5 Things You Can Do To End Stigma

Talking about the day my husband was less than 20 meters away from an explosion that killed two soldiers and the series of events that followed that day are still difficult for me.  I thought I was passed it, I thought I had let go of the anger, the disappointment, and the hurt. But I realize now that it still lingers.

The event itself is not what still upsets me; it was an act of war and they were in a war zone.  But its the events that followed and the way we were treated by those that had promised to help us. The very people that were supposed to support us should something exactly like this happens.
But instead, hurtful, ignorant and disrespectful things that were said to us and about us and are still almost unbelievable to me, even though I lived them.  I get rilled up just thinking about all the moments where we were treated like we were making things up or we were somehow at fault for not being more resilient and ‘getting over it’.
So what can be learned from this?
5 things everyone can do to end the stigma around mental health issues: 
1- LISTEN to what people want to share with you
2- BELIEVE them (no matter how hard it may be for you to believe, trust me, unbelievable things do happen)
3- THANK them for sharing and trusting you
4- ASK how can you support them if you feel capable
5- FOLLOW UP, let them know they are not forgotten; their story matters
We can’t prevent traumatic events from occurring, but we can prevent the trauma caused by stigma, ignorance and fear that often follows the incident.
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Did Someone Say Interview?

How do you get ready to be interviewed for a documentary?

Clean the house, vacuum the dog, hide stuff in closets,  buy fresh flowers,  oh, and put some makeup on so you don’t look like a ghost on tv.
Well, that’s my to do list anyway.
Funny things is I totally forgot to have a conversation with my husband about what is to be shared and what is off limits.
And what is the message we really want to share?
Do we went people to know the details of the crap we’ve been through or do we want them to know that despite all that crap, we now have a life we both enjoy, amazing kids and a future that actually is one we look forward to? I doubt we can get both messages out in a brief interview. Actually, I don’t even know how long this is going to be. I basically left it to my husband to coordinate so the details are a bit fuzzy.
We know its about veterans and their families and is likely to air around Remembrance Day, and the crew is arriving at our house in about 2 hours.  Ready or not!
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Open Letter to the Canadian Government

*I am hoping that by making people aware of this tragedy, action can be taken to prevent it from happening again.  Please feel free to share.  It has been my experience that for government to take action, they must be made aware of the importance of the issue.

 
Subject:  www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/murder-suicide-upper-tracadie-ptsd-medical-examiner-1.4145980  
(Cc’d. Micheal MacDonald, Canadian Press) 
 
Open Letter to the Government of Canada 
 
7 June 2017
 
To the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, The Honourable Harriit Singh Sajjan and The Honourable Kent Hehr, 
 
I am writing to you today to raise an issue very close to my heart; the care of our injured soldiers, veterans and their families. 
 
I recently read that the government is choosing not to investigate into the triple murder and suicide of a Canada Veteran suffering from PTSD.  I’m hoping that this is somehow a mistake as a government that says it cares about the wellbeing of all soldiers, veterans and their families, would surely want to know how this could have happened. How could Cpl Lionel Desmond receive treatment, be released from the military and yet be in such a mental state that he would murder his own mother, his wife and their beautiful ten year old daughter.  Regardless of the status of their relationship or their personal issues, he must have believed that they only solution at that moment was to murder them and then himself.  
 
With the amount of money and resources that is spent on the very programs and services that are supposed help support injured vets and their families should we simply accept these kinds of tragedies as unavoidable consequences of war? That there will always be a few Veterans that are beyond help?  Are their lives so dispensable that it is not worth our time or energy to find out it anything could have been done differently to prevent this tragedy. And are the lives of current veterans and their families, not valuable enough that the government would want to learn from this incident and possibly make changes to prevent others in the future?  
 
When I have listened to each of you speak on this topic,  it is certainly not the message I heard.  I heard you say you care, that you want every soldier to get the help they need, that military families are an integral part of the overall functioning of a effective military and that you are all working diligently to improve the systems currently in place. So I am confused by this inaction.  
 
As a wife of a Veteran with PTSD, a friend to many spouses of Veterans with PTSD and other OSIs, and as a previous counsellor who has supported families and vets,  I can tell you this is the message we get when we discover that there is no further investigation into this tragic, unthinkable act of violence. 
 
I implore you to reconsider this decision.   Please show us that this is not acceptable, that the lives of the Desmond family mattered and although we can’t undo what has happened, we can take steps to learn from it and hopefully prevent any other soldier who may be suffering like Cpl Desmond was, to not fall through the cracks of the system.
 
