, even though I requested help back in 1985 and the early 1990s. I knew in 1985 that there was something wrong with me, and my biggest fear was that I was going crazy. That is the first thing a veteran will think when he starts misbehaving and becoming a social outcast. He thinks, “I'm going nuts. I'm the only one out there suffering.”
When I went to the base surgeon in CFB Shearwater in 1985 and explained my concerns about loss of control and nightmares, the medical doctor stated that it was all in my head and that over time I would heal myself.
Well, here I sit, and I am far from being healed.
Signed, Mr. William D. Maguire.