Trigger Warning: This post discusses thoughts of suicide.
So I’m doing all this stuff now; taking walks in nature, really slowing down to observe events and words, other things that are beyond just therapy, such as researching Buddhism, compassion, and consciousness as well as going to appointments for physiotherapy, and evaluations. I requested to take a course in learning how to meditate at the Iris Center. Dr. Bill Cook and his very kind wife, Wendy, run meditation classes out of their office on the northside of Fredericton. Medicare pays for it so there’s no worries there.
Trigger Warning: This post discusses negative self-talk and feelings of abandonment.
I would like to re-examine what I have already stated but with a little more emphasis on my feelings so that everyone can gain a better understanding. Even before this, I would like everyone to also understand that just because people in the CAF experience different traumatic events, that we aren’t ranking traumatic experience levels; everyone should receive the same level of support. For instance, a clerk who worked at the Kandahar Airfield (KAF) and who has PTSD from their time, but who may not have seen direct combat or experienced anything similar to what I have described, doesn’t mean that their experience was any less traumatic, or more traumatic. And they should still get the same level of care and empathy from everyone as someone else with a different set of traumas. Walk a mile in their shoes. It could have been anything that caused their very own personal hell. Whether it was getting yelled at or man-handled in an aggressive manner, in Canada or overseas, a car accident, a death of a family member or friend, a scare from something they did, something their kid did, something that was done to them. Trauma can be caused by anything. By judging them, we diminish them as though they don’t deserve the same treatment as us. Who’s to say that Karen or Pat or I don’t deserve the same consideration because they deem my trauma to be less. This is a sign that we are still operating on a military type hierarchy which means that we treat others with exclusivity. We exclude them when we think they haven’t met the correct criteria. I think this happens to some extent in the civilian workplace as well.
Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicidal thoughts and harming others.
I felt a small sense of relief in the short walk to see the doctor; however, it occurred to me that they might not be on board with helping me and I became fearful again. After all, I really had no idea about what was going to happen. I was especially afraid of being judged. I mean, that’s what we do on a constant basis. That’s how we, I, kept the pulse of things. I know how I had judged others. I often thought how much better I was than others, how much smarter I was, how special I was, and I reminded myself of my accomplishments and laurels in the time past. And by judging others, I made myself feel better, powerful. A medic came into the examination room and took my vitals. My blood pressure, which is normally on the low side because of running, was in the high 150’s. That’s not cause for alarm but it was 25-30 points higher than normal. My chest was tight and my heart rate was up. I had a headache, probably from grinding my teeth; I’d already bitten through one bite guard. Generally when I had gone to the MIR in the past, my vitals were always extremely good, but not this time. After a short while, the doctor came in and introduced himself. He asked me to explain what was going on with me and what I would like out of this. I explained everything as concisely as I could, trying to stay on point.
I talked about the trouble I was having at work and how it was affecting my mind, my body, and my performance. I hated being at work with people who claimed to be “family” but acted anything but. They must have a whole other idea about what the word “family” meant. After a lot of thought on the subject I realized that just because a person, or a bunch of people are in your family group, doesn’t mean they’ll be on your side. Often it means just the opposite. It’s human nature to look for and acquire a more favourable or advantageous position over all others. It’s security. Up until this point in my life, I had been led to believe that “family” is everything; it’s all a person has. I bought into everything I was told and I hadn’t really questioned anything. They say, “Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer.” I let myself be taken in by the whole thing. And I had let myself get taken advantage of. The worst part was that I believed I was right and that I was the victim. I told the doctor that I wanted to hurt a group of people and asked to get help at Mental Health. An appointment was made for me as soon as possible.
The Mental Health Unit (MHU) in Gagetown is off the base so it’s pretty discreet. I made my way over there and checked in. I was set up with a mental health nurse, whom I would have weekly appointments with. She would keep an eye on me, listen to me and all of my woes, make sure I was taking meds if required, make appointments for me, make sure I showed up at appointments with the in-house psychiatrist, find me a civilian psychiatrist, marriage counsellor, etc., etc. She informed me about the process and how it would all unfold in a particular timeline. Between my mental health nurse at the MHU and my mental health nurse at 42 Health Services, they had most of the answers. Slowly I began to trust that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
I was terrified with each new turn going through the military health system. I was burned out and sick of it all. I felt I could no longer do my job effectively, like I had let down everyone and myself too. I felt like I failed. I did fail. But, in my experience, almost everyone I encountered at 42 Health Services treated me with kindness and empathy. I was still incredibly frustrated, having bouts of hate and rage, and obsessing about everything out of my control. I hated our uniforms. I hated everything. I had been thinking a lot about killing. I had been thinking a lot about suicide. I eventually got posted to the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU). I think they have changed the name again.
I’m sure some can relate? I have left out a lot of information about events, people, and my feelings. I’m not quite sure yet how to express some of them without looking like a total psychopath. It was all just pain coming out in maniac form. How am I supposed to say, “I wanted to bury that guy alive,” or “I wanted to tie that guy to a tree and let him die of exposure,” or “…crush his head in a vice”? In my head I feel like a total monster that should be put down. Anyway, if you feel like that, like you’re about to implode, explode, or hurt someone, go to the MIR, call the helpline, send me an e-mail. You can talk. I’ll listen. We will listen.
CFB Gagetown Mental Health Team 506-357-6482, 0730-1530
Canadian Forces Members Assistance Program at 1-800-268-7708. It's 24/7 and bilingual.
If you're desperate, contact me through Messenger; I can give you my number then if required.
