Veteran Spotlight – John & Mia

A great story of a veteran over coming his PTSD / OSI……….We have great respect for John and were glad to train a dog for him to help in his recovery……..Here is John’s story…..K9 Mia was trained by MSAR trainers including Master Trainer George Leonard…..MSAR Changing Lives One Dog at a time..

“I felt it was time to share my journey through PTSD in the hopes it will reach one person who is struggling and convince them to step out of their comfort zone and seek help.

I retired as a Warrant Officer (WO) from the Canadian Armed Forces in 2008 after 22 years of service as a Combat Engineer/ Combat Diver. Upon my release I transferred to the Primary Reserve Force and did another 8 years. I released from the Reserve Force in October (2015) as a Master Warrant Officer (MWO). During my service I did four tours in Yugoslavia (92/93,94,00,03), I also participated in three Domestic Operations (Disasters), Red River Floods, Quebec Ice Storms and Swiss Air Crash. As a diver, I also worked on several recovery operations supporting local police agencies over the years.

While serving, I was officially diagnosed with PTSD in 2006, after several incidents of aggressive behaviour and insubordination. I underwent treatment once a week for two years and stopped after I released, as I felt I was better.

In my civilian life, I am very fortunate that I am able to hold a steady job while having PTSD. I like so many other have to bring home the bacon. The bills have to get paid.

Over the years, living with PTSD, while keeping it a secret from so many people, was very difficult. My ability to keep it together during the day, both at work and at home took its toll on me. While at home I became a recluse and preferred to be alone. I would not socialize with my family and spent my evenings in my garage. While at work I became the same way. I would stay in my in my cubicle and make no attempt to socialize unless I absolutely had to. Attempts to be open and socialize in the past were easy for me but became more and more difficult. I found myself forcing myself to socialize to appear normal.

I had what I will simply refer to as, incidents, several of them, that made me realize I needed to get help again. In the past when I used to veer off the path (mentally) I was able to get myself back on track. As I got older this became more difficult. I did not want to burden my family with this. As the dad and husband I felt compelled to maintain the strong demeanor.

I was now having an extremely difficult time at home and at work. I was having memory problems, extreme difficulty focusing and staying on task. This often led to a sense of frustration and angry outbursts. My ability to maintain a normal demeanor in my everyday life was starting to wear me down psychologically and physically. Sleep would not come in the evenings. I stopped dreaming all together which I thought was a blessing. However, I was still dreaming but my brain was no longer letting me remember them. I would still wake up in a terror and have to towel off so I knew under the surface things were not better. Medication helped but made waking extremely difficult. Throughout the day I was on auto-pilot. On the surface I was a successful person but in reality I struggled so hard each day.

I was like a duck. On the surface I may have appeared to be calm and social but underneath the surface my feet were going a thousand miles an hour. It was so exhausting maintaining this mask of behaviour. I would have to pull over on the way home from work and sleep for 15-20 minutes before I went home and started all over again. This led to simply becoming a recluse from my family and friends so I wouldn’t have to wear this fake mask.

I could not do large crowds anymore, which made any type of shopping, going to the gym, attending board meetings at work, very challenging. I was always very mentally drained after doing these things due to my heightened sense of hyper arousal. If I was triggered and did not have the option to leave the area I would become very irritated, negative and angry which always resulted in a negative experience. So…..I would try to avoid large crowded places if possible. Unfortunately this was not a realistic option for me in my current employment or at times, my family life. As things worsened, my ability to focus at work during large group meetings was becoming more difficult and causing me issues.

PTSD can be described as falling into a hole and trying to get out. I have learned over the years there are no two holes that are the same. Since 1994 I had been in a hole so many times but always managed to dig my way out. From 2012 to 2015 I was in a very, very deep hole and just seemed to be digging it deeper. In the fall of 2015, after two friends with PTSD committed suicide I finally hit rock bottom (emotionally). I thought if I didn’t do something I would venture down that same path. In the fall of 2015 I sought help and started seeing a Psychologist again. The day I made that choice to start talking again, my hole stopped getting deeper. My path to recovery slowly began.

It was suggested to me that a Service dog could possibly help. After doing some research I was intrigued and a bit hesitant. The minute you tied that dog around your waist everyone would know something was wrong with you. This was difficult for me as I had spent so many years hiding it. A friend at work told me it would be liberating and it was. No more secrets…. just get busy living.

I entered the Courageous Companions program and found a shared understanding with the Group in Edmonton. I started attending the groups training sessions (without a dog) as I felt so comfortable being around people who had the same struggles as myself. No one judged, no one asked and no one questioned your disability. They simply took me in and provided an ear, no matter what time of the day or evening. Eventually I was paired with K9 Mia (From MSAR) who was the angel that helped lift me out of the hole.

As you can imagine, this is very difficult to share. Mia has noticed my anxiety while typing this and has placed herself on the couch beside me. Every once in a while she sits up, looks at me to make sure I am ok. She does not judge, she does not question, she simply provides loyalty and compassion and provides an ear when required……lol, a big shepherd ear I might add. Every day is still a challenge but it’s more manageable with my service dog. I am so blessed to have this companion who helps me get through the day and evenings.

To anyone who struggles with mental illness, you must understand you are not alone. If you are in that hole, drop that shovel, pick up the phone and call someone. The road to recovery starts with a conversation. To my friends who are struggling, call me. If you live near me, we can simply go for a coffee and sit together quietly if that’s what you prefer. You are not alone.

No more secrets… just get busy living.” – John



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