Adam Cyr was on his final infantry patrol in Afghanistan when his unit sustained enemy artillery fire. “We were going home the next day,” the two-sport athlete recalled.
“We got knocked around pretty good,” said Cyr, who is ready to compete for Canada in archery and rowing at the 2016 Invictus Games this week in Orlando. Three soldiers were killed, and Cyr lost his right leg in the battle. “My other leg was ripped apart, but the doctors put it back together. I lost some hearing and still have some musculoskeletal problems.”
About six months after the fire fight, the native of Whitewood, Sask., started to notice that something else wasn’t quite right. He had vowed to make the best of his situation, but positive thoughts weren’t enough. He’d jolt awake from violent nightmares, or believe that people were in his room at night. “I could have sworn there was someone standing at the foot of my bed.”
Crowded public spaces caused even more anger and stress. “I would be in a grocery store…and it would spiral me into an anxious, angry state. I would get angry driving. I’d get angry at store clerks.”
Cyr has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and he’s doing all he can to overcome the adverse effects. Indeed, we can all learn from the steps he’s taken to regain control of his life.
The Invictus Games are for people who were injured while serving their country. Cyr is learning first-hand about the power of sport when it comes to healing physical and emotional wounds.
Many civilians who endure traumatic events such as car crashes and violent assaults have difficulty adjusting and coping for a while, but that doesn’t mean they have PTSD. With time and positive self-care, negative symptoms usually get better. But if you have nightmares, anxiety attacks, flashbacks or uncontrollable thoughts that get worse or last for months, PTSD may be the cause. Other symptoms include an unhealthy obsession with safety, and strong negative reactions to loud noises. After a diagnosis is made, a health-care professional can help treat PTSD.
“Going to a psychologist is like holding a bundled up tangle of string,” said Cyr, who compares working with a psychologist to work he’s done with physical therapists. He’s seeing Dr. Tamara Goranson, a registered clinical psychologist in Victoria, B.C. Her private practice specializes in treating PTSD in both private and group-therapy sessions. “She holds one end of the string and helps me unravel it,” Cyr explained.
People who suffer from PTSD often become very private. “They end up in the basements of their homes feeling alone,” Goranson said. Without hope, people isolate themselves socially and negative symptoms grow. The result? PTSD survivors hurt their spouses, children and friends. Social isolation can also lead to self-harm and suicide. First and foremost, they need to “know that there is hope,” Goranson added.
Active police officers or military professionals can resist seeking help for another reason: They fear a PTSD diagnosis will hurt their careers.
Goranson’s admiration for Cyr is obvious when she talks about his path to recovery: “He is not letting his PTSD stand in the way of him accomplishing his goals.”
The healing power of fitness
“For me, one of the main things was sport and physical activity,” said Cyr, who is making his final preparations for the Invictus Games competition in May. With the help of the Soldier On program, which uses sport and physical activity to help wounded service personnel recover from physical and mental injuries, Cyr found that workouts were better than prescription drugs for dealing with his anxiety, anger and physical pain.
Physical activity also helped Cyr’s emotional state. “Endorphins are feel-good hormones that can lead to emotional stability and peace of mind,” Goranson said.
“I’m not perfect,” Cyr added. “I still fall into slumps from time to time. But if I ever feel myself feeling sorry for myself, I think, ‘Have I been to the gym today?'”
Dr. Goranson’s four tips for dealing with PTSD:
1. Be aware. It’s normal to experience emotional upheaval. This is a natural part of being human.
2. Ask for help. Be willing to ask for help. Going it alone will not solve your pain and trauma.
3. Do your research. Find someone who is knowledgeable in dealing with PTSD systems.
4. Have hope. Know that treatment and positive lifestyle choices will help you to get better.
What positive steps have you taken to increase your mental health? Send Adam Kreek a message on Twitter @adamkreek. You can also find more tips to improve your body, mind and soul on the Don’t Change Much website.
This article is also available through CBC Sport