The nightmares started soon after Jason McKenzie returned from Yugoslavia.
He replayed the feeling of the armoured personnel carrier he was travelling in with 13 other soldiers sinking into a muddy river, swept up under a blown-up bridge, as he struggled to get out.
“That’s where most of my trauma, most of my PTSD goes to,” said McKenzie, a 41-year-old Canadian Forces veteran who served in the former Yugoslavia in 1992 and 1993.
“I have a lot of issues at night waking up in the dark, coming out of a nightmare. I panic, and I know that I’m feeling the panic that I had that day.”
It was one of the memories McKenzie shared with his family for the first time recently, as he prepared a march across Canada to raise awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder.
New Statistics Canada data released this week shows one in six members of the military have reported experiencing symptoms of mental or alcohol disorders.
The idea for “Into No Man’s Land: PTSD Awareness March Canada” came from McKenzie’s friend and fellow veteran Steve Hartwig. And the goal is to let veterans – and the Canadian public – know that it’s ok to talk about PTSD.
“When Steve put the idea forward, it just resonated with me and I hadn’t actually sat down and talked to my family about my PTSD and the struggles I’d gone through since I got out of the military,” said McKenzie, a father of three.
“I shared that with them and it was a very profound moment, where we shed a lot of tears and they were just like, why didn’t you ever tell us about this?
“That solidified for me the importance of the journey. Because if that’s what I’ve gone through, other people have gone through[it].”
The two men plan to walk about 32 kilometres a day in 16 kilometre blocks – just like they do in the military – while carrying 50-pound rucksacks.
Blisters, tendonitis and other sports injuries are par for the course, and they are sleeping in a trailer in parking lots or with friendly strangers who take them in along the way.
Their march started on June 23 in Victoria, and will stop in Ottawa on Friday. The plan is to end on Sept. 14 in St. John’s, Nfld. A third veteran, Scott McIntyre McFarlane, recently left the march, to deal with his own PTSD.