Veterans Affairs Strikes Again

Every once in a while I get cocky and start to believe that our interactions with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) are finally sorted out. That they will pay what they are supposed to pay and I can stop worrying, stop asking our case manager twenty questions and stop emailing Cabinet Ministers to make things happen. But those moments have come and gone so many times I really must be crazy to believe it is even possible.

Before I explain our current issue, I have to say this is not about wanting pity, that is not my intention. I am sharing this very personal story because I know we are not alone. I know financials fears are very real for many vets (along with many other Canadians), and rightly so. Financial instability is one of the main issues that cause families to break up, it contributes to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and certainly makes coping with PTSD even more challenging. Financial crisis can lead people down a dark road, and in the extreme can even lead to suicide. So to anyone who says it is ‘just about money’ has not experienced the real fear and shame that is accompanied by knowing that you are not in a position to maintain the quality of life for yourself or your family,  and you are depending on to an organization like Veteran’s Affairs to keep afloat.

Our latest drama was caused by a single brown envelope (we seriously get nervous opening anything from the government) that contained a letter from the VAC financial department saying that my husband has been overpaid since 2017 by over $9000 and that they want that money back.  Now you might wonder how could we not know that we were being overpaid, and I too might wonder that if I had not seen the number of various VAC funds he gets money from. For example, he receives his superannuation (pension for his 20+yrs), another is called Diminished Earnings Capacity,  another is called Earnings Loss Benefit, and yet another called Career Impact Allowance.  Keep in mind all of the names of these ‘entitlements’ can change over time as he is moved from one category to another (for reasons I cannot explain) and these funds can change names over time as well.  They are all supposed to total approximately 80% of his ‘pre-injury’ salary (in case anyone doesn’t know, a soldier that is not injured receives a pension of 40% of his salary after 20yrs of service). Every injured vet has a unique calculation based on type and severity of the injury, how long they served, and probably other things I do not understand. But since my husband has severe PTSD as a result of an IED explosion in Afghanistan where two of his peers were killed, and even the military agrees, this prevents him from full-time employment in any career, but certainly not in that in which he was trained, he gets the extra % to ‘top up’ his income to approximately 80% of what he used to make.

So a few years ago, my husband started a photography business hoping to subsidize his pension knowing he could not return the type of work he did in the military, but not yet knowing if he would qualify for the other benefits (a family of 4 could not survive on 40% pension). He took every relevant course at a local college to make it successful and worked at it for 2 years before accepting that it was just not feasible to maintain for the money he was making (which was minimal). During this time he found a local small business that needed help and offered flexible hours to accommodate him.  He knew he would benefit from getting out of the house, have social interaction, and add to the family income even though the pay was minimum wage, which is $14/hr here. He has enjoyed working there 2 to 4 days/wk for over a year.

However, what no one told us, even when I specifically asked, was that we needed to declare this income to VAC and they would deduct approximately 50% of everything he earns from his ‘top up’ (we always declare it to the CRA).   So last month, VAC decides to ask us for all past earned income since leaving DND, and now they say he has been overpaid by $9698.56 since 2017 and they want it back (which is the fastest time we ever had anything processed through VAC). They will also now deduct approx 50% from future earnings, so now from his part-time job, he will get to keep $7.00/hr.

In terms of trying to figure how this ‘approximately 50% calculation’ is made, I reviewed VAC policies online which just made me more confused, so I called the VAC 1-800 # they provided on the letter.  I tried to explain our situation and ask for information on why we are only learning about it now, how this whole calculation was made, how do they expect the repayment and how do we prevent this from happening again.  But alas, the VAC agent could not answer any of my questions, except to say that the government will not care that we were not aware of this and will simply want the money back. He sympathized and simply suggested we call my husband’s case manager (we have already written to her)  and then the ‘Overpayment Unit’ (this obviously happens enough to require a Unit) to find out about monthly re-payment options, but they would not be able to explain how the calculations are made. Again he said the case manager should have the answers, but from experience, she will say she has nothing to do with the financial side of things.

If this is not the definition of crazy-making, I don’t know what is.

The icing on this financial cake is that we just filed our income taxes for 2018 and my husband has to pay another $5800 in taxes as well. Now, for people who choose to pay their taxes only when required, you may not relate to the shock of this. But since my husband has worked for DND for 20 years and never owed additional income taxes in the spring because enough had been deducted every month, to now receiving 5 different T4 slips (one for each entitlement from VAC + the PT job) and none of which deducted sufficient amounts (even after formally requesting they deduct more) it is quite a shock (although better than in 2017 when he owed $10 000 in taxes because they hardly deducted any all year).

