They don’t understand…my ghosts

The monument of the Cecilia Jeffery Indian Residential School that I had attended in Kenora, ON

I had a melt down at school today.

The ghosts of my past made an appearance within me. My instructor didn’t understand me. My classmates shook their heads behind my back. My unusual behavior was the talk of the class. They didn’t understand I was a residential school survivor with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

I left the school in tears. I needed a break to clear my head. People on the bus stared at me. They didn’t understand me. I got off the bus still in tears. People walking by openly stared at me. They didn’t understand me.

I got home and the clouds of despair began to clear from my head and the tightness in my chest began to ease up. I was in a safe place and was beginning to calm down. Still, I began the anti-anxiety exercises to further calm myself down. My anxiety attack was easing up.

Now that I was feeling better, I thought of how my odd behavior must have looked to the classroom of students and to the general public.

Moments like these, I wish people could see the ghosts that are within me. The silent cries of my dorm mates that I only hear at certain times. If only they could see the brokenness that I walk with. The loneliness of a shattered child. Alone. I walk.

Often PTSD is brought on by triggers. A smell, pictures, or it could be anything that could set off an attack. There was a visible display at the school about the Orange T shirt day that was happening on Sept 29. Orange T shirt day is the annual event that recognizes the history of residential schools. That might have set it off or it could have been being in a closed space. I am never quite sure what causes it. All I am aware of is the embarrassment that I feel afterwards.

If I had an asthma attack in public, people would be rushing to help me. Not so with a PTSD attack. People stare and whisper behind your back. They move away, afraid to come near you. My tears are an object to be pointed at, or laughed at by people. Sometimes I often have to reassure people that I am not drunk.

I can share my personal story of residential school with others, if they are willing to listen to it. What I can’t share is my journey living with PTSD or the other symptoms that come with it. Mental illness is a scary topic for many regular folks. So it stays hidden, even by people who live with it.

Yes, people don’t understand my hidden mental illness especially when it makes an appearance in public.

They don’t understand me.

Vivian Ketchum


I am an Indigenous woman from Wauzhushk Onigum Nation, a First Nation community outside of Kenora, Ontario. I have lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the past ten years. My hobby is photography and I consider myself an amateur photographer. I live in the central area of Winnipeg and enjoy the challenges of residing in the core area.

2 responses to “They don’t understand…my ghosts”

  1. Doug Kretchmer

    Great story. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Barry Colby

    Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters

    Louise Bradley, President and CEO, Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), recognized people from all walks of life will wear orange to honour and remember survivors of Indian Residential Schools, and reaffirm their commitment to reconciliation.

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