Kathryn Linford admits in the years after her husband Chris returned from serving overseas in the Canadian military, she was afraid of him.
Chris had been on a number of operational tours during his 33 years of service, originally as a reservist in Calgary and then with Canadian Forces Health Services. But it was a deployment to Rwanda in 1994, in which he returned home and was profoundly changed.
Chris was agitated all the time and was constantly angry at everything and everyone. The couple’s three children, who ranged in age from 10 to 17, didn’t fully understand what was happening, but didn’t see their father as a loving and kind man, nor did they trust him.
“We ended up being afraid to be around him and walked on egg shells most of the time, not really knowing what kind of mood he was in or what might set him off,” Kathryn said.
She eventually began to notice triggers — things that would set Chris off and consciously made efforts to prevent situations that could harm him.
In 2004, Chris was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and asked for help. After a mission in Afghanistan in 2009, which brought his PTSD back “with a vengeance,” he was found unfit for duty and shortly after was released from the military.
But it wasn’t until the couple shared their own versions of their stories at a conference in Cornwall about coping with PTSD that Chris realized it wasn’t just something that affected him.
“It was a profound experience for me to sit there and listen to Kathryn tell her part. For the first time, I was really hearing her voice and it was validated in my mind as having also been injured from PTSD,” said Chris. “For the longest time I thought it was really just my issue and it didn’t involve them (my family) . . . That changed everything, it changed our whole direction.”
Kathryn and Chris have now been managing PTSD in their home for the past 22 years and are helping others do the same.
The couple went on to co-found a program to help Canadian families deal with the challenges of transitioning to civilian life after experiencing conflict abroad.
The program, called Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday (COPE), launched in January 2015 with the help of University of Victoria trauma specialist Tim Black. As part of the two-phase program, veterans and their spouses struggling with PTSD go on a five-day residential retreat, followed by a six-month coaching phase. Couples return home and are assigned a family coach, who help them achieve the goals they set for themselves over the retreat.
“Shifting that perspective to understand that the family is dealing with PTSD, not just the person, it destigmatizes it and helps them approach it in a different way. They can work together to combat it, rather than one person supporting someone else’s individual journey to get better,” said Black of the program.
Chris and Kathryn also co-facilitate the workshops, and share their own personal stories of struggling with the disorder.
“As Kathryn and I have found, the stronger our connection was from day to day, the better the energy was for us to move forward and get well again,” Chris said, adding the program is not a treatment for PTSD, but a management tool to teach couples to work together to manage the disorder.
By the end of December, the program will have helped 50 couples in New Brunswick, Alberta, Ontario and B.C since it began and the demand continues to grow. There is currently a waiting list of more than a year for the program.
For more information about Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday visit copecanada.com.