I realize plenty of people are having bigger financial difficulties than this. We have a comfortable house, food, a car each and enough money to do some special things (partly due to the fact I was a borderline OCD saver for most of my life). But when it comes to being told: “it’s ok to get a part-time job to supplement your income” to “you owe us $9000+” (plus $5800 in taxes)  I find it beyond frustrating.  Since getting the letter, we have not had a good nights sleep and we feel defeated, frustrated and ashamed that we find ourselves owing a lot of money that we don’t have right now (all extra money last year went into updating our bathrooms as the tiles were about to fall off the walls).

This is the kind of stress that doesn’t just disappear once this current issue is resolved (which hopefully will be soon).  I will worry that VAC will send another letter saying they’ve overpaid us for reasons that I can’t even yet imagine.  The feelings of shame and embarrassment don’t just disappear either. I grew up with a father who was a stereotypical accountant. He balanced the family budget every day, collected every receipt and knew exactly where every dollar went.  I have never been this diligent, but I have been careful never to spend more than I had, to save for a rainy day, to donate to those less fortunate and I always follow the rules. And yet this time I feel punished for something we didn’t even know about because my husband was trying to add to the family income.

***new info: Today I spoke with his career manager and apparently a bunch of policies and programs are changing as of April 1st. So instead of 4 entitlements, they will be amalgamated into one and vets will be entitled to make $20000/yr without penalty. This is good news… BUT change is always challenging (anyone dealing with the Phoenix system will know) and growing pains are very likely***
PS. This won’t change what we owe

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Expanding Horizons for this Blog and for Me

I started this blog to share my experience with mental health issues with the hope that  I could help others feel less alone. To change the conversation about depression and anxiety and PTSD to a more honest and accepting. I still hope it does that, but it is much harder than I thought. Getting my thoughts clear enough to share in writing is a challenge for me, one I don’t always feel up for.  I get overwhelmed with ideas and possible topics that even narrowing them down to start writing feels impossible.  And feeling overwhelmed often leads to feeling inept and it just goes downhill from there.

I am told that to have a successful blog I should narrow my focus, find my niche and create a plan. I know this is good advice, but it simply doesn’t work for me, at least not now. So I have decided to expand my focus of what I share with my “Thriving in a Crazy World”  community as I believe it is all part of my journey to improved mental and physical health.  I am not going to assume I know what you (the reader) wants from me, but simply offer what I can and you can take from it what you like.  Specifically, I am going to share more about my creative passions and my adventures. Because as I have allowed these two areas of my life to expand, my sense of wellbeing and belonging has also expanded.

*Since I am such a visual person, I love sharing photos and brief thoughts on Facebook and Instagram, so please follow me there if you’d like to stay connected on a more regular basis.




Cultivating Hope

Optimistic people believe that no matter how bad things may be at the moment, things will work out somehow and they will get through it. Pessimistic people can feel like the world is out to get them and they do not have any hope that their lives will improve. Most of us find ourselves fluctuating somewhere between these two states. When life is going relatively smoothly, our ability to be hopeful increases as we have obvious proof that life can be good. However, when we are facing multiple challenges and we feel like our ability to cope with them is insufficient, it is only natural that it eats away at our ability to be hopeful.  The good news is that the fact that our level of hopefulness can change over time based on how we are feeling proves that we have some power in increasing our own sense of hopefulness.

Since I have found myself at both ends of the spectrum at various points of my life, I have had the opportunity to recognize that the more hopeful I am, the better I am able to cope and ultimately improve my situation and how I feel about it.  I am able to problem solve better, to look and ask for the right supports, to trust in my own abilities and to take the steps needed to get to where I want to go. So I have come to the conclusion that finding ways to cultivate more hope in my life,  directly impacts my ability to cope with life’s challenges which ultimately allows me to thrive. And isn’t that what we all want?

I believe that we all have the ability to increase our sense of hopefulness if we choose to. Just like working out our bodies to stay healthy and be stronger, we can work out our minds for our mental health.  It does require a sincere desire to make some mental shifts and a commitment to staying open to new possibilities, but it is not as difficult as we may sometimes believe.

