Showing posts with label ptsd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ptsd. Show all posts

10.28.2018

i need a canada for my subconscious: the kavanaugh hearings and we go on

I avoided the Kavanaugh hearings as long as I could.

I used to take a special interest whenever survivors go public. I'd read everything I could, write letters to newspapers, speak out on social media. Send a note of support to the woman. Find the sisterhood, share the pain. This hurt, but it helped, too. I think most people who have publicly shared private pain will attest to that: it hurts and it helps.

I'm unwilling to do so any longer, or at least I'm unwilling to do it right now. I avoided all of it. I put my head in the sand. But it found me anyway, as my entire Facebook feed filled with news stories, personal essays, memes, and outrage. I could have avoided Facebook, but that felt like punishing myself.

I saved them all. I planned to do one long wmtc post with all the reaction. I found the time, but not the will. I started having PTSD symptoms again. Or I should say, I started remembering them, because apparently I have them a lot but I'm not aware of it.

Really, it all comes down to this: I am so so so so so totally sick of trauma playing out in my life. I can't stand it anymore. I just cannot stand it.

But of course I will stand it. I have to. Millions of people put up with much worse. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm just fed up. And there's nothing for it. I was fed up with the US and I moved to Canada. There's no moving to Canada for my subconscious.

* * * *

the tyranny of the subconscious

my subconscious is an annoying bitch

in which i admit ptsd is forever

6.08.2018

on poppies, veterans, trolls, and doxing

First of all, I do not apologize.

I have nothing to apologize for. No one should apologize for having an unpopular opinion, or an opinion that the majority finds offensive.

Second, I said nothing disrespectful to veterans. My utter lack of respect -- my undying contempt -- is for rulers whose policies send humans into unnecessary armed conflict. Those rulers pay lip-service to "supporting" troops, while their policies ensure more humans will suffer from the effects of war.

If you're joining us in progress, here's what you missed. 

Before the election, I took all my personal social media offline. We knew that the opposition would dedicate vast resources to digging up or fabricating anything they could use against NDP candidates. For some reason, no one directed me to remove wmtc links from the Wayback Machine (i.e., internet archives). This proved to be a grave error.

A right-wing political hack who masquerades as a journalist received excerpts from some old wmtc posts from a troll source. I know this because Hack forwarded Troll's email to me, with the identifiers scrubbed.

Hack did what hacks do, and trolls did what trolls do. Hack kept this going for way longer than any of us expected, dedicating three columns to me, and mentioning my name in several other columns. Eventually it was reported on by more mainstream media.

The right-wing attack machine moved from candidate to candidate, digging up tiny bits of online fodder, distorting and quoting out of context, in a ludicrous attempt to portray the NDP as a hotbed of wacko radicalism.

Doug Ford and his party waged the worst kind of campaign possible: they obfuscated facts, and relied on lies, sloganeering, and mudslinging.

Andrea Horwath and our party were consistently positive, focused, truthful, and precise.

That the majority of voters in Ontario chose the former over the latter is profoundly disturbing.

Doxing

I thought I knew what it was like to be attacked by trolls, from early wmtc days. I was wrong. The trolls who attacked this blog were annoying gnats who could be easily batted away. The troll attack orchestrated by Hack & Co. was a whirling swarm of angry hornets, the size of a midwest twister.

Their weapons were the most vulgar kind of personal insults, and graphic threats of violence.

I have pretty thick skin and don't tend to take things personally. My union sisters and brothers often describe me as "fearless". But this was a form of violence, and it shook me.

I'm lucky that it didn't affect my outlook, my opinions, or my self-esteem. That's down to the amazing support I had -- from the party, from my union, from friends, and from strangers who agreed with my views and reached out to me. Because of this support, I was shielded from most of the invective. I saw only a small portion of it, yet that was enough to shake me. I felt that my personal safety was threatened. That's not easy to do to me.

It's difficult -- nay, impossible -- for me to understand this kind of behaviour. The whitehot anger, the fervor so easily ignited -- the immediate willingness to attack, the assumed entitlement to say anything to anyone, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. The seeming inability to respectfully disagree. It is truly beyond my understanding.

What I think about poppies, militarism, and veterans


I wrote the now-infamous post about the poppy symbols at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was flogging the war machine in Afghanistan. I have a deeply held opposition to war, and I wanted Canada out of Afghanistan.

I also link the symbolic poppy to the general militarism that infects our society -- where "support the troops" is code for "support the war". Militarism takes many forms, including recruiting in schools, honouring military members at sporting events, using weapons as entertainment, such as air shows, and for me, the ubiquitous poppy symbol.

Naturally I understand that the majority does not view the poppy symbol this way. Hundreds tried to enlighten me, as if somehow the view of the vast majority hadn't reached my ears. But guess what? I disagree.

I have never written or said anything that disparages veterans. On the contrary, the pages of this blog are replete with disgust for the governments that disrespect veterans by slashing funding for their health and rehabilitation. My "11.11" category is about peace. If wanting peace disrespects veterans, we are living in an Orwellian nightmare.

What supporting veterans should look like

I have no doubt that for some people the poppy is a potent symbol, and that they believe wearing this symbol shows respect and reverence for veterans. I have never suggested that other people shouldn't wear poppies. I simply choose not to wear one. (I don't refuse to wear one, as the memes said. I choose not to.)

To me, if we truly want to support veterans and military servicemembers, we must do two things.

One, create and fully fund a robust array of supports for people who have suffered from war, to support their physical and mental well-being. Our society does not do that.

And two, stop making war. Stop creating veterans. Search for ways to resolve conflicts that do not involve killing people. And never use war as a means to profit.

Until these things are done, you can cover yourself in poppies, and your "support" and "respect" will be as false as the plastic flowers you revere.

A final word about respect

I don't disrespect veterans. But I don't automatically respect someone because they are a veteran.

Many people contribute to our society through their work or their passions. Others harm our society with selfishness, greed, violence, and unkindness. When people are kind and generous, when they act with compassion and integrity, I respect them. When they do the opposite, I do not. This is as true for veterans as it is for teachers, social workers, nurses, or politicians.

People who hurl crude insults at strangers because they cannot abide a difference of opinion, but who claim to love freedom and respect veterans, are ignorant wretches. I don't respect them. I pity them.

10.04.2017

thoughts on the latest u.s. gun massacre

As part of my continuing efforts to post here rather than -- or at least in addition to -- Facebook, here are some thoughts on the latest horrific massacre in the US, the country music festival in Las Vegas.

First, the inevitability of recurrence. When hearing about mass shootings in the United States, the worst part -- the most tragic, the most outrageous part -- is the certainty of knowing that nothing will change. That it will happen again, and again, and again.

A solution is known, of course. We won't end the culture of violence that permeates the US, but we can end access to large numbers of deadly weapons. The fact that the vice grip of a deadly special interest group outweighs the basic human rights of life and safety speaks volumes about the US political system. The congressmembers and senators who are bought and paid for by the NRA can never wash the blood off their hands.

Second, the true body count. Allan and I were talking about what it might have been like to be there. I admit I don't usually do this. I usually think about these massacres on a social and political level, somewhat removed from true empathy. But thinking a lot about the survivors, I know that every one of them will have PTSD. Many of them may never recover a fully healthy mental state.

Given the cost of mental health resources, the lack or absence of public mental health support, the survivors may or may not find help for this condition.

However high the final number of dead and wounded, the true numbers will never be known.

9.19.2016

what i'm reading: the evil hours, a biography of post-traumatic stress disorder

The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an outstanding book -- meticulously researched, but written in a compelling, accessible style, and with great humanity and compassion.

Author David J. Morris unearths the social and cultural history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the fourth most common psychiatric disorder in the US. He surveys the potential treatments. He explores the role of social justice in our understanding of PTSD.

