Hello. I’m right here. Can you see me? Probably not but that’s cool, if you did you’d just see the Phonse suit. The one I put on when ever I venture out or see anyone. It’s a reflection of what you want to see. The good old me, remember him. Some days I can’t. Tomorrow will be different though. I know it. It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day right. Even our young Prime Minister is going on TV to talk about me. Well not me actually, but mental illness. The me you can’t and won’t see. The one I struggle not to reveal, even though I know it is important to reveal every ugly wart and scar; every terror filled moment when I sit in quiet safety and shake like an autumn leaf and can’t understand why. Why the hell would I want to share that, rather crass of me really don’t you think.
Especially when the whole nation is about to binge on retweeting, face book posting, fist raising and solemnly demanding we all do something about me. Well, not me, but we’ve established that. The polite thing for me to do, the thing I should do, is sit quietly and watch and listen to all that you have to say about me. Sort of like every other day. I can’t though. I’m not smart enough, and besides, some brave young heroes have asked me to break the silence as often as I can. They are peeking at this post from their dark corners so I do it for them.
Let me tell you about one. He will remain nameless because that’s his choice. The stigma of mental illness is much harder for a combat hardened veteran to carry. He picked up a gun and went to war, more than once. He did everything he was told and believed it was right because his country told him so. I’ve walked some of the same battlefields, although we didn’t meet then. I’ve smelled war. Diesel fumes, smoking ruins, rotting corpses, raw sewage in the streets. It ain’t napalm in the morning folks. If you stick your head in your green bin in mid summer you’ll get a very small taste. Shit, I should not have written that. I’ve triggered myself and now my god damn green bin will set me off every time I see it.
Okay, my hands are shaking and my eyes are a little blurry, but I will continue for our unnamed soldier. We’ve just been through a time lapse, I lost my ability to type and focus for awhile. I was about to delete the above but in fairness , I should leave it for you. A glimpse into the workings of the mentally ill mind.
Our soldier suffers in silence. His PTSD is the unseen medal he wears, one he can’t ever take off. His friends and colleagues in uniform have past him by. Leave no fallen man behind indeed. It’s not their fault, my colleagues have left me on the sidelines, forgotten, and I’m coming to terms with it. In his case the military gave new marching orders to his comrades in arms. They still march to that beat and go where and when they are sent. They cannot stop for him, the war goes on doesn’t it.
To the point. This week he reached out to me for help. As I’ve stated here in the past, I am refusing to accept the medicated escape offered by modern medicine. I will not live in that thick fog any longer. Inner pain beats the hell out of inner nothing. He wants to follow that lead because he wants to be a hero again.
Not for his country, for his young children. He loves them and wants with all his energy and heart to be a present and caring father. Trouble is his PTSD keeps his trigger pulled just to the breaking point, ready to go off at the slightest pressure. Sort of like what happened to me a moment ago. Kids scream, kids break things, kids turn small inconveniences into huge dramas. He can’t handle it, but he needs to. He knows if he can be a good father now he will be a hero in their eyes for ever. His country and comrades have forgotten him already. They never will.
In reality he doesn’t need me. Veterans Affairs Canada has wonderful programs and support for soldiers with PTSD. Unfortunately many soldiers find they can’t access it. It is a well meaning bureaucracy but a red tape churning heartless machine none the less. So when the first answer our soldier gets is no, he salutes, says yes sir and marches back home defeated. The catch 22 here is in our hero’s pride and training. When he presents to the people who are there to help him, he puts on his soldier face, all spit and polish and ready for battle.
Then he’s asked a version of the loaded question every soldier in the filed has been asked, “Are you injured soldier, or just hurt, cause we all hurt out here, now if you’re just hurt get up and fight and don’t make me call in a medivac.” He soldiers on. I’m lucky. I’m a journalist. I am trained to say no to authority, to demand something better. Still, even I hide most of what I feel from my doctors. It’s not just a military thing, it’s a male thing too, or just a stupid thing.
So when I ask, can you see me, I know you cannot. I won’t let you. But maybe as you post and tweet tomorrow you will see him as he fights back the tears and tries to be a loving dad. That’s what mental illness is like, every day.