Finding, and Re-Finding Home as a Toronto Army Reservist

David Macdonald served as an infantry soldier in Afghanistan for the Royal Regiment of Canada. He returned home with extensive injuries and PTSD– which later plunged him into deep depression, confusion and anger when he tried to rejoin Canadian society. He now serves as the Director of National Partnerships at Wounded Warriors Canada, where he works to raise awareness to the needs of veterans and military families in Canada.

I enlisted in the army in 2005. In 2007, the opportunity came up to serve in Afghanistan. As a reservist, I voluntarily gave up my life, college and family to be posted abroad.

In September 2008, I landed in Afghanistan. It was during what the media called “Deadly September.” We lost so many soldiers – three soldiers were killed on my first day alone.

For a few months, I was a human bomb detector. That experience forever changed me – and I’m just beginning to get comfortable walking out on roads and sidewalks. Over there, we had a rule not to walk on the road because that’s where bombs were kept. It was safer walking through the desert, despite those spaces often being used as mine fields during the previous fourty years of war.

When you come home, it’s not like they do in the movies. There isn’t a parade, or music playing – and most importantly, you don’t come home as a unit. We came home and were disbanded. Overnight, you go from being overseas – looking for bombs and dodging bullets – and you’re just expected to reintegrate back.

It’s not possible. Your friends and family are so happy that you’re home and want to celebrate, but they don’t realize that you’re not fully home yet. Everyone I knew left something over there.

I didn’t want to  go meet up with friends or go to my parents house, because that meant traveling. I couldn’t seem to shut down the hyper-vigilance that was a survival instinct overseas. Once you have that on, it’s so hard to turn it off.

I finally had enough one day. I was having a hard time, couldn’t secure a fulfilling job and decided to attempt suicide in 2012. Luckily, I survived the attempt – which was a huge wake up call for me. I never thought of suicide for before, and surviving was one of the biggest motivating factors to seek help.

My story isn’t unique. This is happening to thousands of men and women in uniform. I can guarantee you that there are men and women who served in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Cambodia and other places that are going through the same thing right now – and it’s happening in our communities.

This is an abridged transcript of an audio story submitted by David Macdonald for the “Toronto’s Untold Stories” exhibit hosted by Autobiography Magazine on December 28, 2016. Listen to David’s full story here