Trigger Warning: This post discusses suicidal thoughts and hurting others.
In this second part of My Mental Health Spiral and Recovery series, I would like to explain some events contributing to my spiral.
By 2015, I was already in a deep depression; I had been for a long time. I was drinking a lot. I felt angry, hurt, frustrated, shame, and a bunch of other things I didn’t know how to deal with. I wasn’t even sure of some of the feelings I was having, like rages, and on the scale of insanity. I would play streams of irrational, hateful, abhorrent scenes over and over in my head, getting angrier every time. Those incredibly strong emotions are difficult to deal with and it just kept getting worse too.
In the fall of 2015, I was fired from a Course Warrant position at the Infantry School. I had charges levied against me with a trial pending, from instructing on a previous course. I behaved like a drunken fool at the annual Senior NCO’s and Officers Christmas party, then again in the Sgt’s and Warrant’s Mess (My sincere apologies Sean). In the new year, a series of new charges were issued against me and another trial by courts martial was to be convened. I was moved to A Company to work on a 3B and be mentored by my peers. I was duly insulted.
By May of 2016, I had made up my mind to go to mental health. I was stressed out, having chest pains, my head ached all the time, and I was starting to feel pains in my body from torturing it day in and day out doing PT (physical training). My life at home was poor at best. I wanted to, and planned on hurting people. I felt I had no voice or control in any aspect of my life. I just wanted to die. I thought about suicide often – everyday for a long time.
As I write this, I remember the despicable thoughts I was having regarding other military members and the way I behaved towards my wife and kids, and I am ashamed of all of it. I can say that now. Moving on…
It took me a long time and a lot of needless suffering before I decided to go to 42 Health Services Mental Health Intake. I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Would I get called out right then and there? Would coworkers start to talk? What would they say? “Not so tough anymore, eh Funk?” I never was, but I thought I was. Funny. Thick more like it. I digress. Anyway, I couldn’t take it anymore. After going through the line up at the front desk I went to the intake room and waited in the hallway. The door opened and I was invited in by a young, pretty woman. I don’t recall how the conversation started but the lady was not very nice to me, at least not in the way I had expected. I continued explaining my position but I really thought she was going to tell me off or something. She seemed hostile. Finally I ended up just asking her, “Should I just shut my gob and get back to work or do I need to see a doctor?”
“You need to see a doctor right now,” were her words, and she escorted me to the doctor right then and there.
Trigger Warning: This post discusses thoughts of suicide.
I’ll begin by stating that this has been, and still is, an ongoing journey, not so dissimilar to Joseph Campbell’s 1988 description to Bill Moyers of the hero’s journey from his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
I laid there, in the deep grass on the east side of Morrow Pond, looking out over the water waiting for ducks to arrive. It was beautiful. The maples were shades of brilliant reds. Other trees were yellow, and of course, the conifers were still their deep, deep green, all except the tamaracks. The wind was blowing with occasional gusts and the sun was shining. Other than the gentle choreography of the wind - the rustling leaves, the dancing grass, and the bobbing ducks, everything was still. Everything was quiet. I thought to myself that this would be a wonderful place to end it; end the pain. All I had to do was place the shotgun on my forehead, lean forward and push the trigger. I was positive that I wouldn’t feel a thing.
Other times I thought about how easy it would be to just suddenly move into oncoming traffic or walk into the icy St. John River waters at the back of my house. I’d float until the cold made me fade to black and that would be that. Would I leave a note? Should I leave a note? What would everyone think? I contemplated that some would mourn my passing, some would be angry at my selfishness. In the end, everyone else would just carry on living. Would I end up inflicting unnecessary pain on my friends and family? Absolutely I would. The stigma alone would be enough… Would it be short-lived or would my family and friends be consumed by the anguish caused by the suicidal death of a person so close to them? Would they begin to believe, on any level, that they had a part to play in this, that they contributed to my pain, and therefore my death somehow? Of course, they played no part but they would quite inevitably be negatively affected; I’m sure my family would be traumatized and hurt beyond measure.
When I was young, like a lot of other kids who have a tough time growing up in a household that is always in a state of chaos and confusion, I believed that the ongoing war between my parents was somehow my fault. It made me question my validity and value, although I didn’t realize what I was really thinking at the time. I believed that if I hadn’t been born, all of this pain wouldn’t have ever surfaced and my brothers and sisters would be just fine.
But I couldn’t do it then nor could I do it at the pond… I couldn’t do that to my family – Emily, Joseph, and Tracey. I just couldn’t do it. At least that’s the excuse I told myself. I couldn’t find the courage or the resolve to make a decision and just end my life. How weak, feeble, and useless I had thought. Lost, there in the grass, I started to cry like a sad little boy.
This is my introduction to an open dialogue with you regarding mental anguish, suicidal thoughts, and recovery. I want to expose my own vulnerabilities by sharing my experience and we want you to share your experience and comments with us, whether it is below in the comments or a personal message to the Strayboar Project. If we can manage this, I believe it will aid in understanding how we can transform our attitudes and perceptions to enable us to realize how we can begin to better ourselves in order to be happy. I want to show you how being vulnerable, here, and hereafter is true strength. I’m not sure how many parts I will write but I will write about my trials. We will cover causes, crashing, asking for help, and recovery. I highly encourage you to discuss your issues and insights at the same time. We want to hear your stories, your failures and your triumphs. This isn’t about just you or me, it’s about everyone. Our naked vulnerability hides no shame or embarrassment and is meant to help others in some small way. So please, join us so that we can save a life!