But above all, Morris confronts the meaning of trauma, in society and in his own life. Morris was a U.S. Marine stationed in Iraq. After narrowly escaping death, he returned home questioning everything he thought he knew -- and eventually having to face the reality of his own trauma. Morris' dual role as both researcher and subject give this book a unique power as history, social science, and personal essay.

People have known for centuries, for millennia, that traumatic events produce after-effects, but different cultures in different eras have explained those effects in different ways. The modern history of trauma is linked to the carnage of 20th Century war. And our current understanding of PTSD owes everything to the Vietnam War, and the experience of returning veterans who publicly opposed the war.

In this way, the history of PTSD encompasses a history of 1960s and 1970s peace activism, especially of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group that began a sea-change in the culture of the United States. As a student of peace, I found this part fascinating.

Taking this even further, Morris links PTSD and social justice. Powerless and marginalized people are more likely to be traumatized by one or more of the four principal causes of PTSD: war, genocide, torture, rape. Taking a social and cultural perspective forces us to confront a world that causes these traumas. In this view, PTSD is not so much an illness as a moral condition brought on by the worst of human society.

The United States Veterans Administration (VA) sees it quite differently. To the VA, PTSD is strictly a medical condition. And this matters greatly, because research about PTSD is almost entirely funded and controlled by the VA. Explaining trauma as purely medical or biological doesn't address the causes at all. In fact, it does the opposite -- it normalizes PTSD as a natural consequence of unavoidable circumstances.

As for treatment, Morris surveys what's out there and finds most of it useless. VA hospitals and insurance companies prefer therapies that can be "manualized" -- made uniform, with a certain number of treatments and little or no emotional engagement from the therapist. Statistically, these types of therapies appear to be useful -- until one learns that the numbers don't include all the patients who drop out! Talk about cooking the books: everyone for whom the treatment isn't working or, in many cases, is actually worsening their symptoms, is simply ignored.

Morris himself feels that therapeutic talks with an empathetic person with some training goes further than neuroscience can. "What they [the VA] seem to want instead," Morris writes, "is mass-produced, scalable, scripted therapies that make for compelling PowerPoint slides."

Readers of this blog may know that I have PTSD. Much of The Evil Hours brought a shock of recognition -- the feeling that someone else is expressing your own thoughts, saying exactly what you've been thinking all along. Morris perfectly articulates how trauma plays out in one's life, the depths of change it brings about.

Morris writes: "We are born in debt, owing the world a death. This is the shadow that darkens every cradle. Trauma is what happens when you catch a surprise glimpse of that darkness.”

In the immediate aftermath of my own trauma, while trying to write about my experience, this is exactly the image I fixated on. We are, all of us, dancing on the edge of a great precipice, usually unaware of how terrifyingly close we are to that edge. Then something happens, and we understand it, not in some theoretical way, but immediately and profoundly, perhaps in a way humans are not equipped to understand. We talk about "the fragility of life" but we don't know what that is -- until we do. Then we spend a lifetime trying to live with the knowledge.

"One of the paradoxes of trauma," writes Morris, "is that it happens in a moment, but it can consume a lifetime. The choice of how much time it is permitted to consume is usually in the hands of the survivor."

The Evil Hours may be very useful for people who are figuring out how to stop PTSD from consuming any more of their lives. It is certainly a must-read for anyone interested in the effects of trauma on the human mind.

4.30.2016

u.s. iraq war resisters: the struggle continues

Still war resisters. Still in Canada. Still fighting to stay.

So far, the change in government hasn't helped the Iraq War resisters who remain here, nor the ones who were forced out of Canada who would like to return. The Trudeau government could do this so easily. And yet.

The CBC Radio show "DNTO" recently did an excellent segment about the US Iraq War resisters and the fight - still going on - to let them stay in Canada.
When American soldier Joshua Key fled to Canada in 2005, he never imagined that ten years later he would still be fighting a war — against the U.S. army, against post-traumatic stress disorder, and against the Canadian government.

Key is one of an estimated 15 Iraq war veterans who are fighting to remain in Canada.

The resisters left home to avoid being sent back to a war they didn't believe in. Today, they fear they'll be sent to prison if they're deported.

On this week's DNTO, you'll meet modern war resisters. Each of their stories is unique, but they all have one thing in common: they wish to stay in Canada. Should they be allowed to?
Some segments:

Meet the war resisters desperate to stay in Canada.

Who's helping the war resisters?

The Brockway family: fighting PTSD and searching for home.

A photo essay about Josh Key.

The show is really worth hearing, and you know how I feel about radio. You can listen to the full episode here.

7.17.2015

dogs, apartments, and anxiety: in which diego returns to school

As I mentioned (almost a month ago now), our pack of four is moving to a new den. We're going to stop renting houses, as we have done for the past ten years, and move back to apartment life. Although I've adjusted to the idea, I'm no happier about it. I'm heartsick that we'll no longer have the private oasis of a backyard.

We've found a great apartment: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, well-maintained building, lots of green space outside, dog-friendly building (it's the law in Ontario, but not always followed or enforced), good location for both driving and transit. Honestly, had I seen this apartment when I lived in New York, I would have considered it luxury. Now it just makes me sad.

But there's another factor involved in this move, a big, drooling, barking factor named Diego.

Drooly Boy
In our old house, before the flood, we were working with Diego on better on-leash behaviour, especially his reactions to other dogs. Off-leash at the dog park, Diego is playful and well socialized; on the leash, a barking, pulling maniac.

This is a common issue. We were working with a trainer when the flood upended our lives. We ended up moving, and we never resumed training. This meant I stopped walking Diego, except when the four of us walk together, and Allan can take the big boy while I walk Tala. I couldn't manage him at all.

As soon as we realized we were moving to an apartment, in a building full of dogs, I knew we needed to re-boot Diego's education.

The amazing trainer we had been working with has moved out of the area, but we are working with her by email, phone, and video. We've got a fridge full of Rollover, something this trainer turned us on to: a training treat that is nutritionally balanced, and can substitute for your dog's regular food. We're using a complicated harness-Gentle Leader-collar combination that gives me maximum control, and produces a calming effect on the dog. And we're working daily in our neighbourhood.

Buster posing with some antiquated technology
Diego has already made a lot of progress. It's hard for me to imagine him walking calmly past another dog we might encounter in the lobby, or not going nuts if the elevator door opens and a dog appears, but every walk is a training opportunity, and we'll just keep at it.

And there will be plenty of opportunity! We'll have to walk Tala and Diego separately for the foreseeable future, and we're on the 19th floor of a 20-story building.

But wait, there's more. There's yet another factor at play: my own anxiety. Many years ago in New York, we had a very bad experience with Buster, our pit-mix rescue who had severe fear-aggression to other dogs. This resulted in many things, including a four-day hospital stay for Allan, a famous animal behaviourist donating time to us, and a pitbull on Prozac.

And it resulted in one more thing. Walking Buster became a source of great fear and anxiety for me... which is how I learned more about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Apparently once a person has experienced a state of extreme emergency, their neural pathways are permanently changed. The threshold to trigger the fight-or-flight response is much lower. So I'd wake up in a state of anxiety, just before I had to walk the dogs. Buster and I both needed medication to go on walks! (If only he could have understood rationally. Buster was a dog of extreme obedience - a soldier who lived to follow orders. If he could have controlled himself to please us, he would have done so in a heartbeat.)

Whoever thought she'd be the calm one!
And here we are, 15 years later. It's a different dog, who is not an emotionally damaged abuse survivor, but a part of my brain doesn't know that. Dogs, of course, sense your anxiety and react to it. If their person is fearful, there must be something to be fearful and vigilant about. So Diego has to calm down for me, and I have to calm down for him.