Sincerely, 
 
Robin Whitford
Spouse of RET Sgt. DJ Matthews SC CD
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My Marriage and PTSD: A Precarious Balance

Today is my 18th wedding anniversary and today I picked a fight with my husband.  I was frustrated and tired and I didn’t have the words or energy to get them out in a non-hurtful way so they came out angry.

Let me explain.
My husband is in severe physical pain and has been for about 2 months.  He has bursitis in his hip and has been managing his days with pain killers and physio.  I have to think it is getting better, but improvements are minuscule.  I work from home and so does he, but with his pain he hasn’t been able to work for more than very short periods at a time, so he watches tv…for hours, laying flat on his back.
So last night, to celebrate our anniversary we went out for diner at a really funky restaurant (aka expensive) that we would never normally go to except on a special occasion. We had an amazing meal but we had to leave as soon as we ate as he was in too much pain to sit any longer.  He also found it hard to walk after leaving the restaurant and he just wanted to lay on the couch, so we went straight home even though we had planned on walking around downtown (we live in the suburbs, so downtown is a fun place to visit).
I know his pain is real and it must be bad as I know he would push through it if he could.
But I’m tired. I’m tired of managing my business, the household, the kids, and the stuff all parents manage.  But for anyone living with someone with a chronic condition, there is a certain amount of energy spent on managing that condition. Since PTSD entered our lives many years ago,  there is energy spent on managing it, somedays more than other, but its always there.  Basically this means that the mental state of everyone in the house is always on my peripheral vision. Anything that may threaten the delicate balance of our mental health is always taken seriously and a physical stressor can be just as problematic as emotional stressors.
Ever since my own burnout a few years ago that took me months to recover from (picture me on the couch for hours a day), I often feel like I’m precariously balanced between feeling like a strong and capable person to feeling like an exhausted and overwhelmed ball of mush.  It only takes a light breeze in any direction to make me feel like I may lose my footing.  So you can imagine that this latest stressor has been challenging and instead of the ball of mush, I went for angry.  Im not proud of it, but its the truth.
Im sharing this as I feel that some people look at us and think we have our shit together.  But we don’t.
Like we’ve made it this far and through so much that we must know we can survive anything.  But nothing is guaranteed.
We may have been married for 18 years, but for anyone out there who thinks we have been lucky, or that it has been easy, please think again.  Relationships are by their nature anything but easy.  They challenge us to step outside our comfort zone. To push beyond our fear and expose our weaknesses to someone who at any moment can be taken from us, or get injured or sick, or any other number of things can happen that threatens the survival of the relationship.  And if the relationship survives, the circumstances around it are constantly changing and therefore it also needs to morph into something completely new, over and over again.
We have received all kinds of wonderful congratulatory words on our special day and they are appreciated. But they are not the whole picture.
So today, if you are feeling like you dont have your shit together, please know you are in good company.
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My Partner is a Suicidal Drug Addict*

*This is a guest post

I’m honoured to share this article that was written by Chelsea Hillier, a beautiful, generous and intelligent woman I’ve known for a few years, but have to admit I did not know most of this. This is exactly why I wanted to start this blog.  Mental health issues have no limits to the complexity of their symptoms and the chaos they can cause, whether society wants to acknowledge them or not.   

My children’s father is a depressed, suicidal drug addict. I live with this fact every day of my life. So I want to tell everyone a few things about what this is like if you feel like listening.

1. Truth is a lie.

When you live with an addict you will be constantly questioning your own sanity.  Is this person using? Is this person struggling? What can I do? What shouldn’t I do? What is enabling? What is supporting? Where is the line?

These are the thoughts that flow through my brain every second of every day.  There is no rest from these thoughts. While I work, while I clean, while I watch tv, while I chat with friends, while I sit in comfort beside my self-medicating partner – these are the things I think about.  There is never a moment to rest. There is only wondering – and then people telling you to learn to let go of the things you can’t control.

2. Which leads me to this…

“God grant me the serenity to let go of the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Alcoholics Anonymous made this cliche.  The idea of control – the idea that control is a black and white choice. There is only control or uncontrol. Well, being married to an addict I am here to tell you there is a space in between.  Do I leave? If I leave I have zero help. No help to put the kids to bed. No help to fold the laundry. No help to clean the house. No help to take the kids to the park or the store or the grandparents. No help to be a human.  Without a fellow parent I am a robot. I wake up, I get the kids ready, I go to work, I pick the kids up, I come home, I cook dinner, I put the kids to bed (or not), I fall asleep, I wake up, I get the kids ready…ok, you get the picture.

