Hi, My name is Paul Wagman and I have PTSD stemming from a work-related injury.

Surprisingly enough, when my psychologist told me I had PTSD I didn’t believe him. Even more, I didn’t really know what that meant. I had to do some research after the initial shock wore off and I realized the good doctor was right. After all, he was a highly reputed forensic psychologist that I trusted professionally for years. My immediate thoughts went to the ‘Stigma’ around mental health. For whatever reason, I felt a bit embarrassed to be injured. Like it might be contagious. Like people looking at me saw my injury. Being a 21-year member of the Calgary Police Service in the rank of Detective, I had my own uneducated thoughts on PTSD prior to experiencing it. Having first-hand experience with PTSD has helped me reshape what I thought I knew throughout my career in relation to past experiences and develop further professional and personal understandings of mental health.

In 2008, I responded to a mass homicide, as a Constable. There were kids involved. At the time of the homicide, my first child was nearly a year old, and that was the age of the only living survivor we took out of the homicide scene. It was difficult to observe and wrap your head around what you were seeing. I did not process my trauma in a healthy way, or in any way. Two weeks later I transitioned to working in major crimes, sex crimes, and child abuse homicide as a Detective. During the trauma I experienced, and immediately afterward, I observed people I worked with responded to, and processing the trauma in a variety of ways. Some outcomes were not good. My processing included putting everything in a bag until sleep issues, anger, frustration and many more symptoms of PTSD started to seep to the surface and bubble over.

So, I did the most important thing in my life – I got professional help and followed my psychologist’s advice. I made time to dedicate to my healing and following psychologist, psychiatrist, and other therapists’ orders. Taking a break or stress leave did not make me resilient or lead to healing on its own. While I appeared physically strong, healthy, and quite capable, I was struggling in so many ways. Inside, I was barely hanging on. The psychology support was major! However, there was way, way more that I needed to do to truly be well and to heal that I didn’t know even existed. The secret for me became lots of little things focused on wellness, rather than one big solution. It was a real dedication to overall wellness that helped the big issue of my mental health and building resiliency.

What I will not allow myself to do is let my injury be any part of who I am as a person. I have symptoms of PTSD, I am working and progressing through those symptoms, but I am not my injury.

Navigating ‘the system’ you must face when dealing with a workplace injury can be extremely complicated. I spoke to others who are first responders and military and we share many of the same experiences and long journeys of healing. I wanted to bring these hero’s together to provide a place where peers can provide trusted support to peers. Where they can choose their own path and journey to their own healing, and drop the stigma around mental health entirely. Our wellness should focus on creating resilient responders and military with healthy supportive family units, so they may carry out their critical duties in a healthy way and be mental warriors.

In 2013 I won the Western Legacy award from the Calgary Stampede for founding and creating the charity Camp Carmangay. This honour reflected many years of creating a place and a program to help disadvantaged and at-risk youth have a space to heal and experience programs of growth and impact, while still enjoying being a kid. My successes, partnerships with philanthropists, and charitable people became extremely rewarding in seeing the direct impact that youth would have as a direct result of the work that I had done as a volunteer. I knew I wanted to create something again.

Enter Wayfinders Wellness. Wayfinders is a nonprofit organization established by peers who have experienced a range of mental health-related injuries as a result of their occupations. We have had to navigate our own ways of healing and find direction on our own journeys. Many responder peers are now even service providers and healers in the area of trauma and wellness They are role models of resiliency. Together we are creating Wayfinders Wellness as a physical and online support for first responders, military, and their families healing from trauma and PTSD. Our secret sauce or equation will also be very publicly available for everyone else to observe and follow suit if they so choose. Our modalities of healing collectively are available to everyone, and often supported by healthcare.

Since I have been injured with PTSD, my rule in life has changed so much. Self-care is so important.  I have chosen to share my experiences and difficult journey in order to pave the path and make it easier for others. I experienced a great deal of pain that I do not believe others need to experience, yet they are. A couple of my most proud programs that we look to offer at Wayfinders, include aboriginal healing, sweats, and other Aboriginal ways of knowing offered in partnership with my healing Mentor and friend Chief Lee Crowchild. I was fortunate to have rare, accessible experiences of healing through aboriginal sweets and many more aboriginal ways of healing. It will be an amazing gift to offer this to our wayfinders.

I have a lifetime of experience in equine therapy, owning horses my whole life, and in creating equine programs for my previous charitable endeavor. However, I have partnered with PSEAT, paramedic Jessica Vanderhoek, and our equine therapist Marilyn MacLean to offer very specialized PTSD programs, for all our guests. Access to the healing power of horses can be a huge benefit for a multitude of health issues, especially trauma and PTSD.
That is also why, on-site we will introduce other things that will be accessible such as our expansive nature area, the ability to slow down and meditate, education on breathing techniques that will change your life. We are partnering with a growing list of professional service providers who, through our own experience, provide valuable services.

The only thing I ever heard in my work environment was ‘work-life balance’. I used to think I knew what that meant, now I sure do. It must be noted that there is no magic potion and the journey to recovery and healing post-trauma, certainly with PTSD, can be one of the most difficult things anyone can do. I propose one way to impact the stigma surrounding mental health is to look at the resiliency we build once we choose to take a healthy path of recovery. Like training in the gym, there’s no stigma around becoming fit and resilient. I have been training to become a resilient mental warrior. My training and the practices that we share at Wayfinders, will hopefully create stronger individuals and promote post-traumatic growth.

I am going to continue building the best version of myself I can for not only myself but for my family as well.

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