This Canadian veteran is fighting PTSD, one gunshot at a time

As a soldier, Hélène Lescelleur's gun was a part of her. Now, years after an IED attack left its mark, she's heading to the firing range to face her demons.
Canadian Armed Forces veteran Hélène Lescelleur.

By Sasha Campeau

I met Hélène Lescelleur through social media. I knew she was battling a severe post-traumatic stress disorder, which was the result of her time in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Last June, Helene posted on her Facebook page a video of her firing a weapon at a shooting range. It was the first time she had shot a gun since getting back from Afghanistan. The post included this message:

"It was a huge step forward in my recovery. I will have to expose myself again in order to calm this demon of mine #support #grouptherapy #friendship".
Canadian Armed Forces veterans Hélène Lescelleur and Joël Guindon visit the shooting range together. (Sasha Campeau)

As I was reading her words, I thought it was a curious way to deal with PTSD. But then, can we really understand what goes on in the mind of someone who has seen the horrors of war?  

It becomes a part of you. You're trained to have your weapon all the time. They say to you, 'treat your weapon as you would your spouse.'- Hélène Lescelleur

When Captain Hélène Lescelleur was deployed to Afghanistan in 2007, war was raging. As the second in command of a medical company, she was responsible for all the evacuations of killed and injured soldiers. Stakes were sky high.

But on October 7, 2007, she found herself personally involved in an incident that would change everything. While returning to the Kandahar Airfield Multinational Camp, the armoured vehicle Hélène was travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb. That night, Hélène kept watch outside, alone, in the dark, while the rest of the wounded crew waited inside the vehicle to be rescued. That wait lasted several hours.

By the end of the mission, Hélène knew something was wrong, and it wasn't just the physical injuries she sustained. She did not feel like herself. Then came the nightmares and the night sweats. She was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or post-traumatic stress injury, as some veterans prefer to call it. It led to a downward spiral of depression, hyper-vigilance and addiction.      

Veteran Hélène Lescelleur displays her medals. (Sasha Campeau)
Today, Hélène is on the path to recovery. She is a PhD student in social work at the University of Ottawa, she volunteers for the organization Wounded Warriors Canada and she competed recently in the Invictus Games in Toronto. Her goal is to help former soldiers like herself rebuild their lives.

But Hélène still feels the need to deal with her triggers. Hearing loud noises that sound like gunshots can bring on a panic attack. "I'm very stressed if I hear something like a gun firing. I feel that I'm still in danger somehow," she says.

With the help of her friend, former soldier and shooting instructor Joël Guindon, she decides to spend a second day on the shooting range.

In the documentary, Hélène tells us her story, and we go with her to the shooting range to help her face her demons.

For those who may be suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, the PTSD Association of Canada offers a number of useful resources on their website, including material specific to those in the Armed Forces

Sasha Campeau
About the producer

Born in Ottawa, Sasha Campeau moved to Montreal in 2005 at the age of 22. Not knowing what to do with a bachelor's degree in international development, she started working for an international fireworks competition. Later she studied journalism, joining Radio-Canada as an associate producer in 2009. Sasha enjoys traveling the world, but has yet to overcome her own fear: flying. This is her first documentary.