This Remembrance Day, remember all those that have given their lives and all that have physical and psychological injuries including those that have been sexually abused. I served in the Canadian Forces and was injured to the point where my great career was cut short. I am telling my story as a final part of my healing journey.
In 2007 I was a healthy unemployed 34 year old. The factory I worked at for 10 years was shut down and moved to Mexico. I had a wife and 3 kids to take care of and was struggling to meet my bills. One day a Canadian warship pulled alongside Windsor Ontario and it was opened for tours. I brought my little kids to the ship and we were all impressed. The sailor’s were also handing out flyers letting everyone know that the navy was hiring. After only a short conversation with my wife, I decided to apply. In January 2008 I was shipped off to basic training. I passed all the physical tests and ran with everyone without any problems. After basic, I was transferred to Victoria BC to begin 6 months of career training for the trade I chose. After the trade training, I was deployed with HMCS Winnipeg to the Gulf of Aden for 6 months on an anit-piracy operation. You may remember seeing the movie Captain Phillips. I was there for that incident in 2009. I remember hearing the distress calls over the radio as I worked in the operations room. The pirates got on the radio and said “you’re too late,” when we were trying to regain comms with the captain. After the Maersk Alabama was taken over our ship was sent away and the American navy stayed with it to negotiate.
While a ship is at sea, the garbage has to be processed and so there is a garbage processing room where all plastic is melted down to solid “pucks” and stored till we come ashore. All paper was shredded and mixed with water to create a slug. It was pumped overboard to be broken down in the ocean. All glass was smashed and sent to the bottom of the ocean and metal was also sent to the bottom. All of these items, plastic, paper, glass and metal were processed in the garbage processing room ( AKA the gash room) This room was only used when the ship was on long deployments. Short trips, less than a few weeks, we just stored away till we arrived back home. When we were on our 6 month deployment in the Gulf of Aden we used this gash room everyday. My department took care of the gash room and we all took turns working there. Most didn’t like working there because it was smelly and disgusting as you might imagine. It was full of mould and slime everywhere but I actually liked it because it was quiet and peaceful there, as we worked alone processing the trash. It got me away from a very stressful job in the operations room, so I volunteered to take other shipmates’ turns working there and they happily obliged. I worked in the gash room often during those 6 months and had no idea the damage my lungs would have incurred as a result of being exposed to excessive mould for so long. It was mouldy in there because of the high moisture and humidity as well, the air conditioning unit was also contaminated with mould and blew cold mouldy air in there to keep it cool. That same air conditioning unit also blew cold air into the operations room where I also worked. So I was exposed to mould all the time for those 6 months while deployed.
I never felt the effects of the mould exposure until after I returned from the deployment. A couple months after my ship came back, we went on a 5 KM base run. I made it to the first kilometre and could not breathe. I felt like I was going to die as I gasped for air for the next 4 KM. I walked the rest of the way and tried to get my breathing under control. This was the first time of many that I would have a major problem breathing after doing a small amount of exercise. I was also a ship’s firefighter and had to wear bunker gear with a mask and oxygen tank on my back. My first year on the ship we rarely did firefighting exercises but after we had a new captain come onboard, he decided we needed to do exercises often. The next 2 years were like hell as we did 4 sets of work ups. The new captain wanted to push the training on our ship to the max and he certainly did. During these “training” sessions called work ups, we only got 2 or 3 hours of broken sleep in a 24 hour period. I would be just getting to sleep and the bong bongs or alarm would go off. I had 6 minutes to get up to the flight deck dressed in my bunker gear ready for the emergency. I was not allowed to turn on the oxygen tank as it took too long to fill them after the exercise was over. It was considered valuable sleep time and so nobody used the oxygen as we would have had no sleep. As a result of not having my air on, but still having to wear my mask, I had an asthma attack after every exercise. Some were so severe that I really did think I was going to die as I gasped for air. Most of my asthma attacks I was in a dark, secluded place with a charged fire hose waiting for the drill to be over. I told the ship’s medical people about my respiratory issues and they told me to see my military doctor when we got ashore. Over those couple of years I was sent to the same military doctor and literally got a run around each time. I had many pulmonary function tests and they were fine because I was not doing any exercise, just sitting calmly in a chair and breathing into a machine. He kept saying “everything looks good”. I asked the military doctor if we could do an exercise induced asthma test and he always said that the military doesn’t test for that. I had one really bad asthma attack on the ship one day where I was losing consciousness. I broke the rule and turned on my oxygen tank to get air. I laid there in the bowels of the ship by myself for about a half hour slowly getting my lungs back until I made it back to the flight deck. I told my superiors what had happened and nothing was done. They told me to go see the military doctor when we arrived ashore. I told the military doctor of my many close calls with death including my most recent one and begged him to do something. He reluctantly gave me restrictions so that I didn’t have to wear a mask or do any more firefighting drills. He also let me control my own exercise routine so I wasn’t forced to run again. I was nearing the end of my first contract and could not continue like this so I asked the military doctor if he would approve a medical discharge. He said that it would be impossible as there was no proof that my respiratory problems were caused by my service. At that time in my life, I still had no idea what had caused this lung condition and felt like I was up against a 200 foot monster. I let my contract expire and couldn’t re-sign for the 25 year deal to continue with the navy due to my respiratory issues and received an honorable discharge in 2012 when my first contract was over.