12.22.2014

u.s. war resister corey glass speaks out from europe

Corey Glass, war resister from Canada by way of Indiana, speaks out from his travels in Europe in the current issue of NOW.
I'm not going to bother to tell you that the Iraq War was wrong or quote the UN handbook on refugees, Geneva Conventions, Nuremberg principles or trials.

Nor am I going to try to convince anyone that soldiers should have the right to say no, that prosecution for a belief is persecution, or that recruiters lie. There's no reason to talk about that, or about how Canada didn't take part in the Iraq War. Or why Canadian troops are in Iraq now.

Everyone knows what happened and can find information on all that online. I'm fine with my choices. I have to deal with the repercussions of them every day.

I didn't take the easy road to do what I believe was right. And I don't really feel I need to convince anyone otherwise.

I will talk about what has happened to me since I quit the U.S. Army, went to Canada to escape the war and, after eight years trying to build a life there, was told I had to leave. . . .

Eventually I would run out of savings and favours. I started to understand how easy it is for war vets to become homeless, remembering the vets holding signs to that effect from my younger days in Manhattan. Would this be me? Would a government change in Canada allow me to come home? What if Shepherd wins asylum? Could Germany be a home someday? All these questions made me anxious, so I ordered a shot of Jameson.

What would happen if I just went back to the States? Maybe they would take it easy on me? They didn't on Chelsea Manning - 25 years for whistle-blowing. I'd be 57 when I get out. For quitting a job? Fuck that! More angst. Another shot.

I remembered losing friends back in the U.S. because of my choice to resist going back to war in Iraq.

A childhood friend who I had joined the service with - he hated me for leaving - called me out of the blue that night. We spoke for about an hour. He apologized for being angry with me. He was out of the military now and said I'd done the right thing. He wished he'd left, too.

He's an alcoholic now, and said the VA was not giving him support for his PTSD. After three tours, he was all messed up with nightmares. His wife was leaving him, and he was about to lose his job, the sixth in the last year. He wanted to die and wished he had in Iraq. He cried hard into the phone and said he was sorry. . . .
คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Read it here.

10.26.2014

kevin vickers, nathan cirillo, and canada's response to recent acts of violence

I've been thinking a lot about Kevin Vickers. By now the world knows Vickers' name: he is the sergeant-at-arms of the Parliament of Canada, and his quick thinking and courage undoubtedly saved lives. Vickers shot killed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who had already killed one person and appeared intent on killing others.

Vickers is a hero. But my thoughts of him are filled not with adulation, but with sorrow. Imagine going to work one day, a day like any other, and by the time the day is done, you have taken a human life. You have killed a man at close range. What could that be like? It would not be surprising if Vickers will grapple with flashbacks, night terrors, or other forms of PTSD. Despite Vickers' courage and his new celebrity, I'd bet that few of us would want to stand in his shoes.

I've also been thinking of Nathan Cirillo, because it's impossible not to. Although I consume very little mainstream media, a short dip into my Facebook feed is enough: the dog Cirillo left behind, the outpouring of public grief, the obligatory "Highway of Heroes" photos.

Cirillo was a victim, and he did nothing to deserve such a fate. I feel for those who knew and loved him. But what makes Cirillo a hero? Guarding a war memorial surely is not an act of heroism. Is simply putting on a uniform a heroic act? Cirillo's death was senseless and tragic, but it was not heroic.

Of course, hero is a word that's lost all meaning, joining ironic, obviously, and traumatized on the ever-growing list of words that are used so carelessly and so often as to lose all meaning. Hero just might claim pride of place at the very top of that list. But the hero-worship of anyone in uniform is part of the creeping militarization of our society.

I've also been thinking about violence, and how we choose to respond to violence. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government constantly invoked fear in order to advance its agenda: war on people who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, repression of domestic dissent, spying on US citizens.

That response also included the widespread use of torture, and a concentration camp that, more than a decade later, still exists. Even if one believes, despite all facts and evidence, that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the US's response was something like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade. By now it should be clear that the US government had its own agenda, and 9/11 provided the excuse.

Norway, on the other hand, chose a different path: it answered hate with love. After 77 people were massacred on Ut?ya island, the Norwegian government affirmed the open nature of Norwegian society and pursued charges against the perpetrator within the boundaries of Norwegian law.
These are the originals for the memorials which, from the 22 July anniversary, will be sent out to more than 50 counties across Norway, to commemorate the 77 people massacred by Anders Breivik, the far-right extremist who goes on trial this week.

On each of them, words have been carved from a poem by the Norwegian writer Laes Saabye Christensen that was recited at the memorial concert for the victims. This poem, with its message of peace, followed the tone set by prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in his address at the memorial service in Oslo cathedral two days after the tragedy.

"We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values," Stoltenberg said. "Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity." Norway, he suggested, would not seek vengeance as America had done after the 9/11 attacks." We will answer hatred with love," he said.

"It's a clear case where a politician strikes a chord," said Frank Aarebrot, a professor of politics at the University of Bergen. "The prime minister struck almost a Churchillian note in that speech. People were jubilant."

Norway has granted every legal right to Breivik, despite hearing in gruesome detail of how he coldly executed 56 of his victims with shots to the head, after attacking a Labour party youth camp on the island of Ut?ya, near Oslo.
Canada has a choice.

On one side stands fear, suspicion, bigotry, and repression, a society where people are feared and attacked because of their appearance and surnames, where people are afraid to exercise their right to criticize the government. On that side, too, stands war: the death and destruction of innocent people, citizens turned into shells of themselves because of what they've witnessed and what they've been asked to do.

On the other side stands democracy, freedom of expression, pluralism, inclusion, human rights, and peace.

What kind of country do we want Canada to be?

Do we want the Harper Government to decide that for us?

6.02.2014

"just because it's broken, doesn't mean it's not beautiful": ashlea brockway and brokenart mosaics

The Brockway family, 2013
I want to tell you about an exciting venture: an opportunity to help make art more accessible for all, to help a low-income woman start her own business, and to help the family of an Iraq War resister, all at the same time. I hope you'll read about BrokenArt Mosaics and share Ashlea Brockway's crowd-funding page.

Wmtc readers may remember my posts about the Brockway family. Jeremy Brockway is an Iraq War veteran with severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Denied medical leave and unable to return to combat, Jeremy and his family came to Canada. Wmtc and Joy of Sox helped raise funds for the Brockways to adopt a service dog. I've written about the Brockways several times: here, here, and here, among other posts.

You already know my feelings about war resisters and people who struggle with mental illness. But in my zeal to share those stories, I may have shortchanged the real hero of the Brockway story, the head of the family, Ashlea Brockway.

I admire Ashlea Brockway tremendously. Ashlea is raising three young children on her own, and also caring for her disabled husband, who cannot work, and who can help with the kids only in a very limited way. She is a patient, loving, meticulous mother. More than anything, though, Ashlea is a woman of action.

BrokenArt Mosaic magnet
Wherever she directs her energies, Ashlea is focused on others. I've never heard Ashlea speak about her husband's situation without raising awareness of the broader issue, the shameful way veterans are treated after military service. When she accessed the services of a local food bank, she became first a volunteer, and then an outspoken advocate for both the families who use social services and the workers who provide the services. Now Ashlea is using her own creative talents to make art and creativity more accessible for all.

Ashlea is starting her own art-focused business, called BrokenArt Mosaics. She recently told the Port Welland Tribune:
“Even though my life is not how I wanted it to be, it's still beautiful.”

That concept is mirrored in her mosaics, she says.

“Broken things most people throw away, but you can pick up the pieces and make something beautiful.”

Brockway first realized she had a passion for mosaics in high school and has since used the art form as a means of stress relief.

“It's therapeutic,” she says, calling it a challenge to try and find pieces that fit together harmoniously.
Grab a kit, make some art

It's a relaxing experience she wants to share with the community.

It's an activity people of all ages, with all levels of crafting experience, can take on, she says.

