In 1994, Chris Linford was sent to Rwanda as a nursing officer on a humanitarian mission to treat the cholera epidemic with the Canadian military. He returned a changed man.
“In rural Africa you see some of the worst things you will see medically. Everyone was HIV positive, there was lots of AIDS, advanced stages of other diseases as well,” he said. “We saw 44 deaths in our facility in 100 days. Many of the deaths were children under the age of 5. Seeing young children suffering in that fashion, as a dad with three young kids at that time, it impacted me profoundly. We were unprepared for that.”
About 60 days into the mission, Linford began to feel the weight of witnessing such tragedy.
“I felt I had probably walked up to the very edge of my personal and professional confidence. I thought that if I see one more bad thing I might explode,” he said. “Of course bad things continued to happen, and I never once asked to go home – I just had to see it through.”
Linford immediately noticed a difference in his demeanour upon his return home to his wife and kids following that Rwandan deployment.
“I was more angry, I was more anxious, I was more distant,” he said. “I was having difficulty with my short-term memory, I was having difficulty with regular stress.”
Having been in the military for some time, he suspected he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I didn’t have a formal (post traumatic stress disorder) diagnosis, and frankly I didn’t want a formal diagnosis,” he said. “I had seen what happened to others – they all seemingly left the military. I was very fearful of losing my career, so I went about hiding it to make sure that wouldn’t happen to me.”
Linford used his professional rank and sense of humour to get by without the PTSD impacting his work life. But at home, as a father and a husband, there was nowhere for the symptoms to hide.
In 2004 the internal struggle finally surfaced, and Linford sought professional help from military health services. He was diagnosed with both PTSD and depression.
“That was when my kids learned of my PTSD. That’s when I learned that the relationship I thought I had with my kids had been false, in a sense,” Linford said. “My kids were generally always afraid of what I might do or say. They told me that they would infrequently bring their friends around, afraid of what I might do or say. They essentially spent their life telling me what they thought I would want to hear, trying to keep me calm, trying to keep my anxiety down, trying to keep me from reacting angrily. … That’s been a really hard pill to swallow.”
Undergoing therapy and on medication, Linford was able to continue his military career. As Lieut.-Col. commanding 1 Field Ambulance out of Edmonton, he focused his time preparing his officers for Afghanistan, and was then, himself, deployed to Kandahar in September 2009.
“It was the nail in the coffin of my career. My PTSD came back with a vengeance. I started seeing the death of young Canadians, young Brits, young Americans,” he said. “I continued to manage with the medications I had. I doubled and tripled my sleep medications so I could get a decent sleep. That carried on through the seven-month tour.”
Despite being diagnosed with PTSD, and having access to therapy and medication, “all hell broke lose” when he returned to Canada.
Linford was reassigned to CFB Esquimalt to command the Health Services Clinic and lasted only four months there.
“I recognized I was not going to be able to do both my job and deal with my personal health. That’s when I started to get real and significant thoughts of suicide,” he said. “That’s when I had to choose myself before the job, or else I was not going to survive.”
Through ups and downs over the last three years, Linford says he’s now “the healthiest I’ve been in 20 years. I was a terrible person at that time, and I’m going about trying to make reparations for the way I was with my kids and my wife.”
During a session a couple years back, a psychologist suggested Linford write a book chronicling his life story and personal struggle with PTSD and depression.
Now 53, Linford is on a cross-Canada speaking tour promoting his book, Warrior Rising – A Soldier’s Journey to PTSD and Back. He says his goal in writing the book and speaking openly about PTSD is to shed light on a subject that few want to talk about.
“The public and the military need to better understand this injury. There’s a tremendous amount of stigmatization – I was the master of that, I kept myself from asking for help because of the stigma I imposed upon myself. But I regret that, I was wrong,” Linford said. “I want people to understand what happens and how soldiers and other military folks are impacted, and the consequences (of PTSD) paid by the veterans and their families.”
To learn more about Warrior Rising or PTSD, visit AWarriorRising.com.
To purchase a copy of the book, visit friesenpress.com/bookstore.