A Veteran, His Service Dog, and a New Perception

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An archive of news articles and interviews featuring BC/Yukon branches, staff, and programs.

Brian Cameron with PTSD Service Dog

 

Isn't this what it's all about?

Another veteran with a changed life.

These are the kinds of stories we come to work for at the BC/Yukon Legion. Our branches, spread throughout BC, are the heart and soul of the Legion, the funding for this kind of work comes from them and their efforts. I may be posting this at the Command office but it's our branches that deserve the platform here.

You can find a branch close to you here.

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Here's the story of Brian Cameron, 22 year Canadian Forces veteran and his transformational story through trauma. (Nothing has been edited or changed)

I was a “STRATHCONA” for 22 of my 28 years of service with the Canadian Forces. I had several tours and missions but one of my more unique deployments was a year (93-94) in the former Yugoslavia at what some described as the height of the war. I spent the first 6 months in Sarajevo at BH Command, doing route recces and negotiating clearances for military escorts for humanitarian food convoys.  Once a week I drove the infamous “Sniper Alley” trying to get to negotiation meetings with all three warring factions, while snipers played a game of putting rounds through the side window of my jeep. The last 6 months of my tour was spent working as a Liaison Officer between BH Command and UNHCR, doing weekly visits to Serbia, Zagreb, Split and Sarajevo, The good news was that I got to travel extensively (mostly by myself) through Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.  The bad news was that I spent more time than I can remember on my knees with some guy pointing his AK-47 at my head or being physically dragged off to some check point headquarters. The worst part was the first hand experience of seeing the atrocities done by each of the warring factions.

I felt I was trained for a war situation, but perhaps not so much for the inhumanity I witnessed and physical abuse I was subject to on a daily basis. Shortly after a year upon getting home I decided to seek my release, because I felt like I didn’t belong and there didn’t seem to be any help or anyone who really understood what I was going through.  I spent 6 long very disruptive years dealing with anxiety / panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, anger, hyper vigilance concentration and memory problems and all the classic PTSD symptoms that you read about.  Around 2000, after being called back into service, for a short time, I was lucky enough to have an old friend point me in the direction of the Operational Trauma & Stress Support Centre (OTSSC) in CFB Esquimalt.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Post Traumatic Stress disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.  Over the last nearly 20 years I have gone through counselling, had many ups and downs and have worked with the Psychiatrists of the British Columbia Operational Stress Injury Clinic, Veterans Affair Canada and many Psychologists.  Even with a supportive family and friends, PTSD with all of the classic symptoms has impacted every aspect of my life. I am all too aware of how it can rise up at any time, as a result of any variety of triggers.  

The label that was put on me was “Totally and Permanently Incapacitated”.  The label didn’t really matter to me, because I swore to myself “I will not let PTSD defeat me”.  My goal from the start was to “PROVE” that I was the same person that I was before. 

I continually pushed myself.  I had been at the height of my career and life before PTSD and I was dam well going to prove I was still there.  I started a Home Support Business with my wife, looking after seniors.  It was very successful as we worked together, but I continued to have ups and downs and the downs were not much fun.  I became a duty coxswain and director of Training for Marine Search and Rescue in BC.  Once again I was extremely successful as I pushed myself harder and harder, but the downs times were taking their toll and my physical health was suffering. I covered up and down played my PTSD symptoms, but I was starting to develop many physical ailments (heart disease that resulted in triple by-pass surgery, followed by 5 stents within a year and half. I was diagnosed with diabetes and a hand tremor that restricted my ability to read, hold utensils and sometimes work the keys on my computer. These physical ailments were all consequential to my PTSD and the associated stress that I was going through.   

I realized that I was leaning on my wife Sheila more and more.  She was starting to show signs of stress.  I had read about spouses leaving because of the stress and because they didn’t understand this type of behaviour nor did they sign up for it.  I was fortunate Sheila kept “soldiering on” and never gave me a chance of looking at suicide as a way to escape. I remember her telling me that I had to quit hermitzing for days on end.  I won’t go anywhere without her, afraid that I would be triggered into a flashback, disassociation or go into an anxiety attack in the middle of a store or parking lot. But in my mind, I wasn’t going to let PTSD beat me, I was going to prove I was the same as before. 

In 2014 I entered a program that matched Veterans with PTSD with a Service Dog.  Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs VICD (which is generously sponsored by the BC / Yukon Command Royal Canadian Legion) saved my marriage. After a year of training I was able to lean on my 60 lb, chocolate lab named “Trooper” instead of my wife.  As a way to pay back, I started travelling with Trooper, doing speaking engagement as a way to fundraise for VICD and to educate people about PTSD.  Yes I was still suffering many PTSD symptoms and I did crash for several days periodically, but I was proving that PTSD hadn’t beat me.  My wife and I began to renew our relationship, but PTSD was still there and my job was to prove that I was the same person as I was before.  I was not going to let PTSD control my life.

In February 2019, I was invited to join Cohart 21 of PROJECT TRAUMA SUPPORT run by Dr. Manuela Joannou in Perth Ontario.  It was a strange set of circumstances. Dr. Joannou had reached out to someone I knew, because a spot for a veteran on Cohart 21 funded by BC /Yukon Command Royal Canadian Legion had just come available. That person contacted someone else that I knew through my PTSD contacts, who happened to contact me.  Kind of convoluted on the surface or was it something that was meant to be?   Of course, I had 7-8 quick reasons why I didn’t have to go, including the one that said I’ve been dealing with PTSD for 25 years, I knew all about PTSD. Yes it was having a profound effect on my life, but I was determined not to let it control me, I was out to prove I was the same as I was before.

I finally gave in, quieting my little voice and listening to my wife’s loud voice saying “you need this – not sure why but you do”

PROJECT TRAUMA SUPPORT is a unique, earth shattering approach to dealing with PTSD.  I thought I was pretty smart or at least knowledgeable about PTSD, after all I’ve been dealing with it for nearly 25 years and had attended several courses and workshops.  At PROJECT TRAUMA SUPPORT, I felt completely supported and soon learned to trust my mentors and peers. The unique approach taken during the week allowed me to experience a huge PERCEPTION change.  For the first time, I realized that I was never going to be what I was before, but that was OK because I had accomplished some wonderful things and  have personally impacted thousands of individuals  -  because of my PTSD and not despite it.  I was living proof that I was actually better now than I was before.  The first time I realized this (Thursday to exact)  I weep!   Tears of joy sweep over me. For the first time in 25 years I realized I didn’t have to fight PTSD, I should embrace it because I am the person I am because of PTSD That perception change lifted a huge load of guilt off my shoulders and I owe that to Dr. Manuela Joannou and PROJECT TRAUMA SUPPORT.  There were 8 of us taking Cohart 21 and I personally witnessed the other 7 individuals who were suffering through PTSD, make incredible break throughs, thanks to this very unique program.

I am writing this letter to Thank You, members of the BC / Yukon Command Royal Canadian Legion for your support to this program. The uniqueness of this program has renewed my life.  I realize that there is no cure for PTSD, but it is all about how you manage it and I can safely say after 25 years, I am managing it much much better, thanks to YOU and your generous donations to Dr. Manuela Joannou and PROJECT TRAUMA SUPPORT.

Once again, I don’t think I can do justice in words, the gratitude I have for you and all the members of BC / Yukon Command Royal Canadian Legion – Thank You.

 

BRIAN CAMERON

Major (retired)

& Trooper

 

The BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion would like to thank Brian Cameron for his willingness to be vulnerable and share his story as it is. 

If you would like to share your story, please email us at info@legionbcyukon.ca or call 1-604-575-8840.