Brockway's focus is on ensuring her kits are accessible to people of all income levels.

“It's about making art accessible. Art is often out of the price range of everyday people.”

She not only sells kits but also plans to eventually host mosaic-making workshops.

Her long-term goal is to have a storefront to call her own.
Ashlea's BrokenArt mosaics are very reminiscent of Gaudi's trencadis mosaics that I fell in love with last year in Barcelona. Gaudi used shards of broken, discarded tiles, "upcycling" trash into art well ahead of the trend. Ashlea's art is all about searching the scrap heap to find the beauty within.

You can help fund Ashlea's venture through her GoFundMe campaign, and you can visit the BrokenArt Mosaic Facebook page. Whether or not you donate, I hope you will check out the site, and share it with your own network.


5.12.2014

giverny, plus tablet and ptsd updates

Keyboard

I love my Nexus 7. I hate the Minisuit keyboard, although the problem might be Bluetooth.

To blog, I need a keyboard, and I need to use Blogger via the website, as the Android app is too limited. (That seems silly, since Blogger is a Google product.) Using Blogger online with the onscreen keyboard is very inconvenient. I can't select, can't easily make links, and can barely see where I'm typing. 

I've adjusted to the tiny Minisuit keyboard. I dislike typing with two fingers, but I can do it. But I will never adjust to the cursor suddenly moving into a different paragraph, or characters not appearing onscreen for two minutes, then appearing all at once. 

What to do?

PTSD

This afternoon my mother confessed that the reason she didn't sleep last night is because she was worried about the strange noises I was making in my sleep. She won't say what she thought was happening (superstition) but I think she was worried that I was having a heart attack or some other medical emergency. Strangely, she never thought to wake me or to seek help. 

I told her the noises she heard were the sounds of PTSD. My mother and I never talk about my issues. I learned early on that she runs away from them (as she does from anything painful or scary), and since I found her denial painful in itself, I didn't talk about stuff, which suited her fine. So it was a bit strange to talk about my PTSD and night terrors, now, with my Mom. But we did, a bit. I feel really bad that she was worried and that I disturbed her sleep!

And now back to our show

So Connie and I both had crappy nights, for reasons known and unknown. I think she is getting anxious as the end of the trip nears.

The bright side of insomnia is that it was no problem getting out very early. By 6:30 a.m., we were in a cab bound for Gare St. Lazare; we had a coffee at the station, and took the 7:20 train for Vernon. I arranged our tickets in advance, but no one ever asked to see them!

In Vernon, only 40 minutes from Paris, we caught another cab to Giverny. We expected to stow our bags and settle in later, but some guests had cancelled their booking, so our room was ready despite the early hour. 

Les Jardins d'Helene is a beautiful B&B, a lovely mix of traditional and contemporary. In order to get a room with two beds, I booked a family suite both here in Giverny and tomorrow outside Rouen. Our suite door opens on a long hallway. At one end, there is a bedroom with a double bed (Connie's), and at the other, a room with two single beds for me. In the middle is the bath and toilette. It's so spacious, and the same price as our Paris room. 

Our host brought us coffee and we hung out in a funky sitting area while guests from the previous night had breakfast. (What we really need is breakfast-and-bed, rather than the usual order.) The sitting room has a vintage radio and record player, a collection of vintage cameras and light meters, and a collection of photography books, books about jazz, and jazz LPs. My room, meant for kids, has a huge selection of Asterix, Tintin, and Gaston graphic novels.

Connie and I set off down Rue Claude Monet, the main drag, such as it is, of Giverny. The road is narrow and rutted, and lined with stone walls and stone houses, many of which are B&Bs. Flowers are in bloom everywhere, often spilling over the stone walls. Rue Claude Monet is flat, but both above and below it are steep hills.

We bought tickets for the Monet house and gardens, then, still without breakfast, waited for a cafe to open. When it did, they weren't serving breakfast, which seems strange at 10 a.m. They were willing to serve us anything cold on the menu, so we had salads with egg and cheese in them. It was our first mediocre and overpriced meal of the trip. Which is pretty good, considering how much we've been eating!

After our funky breakfast, we went back to the Monet house. We are super lucky to be here on a Monday. Until this year, the house and gardens were closed Mondays, and the tour groups have not made the adjustment - that is, Monday is the only day without enormous crowds of day-trippers from Paris. I have heard that the crowds can be so thick that you can barely move! The moderate numbers of people there today were enough for me.

The gardens themselves are beautiful, but I guess I am just not that interested in gardens. I have heard such raves about this place; many people told me it is a must-see. Meh. Not that I'm sorry we came, but I was pretty underwhelmed. There are lots and lots and lots of flowers, in a huge array of colours and varieties, and the lily ponds where all those famous paintings were created. Monet's house is filled with his furniture and photographs, and his studio is filled with copies of his paintings.  I do enjoy taking close-up photos, so I took a lot of photos of flowers. The most important thing is that my mom loved it. This was her second or possibly third time here, and she very much wanted to visit again. So it's all good.

We had little sandwiches for lunch, and talked about why Connie had trouble sleeping. On the walk back to the B&B, we made a dinner reservation, which our host said was important. Then we got caught in a huge downpour. We had umbrellas this time but it hardly mattered. The rain and wind were torrential. I spotted some kind of shelter - like a bus shelter built by Theodoric of York - and we waited it out there. A few minutes later, the sun was shining. The whole trip, the weather has alternated between gorgeous and miserable.

Now we are relaxing in the B&B, writing and gabbing.

Photos of Giverny and Monet's gardens are here.

5.10.2014

paris day three encore, in which I admit ptsd is forever

So it turns out it's not just my snoring that's keeping Connie up at night. It's noises "that sound like you're upset," says my mother. Allan recently told me that I cry or startle or semi-scream in my sleep on a regular basis. The incidents I think of as rare are not, in fact, rare. What's rare is my memory of them.

I feel I must apologize for ever telling a fellow PTSD sufferer that it eventually goes away. I was 21 years old when I was raped. If it hasn't gone away by now, it obviously never will. Thank [something] I can sleep through whatever my subconscious is going through. I wish everyone could sleep through their own demons.

5.31.2013

patrick stewart on the link between combat stress and violence against women

More amazing stuff from Patrick Stewart. Here, he links PTSD among veterans to violence against women and children. To be anti-violence, we must also be anti-war. If you haven't seen it, please watch.


12.09.2012

in toronto: noah richler, u.s. war resisters, and the militarization of canadian culture

Something else I resumed after quitting my crappy day-job: attending events with friends, or, socializing through activism. Few things make me happier. I have four events to blog about.

* * * *

Last Friday night at Innis Hall, the War Resisters Support Campaign put on "Telling Our Story: A Fundraiser for U.S. War Resisters and Their Ongoing Struggle". The evening began with songs of hope and struggle sung by Common Thread Chorus. Common Thread's music is beautiful, but their orientation to the world is what's really impressive. They sing songs of peace, social justice, and struggle, and are committed to full accessibility - to breaking down barriers of participation. I recommend reading their inspiring history.

* * * *

Next, Canadian author Noah Richler spoke strongly and unequivocally against the dangers of the current political regime in Canada. That US war resisters must even make this fight to stay in Canada is, he said, nonsensical and shameful, as the war resisters are being used as pawns in a devious political game. He called out Harper, Kenney, Baird - and Rick Hillier, and Ezra Levant - and the rest of the gang for lacking the courage to engage with public opinion, as they "trample" the Canada "that I hope still exists".

Richler spoke for so many people, I think, when he said that Canadians don't know what to do to get their country back, don't know how to go about it. But, he stressed, we must make the effort. We must try any way we can think of, as that is the only way these terrible changes will be undone.

