It felt like a heart attack

Our gratitude to the Alberta grain farmer who shared this story of his fight to bring wellness and balance back into his life.


Rural people help each other out. It’s not unusual for an able-bodied person to be part of a volunteer fire department or ambulance service in rural Canada. A core of trained volunteers make a huge impact; without them, these services would be extremely limited.

But for me, the impact of answering emergency calls resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental condition sometimes associated with military personnel who return from treacherous duty. It occurs when either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

The condition snuck up on me, expressing itself without warning as a huge anxiety attack that I thought was a heart attack. I had crushing chest pains, nerve pain everywhere and a splitting headache. But medical personnel who attended to me found that physically, I checked out as normal. Further evaluation led to a psychological assessment that was ultimately diagnosed as PTSD and anxiety.

To start getting better, I needed professional treatment – and I had to stop worrying. I worried about things that are on most people’s minds, like money and family. But I also worried about things I couldn’t change or control, like the weather. And if I was going to get better, I needed to accept the fact that some things are out of my hands. I’ve done that and feel better for it.

If I was going to get better, I needed to accept the fact that some things are out of my hands. I’ve done that and feel better for it.

But I’m also taking measures to better deal with things I can control, such as financial management, with more spreadsheets, cost analysis and better records. And I’m always looking for distractions to get out of the office, especially in winter, like snowboarding. Winter is tough for grain farmers; you can easily get cabin fever.

In farming, we’re taught to tough it out, to deal with things ourselves and figure them out. But sometimes that’s not possible. I didn’t even know what was affecting me, let alone how to fix it. Seeking professional help is OK, starting with your family doctor. After 18 months, I’m healing, and maybe I always will be.  


As told to Owen Roberts