As friendly, family bulldog Bentley sits at his feet, veteran Chris Dupee speaks candidly about the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he has been managing since he left the Canadian Armed Forces three years ago.
The diagnosis came mere months before his 10-year anniversary with the Royal Canadian Regiment, triggering his release from the military and the pension that went along with a decade of service.
But the former infantryman, paratrooper and light-armoured vehicle gunner, who did a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2008, would never complain about the military service that led him to where he is today.
“I’ve got the most fulfilling job in the world now, as far as I’m concerned,” Dupee said, who was born and raised in Newmarket and now calls Barrie home.
Dupee and his wife, Angel, are the co-founders of Cadence Health and Wellness at 35 Lundy’s Lane, Unit B, in Newmarket. The couple launched the business in October 2017 after recognizing an urgent need to provide mental health treatment and support for veterans, specifically, as well as their families, who often suffer second-hand trauma.
The clinic’s focus is on veterans, active military members and first responders such as police officers and firefighters, but services are also available to the general public.
PTSD is a mental health condition that develops in some people who have experienced or witnessed disturbing events. While everyone goes through wide-ranging reactions after a traumatic situation, most recover on their own. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD, and may continue to feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
In Cadence’s reception area, which resembles a comfy family room, Angel still vividly remembers the day Dupee returned from Afghanistan, when he got off the bus and they made their way back to home base in Petawawa.
“There was something in his eyes that I noticed. Something about his eyes,” she said. “He just looked right through me, it was very weird and I kind of took a step back. I thought, ‘This guy’s not happy to see me’, but it wasn’t that. It was that he was different.”
The Dupees had young children at the time and as their home life slowly began to unravel, Angel implored Chris to talk to somebody. He insisted he was fine, until the day he realized he wasn’t.
In a December 2017 first-person article for Toronto Life magazine’s Memoir feature, Dupee wrote: “...Desperate to ease my chaotic mind, I started taking too many sleeping pills. Some days I slept for 12, 18, even 24 hours at a time. My drug use drove me away from my home and family, and for more than a year, I lived out of my truck, swallowing pills and hoping everything would be better when I woke up. It never was. A year and a half ago, after many apologies and a lot of tears, I moved back in. Life hasn’t been perfect. I still structure my routines around my illness: I stay off busy streets to avoid triggering my road rage, and I try not to spend too much time alone with my thoughts. …”
Today, Dupee said he’s not out of the woods. But the progress he’s made with his own therapy gives him the ability to relate with those suffering with PTSD and also to recognize the symptoms in others.
“The issues are the same, but the difference with military folks is we’ll just take it and seclude. We’re really good at being uncomfortable, so our uncomfortable threshold is probably a lot different than an average person,” he said. “Everybody’s affected, you can’t not be affected after being exposed to a Third World country, the living conditions there, and then coming back, it’s a whole different ball game,” he said.
“On my very first patrol, before I went out, I was scared. I was scared because everybody wanted to kill me and wouldn’t care if I did die. They would walk over my body,” said Dupee . “On my last patrol, I wasn’t scared anymore. I was more numb, complacent, I just wanted to get home.
“Something happened in between, something good, that helped me survive. It helped me rationalize the irrational, to laugh in the face of death every day. It served me over there. I still have it in me, but it doesn’t serve me now.”
Dupee embraces the concept of the “sheepdog” mentality, first explored in the early 2000s by former United States Army Ranger LTC Dave Grossman in his book, On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace.
“You’ve got your sheep, who are the people in society, you’ve got your wolves, the ones who are trying to do bad things, and the sheepdogs, who protect the herd at all costs,” he said. “The sheepdog’s instinct is to help, to make a difference. And what makes them good is that they have a little bit of wolf in them, too.”
It’s an ideology that comes up often in the peer support groups Dupee leads, and one he believes should be celebrated.
The couple’s first foray into the mental health industry began in 2011, when Dupee founded the first-ever social media platform, Military Minds, to help military members and veterans struggling on the continuum of an occupational stress injury and PTSD, and to break the stigma of mental health. The online hub now boasts about 130,000 members in Canada, the U.S., Australia and Great Britain, who are connected to the help they need through the platform.
Angel then founded Military Minds Spouses, in tandem, to provide support and resources for families. A social services diploma soon followed as she pursued her desire to help others.
"The biggest thing is being a veteran myself might encourage people to come who otherwise would not seek therapy," Dupee said. "We’re able to dip our hand in a little bit further. Our therapists know who exactly they’re looking after."
Cadence Health and Wellness offers one-on-one therapy from a carefully selected team of therapists who specialize in veteran and first responders care, group therapy, including outings such as axe throwing, and peer support events. They are located at 35 Lundy’s Lane, Unit B, in Newmarket. Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.For more information, call 905-235-3734, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit them online or on Facebook