Watching Trevor Petersen standing on his paddleboard, cutting calmly across the water, you would never know he suffers from a debilitating disorder.
Not long ago, Petersen was in a dark place in his life — isolated, alone and angry — when he discovered the unexpected source of relief.
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“I kind of spiralled down and went through a lot of dark times,” said 41-year-old war veteran. “I started doing therapy, slowly getting better and then I took up the sport of paddle boarding… and it really gave me something to centre on. All the stuff on my mind kind of disappeared.”
Petersen was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2007 shortly after his return from Afghanistan. He was eventually released from the military in 2010.
Although he underwent therapy, he hit a lot of low points, even trying to take his own life more than once. He said it wasn’t until he discovered paddleboarding that he truly began to heal.
He wants people to hear his story, and learn that they too can lead fulfilling lives, despite suffering from PTSD.
Paddling with PTSD
This Canada Day, Petersen will embark on a solo paddling expedition that will take him along a fur trade route, from Sir Wilfrid Laurier Park in Edmonton all the way to Winnipeg, Man.
The trip will take approximately one and a half month to complete. He hopes the excursion will help raise awareness as well as funds for Wounded Warriors Canada.
Petersen’s PTSD causes him to get confused and easily overwhelmed with stress. But paddleboarding has become a form of meditation for him, allowing him to concentrate on paddling and staying balanced standing on the board instead of the many thoughts running through his head.
“It’s kind of a meditative endeavour for me,” he said. “For someone who can’t concentrate on breathing exercises, it’s fulfilled that role for me. It’s helped me to be a calmer person, be more relaxed. I still have my moments, but it’s a big help.”
Petersen says this journey would not be possible without his mother. Marie-Paul Petersen knows first hand how far-reaching the effects of PTSD can be.
“I never knew if I would have him alive the next day,” she said. “It’s difficult because your life just goes into a real rollercoaster. You lose your own security, your own self worth, just as they do. You go downhill, and you have to learn to get back up.”
Petersen’s mother has developed PTSD as a result — something she says many people may not realize.
“If there is a member that has post traumatic stress disorder, many of the family members will be affected by it,” she said.
Learning to manage
Petersen says he has come a long way since what he calls “dark times.”
“I learned to socialize and talk to people again through paddleboarding,” said Petersen. “I started going to surf camps… and go on vacations again, because that’s something I just stopped doing as well. It’s really defined who I am now.”
He knows living with PTSD will be a lifelong struggle for him, but he has found a way to cope.
“When you have PTSD, you have it for the rest of your life,” Petersen said. “However, we can learn to manage it and that’s what I’ve done… I now have a fulfilling life and I’m smiling, which is something I haven’t done in years.”