Do I stay?  I wake up, I get the kids ready (maybe with help), I drop the kids off, I go to work, I pick the kids up, I come home, I cook dinner (maybe with help), I put the kids to bed (maybe with help), I fall asleep, I wake up. Okay, you get the picture.  There is no certainty in this second scenario.  But there is in the first.  Help only exists if there is a person who is there with you.  It isn’t certain, but it is more certain than them not being there.

3. Friendship is everything – until they get tired of you

I have always prided myself on my long lasting friendships – and on my ability to make new friends.

My best friends have been my friends since I was 3, 4, 8 and 10.  These are women that have been with me through everything.  We lived a quaint rural, small town life.  We smoked and drank and cycled and four wheeled.  We had pool parties and sleep overs and skipped class and excelled in school and we dreamed of life together.  And after all of the relationships and different directions and new friends – we remained.  And now, after addiction, incarceration, mental illness, and multiple suicide attempts – these friends are gone.  They no longer want to hear about my life because I can CHANGE it!!  I can leave.  And when I leave they can be my friend again.  They can once again support me, my kids, and my life.

4. No one is perfect.

While my friends tell me they are tired I reflect on my relationships with them.  They have all called me in distress because their partner cheated, lied, verbally/mentally abused them.  They  have cried on my shoulder when their husbands have let them down.  And I have sat with them.  I have listened.  I have loved them, their kids, and their deeply flawed husbands.  Because that is what friends do. They love and support and sit with while their friends struggle and fight to get through lifes fucking curve balls.

5. The system is broken.

Tonight I was told to leave the hospital grounds. My partner was released from jail/secure treatment one year and 3 days ago.  Since then he has sat on psychiatric wait lists, had programs cancelled after intake, signed releases to mandate his counsellors to report any drug use to his PO, and has just generally been left behind. So tonight, when my partner had tried to kill himself for the third time in a year and a half – and the second time in three weeks – and I was asked to leave the hospital – I raised my voice at a nurse.  I asked her when something was going to change.  With tears in my eyes I asked who was going to help? She looked at me empty and shook her head. This is where we are.

And still my family and friends attempt to rationalize and tell me that all he needs to do is make better choices.

When are people goingn to start to understand that mental illness is not rational?  When are spouses/partners of mentally ill people going to start to get support? When are the mentally ill going to have access to health care?

6. WE HAVE A TWO TIERED HEALTH CARE SYSTEM

As Canadians we all pat ourselves on the back for our univeral health care and reject two tier health care any time it comes into policy debate.  Shake your head.  Our health care system is two tiered. If you have money you get to see a highly qualified psychiatrist.  If you have no money you get to sit on wait lists. If you are lucky enough to have been to jail you get a prescription for meds that might help you – and when you are released you have no oversight and no GP will touch the meds that were prescribed to you behind bars.

7. When your neighbours call your landlord

Imagine your spouse was  slowly dying of cancer. He can still function – but not the way he used to be able to.  You end up carrying the burden of the chores. Drop off, pick up, laundry, dishes, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, changing beds.  it is now all on you.  You are frustrated.  He can still move, he can still see, he can still understnad what needs to be done to keep a house working. But he can’t do it. Your friends tell you it’s too much to take.  they are done.

This is my life.  My husband is  not dying of cancer.  My husband is dying of mental illness.  He has tried to kill himself 3 times in one and a half years – 2 times in 2 weeks now. He will die from this. He will die sitting on a  wait lists wondering when help will come. Meanwhile, i deal with my landlord who has been contacted by my neighbours about two incidents that they weren’t around to experience.  They told my landlord my kids were home – when in fact they were away, with me, enjoying their lives. My landlord was amazing (i pay my rent on time, i dont bother him about light bulbs or maintenace issues, i leave him be), but he could easily have said that one more complaint from the neighbour was enough to start the eviction process.  And as a [single] mother of two, my world could have ended.

I don’t tell this story to evoke pity.  I tell this story for three reasons:

1: Do not judge people for sticking with a mentally ill partner.  These people need more help than you can ever understand.  We treat all forms of physical illness – but not those illnesses of the mind.  And there is nothing for the support people.  Only disregard and misunderstanding.

2. The system is broken.  It is two tiered.  If you want to start to reform our health care system – start with mental illness and addiction (not separate issues by the way).  When we start to treat mental health as an essential part of overall health we will see better outcomes.  When people stop waiting for psychiatric care for 1, 2, and 3 years we will see better outcomes overall.

3. Punitive justice does not work. Our inmates are sick.  They need help, support, companionship and addiction counselling.  Justice and health should not be separate.  Unite these departments and I promise you will see a reduction in recitivism and addiction.

If you want to reach me, email : chelseakhillier@gmail.comIMG_1140