If you would like to explore this topic further and how you can add more hope to your life, I am co-hosting a workshop near Ottawa, Ontario on March 24th, 1-3:30, with Jackie Leduc at her Yoga Studio in Cumberland.  The cost is $35 and is limited to 8 participants.

For more info or reserve your spot, email me at

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Remembrance and Gratefulness

In 1998 my husband went on his first tour to Bosnia, fresh out of battle school, he went back again in 2000, and then to Afghanistan in 2003.  Each time he would come back things would be different. He had seen things, gone places, met people. And so had I, albeit I had stayed home.  But the last time was different. 
The last time he came home was when the reality of what he was doing had finally set in. As Canadians, it is easy to forget that war happens every day in so many parts of the world, or at least we are good at pretending it does not affect us and there is nothing we can do (I know I was good at it anyway).
But this time the war had followed him and it had entered our home, our sanctuary.  We were not fighting, but fear and sadness had moved in, and soon anger had as well and even hatred. Hatred towards those I believed had caused it and towards those I felt had failed us.
Now, over fifteen years after he almost died in Afghanistan, I can honestly say I am not angry about it anymore.  I am grateful. We are so much stronger than I ever thought possible.  We have an amazing family, with the most awesome kids (albeit big kids now). And we have each other, for which I am grateful every day.
So today, I remember all those that didn’t make it home. I remember their families who had to learn to move on without them.  And for the families who are struggling with the consequences and casualties of the wars that did come home.
Thank you to those who to care for the wounded and their families, not just military, but all families, all types of battles. Thank you to everyone who is trying to make the world (or just their home) a more peaceful place. Thank you to those who love others who are hard to love. Whether you’re wearing a uniform, a suit, a robe or pajamas (as I often do). We all have a part to play. 
The irony is that my advice to people who are in the dark parts of their battles, feeling beat up, is that they keep fighting. Fight with the same energy as you would in a war, fight for help.  Ask for what you need and keep asking till you find relief.  When you don’t know what might help, try different avenues and keep trying till something clicks. My hope is that eventually, people won’t have to fight so hard to get help. That the right kind of support will be as easily available as is support for our anger and hatred.



Poppies from my mother’s garden, Sutton, Qc, 2014


Stop Trying to Change Who You Are

If you are born with short legs, or big feet or any other physical trait that you don’t particularly like or doesn’t fit with the current trends, you may complain about it and wish they were different but you likely not to spend too much time or energy on trying to change it. And if you did worry about it, the people that care about you would probably tell you it’s just the way you were born and they love you that way.

However, if you are born with a tendency towards being very introverted, anxious or melancholy then well-intentioned people often show concern and offer suggestions on ways to improve these aspects of your self.  For the shy child, we try to get them to come out of their shell. Or the sad and teary child, we try to cheer up. Or even the loud or hyper child, we try to quiet them down.

So what can be learned from this? Is it that big feet are not your fault and don’t hinder your life, and therefore don’t need to be ‘fixed’?  But a person born with personality traits that don’t fit in the spectrum of ‘preferable person’ (whatever that means to you), efforts should be made to improve the aspects seen as lacking?  Of course, no one overtly says this, but I still believe that most of us hear it loud and clear.

As a child, I remember commenting to my mom that she would act differently when different people were around. She did not seem happy with me commenting on this observation as if it was some kind of secret that I shouldn’t speak of, and then she simply said I was making something out of nothing. I also remember from my high school and university days how I tried so hard to ‘fit in’ with the fun crowd; laugh at their jokes, or pretend to be interested in the latest gossip.  I spent a lot of energy on trying to be more like other people because I believed that there was something wrong, or at least not desirable, about who I was (or the way I was born). I would wonder what was wrong with me and how can I fix it.

No one told me I should act differently or be like someone else. In fact, I had a very loving family growing up and I had more freedom than most to explore who I was. But somehow I still got the message (and I believed it) that what was going on in my mind and my natural tendency towards soul searching, meditation and emotionality, were not traits to be celebrated.  Even now that I know this is not true, I can still occasionally find myself trying to ‘fit in’. It is not an easy lesson to unlearn especially since our society still seems to prefer certain types of behaviors in certain groups of people.

Sometimes I wonder if all this ‘acting’ didn’t contribute to my eventual breakdown and major depression five years ago.  I could only sustain this appearance of good mom, wife, daughter, friend, employee/ manager for so long, especially when my husband was struggling with PTSD and I was struggling to care for him and our kids.

