One organization started to help support those in uniform has expanded to be inclusive to all, creatively offering a pathway out of the darkness through music and friendship
Grace Shears and Wanda Rossiter are both co-founders of registered not-for-profit organization Pathways to Better Days.
Originally developed as a PTSD peer support group by a Veteran in July of 2019, the group’s two co-founders, alongside founding board member Nicole Fowler, dropped in to chat with The Herald’s Managing Editor in the days leading up to Remembrance Day.
‘Anyone’ in need
Though the original Pathway’s mandate was to support those in uniform, it has evolved to help anyone in need.
“Our doors are open to all as our hope is to create a diverse and inclusive community where uniforms do not define the individual. We believe everyone wears a uniform to some extent as we journey through life, whether it be a soldier or a mom,” Shears, who is a retired Veteran herself began.
Pathways is all about growing stronger together, Rossiter continued, and they focus on erasing the stigma surrounding mental health.
“We highlight the growth side of PTSD and trauma through sharing and those conversations can help us develop strategies and tools to deal with our daily challenges associated with living with PTSD, depression and trauma,” Rossiter added thoughtfully.
War on depression
For Fowler, who has fought depression and bravely shared her experiences – as well as offering smooth stones tumbled by her father to aid others in their own healing journey – the pathway towards better days can encompass so much, and music is one of the things that can help.
“We incorporated music into our meetings and quickly recognized the profound effect that had on individuals attending the group from all walks of life,” Fowler shared.
The team expanded, creating a Facebook sister group called Pathways to Better Days – Music Heals the Soul. Through songwriting, peer support and music their diverse community is now growing on a global level. “We host weekly local jam sessions, support groups and offer mobile outreach to those in need of comfort through the harmony of music. Testimonials show that our methods of combining music with peer support have been contributing factors to their overall improvement in their health and wellness,” added Shears proudly.
Francis Benteau, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1991 until 2002, is one of the individuals who has been helped through the support group.
“Upon release, I entered into civilian life, faced many struggles, continued on, until it became evident that I needed help,” Benteau shared.
Finding himself in a “difficult place” she reached out to many organizations for assistance, one of those she reached out to within the Military community was the NL Veteran Farmer group.
“(Through them) I was introduced to the Pathways to Better Days – Music Heals the Soul community. During one of the weekly social events I was informed that there would be musicians attending. As a lover of music I was immediately drawn to the idea … On my first introduction I actually chose to not bring my instrument, I could not handle the pressure or expectations that I felt came with carrying the instrument so I simply came and listened and observed, for the first part of the session,” he continued.
He met Shears and Rossiter and was introduced to their “easy, non-threatening, non-judgemental approach and encouragement,” which was a nice first impression. “I was still so far outside of my comfort zone that it was going to take more than a smile to get me in front of anyone with an instrument. I continued to watch, continued to listen, I became very aware of the differences in the musical abilities of the participants. It was at that point that I finally realized the true value of music.”
Benteau shared that his musical mentor, his first and only teacher, was John Pelly.
‘The joy of singing’
“Tragically we lost John in the tragic events of Cougar 491 along with 16 of my fellow friends. I never realized the powerful healing that came with the music that I carried. At the time of the helicopter crash I was in the very early stages of my musical journey, literally seven months from the time I tried removing the guitar from the wall for the first time. That was 12 years ago. In those 12 years I now realize the value music had in helping not only myself but many of my friends and work colleagues process the trauma, and come away stronger.”
Together they bonded, grew, grieved, sang and smiled.
“It’s not about the notes, the tone, the voice, or any of the countless things that make music. In this group it was about the feeling. People didn’t care if you missed a note, sang off key, or any of the other musical things. In this group the joy of singing, the joy of playing, the joy of music, it was simple. In this group people came to feel joy. In this group the joy of one was shared amongst all.”
For the first time in a long time, he added, she felt something other than anxiety. “It was a breath of fresh air, a break, a rest and it came while singing. Letting go of everything for those few hours sometimes provides the needed rest to be able to continue on for the remainder of the day.”
The music and support “poked holes in the mask,” he continued.
“Those holes allowed some emotions out, and allowed a lot of healing in. I am one to stand up and promote what I have found works for me. I cannot deny the impact the Pathways to Better Days organization has had on my life and as such feel it is my duty to promote what has been created. Reach out, come join in the circle. See for yourself, Music does indeed heal the soul.”
filtering ‘The darkness’
Of course, no one thing is ever the answer, Shears said, adding; “The darkness is still there, but people are encouraged to write about it and filter all of that through music.”
On a mission to connect Veterans and First Responders living with PTSD and trauma into their safe and inclusive community of like minded people, Shears, Rossiter and Fowler are a powerful trio. Their commitment to others and the knowledge gained through their own personal journey is evident.
“Our vision is to one day have our own healing haven that will enable us to expand upon the existing Pathways to Better Days community on a more personal level. We aim to inspire and empower our peers to their highest potential through connection and music. We continue to explore pathways to innovative ideas of integrating music into our healing platform through nature, family inclusive programs, healthy eating, mindfulness and movement,” Shears shared.
Pathways to Better Days has partnered with CMHA New Brunswick and together they launch the Music for the Mind – Veterans Edition.
For Rossiter, healing is like any journey – there will be some paths that are more challenging than others, but at times the road is clear as well. Take the good with the not so good, she added.
“We want to be very careful because we are still living with our mental illness and we still have down days, but we don’t feel so alone anymore and we don’t seem to crash as long as we may have before we had these connections. Because now that we’ve built this community, there’s always someone checking in on you,” she said.
People are reaching out and they are building friendships.
“That I think is so crucial. We understand mental illness and for some people, it never actually goes away. But we’re not focused on the bad parts. We acknowledge them, we accept them. We support you on that journey. But we also see the joy that’s in life and that’s the part that we’re encouraging.”
For more, reach out. Twitter – @PathwaysforVets, Facebook Page – Pathways to Better Days – PTSD Peer Support Group – St. John’s, NL, Facebook Group – Pathways to Better Days – Music Heals the Soul, Instagram – pathwaystobetterdays, Email them at: [email protected]