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PTSD survivors rally to transform historic Cochrane landmark into healing centre

“This isn’t something that we need to do on our own."

COCHRANE— A group of post-traumatic stress disorder survivors are looking to transform a historic Cochrane landmark into a centre for healing.

Det. Paul Wagman with the Calgary Police Service and his fellow committee members officially launched the WineGlass Wellness Retreat fundraiser on Thursday (May 24).

“We’re seeing a massive wave of this [post-traumatic stress disorder survivors] and it’s going to be catastrophic when it crashes if we don’t do something to help,” Wagman said. “It’s truly going to be a journey but you pick the path of your journey.”

The committee to create the WineGlass Ranch Wellness Retreat was launched in September 2019 to create a safe space for first responders, military personal and their families to heal wounds inflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder.

The opening weekend had the goal raising $50,000 for the iniative through the fundraiser Alone Together:The Isolation Challenge, while showcasing some of the services that could be offered. They hope to begin facilitating programs at the ranch in September, Wagman said.

The wellness retreat will blend traditional and alternative healing methods to create a space that fits the needs of those looking to heal from post-traumatic stress.

Wagman noted that it is amazing to see the partnerships that are already forming in the community, adding that he has partnered with former Tsuut'ina chief Lee Crowchild to offer a selection of Indigenous healing practices.

A major focus of the committee has been renovating the old WineGlass Ranch farmhouse donated by the Wearmouth and Eklund families, to transform the space into a centre for healing, Wagman said.

He hopes to turn the farmhouse into a Mecca with various programs to help survivors on their post-traumatic stress disorder journeys heal. The ultimate goal is to restore the 1920s home at the ranch into a unique space that is sensitive to sensory needs and can serve as a place for meditation, yoga and other programs.

The WineGlass Wellness Retreat is important because it can serve as a catalyst for conversation and address the stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress is a lonely experience, Wagman said, and treating the subject as taboo makes the experience even more isolating.

“It’s getting better but it’s still completely isolating, you don’t want to tell any of your peers,” Wagman said, explaining how the disorder can be paralyzing and alienating.

Wagman was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after attending a mass murder in Calgary in 2008.

“You can feel like your backed up against a wall and there’s nobody to talk to and there’s no good options— We’re [WineGlass Ranch Wellness] going to reach them,” Wagman said.

Wagman said he is still on his healing journey and is looking to share and help others as they recover from their post-traumatic stress disorders.

He praised fellow board member Jessica van der Hoek and her work in equine therapy to help those who are looking to heal.

Equine therapy works to foster the feeling of wellness through horse-based activities, van der Hoek said.

“The relationship building and the teamwork and the coming to the understanding all of that stuff happens on the ground before you ever get in the saddle,” “You can show up exactly as who you are— Horses require nothing from you except to just show up.”

Van der Hoek developed Prairie Sky Equine Assisted Therapy about ten years ago and said there is a huge therapeutic value to bringing horses into the WineGlass Wellness program.

She said it is amazing to be a part of fellow first responders and military personal's healing process by providing them with a space to let them know that they are not alone.

As someone who did not have that van der Hoek said she appreciates how important it can be to have a team beside you to help pick you up and offer support.

“This isn’t something that we need to do on our own,” van der Hoek said.

Van der Hoek served as a paramedic for 20 years before she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and has spent the last ten years in recovery.

“My experience was a very lonely, very traumatic one,” van der Hoek said, explaining that at the time it was a taboo topic of discussion and there were not the same resources available that are seen today. “It wasn’t really on anybody’s radar.”

She described her experience as an accumulated stress injury due to the repeated traumas she had been exposed to on the job that left her tired and angry.

“It was death by a thousand paper cuts,” van der Hoek said.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a challenging illness she said because it takes away your ability to be resilient.

It is more important than ever to be helping first responders and military healing surviving post-traumatic stress disorders, van der Hoek added, because she can see and relate to the isolation people are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Society is paying a price right now because of COVID and first responders are the witnesses to it,” van der Hoek said. “They’re going to need our help coming out of this.”

WineGlass Wellness Retreat volunteer organizer and spokesperson  Bryce Talsma echoed van ger Hoek adding that he appreciates the stress COVID-19 has placed on first responders.

It is exciting to be creating something that will help them.

“We can put out something tangible and real and say, ‘This is for you,’” Talsma said. “You do not have to be alone— There is a community behind you.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a long term problem and ranch can serve as a long term solution, he said.

There are great benefits to having a peer support group because empathizing and relate to stories they have in common while sympathizing with the unique experience one has on their post-traumatic stress disorder journey.

Talsma is a retired captain with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry 1st Battalion and served in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. He experienced an acute operational stress injury and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the fall of 2017.

“I was paralyzed," he said, explaining that the hardest step was saying out loud that he had been injured.

It took years of therapy to rebuild and his post-traumatic stress disorder is now in remission.

“My future is now much brighter than it was,” Talsma said, adding that he is grateful for his wife and three kids that helped him recognize his illness and begin his feeling journey.

Post-traumatic stress disorder has been a major conversation in the military for many years and the military has been putting resources in place to help people heal.

“The military is on the vanguards— They’re at the forefront of recognizing operation stress injuries (an injury acquired through stress on an operation),” Talsma said. “You need to think of it as an injury.”

It has been a privilege paying that forward and sharing what he learned with his first responder brothers and sisters.

“My heart breaks hearing all of their stories,” Talsma said.

It can be difficult asking for help because those that experience an operational stress injury can lose trust in the institution they work with because the wound was inflicted on the job. This makes peer support groups all the more important.

“I’ve been down this path— There’s hope you can be better, you don’t have to be defined by it,” Talsma said. “Having true courage is knowing that you’re facing something that is terrifying and to do it anyways. We’re asking people to be brave, to be brave enough to put their hand up and say, ‘I’m not doing well.’”


Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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