I also wonder if this isn’t part of what’s causing the increased rates of depression and anxiety that we are seeing in our communities today.  If we are feeling the need to hide parts of ourselves only to bolster others or act one way with some people and another with others, this is not sustainable. It is confusing enough to figure out who we truly are and want to be in life without having to think about what everyone else expects from us. IMG_0588

My Pet Peeve with Poppies

First of all,  I really do love poppies and the poppy campaign is a phenomenal fundraising initiative by the Canadian Legion. I trust that the money is truly used to help veterans and families in need and I will continue to support it.  My pet peeve is that I feel like people wear the poppy believing they are doing their part to show support and that their government is doing the rest to support veterans and their families.   Where in fact, just earlier today I had an unpleasant phone call from my husband’s Veterans Affairs caseworker explaining why we have been denied coverage for something we had previously been approved for.  In short, Canadians are told there are all kinds of services and programs available. They are promoted on the Veterans Affairs website, in publications and interviews. However, this does not mean that the majority of veterans or families actually have access to them. Basically, what is said to be available and what is actually available are two very different things. This is my real pet peeve and I am reminded of it when I see all our politicians wearing the poppy this time of year.

I am not just complaining about my situation or the stories I hear. The Veterans Affairs Ombudsman maintains an ongoing report card of the current issues (and there are many).  Just to put that into perspective, Canadian tax dollars (well over 5 million per year) go to managing a team to watch over and investigate how another government office is doing their job (whose budget is over 4 billion this year).  I can’t even express my frustration knowing the amount of time and money wasted on this convoluted and broken system of delaying and denying access.

I am sharing this because I believe that Canadians do care about our veterans and their families and they deserve to know the whole story.  The truth is that thousands of vets are constantly fighting with the very office that was created to help them. Many also give up this fight because it becomes to depleting.

So perhaps when you wear the poppy this year, you can also think about the current situation and consider writing to the Prime Minister’s office, or the Minister of Veterans Affairs  (or both!) and let them know you want our veterans and their families to be treated as all Canadians want to be treated; with respect and honesty.

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Justification for ‘Good Person’ Status

Since I was a kid I really liked ginger ale, however, since I try to minimize my sugar intake and it is full of sugar, it’s not something I usually have in the house. But while at the grocery store last week I saw it on sale and spontaneously bought it (thanks to good product placement).  So when my teen saw it in the fridge she asked ‘what’s the special occasion?’ jokingly.  I immediately said it was on a special, even though I don’t think she expected an answer.  No big deal, right? But why did I have to explain why I bought such a simple thing? Would it have been somehow unacceptable had I bought it at full price? Certainly not to my daughter or anyone else I care about.

Unfortunately, no matter how many times I tell myself that I don’t care what other people think of me or my choices, I am apparently still stuck in this cycle of trying to predict people’s thoughts and planning an acceptable response.

I first had a clue this was an issue for me when our kids were little, about 15years ago when we decided to buy a minivan. We only had a small car and it could not fit a 3rd booster seats in the back seat, so I could never drive any of my kids’ friends anywhere (since they use booster seats till they’re almost in high school these days this was very frustrating).  That was my justification for the minivan. But when we finally found one that met our needs, it had leather seats.  Oh, and they were heated leather seats.  How could I justify this? Well, it was a used van with low mileage, in good shape, in our price range and there weren’t many around.  But leather?  And heated? That seemed like a luxury that was beyond me (at the time I was a stay-at-home mom married to a corporal in the army). My husband convinced me that it was a good van for us so we did end up buying it. But I couldn’t justify it no matter how I tried. So although I didn’t recognize the feeling at the time,  I never felt good about that vehicle and was relieved when we sold it several years later. Now that I look back, I can see that the feeling was shame.  I had unconsciously decided it was an unnecessary luxury and one I did not deserve. No one ever said this to me, or even implied it, but somehow I did not feel deserving of such a vehicle and therefore could not feel good about having it.

I don’t expect to understand or agree with other peoples life choices nor do I expect them to explain their choices to me.  I believe in a “live and let live” philosophy, and yet that’s not the end of the story. I still find myself trying to justify myself even when no one is expecting or asking me to. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that most people really don’t care about what I’m doing or buying, they have their own lives to worry about after all. But knowing that is obviously not enough to end this pattern.

