Finding purpose in learning after PTSD, Navy career
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When I faced a medical release from the Canadian Forces in 2015, the only plan that I had was to go to university. Ever since I was a kid, I had dreamt of going to university. But with minimal scholarships and limited economic opportunities available in rural Prince Edward Island after I graduated from high school in 2003, I joined the Forces as a sonar operator.
From my first moments in the Forces, I was instilled with a strong sense of discipline and ridged work ethic. When I began my sailing career onboard HMCS Athabaskan in 2004, I was introduced to a vast world full of opportunities, stories, and adventure.
I sailed up and down the eastern seaboard and eventually, while onboard other ships, overseas to the Mediterranean. I saw many things at sea that I never could have imagined, like rainbows wrapped in lightning, pods of hundreds of dolphins, massive ship-swallowing waves, and the most dazzling night skies.
“Shortly after I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to my time spent overseas … I decided to fill my days with something meaningful. I enrolled in AU’s Bachelor of Arts, English Major program.”– Samantha Stevens (Bachelor of Arts, English Major ’17)
Still, despite all the beauties and wonders that I saw, I also encountered the darker sides of humanity in areas of extreme poverty and during war.
Intro to Athabasca University
While serving at a shore unit in 2009, I decided to see if I could handle a university level-course, having been out of school for some time by that point. I took a first-year psychology course from Athabasca University, and I was amazed when I finished it and earned a B. My supervisor at the time asked me what a smart person like me was doing working as a low-ranking member in the Navy. I laughed it off as a fluke and continued with my career as a sailor.
Five years later, shortly after I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to my time spent overseas and when I was only permitted to work a few days a week, I decided to fill my days with something meaningful.
I enrolled in AU’s Bachelor of Arts, English Major program. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, other than to write. In addition to studying literature and creative writing, I was also drawn to psychology, philosophy, ethics, and linguistics.
‘I found purpose in learning’
I soon found solace in my studies and relished spending day after day learning, working through my experiences and putting them into conversation with the scholarship. I found purpose in learning. AU made it possible for me to embark on my dream at a time when it was difficult for me to be in crowds and I needed to heal. We were also moving to Quebec where my spouse was posted.
After graduating with my BA in February 2017, I enrolled in a graduate diploma program in journalism at Concordia University. A year later, after spending a semester working on a research project that examined Indigenous representation in news media, I started my master of arts in the same department. But I didn’t stop there.
“AU made it possible for me to embark on my dream at a time when it was difficult for me to be in crowds and I needed to heal.”
Pursuing a PhD
In early 2020, I was accepted into Carleton University’s doctorate program in Canadian studies, which evolved to include a collaborative specialization in political economy. Now, as a doctoral candidate recently awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada Graduate Scholarship, and with my first child on the way, I can never forget the foundation that Athabasca University helped me build.
I’m not certain yet what the future holds, but I now know that when we dare to follow our dreams, even in our darkest moments, better days have a way of finding us.
Transforming Lives: Learners of AU
Read more profiles of AU students and grads in our series Transforming Lives: Learners of AU.