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Every week in Canada, PTSD drives at least one first-responder to take their life. So far in 2017, 52 first-responders have committed suicide in Canada, and there were 68 last year. The numbers are real, and they never get easier to hear.

This weekend I was shaken, once again, to hear of the suicide of a first-responder. Someone in Calgary. Someone I knew. Barry Dawson was a 47-year-old firefighter in Calgary, who sadly took his own life on November 11th, after a hard battle with PTSD.

I first met Barry about ten years ago, when I was working at a restaurant in Mount Pleasant in Calgary’s northwest, right across the street from the fire station Barry was working at. Him and his crew would order pizza from us often, and he was always the first one to start up a friendly conversation with myself and the other staff. Over the years, I would see his updates from time to time on Facebook, always with that friendly personality injected into them.

I did not know Barry well, almost not at all. I did not know of his struggles with PTSD, but it does not come as a surprise to me that he lived in this darkness, as so many other first-responders do. I know how crippling PTSD can be, having lived with it for the better part of my life. Trauma drove me to some of the darkest places imaginable, as it does for so many. In fact, many of the people closest to me, including members of our Breaking Free Foundation family, have had their own brushes with suicide.

What makes PTSD so prevalent for first-responders however, is that while many of us have trauma thrust upon us, these courageous people bravely face trauma every single day of their lives on the job. The most terrifying of situations that we strive to protect ourselves and our families from, first-responders deal with head-on, regularly.

I am heartbroken that the loss of another great person is giving us the opportunity to have this conversation, yet again. I am even more saddened by the fact that this tragedy was buried among a news feed that is full of trauma and tragedy. In fact, it was two of my friends who brought Barry’s story to my attention, after they had shared it on their social media channels. These two women are friends that I admire greatly, who are both first-responders as well. Just imagining the struggles they might be facing too, makes me wish I had the power to heal their pain.

But I don’t have that power. I do however, have a voice. And I am constantly reminded in the most obscure of ways, that every time I share something about PTSD, that someone is always listening or reading. So I hope that I am reaching someone today who needs to read this.

You are not alone.

Since working with Breaking Free Foundation and co-facilitating many of our monthly meet-ups, I have met more and more first-responders who are dealing with the struggles of PTSD every day. I know I speak for all of us when I say, we are in awe of the courage that all first-responders show and grateful for the vulnerability those have shown in sharing their struggles with others. Every time you share your story, you are helping someone else. When a “me too” moment happens in front of us, we know a light is opening up for someone who was living in darkness. In saying this, I also want to acknowledge one of our board members, Zoran Zelic, a first-responder who has shown amazing vulnerability at our meet-ups and has been able to connect with others who need to feel heard.

If you feel you are suffering from the effects of PTSD or trauma, I encourage you to tell someone. Reach out for help, or connect with someone you work with. If you want to take part in a conversation about PTSD and trauma, please join us at our next meet-up, on December 13th at The Commons. These are safe places to talk, listen or connect. You can also reach us via our website or on social media if you are looking for some resources in your area.

To all first-responders, thank you for your courage. I promise to never let your stories go unheard.

Me too. 

 

As a member of the Breaking Free Foundation team, and open advocate and Victor, many people are familiar with my trauma stories and struggles with PTSD.

And part of my ongoing conversation is to share my struggles with suicidal thoughts, including the final battle I won, where I attempted suicide at 14-years-old. Most people assume that this dark day came as a result of years of dealing with a number of sexual traumas, something I’m very open and honest about having been through.

But the truth is, my darkest period of depression and suicidal thoughts, came crashing down as a result of bullying. Yes, traumas from childhood had compounded, but the abuse and constant harassment I endured day-to-day in junior high school, was what finally led me to that ultimate feeling of hopelessness.

It’s easy as an adult to say “kids are mean, girls are awful” and blow off terrible behaviour as a part of growing up, but that’s just not easy to explain to a teenager who’s being bullied. But tell that to the parents of Tyler Clementi, Amanda Todd or Rehtaeh Parsons.

Puberty came late for me, I was a flat-chested teenager with too much eyebrow, too little makeup and definitely no clue. Perhaps that sounds like I gave bullies a lot to work with, but what ultimately led to my dance with darkness was a silly junior high breakup, so insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but at that time it was everything.

