Turning to music helped ease PTSD for former soldier
Capt. Ryan Carey in Afghanistan. Carey is now composing and performing music to help him with his PTSD.
Ryan Carey counts among the dozens of artists and musical groups performing at the third Hudson Porchfest, Saturday. Carey’s story stands apart.
The circuitous route which brings Carey to the porch at 416 Lakeview St. for a 4 p.m. performance of his original songs, demanded commitment, physical and emotional strength, fierce courage and a determination to heal.
The 48-year-old father of three has lived a disciplined life through two careers. He played football with the CFL for five years. Then, at age 30, he joined the military. As a captain in charge of 40 soldiers, he landed in Afghanistan in Sept., 2006, just as Operation Medusa kicked in. The Canadian-led offensive killed five soldiers in his unit alone.
During a recent interview, Carey spoke of the intense bond soldiers forge during training and how he knew, as the captain, he would be expected to send his unit into dangerous situations.
“Operation Medusa was the largest offensive for Canadians since the Korean War,” Carey said. “Nineteen were killed on the tour and I don’t know how many were wounded.”
On the second day of the offensive, Carey’s unit was attacked and four soldiers died. That night a plane carrying British military personnel crashed, killing 14, and the next day his unit was accidentally strafed by American soldiers. One soldier was killed.
Carey returned with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but did not seek help. Instead, he soldiered on, as so many suffering from trauma do, be they soldiers or first responders. He began to experience panic attacks, which he hid as best he could. But a fellow officer recognized the symptoms and approached.
“I had three kids and was the breadwinner,” Carey said. “The pressure was enormous. The emotions you experience are extreme. There is rage. There is guilt. You have to mourn. But there is a time and place to mourn and that time and place is not in combat, so you begin to create habits to cope. You turn the emotion off. That leads to depression, anxiety, addiction. Believe me, anger is just the baseline. You isolate yourself and because you are alone, your brain plays tricks on you. It can lead to violence.”
Carey agreed to see a military doctor and has used the out-patient resources at the Ste-Anne Hospital in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. And he had music.
After a five-year career in the CFL and a tour in Afghanistan as an army captain, Ryan Carey is now writing and performing music. He performs at the Hudson Porchfest this Saturday.
Music was always part of Carey’s life. His dad was a musician and he grew up listening to the blues. When he was in the military, he played bass guitar and after Afghanistan, he bought an acoustic guitar.
“I began to compose to deal with my PTSD,” Carey said. “And then I went to open-mic nights. It actually took me one year to gather the courage to do my first open-mic and I’ve played in a Grey Cup game. I told myself it was going to hurt and it was going to suck.
“Art can be brutally honest, but it can also be loving and compassionate. I find those type of environments to be very helpful for vets.”
Of the 10-song set he’s planned for the Porchfest, seven are original.
“(The songs) are all about the emotion, the frustration, the anger I experienced. I tell you, I have a PhD in suffering. But I left room for love and for humour, as well,” Carey said. “I’m working on an album which will be released in the new year. These are songs that can spark conversation.”
Carey lives on the South Shore. He met the people who organize the Hudson Porchfest while performing at an open-mic night at Rubes, in Rigaud.
His Porchfest performance will come the day after he returns from a training session for the Invictus Games, which take place in the Netherlands in May, 2020. (Carey was the flag bearer for the Canadian participants in the 2017 Invictus Games Toronto.)
Carey is now involved in the Concussion Legacy Foundation which works to keep athletes safe from the ravages of concussion. He also works with Guitars for Vets, an initiative which distributes gently used guitars to vets and those in active service suffering from PTSD and other service-related disabilities. The goal is to encourage healing through music. Lessons are taught by volunteers like Carey.
“I would like to organize monthly jam sessions,” he said. “Social interaction creates peer support and peer support helps tremendously on your road to recovery.”
Porchfests have become increasingly popular in Canada and the United States, since the first edition was launched in Ithaca, New York in 2007. The event allows local artists and the community to enjoy performances in an informal setting.
The Hudson Porchfest takes place at 13 locations, from noon to 5 p.m., Sept. 14. For a complete schedule of the free event, organized with local musicians and the Hudson Bluegrass Society, visit the Facebook events page www.facebook.com/events/260853254800724 or visit hudsonporchfest.ca.