How a nurse uses fishing to help first responders with PTSD

·3 min read
Lapeer says she prefers ice fishing to going out on the water, but she offers her fishing excursions year-round. (Submitted by Christine Lapeer - image credit)
Lapeer says she prefers ice fishing to going out on the water, but she offers her fishing excursions year-round. (Submitted by Christine Lapeer - image credit)

Christine Lapeer experienced a lot of trauma during her 12 years as a mental health nurse inside Canada's federal penitentiary system, where she also worked as a crisis negotiator.

"I got very, very sick," said Lapeer.

"People don't know what goes on inside those walls, but you're expected just to manage it and be normal in society."

One day she woke up in a hospital room in Kingston, Ont., and was told she had tried to commit suicide. That's when she knew she needed help.

She visited a psychiatrist and a psychologist and after some discussion about various treatments, Lapeer discovered her love of fishing could also provide therapeutic benefits.

Even on the most hot and humid day on Charleston Lake, just northeast of Gananoque, Lapeer is all smiles. On this day, she reels in a smallmouth bass, one of the biggest fish she's caught on this lake to date.

Casting a line has become her lifeline, she says, to provide a break for her mind as she works to recover from the trauma experienced while working with Canadian inmates suffering from the most severe mental illness.

Submitted by Christine Lapeer
Submitted by Christine Lapeer

Now she shares her key to wellness with veterans and other first responders who also grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I've had more reward doing this for first responders than I've had my whole career as a nurse, and that's pretty big," said Lapeer, whose partner also suffers from PTSD from his time working in the federal penitentiary system.

Lapeer calls her fishing excursions "Mindful Fishing" and they're free, but she would someday like to expand the forays out onto the water or ice into a full-time job.

She finds clients through word-of-mouth and when people come out on her boat, or join her on the ice, they don't have to talk, but can simply enjoy the experience.

"I want to keep other first responders well because if they're not looked after, nobody is looking after us." she said.

Having an impact

Earlier this month, Lapeer was fishing with her partner on Big Rideau Lake when a wake hit their boat and sent them and their gear flying.

They lost about $500 worth of equipment. Not long after, a Kingston police officer who Lapeer had taken fishing stepped in to help.

The officer started an online fundraiser that will pay for the equipment and then some.

"It just shows me that just being a couple hours out on a boat with the person played such a huge impact in her life," Lapeer said.

Submitted by Christine Lapeer
Submitted by Christine Lapeer

Lapeer still works as a nurse with Lanark County Mental Health where she takes calls with the Smiths Falls Police Service and the Lanark County detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police, but said there is always a fishing rod in the car.

If she or anyone she works with faces a trigger for trauma, or just needs to take a break, Lapeer said she doesn't hesitate to suggest fishing whenever she can.

"I've never seen a sad person in a picture holding a fish," she said, "There's a reason for that."

Robyn Miller/CBC
Robyn Miller/CBC
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