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Army veteran with PTSD finds hope and healing through humour


Ryan Wallace will never forget the day he heard the Tim McGraw song "Live Like You Were Dying," and feared his life would be filled with regretting.

“I really wanted my life to matter,” Ryan says. “I wanted to help other people.”

So instead of “skydiving and Rocky Mountain climbing” like the song says, Ryan was driving on his way to working when he decided to call in sick.

“I pulled a U-turn,” Ryan recalls. “And went to the recruiting centre.”

Ryan enlisted in the army and survived basic training, before being sent to serve in Afghanistan.

“It was probably the hardest thing I had done in my life up to that point,” Ryan says, before adding that it “absolutely” couldn’t have felt better.

Ryan had always found humour in every situation and during the beginning of his service he made light of his new life.

He made a spoof video presenting the humble area he slept and the military vehicles he drove like an episode of MTV’s Cribs — boasting about the porta-potties and calling a hanger with his uniform on it a “closet with a wide variety of clothing in it.”

But eventually a wide variety of traumatic events started overshadowing everything and the emotions Ryan had been trying to contain felt overwhelming.

“My view of the future looked very bleak,” Ryan says.

But he soldiered on, until he no longer could. After the death of his mentor (one of 18 friends Ryan has lost to suicide), Ryan finally reached out for help.

“Luckily, I had a great support system,” Ryan says. “And I worked with some great people.”

While Ryan is grateful to the military for supporting his transition to a civilian life, he credits his wife with encouraging him to enrol in a comedy class taught by Kirsten Van Ritzen at Broad Theatrics

“Ultimately good comedy shines a light on the human condition,” Kirsten says. “The most important part of the process to me is creating that safe, encouraging environment to find your voice as a comic.”

Ryan spent the next few weeks feeling inspired to face his feelings, crafting a routine, and finding the courage to start transforming his trauma.

“Hi, I’m Ryan,” he begins in a video of his first time performing for an audience. “I’m an army veteran and I suffer from PTSD.”

“I’m not going to sit here and talk about politics, but I have a friend who’s really, really left-leaning,” Ryan says before nailing the punchline by leaning his body to the left. “He lost his leg in an I.E.D accident.”

The audience burst into laughter after that joke, and kept laughing throughout that first set and the performances that followed.

The laughs shone a light in the dark. The punchlines provided purpose. And through humour, Ryan found hope again.

“It was something to look forward to and it feels good knowing that you’re sending (the audience members) home happy,” Ryan smiles. “It’s just like serving but in a different way.”

And just like that Tim McGraw song, Ryan has found a way to keep living his life to the fullest, and is now striving to inspire others too.

“I hope [they] see it does get better,” Ryan says. “Honestly, I can say it’s going to be OK.” Top Stories

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