Richler recalled another War Resisters Support Campaign event that he attended, right there in the same Innis Hall. That event that was a watershed moment for the Campaign, the night (former) CBC radio host Andy Barrie moderated a panel of war resisters. After that night, Richler says, he called then-interim Liberal Party Leader Michael Ignatieff, who "hemmed and hawed" and muttered things about "contracts" and "our obligations to our allies".

Richler spoke about "standing up" to show we are smart, and powerful, that we oppose the militarization of Canadian culture are not "a bunch of hippy dippy flower power" people. We might agree that there are occasions when a war must be fought - the war against South African apartheid, for example. But wars should be fought with gravitas and great lament, not with glee and Don Cherry theatrics.

Richler wonders if the Canada he remembers and yearns for - the open society, the peaceful Canada - was the aberration, and perhaps this "warrior nation" is the real Canada. He had always believed that Canadians were aware of their "extraordinary good fortune," and that such good fortune came with the obligation to help the rest of the world. And to those ends, war was a last resort, and fought only to increase the common good.

His book, Richler said, is about the Canadian war in Afghanistan, and how we "talk ourselves into, around, and through it". He said it hasn't been the easiest book to speak about publicly, especially in a political climate that frames everything in stark binaries, the "you're either with us or with the child pornographers" mindset, especially as the war in Afghanistan has allowed all kinds of things to happen at home. And especially as the war becomes invisible. But he also drew the distinction between the courage to type some words on a page and speak about them and the courage to leave one's country and one's home, to say "no" to most powerful military in history, to stand for peace when it means risking prison.

Richler spoke about the cult of the hero, the mindless adulation of anyone in uniform, which he increasingly sees everywhere in Canada. He quoted the great poet and conscientious objector e e cummings. For the current Canadian government, Richler said, our "moral indignation is almost too easy to come by" - and it's useless, since they refuse to engage with us. Comparing some of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's stunts to a "tinpot dictator from Africa," Richler urged us all to "make these people look ridiculous and get them out as soon as possible".

Richler's new book is What We Talk About When We Talk About War. I plan on reading my signed copy very soon.

* * * *

After that, we watched a 14-minute preview of "Peace Has No Borders," Denis Mueller and Deb Ellis's upcoming film about US war resisters in Canada and our campaign to Let Them Stay. If this documentary is as good as Denis's other films - "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" and "The FBI's War on Black America" - it will be very exciting.

Dale Landry began the war resisters speaking portion of the evening by asking the audience to take out their wallet and look at their money: comparing the old $20 bill, which featured a beautiful First Nations sculpture, and the new $20 bill, with its Vimy Ridge memorial. Dale talked about how this encapsulates the change in Canadian culture, even since he's been in Canada, the new militarization of Canadian society.

Christian Kjar spoke about growing up revering the US military, feeling that wearing the uniform of the United States Marine Corps was something akin to being a superhero. But in basic training - when he was trained to scream Kill! Kill! Kill! as he attacked a figure with his bayonet, hearing Muslim people referred to in the most racist, derogatory terms possible - because they were the enemy, and had to be dehumanized so they could be killed - he knew something was wrong. He started reading the groundbreaking blog "Baghdad Burning", by the woman known as Riverbend, and finally, his girlfriend at the time bragged about killing some Iraqi civilians. He knew he had to leave.

Christian, who is now married to a Canadian woman (a friend of mine, and a librarian!), says he misses home every day. He misses his family, and he misses California weather, and most of all, he struggles with the stress of living a life in limbo.

Ashlea Brockway spoke briefly about the huge difference having a service dog has made for her husband, Jeremy Brockway, and their family.

Together, the three war resisters told the story of their commitment to peace, and the price they have paid.

* * * *

Over the next weeks and months, the War Resisters Support Campaign will initiate a broad outreach campaign to build on the mobilization in support of the Rivera family. And we will continue to build the campaign to repeal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's discriminatory Operational Bulletin 202.

To donate, go to the ChipIn page, or mail a cheque to:

War Resisters Support Campaign
427 Bloor Street West - Box 13
Toronto, ON M5S 1X7
Canada

11.19.2012

a good-news, bad-news update: buddha, the brockways, and iraq war resisters in canada

Last month, I took a little road trip with a few friends from the War Resisters Support Campaign, to welcome a new baby and meet a new dog. This nice little visit would be unremarkable - if it weren't completely incredible. We visited the Brockway family.

Not that long ago, no one from the Campaign had met Jeremy Brockway. An Iraq War veteran, Jeremy suffered from severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD. He was unable to leave his room. He rarely shared a meal with his family or spent any time with his children. (More background: here and here.)

After hearing Ashlea Brockway speak in a Port Colborne church, Bruce Beyer, a peace activist and Vietnam-era war resister, connected the Brockways with a therapist. This doctor is himself a veteran who once struggled with PTSD. At no cost, on his own time, the doctor worked with the Brockways via Skype. And so began the gradual return to life of this wounded veteran and his young family.

Ashlea read a story about service dogs for people with PTSD and did some research. The War Resisters Support Campaign helped with some seed money, and before long, our fundraising efforts began. Allan picked up the story on his blog, and Joy of Sox readers gave generously. Now Buddha is a certified service dog and a member of the Brockway family. Jeremy and Buddha go everywhere together. And Jeremy and Ashlea and their children are a family again.

And so, on that sunny day in October, my friends and I met three Brockways for the first time - baby Alden, canine Buddha, and loving dad and husband, Jeremy. Alden is beautiful, Buddha is adorable, Ashlea is amazing, and the family is altogether wonderful.

I thought a camera would be intrusive, so this is a photo Ashlea sent.


That's the good news.

The bad news is the Brockways don't know what will happen to the life that they've struggled to build. That's the big question that hangs over this family - and all US war resisters in Canada. What will happen to them?

Ashlea and Jeremy Brockway have three children, and Jeremy is in treatment for a serious condition. But will that be enough for the Harper Government to show compassion, to respect Canadian tradition, and let them stay?

Recent history offers an answer: war resister Kimberly Rivera is being held at Fort Carson, Colorado, awaiting court martial, while her husband and their four children are in Texas. The Riveras were forced to leave Canada by a heartless government that has abandoned Canada's tradition of giving refuge to people fleeing unjust wars.

But the Brockways' struggle continues. Their case is still pending. Many other US war resisters also wait for an answer to this question.

None of us know what will happen to U.S. war resisters in Canada. But I know one thing: the fight is not over.

8.11.2012

update: buddha is certified, fundraising is nearing goal

I have great news. Buddha, the dog adopted by Jeremy and Ashlea Brockway, is now an officially certified PTSD Service Dog! And we have raised slightly more than $6,000 towards our goal of $8,000. Thank you to everyone who made this possible!

Jeremy writes this about the certification and adoption.
Buddha is now a certified service dog! I will share with you some stories from Buddha's certification.

The certification test is comprised of several small tests. The first part of the test was how well I could load Buddha into and out of our car. We passed that easily, since we have practiced that one quite a few times - basically every time we go somewhere.

Next we went to a store to do some distraction tests. Buddha and I walked around and Beth, the trainer, walked some distance behind us to observe our behavior and give the tests.

We did a sudden turn, a complete 360, various sit, heel, and down commands, and walked past several people. Buddha was perfect on those.

Next, Beth introduced some distractions by rolling a ball past Buddha as we were walking, and rolling a ball directly into his paws when he was sitting. He ignored it both times, remaining calm and alert to my commands, and staying pressed against my leg at all times.

The last test at the store was two parts. First, I gave Buddha the command "stay" and walked out of his line of sight. He stayed until I gave him the command "come."

For the second part, he had to do the same thing but with a stranger holding his leash. Beth asked a kindly store clerk to help with this part. Buddha was a bit shy of the store clerk, but he sat obediently and passed.

