Monday, April 9, 2018

The Many Faces of PTSD: Stéphane Beaudin Speaks Out

 Curled up around his shoulders is Stéphane's "Angel" cat Léopold.
"He knows my schedule, and waits for me by the door.
He sits next to the tub while I take a shower and lays beside me at night."

We have all experienced traumas in our life, from a sudden illness that knocked us off our feet for a while, to dealing with some level of abuse from loved ones or even friends. Other times, we take on jobs or embark in careers that come with high amounts of stress or where one has to look death straight in the eye on a regular basis. Over time, we heal. However, some of us don’t and that’s where it gets complicated.

Try functioning “normally” with sleep-deprivation, agitation, feeling disconnected from your own body and thoughts. All those strange and usual sensations can inhibit your ability to have a fulfilling relationship or even find decent employment. Your support system can also wax and wane, leaving you feeling very isolated. These symptoms and much more can go on for days, months or even years.

Say hello to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

I would like to introduce you to Montreal-born, Stéphane Beaudin. He’s just your average guy, loves his family, full of community-spirit, and has a soft spot for political advocacy. What you don’t know is that Stéphane has a shadow that looms over him and that shadow is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (otherwise known short form as PTSD).

Stéphane has lived a tumultuous life, moving from Montreal to Windsor at a very young age, dealing with abusive relationships, bouts of poverty and more than most people could wrap their heads around. Although there were some very dark days (thankfully manageable now), these circumstances have not stopped him from fighting hard to overcome the hold that PTSD tries to grip many of our lives.

Below is my Q&A with Stéphane. 

1. Our society seems to be on stress-overload, yet it’s pretty amazing how some people are able to manage and are more resilient, while others just cannot cope and encounter debilitating anxiety and struggle with mental health conditions. When was the moment you realized that you were out of control and PTSD was taking over your life?

I’d have to say there were many indicators that I ignored for a long time. As a child, my step-fathers were very authoritarian and abusive. I was regularly “punished” for things as simple as leaving a glass on the counter. When people did things that were “against the rules,” I would fly into a rage, especially if they were not “punished” as I was. I’m not saying this on-going abuse was the only cause of my PTSD, but it surely didn’t help.

At 17 years old, I was enlisted into the Army. My mom signed me up and I was a tank driver, and armoured reconnaissance. I was trained to locate and destroy enemy targets. During a training exercise, on of my Captains who recently got back from Serbia started to display mental health problems and became very unstable. He ended up by accident, injuring me. I decided after that incident I would become a medic. I wanted to help people like him transition back to regular life. I guess that’s when I realized what I was going through and when the healing began.

2. What barriers have you faced in your professional and every day life and on the flip side, what strengths have you gained with having this diagnosis? 

No one knew until now what I was going through, and still dealing with on a daily basis. As one friend put it, “I put on a good show,” to which I reply, “fake it till you make it!”

It’s been a while since I left the army, but I still think like a soldier. I can’t let it get the best of me... that’s reserved for my family and friends.

I have lost good paying jobs and people sometimes think that I’m just an awkward guy trying to make friends. Truth be told, yes I am a little awkward, but that’s not always necessarily a bad thing. I do get discouraged sometimes and shut down, or become self damaging. As soon as I start to notice this pattern, I tell myself to do the opposite of what I want to do. It does help, but I find reaching out to my few close friends can really make a big difference.

3. What are the most troubling symptoms that still occur for you and how do you deal with them?

Here’s where it gets a little dark, but this is the reality of living with PTSD. I tried to hurt myself. Not once, not twice, but three times.

First time was at the age of 16. I tried to hang myself. Before I did it, I said to myself that if there is a reason for me being here tell me now. There was no reply but the rope snapped. The second time, was a repeat of the first and happened in my early 20’s. During my third and final attempt, my cat Léopold ended up saving me. I actually hated cats, but obviously from this experience, I feel different. This little guy will be 14 years old this year. He is truly my angel.

On the days when I feel hopeless and worthless, like I can’t do anything, l I think about that day, as well as my wife and kids. It helps me get through.

4. People who suffer with PTSD often describe some of their sensations like a TV remote that is constantly switching channels in their brain. The painful memories can often be distorted yet feel like the encounters are happening all over again. What kind of strategies do you use when you are having an attack? 

You’re right. For me, it’s like a TV show where I’m the star... the ratings are bad and some of the episodes should have never aired, but they are there, and I am playing it out, over and over again.

I found taking up different hobbies helps. Anything to get out of your head. I love gardening, and wine-making. I also like painting and enjoy volunteering my time. Of course, physical activity is really important for me, so going to the gym to workout and maintaining a proper diet really does wonders.

Another step is having someone to talk to when you see the dark cloud coming. For me, Léopold fits that category. He’s a good listener and doesn’t want to compare battle scars.

5. What is one misconception about PTSD that you would like to put to rest? 

Well, it’s not just first responders that suffer from PTSD. The average person who has never even been to battle can suffer. We don't always need to be medicated, we need proper outlets to deal with it.

6. What makes life worth living for you? 

My wife and kids are my world. I feel blessed to have them in my life. I will also include other family, like my aunts, uncles, siblings and parents. As I stated above, my hobbies (yup, I love my wine! Lol) and Léopold hold dear to my heart.

Thank you Stéphane for opening up and sharing your journey with PTSD. I hope that others will have the courage and strength to keep fighting like you have in your life.

If you or a loved one is in crisis or require help in the Windsor-Essex County area, please contact any of the following: