Free to have PTSD.

Written on Friday, July 1st, 2016
  • Happy Canada Day. Canada; where you are free to have PTSD and that’s okay. I’ve worked, and been persecuted for being a journalist, in countries that don’t share the freedom we take for granted. Our neighbours to the south chest thump, and make sure the world knows they are the land of the free. We could. We don’t.

I’m not bashing the jingoism that marks so much of the art and politics of the USA, I love it, but I also love the wry smile we Canadians put on as we watch. Don’t mistake our silence for a lack of patriotism. We know what we have, and we treasure it. We just don’t brag about it. I hope the one day we wear the red and white and drive with flags trailing behind our cars is enough. Enough to let our children know they can be proud to be Canadian.

More than pride they should feel gratitude. After all it’s a freak of birth that we landed here and not in one of those countries I mentioned. People there would be just as proud to be Canadian, more so I suspect. Drink filthy, rank sludge, and you will always treasure cool clean drinking water. Feel what it is like not to have freedom, and you will forever treasure what it means to be free enough not to shout about it.

I am free to listen to Metallica and let it guide my thoughts and writing. I am free to publish writing, that amounts to naval gazing therapy, on my own small platform. I am free. “We the people” growls Mr. Hetfield over the massive power riff of “Some Kind of Monster”. “this is the mask that comes undone” he sings. Okay let’s drop the mask, and talk a little about the monster. PTSD means I am not fully free. Holiday’s drive that home more than most days and perhaps this holiday most of all.

Why are holidays a problem? Well, when we put on the “normal suit” on any given day, it’s an act of will. We work at ignoring the breath strangling fear inside. We step slowly along a razor’s edge concentrating on balance. Balance means appearing normal while struggling with forces you can barely understand. We have tools and tricks to help us walk that razor and appear–okay. The way we want you to see us. It is much easier to juggle and walk that fine line in safe predictable circumstances.

Holidays are anything but. They are boisterous celebrations. They mean laughter and loud fun, a break from the daily routine. A way to get out of the rut. Sometimes, like today, they mean cannons and fireworks. Thing is, when you are juggling your inner and outer emotions and walking on a razor’s edge, you don’t want to be jostled in a crowd, started by a sudden cry of joy or burst of laughter or dear God the explosion of fireworks. We like it in the day-to-day rut thank you. And thank God we live in Canada where that’s okay.

I could and should write an entire blog on how guilty that preference for calm quiet leaves us. We know it is such a massive burden for those who love us. But that warrants its own day, this is about hiding in plain sight in a beautiful country. I write that, as Mr. Hetfield laments, “all the shots I take, what difference did I make.” Man, that too is a question for its own blog. I’ve heard it raised so many times by heroes stricken with this disorder.

I am spending this Canada day alone. Hiding from the birthday party for the nation I love. This is not a pity party, so please remember I am okay alone. I can be honest with myself, and don’t have to put on the “normal” suit. I have been invited to celebrations by a caring family and friends. I started my day thinking I would go to one, or maybe more. Right. The hyper vigilance set in faster than an infant clutching a tiny flag draws our Prime Minister. It’s a good sign when the humour creeps in.
I mentioned earlier we have tools or tricks, to deal with that hyper alert panic when it threatens to break through the normal facade we prefer to project. When things get really bad for me, I’m supposed to pick up the guitar. I went for it a little while ago, my goal, to work on a sublimely difficult Metallica lick. Simple in its formation, just a few notes, it’s set in 12-8 meaning triplets between the beats. To play it properly is where its sublime beauty can be found. It takes a kind of mental math I haven’t mastered yet, one that allows me to instruct each hand to follow what seem to be opposing patterns as I learn to count in 3’s. To be frustrated and challenged by that math takes a high level of focus and concentration— accompanied by good music. A great tool to break away from the inward spiral triggered by hyper vigilance.

The trouble today, the fear was paralyzing as I reached for the guitar. I couldn’t pick it up. My first reaction was anger, followed quickly by desperation. If I can’t pick up the guitar, how can I bring myself back down. When I asked myself why I am afraid of a brand new guitar set up in a room sterilized of any triggers. I realized I am not afraid of that guitar. I am just terrified. PTSD brings terror without obvious reason. That fear can attach itself to anything. I could have been reaching for a knitting needle or attempting a yoga pose. Wouldn’t matter, the fear was stronger than the urge to do something physical to break its grip.

My go-to when it becomes this debilitating is to try writing. Journaling usually, but if I really want to break the stranglehold of fear I must try one of these blogs. It allows me to put your need to understand this disorder ahead of my own struggle. Then as I step out of myself, I begin to calm. So if I post today or any other day it worked. Thank you for your patience.

So, why is Canada a great country if you happen to have PTSD. Well, early in my journey I was welcomed into a military group therapy program, where I met soldiers and RCMP officers fighting this monster. I was assigned a wingman and through him got to know the amazing programs available for our veterans. The bureaucracy needs work, that’s why he asked for my help. It’s a serpentine mass of red tape scattered along the narrowed hallways of a labyrinth. But, at the end of those darkened hallways– a wealth of support that would make any Canadian proud. The men and women who sacrifice so much, really are cared for as they should be.

But, seriously our baby hugging Prime Minister needs to chop up some of that tape with the knowledge that a soldier who gets no for a first answer, says yes sir, salutes and walks away alone. They don’t believe in the appeal process set up to separate those in need from the malingering thieves among their ranks. The government made the system difficult, not for fun, but to combat the dishonourable actions of people in uniform.

I am free to have fun at our Prime Minister’s expense in the public square today, and that speaks volumes. But, I know I am not fully free on this Canada Day, or any other day. That’s okay. I can stay safely behind closed doors today and be alone with my demons. No one will interfere. I live in a free and safe place, and that makes it easier for me to try to heal me. Enjoy your Canada Day. I will. Maybe I can work on that riff now.


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