For the last part, we went to a Tim Horton's so Beth could observe us with all the distractions of a restaurant. Buddha ignored all the noises and smells, and obediently sat under my chair exactly like he is supposed to. Beth then put a piece of cheese right next to Buddha, which he ignored. As we were getting up to leave, Beth put the cheese right in Buddha's path, and he continued to ignore it and stepped over it.

Then we were done, and fully certified! Beth gave me Buddha's service dog badge, which is like his ID card and goes on his vest, and his license is in the mail. We can go anywhere now. It is such a good feeling.

Buddha is so much more than a dog. He is a life-saver. Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. The kindness and show of support has been nothing less than amazing.

I had no idea that anybody cared, let alone all of you. It gets me all choked up. I cannot thank you enough for this. I had almost given up, but you have changed me and made it possible for me to begin to reclaim the life that was stolen from me. I am eternally grateful for all you have done. Thank you.

Now we need to raise another $2,000 to secure Buddha's home with the Brockways and help them meet expenses associated with adopting a dog. Can you help push us over the top? Please share this link with your local peace organization, your faith community, your union, your friends, your family, your Facebook contacts.

To donate online, go here and click on the orange "ChipIn" button on the right side. (Donations go to my PayPal account and are converted to US funds for processing.)

To donate by cheque or money order, please make payment to "War Resisters Support Campaign" and write "Service Dog" on the memo line. Send your donation to:
War Resisters Support Campaign
427 Bloor Street West, Box 13
Toronto, ON M5S 1X7
Canada

Please watch this video of Jeremy, his children, and Buddha frolicking in their backyard. Only a short time ago, this simple happiness was beyond Jeremy's reach. The transformation for the Brockway family has been truly remarkable.


7.22.2012

what a dog can do: ptsd service dog fundraising update

Buddha, the service-dog-in-training, is now living permanently with the Brockways. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this possible.

We've now raised $4,150 towards our $8,000 goal. We are brainstorming ideas on how we can expand our fundraising base. If you have any ideas, please email me. And if you want to donate, please click here.

* * * *

Before Jeremy Brockway started working with Buddha, he rarely left his room. Interaction with his family was limited and very difficult. The transformation is astonishing. Here are some updates.

Ashlea, June 11:
Buddha is now living with us! Jeremy wakes up early every morning to walk him, and they spend a lot of time playing and working together in the backyard. This means Jeremy spends a lot more time with the family, which is so wonderful! The boys love Buddha.

Buddha himself is still adjusting to living with us. He was very anxious and fearful at first, and we were concerned. But he is coming around. I am hopeful that we will soon see the impact Buddha will have on our lives.
Jeremy, June 22:
Today, the dog trainer, Beth, came to begin my training with Buddha. It went great, better than I expected. I had been a little worried about Buddha making the adjustment to living with us, and she put all my fears to rest. She said that Buddha just needed a little help in understanding that he needs to apply his training here, as well.

The three of us walked all the way around the block, which I had never done before. Buddha was there for me, pressing on my leg to keep me grounded, the whole way.

Beth said that Buddha and I work very well together, and I am very excited to continue and finish training so he can be certified.

I am so grateful to everyone that made this possible, the overwhelming show of support brings tears to this grizzled leatherneck's eyes. Thank you so much.
Ashlea, July 9:
When Beth, the trainer, came last week, she, Jeremy, and Buddha went to Canadian Tire together. It was the first time they went out to a store. It went well. Jeremy's assignment over the next two weeks is to take Buddha out to a couple more public places.

The past few days have been rough for both Jeremy and Buddha. With it being Canada Day and the 4th of July there have been fireworks, which upset both of them. Buddha is skittish around loud noises and for Jeremy it brings back bad memories of Iraq. But they made it through together. They started going on their walk around the block earlier, when it was more likely to be quiet.

When Jeremy and Buddha arrive home from a walk, Jeremy brings him to the front step and pets him while repeating the command "HOME" three or four times. This is to train Buddha to know where home is so that if Jeremy ever becomes disoriented when they are out, Buddha can lead him back.

We celebrated William's 4th birthday on the July 3. It was the first time that William had a friend over and Jeremy was able to participate in some outside time, our meal, and presents. In the past it was hard for Jeremy to share a meal with us and he did so only occasionally, and in the past, he often wouldn't come out of his room when other people are over. Now thanks to Buddha, Jeremy has been able to eat dinner with us on a regular basis, and he was able to enjoy William's birthday with him. This year we didn't have to have a separate family time and a separate friend time, which really shows us how far we've come.

My hope is building that Jeremy's life will have a greater degree of 'normalcy' than I've previously let myself dream of. Buddha is a great blessing to our whole family!
Ashlea, July 18:
The other day Jeremy told me that Buddha woke him up. He was licking him in the face. He had never done that before. Jeremy knew that Buddha woke him up from a night terror.

They are growing closer as time goes on. It's hard to imagine their bond being stronger than it has been from the start, but Jeremy dotes on Buddha like a proud parent. Jeremy is especially proud of how well Buddha does out in public while wearing his vest. We have taken him out a couple more times to Canadian Tire, one of Jeremy's favorite stores. We also took him to a playground with the kids a few nights ago and to the library today. It's really great to be able to get out as a family.

It's even greater that Buddha's dream training kicked in without any practice whatsoever with Jeremy. Jeremy has never pretended to have a nightmare to show Buddha what its like, but Buddha recognized the behavior and woke Jeremy up. The great thing is that Jeremy can't remember the night terror either, just being licked by Buddha.
Click here to donate.

6.26.2012

fundraising continues for ptsd service dog for war resister



Help a war resister adopt a service dog!

So far we have raised $3,030 of the $8,000 needed. (The ChipIn page shows the amount donated online, but does not include cheques mailed in.) Every donation brings us closer to our goal. If you can spare only $10, it will be greatly appreciated.

For more information, see this wmtc post, and read a message from Jeremy Brockway on the ChipIn page.

6.15.2012

the limits of empathy: eyes wide open, but not all the time

In light of the horror show taking place in Ottawa, this would be the perfect time to post notes from "Can We Stop the Harper Agenda," the big panel discussion at Marxism 2012. However, I'm waiting to get an audio file of the talk, which will greatly improve the post.

While I wait for that, I'll try my hand at two other pieces I've been thinking about for a long time.

* * * *

I recently wrote about two books - What Is the What and A Long Way Gone - that I recommended with warnings. Both are excellent and well worth reading, and both deal with highly disturbing subjects, including graphic depictions of atrocities and other violence. This led me to think about the choice to read or watch that kind of disturbing, difficult material - and the choice not to.

In the past, I've had no patience for people who refuse to deal with anything that might be upsetting or disturbing, people who seem to live in ignorance and denial, who steadfastly avoid anything that might pierce their bubble. I've been very critical and unsympathetic to this mindset. I realize this is not very generous or understanding of me, but my own empathy doesn't seem to extend that far.

Here are two stories that may help explain further.

My friend Randy, and 9/11

In the late 1990s, a friend of mine was dying of AIDS. We had lost touch over the years, but when we reconnected, I learned he was HIV-positive. Soon after that, his status became full-blown AIDS. We stayed in close touch, often writing letters, even though we were in the same city, and I visited him when I could.

I volunteered to be one of his "care partners" for chemo treatments, so often our visits were tied to his health needs. Eventually Randy had to make some terrible decisions about how far to go with treatment - weighing some horrific side effects against small extensions of his time on earth.

At the end, I continued to visit him, each time knowing it could be the last time I saw him. If you've ever known anyone at the end-stage of a fatal disease, you know it's not an easy thing to witness. But it seemed pretty clear to me that Randy needed company. I figured if he could suffer through all that, the least I could do was sit at his bedside.

Randy and I had a mutual friend named J. J and Randy were very close. Towards the end of Randy's life, J stopped visiting Randy because, he said, it was "too horrible". J would shudder and say, "I can't take it. It's just so disgusting."

