Local soldier tells truth about living with depression
By Cindy Chant
It may be common for many adolescents to suffer mild concussions while participating in contact sports, but not too many adults can say they suffered at least nine before reaching the age of 40. Hometown hero Shane Oliver, who played on the Alberton Western Regals hockey team in the late 1980’s, paid a heavy price for the multiple hits he took to his head while participating in sports and during his career with the military.
In 1990 Mr Oliver, then a farmer in Greenmount, was recruited into the infantry section of the military, after being asked by the recruiter what he wanted to do.
“I told them I loved to play hockey and travel,” he said.
During Mr Oliver’s first tour overseas, while peacekeeping in Croatia, his battalion took part in heavy fighting to protect Serbian civilians. Because of their heroic actions, the battalion was presented with the Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation. However, the recognition was not all Mr Oliver received from the historic mission in Croatia. He also went from an idealistic young man to a hardened soldier who quickly got his eyes opened by the conflict.
And he developed PTSD.
“When I got back from the mission, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was a term that wasn’t well known or talked about,” said Mr Oliver, who explained, “I didn’t even know I had it.”
Several months went by in which Mr Oliver hid all of the symptoms from his undiagnosed PTSD, including fatigue and severe nightmares so realistic he had a hard time believing they were not real, and carried on with his military career.
People who experience PTSD range from child-abuse survivors and motor vehicle accident victims to peacekeepers who have witnessed atrocities. Symptoms can include abnormal fear, flashbacks from the event and an aversion to social contact. People with PTSD try to avoid situations that might trigger memories of the event.
Other symptoms include depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, panic attacks, irritability, outbursts of anger or difficulty with concentration or memory.
Soon after he was chosen to go into a reconnaissance platoon where he was involved in specialty training. It didn’t take long for his Warrant Officer to notice Mr Oliver wasn’t the ‘people-person’ he used to be and couldn’t complete the daily runs he did so many times before.
“I didn’t want to tell anyone in the chain of command because you don’t want to be black-listed...if anyone had a weak mind they were made fun of,” said Mr Oliver.
“You were trained to accept an injury...if you suffered from anything you didn’t tell anyone,” he said.
“I didn’t want to be singled out and wanted my career to last longer than three years.”
After receiving valuable advice from his Warrant Officer, Mr Oliver (“Olley”) agreed to see a psychologist off the base and over time he learned to understand his symptoms. He went symptom-free for 12 years.
“I had no nightmares and felt like I was back to normal...I could fight hard, train hard, play sports and everything was good,” said Mr Oliver.
In 2001, seven years after his first tour, while playing in the Army Hockey Championship in Edmonton, he was hit from behind and suffered a terrible concussion.
“I couldn’t read or write for six months.”
After the game, Mr Oliver went on as usual, or so he thought. Upon returning to Winnipeg, while driving to work one morning he managed to drive through four four-way stops before realizing something was wrong.
“I could see the stop signs coming, but I couldn’t tell myself to stop...so I was driving right through them,” said Mr Oliver.
At that point he drove himself straight to the hospital where he couldn’t sign a simple form provided by medical staff.
Learning of Mr Oliver’s injury, the military told him not to come back to work for an entire year, but after six months he felt as though he was ready to return and he did.
By this time he wasn’t allowed to drive - doctor’s orders - so he decided to prove himself to the military by biking to work every day, a 45-minute ride.
“I wanted to get back to being a good soldier, to becoming a better soldier, a better leader, and get my career moving again,” said Mr Oliver, who was a Master Corporal at this time.
Upon his return to the military he was involved in training for his next mission, learning everything he could about the new Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV3) units, so he can train other officers.
One day during a training exercise in Wainwright, Alberta, a platoon of four LAVs were crossing an open plain, meeting up at a large lake. Two LAVs were instructed to go right and the other two went left around the lake. On the right side of the lake, Mr Oliver’s LAV encountered a large puddle, where his driver asked for instruction.
“I thought it was just a huge puddle so I told him just drive through it,” said Mr Oliver. But to his surprise it was much larger than a puddle.
The LAV Mr Oliver was the crew commander for hit the large, water-filled mortar hole, measuring several feet across and three to five feet deep, at 70 kilometres per hour. The vehicle came to a complete stop, causing Mr Oliver to hit his head off the side of the turret. A cannon was located at the top of the LAV capable of shooting 20 millimetre shells in three round bursts. Everyone unloaded from the vehicle to assess the situation, including Mr Oliver. Shortly after he experienced a severe headache and dizziness, symptoms of concussion known all too well by him. Although he was reinjured with the blow to his head, it wasn’t enough to keep him out of action.