I was made out to be the bad guy in this scenario, in a huge way. What resulted was months and months of verbal abuse of the worst kind. Not just from people I never considered friends, but people I had hung out with hundreds of times, my classmates and my confidantes. Notes in my locker, screams down the hallways, huge letters inked across chalkboards on my way into class.

“Amber is a slut.”

“Fugly.”

“Flat bitch.”

It was never-ending, and it was absolutely horrible.

What many suicide survivors will tell you, is that it’s not necessarily about wanting to die, it’s about not wanting to live. Or at least, not wanting to live life the way it was. Perhaps this is the reason I didn’t “try hard enough” to take my life that day, but nonetheless, I had a rope around my neck. I tied a noose, and the other end of the rope around a metal pole in our unfinished basement. I walked around that pole until the rope slowly tightened on my neck. When I was teetering on unconsciousness, I ran back the other way, unraveling it.

It took that moment of panic, looking possible death in the face, that I was finally led to come to my parents with a plea for help. I was honest. Honest about what I was suffering through, with my emotions, and my plaguing thoughts.

At that moment I stepped into the world of hope and healing for the first time, and I’m so thankful I did.

For #PinkShirtDay, I have a few thoughts for those who witness bullying, are victim to it, or are causing it:

  • Don’t fall into the ‘eat or be eaten’ mentality. You don’t have to victimize someone else to avoid being bullied. I fell for this trap once as well. Remember there is a human being on the other end of your words, how would you feel?
  • Tell someone. Anyone. Tell a parent, teacher, counsellor, friend—anyone you trust.
  • Stand up. Make that person who’s being bullied aware that you are someone who cares.
  • Share. Being vulnerable is what creates change, and it’s a ripple effect.

“Whenever one person stands up and says, “Wait a minute, this is wrong,” it helps other people do the same.” — Gloria Steinem

— Written by Amber Craig (follow on Twitter)

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The Ogden Legion (Branch #154) in Calgary unfortunately had to close its doors this year due to a lack of membership, but they are leaving an incredible legacy behind. On December 8, 2015, the Ogden Legion handed out $2.2 million in donation cheques to 20 Calgary non-profits and charities, and the Breaking Free Foundation was incredibly honoured to be one of them!

Members of the Breaking Free Foundation board were in attendance at a presentation ceremony this week, where we were given an amazing donation of $100,000! Being in our first year of operation, this donation is a game-changer for us, as we’ll be able to roll out our much-anticipated Therapy Grant Program.

If you’re unfamiliar with our Therapy Grant Program, it allows us to provide free trauma therapy to Albertans. We screen and select the best trauma-trained therapists across our province, and match them with applicants who need mental health treatment. Our biggest goal, is to make trauma treatment accessible for everyone, regardless of economic status.

If you’ve been following the news in Alberta lately, it’s no secret our citizens are in desperate need of access to mental healthcare: domestic violence, mental health problems and suicides are all on a steep incline in our province this year. Trauma affects everyone, and comes in thousands of forms from abuse and combat to disease, death, divorce, addiction—the list is endless. This $100,000 donation allows us to help so many more people, and we’re so grateful for the amazing people at the Ogden Legion for thinking of BFF.

19 other amazing local non-profits received donation cheques as well, here’s the list:

  • Boys and Girls Club of Calgary
  • Made by Momma
  • Ogden House Senior Citizen’s Club
  • Alzheimer Society of Calgary
  • Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured
  • BC and Alberta Guide Dogs Program
  • Stopbully.com
  • Alberta Animal Rescue Society (AARCS)
  • Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse
  • Calgary Poppy Fund
  • Calgary YWCA
  • Legacy Place Society
  • Little Warriors
  • Meow Foundation
  • Millican-Ogden Community Association
  • Ogden Legion Pipe Band Association
  • Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy
  • Project P.A.L
  • Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre

Huge thank you again to the Ogden Legion, we look forward to serving the trauma community for many years to come! For more information on our Therapy Grant Program, see here. You can reach BFF via email or contact us anytime on Facebook or Twitter.