I would like to share what The Rolling Barrage (TRB) has given to me. I was diagnosed with PTSD about 4 years after my release from the CAF.

This was hard for me as I had moved after my release and became disconnected in many ways from the men & woman I served with. It was partially due to this that I decided to keep this diagnosis to myself. The only person I had shared it with originally was my wife, as I was embarrassed and self conscious. I did not want this diagnosis, and I also felt in some ways ashamed due to it.

I looked at myself as being weak and having a weak mind and blamed the diagnosis on myself and I told myself this over and over. After receiving this diagnosis, I had been seeing a counsellor very sporadically because I did not want to go.

The counsellor continuously suggested that I needed to take time off work to really get on top of this and address this mental injury. I ignored this advice for the first few years and because of this, things were continuing to spiral further, out of control.

Imagine, if you will, being in a portrait, I was in it and because I was in it, I could not see what was happening all around me outside of it.

This was creating a very severe negative impact on my family and on my health. Because of my pride and unwillingness to listen to the professionals, it got to the point that I had almost a complete disconnect from brain and body.

I could go days without eating or sleeping and I did not even notice. I had little feeling of pain and was numb to a lot of what was happening to me. I became very forgetful and had very little focus toward normal everyday tasks.

I was put on medication that I regularly forgot to take and I was pounding in coffee and things to keep me awake in the day and then trying to heavily medicate myself at night to sleep.

Things got to the point that my wife had to step away from her work to be an aid for me and to help prompt me with medication, meals, and appointments. It did not take long before she said, if you are not willing to fix this or at least listen to your counsellor, I do not think there are any other options than a divorce or at the very least separation.

My wife and daughters made an appointment to sit with my counsellor and from there the counsellor said, I think I would like for you to sit with your family doctor and I would like to send along a letter to update the doctor on your current condition.

Still with next to no concern for my own health, but not wanting to lose my family, I agreed to sit with the doctor and see where it went from there.

To back track, the counsellor had sent me 1 year earlier with a letter to my doctor, to which my doctor had recommended time off, but I was unwilling to follow that advice at that time.

This appointment would be different. My wife was there to hear what the doctor had to say and to give more details if needed. Once with the doctor, she read the letter from the Councilor and said, typically I would put someone of fwork for about 2 weeks, but this is not where you are at right now. I’m putting you off work for 3 months.

At this time in my life I was 3/4 through a Masters degree, and working a casual/on-call position at a hospital on top of full-time employment.

I think now looking back that I was doing this so that my mind had little time to think as I was mentally busy from the time my feet hit the floor until my head hit the pillow at night.

So when the doctor said she was putting me off work, I asked if I could continue schooling and working casual as she only said “no work” and she quickly said “No! everything stops today”.

I remember I had tears pouring down my face, and even now reminiscing as I write this, it is emotional for me. My personality is one that if I am told “you cannot do that” my attitude is and was, watch me prove you wrong! I, for one, do not like being told what to do but I definitely do not like being told what I cannot do.

I went home completely in shock, and I really did not know where to go there, but thankfully my counsellor along with Veterans Affairs, placed me into a 6-month rehabilitation program.
This program included several different types of appointments, which I went to 3 to 5 days every week for 6 months. What surprised me was that most of the appointments were dealing with my body, not with my mind, as they were aiming to help me reestablish the connection between body and brain.

The hope was that I would be better able to function at home and out in public, as at home I was so tense, everyone walked on eggshells and in public I often had breakdowns where I would have to make my way to my car, vibrating until I could settle down and either I would have to go home or settle and reattempt to do what I was doing shortly before.

My doctor kept putting me off work in 3-month intervals which continued through the program and a bit beyond.

Where does TRB come in? It was within just a few weeks of finishing the 6 months of rehabilitation when I saw on social media a post for The Rolling Barrage. Right away there was a connection. I owned a motorcycle; I live with PTSD; I was still off work, and I was a veteran. It seemed like the perfect fit.

I asked my wife if she would support me and if she felt it would be a good idea for me to attempt taking part in it and not only was she for it; she was willing to do whatever was needed to help me go on it.

I signed up and joined 2021 TRB! I was a stranger to not only the other riders, but to the organization as well. I did not know what to expect or anyone else who would be riding, but I knew I had to do this not only for myself but for my family and my health.

When I showed up to the restaurant where they were having dinner the night before the ride started, I was asked how far I was thinking to ride and I said, it will depend on my bike, my body and my budget and if all is well there and with my family, I’m heading to Vancouver.

When we departed on day 1, I was a stranger and by the time I reached the West Coast I had developed an incredible group of friends, men & women that I knew I could count on. They all knew roughly what I had been going through, as many had gone through their own challenges with PTSD or OSI and they were willing to share and open up about their own personal struggles.

It was midway through the journey that I began to share about some of my own struggles as very early on the trip I began to feel that this was a place where I belonged.

We all loved motorcycles, we all had our own struggles many with PTSD, and we were all willing to put each other ahead of ourselves and love on each other as family.

By the time I reached the West Coast, the core Full Pull Crew was family. We had a ceremonial tire dip in the Pacific and when we left from there, a bond had been built that I know will last.

Yet, it was not just the Full Pull crew that I got very close to, I met many great people on the way, who I have continued to be in contact with and we have offered support and friendship to each other to this day.

In my own opinion and for my own personal story, TRB was more beneficial than my 6 months of therapy. I am not saying the therapy was not essential, as it was.

But, TRB gave me my life back after feeling it was gone and being exhausted from the therapy and struggling with PTSD.

I was uncomfortable to share this story, and the only reason I am sharing it here is because TRB had such a positive impact for me. Not only regarding my PTSD, but in many areas of life as well. I have also lost far too many friends and acquaintances at their own hand to PTSD and/or OSI and do not want another life lost. Further, I know that life is worth living and I know there are others who struggle, many of whom struggle in silence.

I could not recommend enough to someone to take part in TRB. If you come out for a day, you will be out for a great ride. If you come out for a couple of days, you will be out for an experience. But if you have the guts and determination to be part of the Full Pull crew, you will be a part of the most epic journey.

Seeing our great country is only a part of it, but finding a family that you can know, love and trust, who will not judge but listen and who will not turn their back on you when times get tough is priceless.

PTSD may be permanent, but it does not need to be life ending. Life is worth living and life for me is more enjoyable on 2 wheels.

I look forward to seeing you or meeting you on the road with The Rolling Barrage in the future.

Stephen Vessey

Stephen Vessey

Full Pull Alumni / Provincial Lead – PEI, The Rolling Barrage