Through the darkness of PTSD, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan finds hope

When an aircraft enters a war zone, the flight crew turns off the regular lighting in the cabin, and the only illumination is a red light, much like a photographic darkroom. That red light still haunts my dreams.

In the summer of 2013, I arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, knowing my life would never be the same. I didn’t know my wounds would end up being my mental health. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was just something people talked about. It was never something that I thought would change my life, until it did. While I choose to keep the details of the events private for many reasons, I had definitely changed without knowing it.

My wife said I wasn’t the same anymore. My kids thought I seemed angry and on edge. I really didn’t understand that anything was wrong, until one night I woke from my sleep, outside, screaming and crying. That day, I knew I needed help.

The fear that comes with admitting I needed help was overwhelming. I tried to ignore what was happening and chalked it up to a freak event. However, with all the medical issues going on, ignoring the facts did not help me find a solution.

The breaking point came in 2016 in Ottawa. I used to drive home from work every day, contemplating purposely crashing my car and ending the pain, forever. To this day I’m not sure why I didn’t drive my car into a light pole on the side of the road. This continued daily, until a friend took me by the hand to find the help that I so desperately needed.

I’ve never been so lucky.

Help is out there, and it is becoming easier to find. Even though it is much more common to talk about illnesses like PTSD, many still can’t relate and won’t understand what it’s like to live with it every day.

The Centre for Treatment of Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trauma in Ottawa is one of the excellent resources in the city that helps individuals, like me, who suffer from PTSD.

“The Centre helps individuals navigate healing and recovery, regardless of the source of the trauma,” says therapist Mandy Paquette. “However, it is important to identify the source of the trauma, and the associated triggers, in order to be able to provide the best care possible. Although all forms of trauma have a similar impact on the nervous symptom and the brain, trauma associated with childhood abuse may present differently than military or veteran trauma.”

Still, the struggle will continue for veterans and others that suffer from PTSD. With the help of organizations such as the Centre, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that once took over my life.

I will never be the same person that I was before that red light, but in many ways thanks to doctors and the help I received, I am now able to better cope with the effects of PTSD.

--submitted by Bob Mellin, with Simon St-Laurent