The explosion in Afghanistan delivered Tyler Coady a life-changing jolt.
The retired corporal has been paying a harsh ongoing physical, emotional and mental price for his military service ever since an improvised explosive device blew up on June 1, 2007 just in front of the heavily armoured patrol vehicle Coady was driving.
He received the gravest injuries of the nine Canadian soldiers on board the RG-31 Nyala on that dark day in a war-ravaged country.
The physical damage that persists 10 years later is considerable.
The 32-year-old Charlottetown native has post concussion syndrome, which is a form of traumatic brain injury.
His left arm is much weaker than his right one with nerve damage running down through his shoulder, arm and hand.
He has vertigo and recently took a couple of nasty spills off a ladder while trying to clean out the gutters of his Charlottetown home.
Short-term memory loss is a regular source of frustration. He also has tinnitus – a constant ringing in the ears.
“It’s always there,’’ he says of the extremely disruptive condition.
“Some days it seems worse than others.’’
Most debilitating of the explosion fall-out, however, has been the psychological toll of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
Coady was diagnosed with the severe anxiety disorder shortly after returning home from Afghanistan.
The syndrome, which can been triggered in Coady by crowds, loud noises and burning smells – things that would transport him back to Afghanistan, right back to the explosion – have proven to be a harsh foe for several years.
He simply could not muster the fortitude to deal with his PTSD in a helpful or healthy manner.
“I definitely did not take care of myself early on,’’ he recalls.
“I was avoiding everyone – just isolating. Part of it was I did not want to be a burden to everyone. It’s kind of hard to describe, (but it is) like being afraid to leave your house or even your room. I mean if you had talked to some of my friends, I wasn’t the same person when I came home.’’
As a result, he has lost contact with many people he used to buddy around with before he embarked on his fateful tour in Afghanistan.
“I still think it was the best job I ever had. I still think it was worth it. I can’t think of a civilian job where I would be willing to trade my life or my wellbeing for that type of experience.’’
Thankfully for Coady, he eventually came to appreciate the value of support, notably from his peers.
He started attending the peer support group, Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS), 10 years ago but did not have the right mindset at the time to glean help.
For the past six or seven months, though, he has been going regularly to the support group to talk about what is happening in his life, how he is taking care of himself and to develop plans to keep safe.
“It’s having a sense of community, really,’’ he explains. “So these people help you get through rough patches.’’
Today, he is even running the group in Charlottetown.
He feels much more mentally and emotionally strong now than he did for several years following the shattering event in Afghanistan.
“Oh, it’s night and day,’’ he says.
Over the years, he gradually started letting people back into his life.
His mother, he notes with great admiration and gratitude, was one person who would not be pushed away.
She was, surely out of love, too persistent and too stubborn to back away. She would not budge.
Others, like Coady’s aunt, also refused to let the damaged veteran run and hide from the world.
“If I didn’t have the support network that I did, I would have killed myself by now,’’ he says.
- Veterans looking for peer support can contact Tyler Coady at 902-940-1717.
- Veterans’ family members looking for support can call Tammy Young at 902-370-7064 or contact the P.E.I. Military Family Resource Centre at 902-892-8999.
Coady’s goal moving forward, in addition to continually working at coping better with his PTSD, is to help others in the military community.
In fact, the desire to come to the aid of veterans was a motivating force in having him return to school, buckle down and attain a master’s degree in military psychology during what was early on a trying experience.
“The first time that I tried going back to school, I couldn’t do it at all,’’ he says.
“I couldn’t be in a classroom. I couldn’t be around people.’’
So he took a break and tackled it later, leaning on the help of an occupational therapist to find his way through to his degree.
One might wonder why Coady would want to have any association with the military after receiving such a harsh hand in Afghanistan that eventually ended his service.
Yet, he does not regret in the least joining the Canadian Armed Forces in 2002, even though he would become a young veteran after fewer than eight years in what he once had hoped would be a long military career.
Being a soldier, he says, simply was a life beyond compare.
Where else, he asks, could he have been paid for the adrenaline rush of jumping out of a helicopter or the honour and responsibility of being an armed combat instructor?
“I still think it was the best job I ever had,’’ he says.
“I still think it was worth it. I can’t think of a civilian job where I would be willing to trade my life or my wellbeing for that type of experience.’’
In Afghanistan, he felt he helped make a difference working with the Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC), a military function that supported the commander’s mission by establishing and maintaining co-ordination and co-operation between the military force and civil actors in the commander’s area of operations.
Coady also stresses nothing compares to the bond soldiers form between one another.
“You’re constantly around the people you train with more so than you ever would be with friends in the civilian world or even your spouse,’’ he says.
“The guys that I served with, I knew them better than anyone I’ve ever known in a civilian world – even my own brothers and sisters.’’