In the last week of Randy's life, J told Randy he was out of town and couldn't visit. They spoke on the phone a few times. Everyone knew J was not out of town, and I'm sure Randy knew, too.

I lost a lot of respect for him during those weeks. His choice disgusted me. And when J spoke so eloquently at Randy's memorial service, I silently deplored him.

I was angry, and I shared that with another friend. She said, "Everyone is different, has different capabilities, different strengths. J simply wasn't able to be there."

It was difficult - no, it was impossible - for me to see J's choice through such a generous lens. Wasn't able to? I thought. Why? What did he think would happen to him? He would feel upset, and he'd get over it. Randy didn't have that option.

I had a similar reaction, although less intense, in New York City after September 11, 2001, when many people I knew refused to visit the site of the attacks. I couldn't understand how you could be so physically close to the event, how you could know so many people who were directly impacted, how you could know that workers were still toiling in the rubble, and not go pay your respects in person. They said, "It would upset me too much".

I've been told this is harshly judgmental of me, and part of me agrees. But the rest of me continues that ungenerous view.

"It would upset me" meets my own limitations

I've heard very uninformed and ignorant people say they never read newspapers or watch TV news because "it's so depressing". And I'm sure we've all known people who will not read a book or see a movie that deals with any disturbing or upsetting subject matter. As I've said, I don't look on this very kindly.

At the same time, I have limits. I absolutely do seek out books and movies that help me learn about the world, help me face the human condition with wide-open eyes, help me learn about experiences that I will never have. But... I've also come up against my own limits.

I've learned that I have extremely low tolerance to stories involving cruelty to animals. A segment of a Cormac McCarthy novel that I read more than 10 years ago still haunts me. All these years later, it hurts to think about it. I once saw a puppy get run over by a car - the speeding driver never even slowed down. The puppy didn't die immediately, and I swear to you I can hear still hear its high-pitched screams, can still see its agony in my mind's eye as if it were yesterday.

And so, I avoid books and movies that will trigger this reaction. There's a famous documentary called "Earthlings" about how animals are used by humans. It's supposed to be great, but I've refused to see it, and probably never will.

Similarly, I've been hearing about a movie called "The Invisible War," about rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military. It's supposed to be an excellent film, and grueling. I already know I won't see it. Being a rape survivor myself, I fear it will be seriously triggering for me.

In both instances, I truly feel like "I can't". So is that any different than when J said he "couldn't" visit Randy?

If I've recognized this reaction in myself and imposed certain limits, why can't I feel more generous towards other people's self-imposed limitations?

Is it, perhaps, a matter of degree? Is there a difference between people who understand and engage in the world as it is, but also choose to protect themselves from certain stressors, and people who routinely hide from reality?

Or is that just my own rationalization?

5.23.2012

a very important act you can take to "support the troops" and help a family in need

Click here to help the Brockway family adopt Buddha! Every donation makes a difference. Every dollar will move them closer to their goal.

* * * *

A US veteran commits suicide once every 80 minutes.

In the US, for every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans will die by their own hands. Nicholas Kristof writes:
An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year - more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.
Military suicides are on the rise in Canada, too. The Harper Government, so keen to send Canadians to war, is less enthusiastic about caring for them once they're home.

The Department of National Defence is cutting jobs of professionals involved in suicide prevention and monitoring PTSD.

After exposure to war, PTSD is all but inevitable. Indeed, it should hardly be called a disorder, as it's the natural response to such destruction, chaos, and carnage. (See Dr. J's excellent post about the medicalization of trauma.)

PTSD is inevitable, but suicide is not. PTSD is treatable and for most people, does diminish over time. But PTSD left untreated... that is a different story.

The Brockways, June 2010

I've blogged about the Brockway family several times, but I have not updated their story on wmtc in a very long time. Jeremy Brockway was a US Marine. He volunteered proudly for service in 2005 and served honourably in 2006 and 2007.

Jeremy was forced to participate in some terrible things in Iraq, and he witnessed many more brutal war crimes and horrors. When his anxiety and depression started to surface, he was told it would pass. As his condition worsened, he was given drugs that put him in a zombie-like state.

Jeremy requested a medical leave. It was denied. His application for Conscientious Objector status was shredded in front of him. He was ridiculed and persecuted by the military. Then he was ordered to redeploy. Returning to Iraq, or serving prison time for refusing, surely would have killed him. Instead, he and his young wife Ashlea came to Canada. They now have two children, both born in this country, and are expecting a third child this summer.

Jeremy was a Marine. The Marines' motto is semper fidelis, Latin for Always Faithful. Jeremy took this very seriously. He had great loyalty and great faith in the Marines. But he learned that loyalty was a one-way street.

Jeremy returned from Iraq a changed man, suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Help through any official channel was closed to him, because he deserted. As Ashlea said in a speaking engagement, "Jeremy has already sacrificed for his country," she said. "He has already served loyally. He can't ever take that back. And now that that sacrifice has been made, the Marines have turned their backs on Jeremy."

This is so often forgotten about war resisters. Many of the resisters are veterans, men and women who followed orders and served honourably. But because the military denies them the right to follow their conscience, their status as veterans is denied, too.

You can read more about Jeremy's story here.

The Brockways today

Right now Ashlea is trying to adopt a service dog for Jeremy. She is working with the Thames Service Dog Centre, a nonprofit organization that rescues dogs from pounds and shelters and trains them for service work. A donation from the War Resisters Support Campaign covered the deposit for the dog. Now the Brockways are trying to raise the remainder of the money.

You might also want to read this excellent feature about a veteran with PTSD and how a service dog is changing her life: "Loyal Companion Helps a Veteran Regain Her Life After War Trauma"


Click here to help the Brockway family adopt Buddha! Every donation makes a difference. Every dollar will move them closer to their goal.

I interviewed Ashlea Brockway about why she wants to adopt the dog, what she hopes to achieve, and how far they've come.

LK: What made you start thinking about getting a service dog for Jeremy?

AB: I knew that there are therapeutic benefits to having a dog or cat. Having the companionship, someone to pet. I wasn't thinking of a service dog in the beginning. I didn't know they had them specifically for PTSD.

LK: You were thinking of getting a dog for the family?

AB: For Jeremy, to help him relax more and have that companionship. I started looking online, and ended up searching "PTSD animals". Senator Al Franken from Minnesota [Ashlea's home state] pushed to get a bill passed to make it easier for veterans to have service dogs. So I knew that there was some kind of connection between veterans and animals, but I didn't know what. I found out that there are specially trained dogs to help with symptoms of PTSD, and they can be trained to do all kinds of different things.

LK: What did you do from there?

AB: I contacted a couple of places that had service dogs, just to get some information. Some charged around $40,000 for a trained service dog. I wasn't sure how to go about getting one, or if there was funding, or anything like that. I contacted two or three different places. The next day, Thames Centre called me back. I never heard back from anyone else.

Thames understands a lot more about PTSD than I've encountered in a lot of people, even home health aides. Home health nurses have said, "Oh, you just need to get out more," when actually going out in public is almost like re-traumatizing him. But Elizabeth Baker from Thames really understands PTSD. She will travel to the servicemember, even if it means she has to get on a plane. Many of the other places said you had to come to their facility for a month or a couple of months. That's difficult for someone with PTSD - to travel, and to be an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. She came here, to our apartment, and brought the dog that she thought would be a good fit for Jeremy.

LK: And that's Buddha, right?

AB: Yes.

LK: Was Buddha a puppy at the time?

AB: He's a young dog, about a year old.

LK: When she came over with the dog, was that part of the training process, training for the dog and also for Jeremy and the family?

AB: At that first meeting, she wanted to see if Jeremy and Buddha would be a good match.