Since then I had my own exercise induced asthma test done by my family doctor and was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma. I was also diagnosed with complex P.T.S.D from my many near death experiences from my asthma attacks along with the frustrations of nobody listening to me for years. I continued to have these attacks for years and it never went away or got better. In October 2019 I was told by some good friends that I should call Veterans Affairs and see if there was something that could be done for me. I was taken in with lots of love and compassion and told about possible compensation for all my pain and suffering. It was at this time when I finally found out what had caused my respiratory problems. I did a simple search online for breathing problems on Canadian ships and was shocked to see many articles dating back to 2012, talking about a major mould problem on my old ship, HMCS Winnipeg. These articles detailed that the mould readings were highest in the garbage processing room, the operations room and the storage locker for the bunker gear on the flight deck. All 3 of these locations I was in everyday and it all made sense to me from then on. I am still working with Veterans Affairs about receiving acknowledgement and compensation for my respiratory problems. I put my pain and suffering application in for my respiratory problems nearly 2 years ago and hope that it is approved soon.
I also now know that if my situation was taken seriously, I would have been medically discharged and given a pension for life for my service related injuries.
Just a few months after I was accepted by Veterans Affairs and given a temporary monthly salary, the lock-downs started and everyone was to stay home. In the nearly 2 years that I have stayed home, I have been actively receiving help for my complex P.T.S.D from a wonderful psychologist from Bay Psychology. I also have found much help online with various other doctors who treat complex P.T.S.D. Before I came to Veterans Affairs, I was about to go into the woods and disappear from society. I was drinking everyday as well as consuming cannabis all day everyday to mask my symptoms and keep me calm. I was frustrated, depressed and angry from the way my military career ended. My marriage of 17 years also ended terribly in 2014 as a result of my P.T.S.D symptoms and cannabis use.
I no longer drink or use cannabis anymore. I quit those over a year ago now and don’t miss them at all. I am no longer depressed or frustrated and have so much to be thankful for. I learned through my Christian faith how forgiveness works to our benefit. When you hold on to resentment, it is the same as unforgiveness. Resentment is like a weight that holds you down, but when you forgive, then you are made free! I had to let go of all the resentment I felt for the military and how I was treated so unfairly. I wrote an article on this blog called Post Trauma Peace and it is full of all that I have learned about trauma and how I healed. So, psychologically, I am doing much better all because of staying home and healing at my own pace.
Physically, with regards to my lungs, my family doctor says they will not improve and more than likely they will get worse. I am still exempt from wearing masks and my doctor has recommended that I not return to work with the current mask mandate. I still have asthma attacks almost daily. Some small and some dangerously close to death. I wake most nights with an attack and have to take my rescue inhaler. Even if I sneeze more than 3 or 4 times I feel an attack coming and have to take my puffer. I have asthma attacks when I shovel in the winter or cut the grass in the summer. They can be quite scary as my lungs feel like I am only getting 25% of the air I normally get.
Below are 2 short videos. One is showing what an attack is like for me and the other is showing a short version of my story and supporting documents. The first video of my attack was something that I never recorded before. I just got done cutting the grass and could not breathe. The camera was sitting on the table so I picked it up and documented it for the first time. It is hard for me to watch this video as there is much stress going on inside and I feel every second of it when I watch.
