Canadian veteran walking from Prince George to Victoria to seek support for PTSD sufferers
'You don't ever want to show weakness,' says former soldier Robert Gagnon
A Canadian veteran is logging thousands of kilometres on Prince George's streets as he trains for a solo walk to the B.C. Legislature on behalf of soldiers and first responders with PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder.
But Robert Gagnon would rather keep walking in silence, than talk about his own trauma.
"We have to live with this [trauma] stuff every day," said Gagnon, a former corporal with the Canadian Armed Forces who now works as a prison guard in Prince George.
"There's so many people who never, ever talk about it.There is that mentality that [you just] pull up the boot straps and suck it in. That you don't ever want to show weakness, because they want the strongest and the fiercest."
'Walking releases a lot of things inside of me'
But Gagnon believes that expectation is slowly changing for soldiers and first responders.
And his own life is also changing, as he spends hours each day on training walks, striding along in heavy hiking boots with a backpack.
Gagnon said until recently he was consumed with anger and was easily triggered by loud noises and big crowds.
"Walking releases a lot of things inside me, [from] my own PTSD experiences," said Gagnon. "Sometimes I'll laugh, sometimes I'll cry. I listen to what's in the bush. I listen to my own thoughts."
But Gagnon said it's the plight of others with PTSD that keeps him going.
"A buddy of mine who served in Bosnia, he's had some real powerful struggles in his life. I have friends who are fireman, ambulance attendants, RCMP members, correctional officers.
"Some of the stories I've heard from them are just absolutely mind blowing and mind numbing. You can see it in people's eyes — the blank stare. It's what gets me up at 0400 hours to get my butt out on the road and start moving."
'He's conquering this...'
On June 28, Gagnon will set out from the Prince George cenotaph on a solo walk to the B.C. Legislature, in hopes of explaining the PTSD problem to the premier.
On Canada Day, he plans to march through Quesnel with local veterans by his side.
"I admire him greatly," said Joe Elliott, the Legion's operational special section representative for the BC/Yukon, who works to support veterans with PTSD.
Elliott said there is little recognition and few treatment options in northern B.C and across Canada to help veterans and soldiers with PTSD.
"It's a huge problem. His personal journey will highlight the needs for more support and recognition," said Elliott, "And it will show how he's conquering this."