It's not military related. Or is it?
Hi Jenny :)
It is a privilege to get the opportunity to connect with you. I remember when you chased Minister Fantino down the hall and thinking, if only I were so brave and strong! When you tweeted to me "forgotten among forgotten" a wave of sadness and relief washed over me...finally, someone hears me!! You are not the only one, but it doesn't happen often.
Let me tell you a bit about my story, and about William. William and I were friends for two decades before he served as a carpenter contracted by SNC Lavalin under CANCAP (Canadian Forces Contractor Augmentation Program). He was at Khandahar Airfield, Camp Nathan Smith, and another FOB whose name he never said because the really bad stuff happened there. We entered a relationship as soon as he returned home after three years. Before William came home I knew something was wrong and had reached out to family services at CFB-Comox near where we live in BC. They were very nice, but since I was not family and William was not military there was little they could do but point me in the direction of online resources, which I devoured. I thought I was prepared...I was not, how could I be?
William was diagnosed with PTSD very quickly after returning home. The fifteen months we spent together was both the best and worst time of my life. How I loved that man...I wouldn't have lasted even fifteen months if I hadn't. William experienced flashbacks, night terrors, withdrawal, numbness, insomnia, disorientation, anxiety, rage and aggression (although never physical)...he had most all the symptoms. He felt he was misunderstood, didn't belong anymore, couldn't care less about the stanley cup or the sitcom on tv, couldn't tolerate 'first world problems', his social life shrank. He felt like he never truly came home. And so he self medicated. My life was turned upside down and while people empathized (those that still came around), they didn't 'understand', didn't know what I or William was going through.. After reading about you and watching your videos, I know that you can relate. Forgive me if I dump all of this on you...even after two years of him being gone, I still hurt immensely, not only from his loss, but from the wounds that his PTSD inflicted on me.
Countless times I heard people say "you can't have PTSD, you aren't a soldier"...people very close to William...it's all in your head, quit whining, suck it up. Wiiliam was a very proud man, and strong, and nothing made him feel weaker or more worthless. Every time he heard that, another person was struck off the shrinking list of who he could confide in. I've heard his stories, over and over and over, often in the middle of the night when I had to work the next day...his stories are not mine to share, but suffice to say that he did, saw, felt, touched, tasted, heard and smelled things that a civilian is not trained to do or cope with. I'm certainly not saying that things are worse for contractors than for military...nothing I say is to detract or take anything away from the awful things soldiers face. But William had one week training...one week!...then spent 3 years in a war zone. He was good at it, he loved it, and it cost him his life.
Up until he died, the year before was the hardest thing I had ever done. I swear I would have developed secondary PTSD, and I certainly had caregiver fatigue. I learned to sleep when he couldn't, but it was not a restful sleep, sleeping with one eye open and often interrupted. I missed countless days of work, he would beg me to stay home, he couldn't be alone. I was so exhausted, I was walking on egg shells, hyper aware of his triggers...not just watching my every step, but watching intently that others wouldn't make unintentional mistakes. Looking him in the eye when he spoke to me; not leaving the light on; not opening the curtains on a sunny day; not saying I understand when I have no f-ing idea what it is like 'over there'; not putting my head under water too long in the bath, because when people don't answer you in Afghanistan, they might be dead. I do not blame him for these things, this wasn't him talking, it was PTSD. I learned to recognize when an attack was coming on, I called it war eyes, and when I pointed it out, it would sometimes help avert an attack. He'd look in the mirror and say he couldn't see it, and I couldn't put it into words...I just knew.
After over a year, I could no longer cope. I was exhausted, emotionally, mentally, physically, my work was suffering, I had no life outside of his PTSD. I was a maid, nurse, chauffeur, babysitter, mediator, therapist, secretary, and wanting so very much to be 'just' a friend and lover. His symptoms and self medication were getting worse, and some things happened that were unacceptable even for someone with PTSD, so I told him that if he wasn't going to attend his therapy, AA, and psychiatrist meetings, if he wasn't going to try, then why should I. He left the house that night and I never saw him again. His family doesn't speak to me, I've lost friends. I know it's not my fault, despite my mistakes, but...
For contract civilians, there is no veterans affairs; as ineffective as the VA is for veterans, even that is not there for contractors. They work for a company and the benefits end when or shortly after the job ends. So the only support they have is our health care system and loved ones once they come home. There are no restrictions on the length of time they can be in a combat zone, as there is with soldiers. From what I understand, William was in Afghanistan continually longer than any Canadian soldier is allowed (although I'm sure there are exceptions) and he was one of the longest serving civilians.
I have met many other contractors who were 'over there' with William, and who suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD, mostly undiagnosed. And the stigma is strong that what they did wasn't 'bad enough' to get PTSD...they weren't soldiers. It is a serious problem and those who serve our country as civilians are cast aside when they get home, left to fall between the cracks.
Forgive my ramblings...writing this has been a bit cathartic for me, and I've had a good cry. It is not often I find somehow who can relate to what I'm saying, and I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to tell you my story, William's story, and a little bit about the contract civilian situation here in Canada.
With deepest respect,