Helpful Advice for Trauma Survivors
Sadness, shame, helplessness, anger, vulnerability, embarrassment, disappointment and frustration are the eight unpleasant feelings that prevent us from having a happier life according to Dr. Joan Rosenberg.
Whatever trauma you have been through, let me first congratulate you because you have made it through! All trauma is unique for each situation, however, the “after effects” are most, or all, of these unpleasant feelings. Holding on to them holds you back from happiness.
I know for me, I felt completely helpless and vulnerable, which led to me hiding away in my house. I became lazy and overweight. I ate whatever I wanted and drank beer everyday to deal with my sadness and shame. Many things about my trauma, and how it was handled, caused great disappointment, frustration and even anger.
This anger symptom was the first one I recognized and dealt with a few years ago. Simply put, anger is one letter away from danger! Over time, I have managed to change my life for the better by dealing with these unpleasant feelings in a productive way, rather than a destructive way. I eat healthy, non-processed food and drink fresh lemon water and do 22 push-ups a day. I have gone from 240 lbs down to 170 lbs. I used to wear a size 42 pant and am down to a size 32. My blood pressure was 166/111 and now it is down to 120/80. I am much happier now! Up until 2019, I was still holding onto disappointment and frustration from my military career. I was advised by a good friend to go see Veterans Affairs to see if they could help me. It was very difficult for me to be vulnerable and to ask for help, but I am glad that I did. Just as McDonald’s had terrible coffee and changed it to great coffee, so it is with Veterans Affairs. They had a reputation of not really caring and I thought it might be a waste of my time, but I was very wrong. I was met with love and compassion and I felt like my concerns were finally being addressed. This has allowed me to start to heal that part of my life. I realize it is not this way for everyone, but I had a good case manager.
If you’re like most trauma survivors and feel anxiety often, then listen closely:
You have two different nervous systems. One is called sympathetic and the other is parasympathetic. Parasympathetic is when you are calm and at peace, just like before you fall asleep. Your body heals while you sleep and when you are calm during the times you are awake. On the other hand, the sympathetic state kicks in when you see a bear with her cubs 10 feet away. Your heart rate and blood pressure go into survival mode and you are prevented from healing.
I spent years always anxious and worried, as a blood pressure of 166/111 would tell you, but over time I changed my habits and I have learned that the most important person to take care of in your life is YOU. In order to take care of yourself, you must deal with past negatives to make room for the positives.
This is indeed different for every person, depending on your circumstances, but for me, I found classical music, warm salt baths, being around positive people and nature to be most helpful. Whatever brings you to that place of calm and peace, should be your direction in life from now on. Also, deal with every unpleasant feeling or situation that comes along as positively as you can so you can quickly go back to your healing state of calm.
In 2016, I saw a statistic that said 22 military members take their life everyday and that shook me to the core. I had also heard of a group of former military personnel that do 22 push-ups a day to bring awareness, and also, in some weird way, to put our collective energy into combating this tragedy. This was the very beginning of my healing journey that has brought me this far.
If you are ever considering now or in the future to end your life for whatever reason, please understand that you have a real purpose for the life that you have been given. There are countless people, including myself, who have been at the bottom of a hopeless pit wanting to just die, but I am here to tell you that no matter how bad things get, they will always get better! I am living proof of that, so please never ever allow yourself to feel that way again. Keep breathing!
My definition of confidence is: the deep sense that you can handle the emotional outcome of whatever you face or pursue in life. I hope this article brings you understanding and confidence to handle whatever you face or pursue in your journey to peace.
Complex P.T.S.D is many stressful incidents over a period of time. It can also be called childhood P.T.S.D.
I have found much help from this You Tube channel called The Crappy Childhood Fairy and want to share her introduction video. I hope her channel helps someone else as much as me in my healing process.
A great first video to get you started in healing.
If you suffer from inflammation, depression, sleepless nights, heart problems, poor blood circulation or a long list of other health conditions then you may want to watch this informative short documentary. With spring here and summer on the horizon we are able to kick off our shoes and connect with the ground again. If you don’t have the time to watch this documentary right away then save it for later when you do. It will change your life and your health!