“I decided to stop playing sports soon after...it was heartbreaking because I love the sport of hockey.”
Mr Oliver participated in several more missions and in 2006 was asked to return to the Army’s hockey team as a veteran leader. During a practice Mr Oliver, now a Sergeant, hit his team mate, and even though he hadn’t played in five years he was still fast but lacked the reaction time needed for the sport. Days after concussion symptoms returned.
During a scheduled LAV instructional presentation by Mr Oliver, something he did hundreds of times, he found himself on the floor after passing out for several seconds. After making a quick recovery he tried to carry on with his presentation, but to no avail. Mr Oliver could not make it through. An officer encouraged him to get to the nearest hospital.
It was then doctors told him he could never play sports again and his career in the military was over. At this point, all of his PTSD symptoms returned including nightmares, inability to be in large crowds due to the motion and noise.
“I spent every waking hour from 2006-2011 on the Internet looking for a cure,” said Mr Oliver, who quickly spiralled into a deep depression.
According to Mr Oliver, it was not until his wife, Lori, told him family life had changed dramatically that he noticed he was yelling at his two children for no reason and stopped playing with them after school.
In 2010, when Mr Oliver and his then seven-year-old son Matthew were attending a regular doctor’s appointment, things took a turn for the worse. After routine blood work and a check-up, Mr Oliver passed out in the waiting room and his heart suddenly stopped beating.
“My son saw everything,” said Mr Oliver, who was quickly revived and sent home several hours later only to return the next night with the same symptoms.
A pacemaker was soon inserted into Mr Oliver’s chest to prevent those symptoms from recurring.
According to Mr Oliver, because of the continuous concussions, his brain was not sending the proper signal to his heart to keep it beating if he was a little stressed or experienced a change in heart rate.
After seeing several of his friends pass him in the military career chain, Mr Oliver wanted to go back into the infantry, which he soon discovered was not meant to be. Superior Officers at that time told him they would have to release him and gave Mr Oliver, at the young age of 39, his early retirement date of July 31, 2011.
While preparing himself for retirement his depression worsened leaving him sitting in his basement hours on end in the dark, crying with emotions he didn’t know how to deal with.
“I may have looked OK, but I wasn’t...I learned quickly to hide it, especially in front of the kids,” said Mr Oliver.
Leading up to his release, Mr Oliver was involved in several seminars which were designed to prepare soldiers for civilian life. During a 20-minute video on PTSD, he saw three friends who were also experiencing some of the same symptoms.
“I just started sobbing and hung my head down...the only thing I could do is take a piece of paper and start writing about (his son) Matthew’s first hockey goal,” said Mr Oliver.
Following the presentation suicidal thoughts came to the forefront. Six months before retirement everything seemed hopeless.
“I got into my Jimmy and cried all the way home and just wanted to go away...be done with it...I couldn’t live like this anymore.”
Soon after parking his vehicle in the family garage, a strange thought came to his mind, he had better do some laundry before committing something he thought nobody should ever be able to do. Mr Oliver quickly went to the basement and started a few loads of laundry and noticed the pipe in the back of the dryer was disconnected.
“It took me all afternoon to fix it and before I knew it my kids were home from school,” said Mr Oliver, who had curled up behind the dryer and cried. His son Matthew, seven at the time, found his dad and asked what was the matter?
“I told him there is something wrong and I can’t fix it,” said Mr Oliver, who quickly got a response from his son, “Well, will you play hockey with me tomorrow after school?”
“That is when the lightbulb went off...I realized I had to be there for my kids,” said Mr Oliver.
The time came months later. Mr Oliver accepted his “Depart with Dignity” gifts from the Battalion which thanked him for his 21 and a half years of service.
It was then that Mr Oliver shed some light on what he was living with for the last several years which brought everyone in the room to tears.
During his time in recovery, Mr Oliver developed a skill for painting, in particular painting hockey figures for minor and junior hockey players.
“It was the only thing that kept me sane and not sick with a headache.”
The first figurine was made of his son after his team won the 2010 Brandon A Provincial Hockey Championships, the first time a Brandon team won such a title.
It quickly became a hit. Several other team players requested figures and Mr Oliver is in the process of hiring employees to help him fill the orders.
His passion for hockey is displayed in every figurine painted and sculpted. Even though he may never be able to play the sport again, Mr Oliver is doing the next best thing, taking photos at games and reconstructing the players’ poses in his workshop.
“I am not there yet, but I am on the right path at getting better,” said Mr Oliver, admitting he is doing it for his kids.
For more information about Mr Oliver’s new business Sholi2000.com Inc. Custom Sports Figures, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org