So why am I sharing this?  Simply because I can no longer deny it’s impact my overall mental health and I am quite sure I am not alone.  This pattern of thought implies that we do not feel worthy just for being ourselves. That we feel a need to justify why ‘we do what we do’ and that our personal feelings are not sufficient reasons. As if there is some imaginary board of examiners that will decide if our choices are acceptable (whatever that means to you) and if we get to keep our ‘good person’ status (or whatever your preferred status is).  I know this sounds ridiculous and intellectually I know it’s absurd, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it less real.

Have you found yourself wondering what people might think when making a decision? Or justifying your choices even if they do not affect anyone else?

PS. I am not looking to get your support or seeking reminders that I am worthy.  This is just an old pattern I’m aware of and working towards changing.

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Are You The Person I’m Writing To?

It has been months since I shared anything new here and I finally figured out why. In the spring I received some supportive and thoughtful messages about how some of my posts had helped people feel less alone. It was validating and should have encouraged me to keep writing.  Instead,  my anxiety lied to me (which it likes to do) and my thoughts turned those comments into something they were never intended to be. I started to worry that what I was writing was not good enough, or was not well written, or might be misunderstood. I worried that I needed to make sure everything I shared was meaningful and worthwhile. That I had a responsibility to help people, and therefore if I didn’t help them, I could hurt them.  As time went on, it became even harder to think of sharing my thoughts. I figured I had nothing really valuable or worthwhile to say. That there were better blogs and better writers.

However,  something clicked in my mind when I was writing in my journal at 5am this morning (some mornings I can’t get up and other mornings I can’t stay in bed). I asked myself why I had started a blog and why I would want to continue writing it, or if in fact I did want to continue.  The answer was clear. I write for the person I was 5 years ago. The woman who felt alone and misunderstood. The woman who wanted to talk about what she considered to be a mess in her mind but didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  The woman who feared that there was no way out, but at the same time knew she didn’t want to continue living this way. The woman who was ready to make changes if there was a possibility of improvement. The woman who wanted to be ok with not being like everyone else.  She didn’t want her mental health issues preventing her from living a good, if not a great life, even if she had no idea what to do next.  She was determined not to give up (even though it was very tempting at times).

The person I am writing to does not care about my grammar, or if I write about things that may be regarded as silly or strange to some people.  This blog is not for those people.  They also except that I am doing the best I can and that I am here to share my journey. I am not a teacher or leader or expert, rather just someone on a similar journey.

So if you think you are that person I am grateful you found your way here, and please stay tuned for more regular posts. If you know someone who might also appreciate reading my blog,  please share it with them. 2CynbRoPTACXp2%0Igftrw


My Pet Peeve With Peer Support

This is a topic that has bugged me for years. At first, I thought it was just because I didn’t have a positive experience trying to get support from a ‘peer’ who was trained to be a peer support person. But my pet peeve is much bigger than that. It is when peer support is offered or suggested instead of treatment. Whereas I believe it has a place in addition to treatment.  I will try and explain my rationale in the following video. As always, I would love to hear what your experience with peer support.

Possibility Versus Probability

The default setting for the human brain is usually set to imagining the worst case scenario.  For people with anxiety, this can be debilitating.  Our brains play tricks on us by providing an overload of options of horrible things that could happen, and it is not a simple switch; ‘to worry’ or ‘not to worry’ (that is a whole other topic for another day).  There is a very real grey zone for people like me who are optimists at heart, but when our anxiety is acute, the optimism can eventually get over-ridden by the fear.

My therapist recently suggested I try looking at things differently. What if I examined the worry, aka the worst case scenario and questioned it not only for being possible, which is a common suggestion, but rather I should also ask, how probable is it?   When I only ask myself if it is possible, the answer is almost always yes. It is possible I will fall down the stairs and hurt myself, however, considering the hundreds of thousands of times I’ve gone downstairs,  it is not very probable.  So I can feel safe to keep using the stairs.  Similarly, it is possible to witness a terrorist attack in your hometown, however, it is still, thankfully, highly unlikely.

I find this is so much more helpful than trying to ignore the thought, which is like trying to hold a ball underwater; it’s bound to pop up at any moment. So perhaps next time your worrying about something, acknowledge the worst case scenario, then ask yourself if it is possible, and if the answer is yes, ask how probable is it.  You may find yourself feeling a little bit more optimistic once again.