Buddha is a black dog. She had previously brought him to another family, for an autistic child, and the mom was nervous about having a dark dog because it didn't look as friendly. So Elizabeth wanted to make sure I felt comfortable with the dog, and that I wasn't worried about the kids or anything.

Elizabeth has done research with different colours of dogs, and how people perceive them, how approachable people think they are. The lighter the colour of dog, the more approachable people think they are. If a dog is out in public with its person, more people will be interested in and want to pet a lighter dog. Because Buddha is dark-coloured, people will be less likely to approach - which is good for Jeremy. And it's better for Buddha, too, because he can focus on his work with fewer distractions.

LK: What was it like when she brought the dog over for the first time?

AB: She answered a lot of questions and she wanted the whole family involved. Other people had told me that a service dog can't be a family dog -other people in the family aren't supposed to interact with the dog. I was nervous about that, because how do you keep two little kids away from a dog? But when Buddha is at home, he's just like a regular part of the family. Everybody can interact with him, everybody can pet him. At that first meeting, the kids pet him, gave him treats. It was really nice for them.

LK: Were the kids excited about the dog? Did they like him?

AB: William had a bad experience with a dog once, at our apartment building, when he was pretty young. The elevator doors opened and a dog jumped on him and knocked him over. So he's been more reserved towards animals, whereas Wesley completely loves them.

So Wesley [now age 2½] went right up to Buddha and was very happy. But as Beth and Buddha stayed there, William [now age 4] started to get used to it, started to enjoy his company. And finally he was able to give Buddha a treat. Ever since we had that meeting, I've noticed William has been more at ease with animals and other dogs. It's made a big difference.

LK: Tell me about what Buddha will do for Jeremy - what kinds of jobs he will have, how you anticipate Buddha will help Jeremy.

AB: One of the major issues with PTSD is that people have a hard time being grounded - knowing that they are here, in the present, that they're safe, without their mind taking them back to the traumatizing experience. This dog will be trained in something called "deep pressure therapy". He'll push up against Jeremy's legs, pretty much all the time. When they're walking outside in public, or when they're home together, he will be pushing on Jeremy, and that physical feeling will help Jeremy focus and be present, help ground him.

Also, Buddha will sleep in the same room as Jeremy. If Jeremy starts to have a night terror, Buddha will help to wake Jeremy, and then he'll crawl up onto Jeremy and provide the deep pressure therapy - and be there for support, so Jeremy can pet Buddha to help himself calm down.

Out in public, Jeremy can feel overwhelmed. And if you're overwhelmed and in a crowd, everything can go blurry, and you can start to have a panic attack. Buddha will be trained with a one-word command, to find a route out of the crowd, and lead Jeremy to a place that's quiet, so Jeremy can get refocused and calm down.

Service dogs do other things for people with PTSD may not apply to Jeremy. Some people are really hypervigilant. They want to check the perimeter of their house all the time. The dog can be trained to do that, or to clear a room for people who are afraid that people are hiding. I don't think Buddha will be trained to do that, because I don't think those are Jeremy's issues. But it is a possibility if Jeremy feels that is something he needs.

Buddha is a fully trained service dog. He'll have a certificate, and he'll wear the vest. It's like a guide dog - he can go anywhere in public, restaurants, all of that. A therapy dog stays at home and works only in the therapy settings. But Buddha will go everywhere with Jeremy. We're actually not allowed to leave him at home. He'll be with Jeremy constantly.

LK: It sounds like you and Jeremy have a lot invested in getting a service dog.

AB: Yes, we do. In the past, doctors told him PTSD is a chronic condition and he will never get better. It always made me so angry to hear that. How can you possibly say that to someone? That just sucks all the hope out of your life.

LK: But even chronic conditions can get better and become livable.

AB: And it was especially painful at the time they were saying this. We're a lot better now than we were a year ago. But when we were hearing this from a doctor, it was in the darkest of times. He had made no progress. And then you hear that it's going to be permanent! It was devastating.

LK: You said things have gotten better over the past year. Is there anything in particular you attribute that to?

AB: After I did my speaking engagements, Bruce Beyer from Buffalo arranged for us to meet Dr. William Cross, a psychiatrist and a therapist. Dr. Cross was a Vietnam War veteran, and came back with PTSD, and he overcame it, and when on to become a psychiatrist. He does family and relationship counseling.

Bruce brought Dr. Cross to Ontario to meet us. And since then, we've been doing counseling sessions by Skype for almost a year and a half now. We speak with him every week. We've done one-on-one counseling with him, and also couples counseling, because there's a lot of communication difficulties. He talks to each of us every-other week, we switch off. Dr. Cross has done all this for free. He doesn't charge us at all. This has made the hugest difference in our lives. Before, we were in this black hole, feeling that we might never get out. It was very dark. Now we feel like we've overcome the worst of it. There were times when we didn't know if we'd make it. Now we know we've already made it, and it will keep getting better. It's still hard, there are issues, but we no longer question whether we will even make it.

Dr. Cross has done all this for free. He doesn't charge us at all.

LK: How do you feel about adopting Buddha?

AB: I am very hopeful. Through this whole ordeal, whenever we talked about it, Jeremy has often said, "It's going to take a miracle to make me better. Only a miracle will get me out of this." After the first time we met Buddha, Jeremy told me that maybe this dog is his miracle. That really had an impact on me. It made me think this is what Jeremy needs and will respond to.

* * * *

Jeremy has been given an incentive and a challenge. If he can walk, alone, from their apartment to the end of the street, every day, Buddha will come to live with the Brockways at the end of May. Then Jeremy and Buddha will begin advanced training together.

If you are able, please help us give Buddha a permanent home with the Brockways, and give Jeremy Brockway the opportunity to heal.

Click here to help the Brockway family adopt Buddha! Every donation makes a difference. Every dollar will move them closer to their goal.

7.04.2011

this week on tvo: "war of the mind", canadian documentary on ptsd

This Wednesday, July 6 TVO, Ontario's public television station, will broadcast "War in the Mind," a Canadian documentary about post-traumatic stress, depression and the rising suicide rate among soldiers and veterans. "War in the Mind," by British Columbia filmmaker Judy Jackson, features Romeo Dallaire speaking about his own battle with PTSD, and is narrated by Paul Gross.

"War in the Mind" will premiere on TVO's "The View from Here," on Wednesday, July 6, at 9:00, with repeat broadcasts July 8 (midnight), July 10 (11:00 p.m., 2:00 a.m.), August 28 (8:00 p.m.) and August 31 (1:00 a.m.).

From the media release:
All the soldiers who bravely speak out in this film are doing so because they want us to understand what they endure. They also want to reach out to others who are suffering in silence, and may feel the only way of ending their pain is ending their lives. Senator and Lt. General (Retired) Roméo Dallaire also plays a major role in this film. For many years he has heroically spoken out in public to declare that he suffered intensely from PTSD and had attempted suicide. And today he continues to campaign on behalf of all soldiers who suffer. [Ed. note: One way Senator Dallaire can help suffering soldiers is to support US war resisters in Canada, something that, thus far, he has not done.]

War in the Mind also investigates the issue of soldier suicide. Statistics from past and present wars tell the sad story of the magnitude of this problem. Families who have felt invisible, their sons’ stories unacknowledged, tell of the impact of their loss.

Yet this film also discovers that with effective treatment suicide can be prevented. Our cameras gained unique access to a UBC/Canadian Legion program which helps soldiers undo the wiring that military training has implanted in their brains, confront their pain, and learn to live again. At the beginning of this therapeutic program one of the soldiers states:

“I have thought of committing suicide multiple times. I’ve almost done it. You feel alone, and, once the alcohol stops working for you, you are at the end of your rope.”

After the last therapy session this same soldier was full of hope: “I’ve seen changes in myself. Before I didn’t know if I had a future, but now the world’s my oyster. So it’s a huge impact.”