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Harnessing The healing power of song

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A life-long Swan Valley resident, Jesse Genaille learned to play guitar in his teen years. Never serious about his talent, life got in the way and Genaille put the instrument down for nearly two decades. The next time he picked it up, the music he played changed his life forever.
“About three years ago my mom gave me a guitar and I started playing again,” he said. “I still wasn’t doing anything with my music, I was just playing at home.
“But, we started to have karaoke parties where I would sing and I noticed it made me feel better. I was getting good feedback from our friends, so I bought a mixer and my playing kept growing from there.”
Unbeknownst to Genaille, the reason that singing made him feel better is because he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“On October 3, 2012 my wife and I were sleeping when the phone rang,” said Genaille, noting that when you have children you dread those phone calls. “It was my son saying that my son-in-law had just been in a car accident. We were in shock.
“We stepped out of the house to go to the scene and the first thing we heard was the fire trucks and ambulances and our hearts sank. When we got there my son-in-law’s car was wrapped around a telephone pole and he was hanging out of it. It took them one hour and 45 minutes to get him out. Then, I helped the ambulance attendants load him into the Lifeflight.”
Genaille’s son-in-law didn’t make it and, in the following months and years, the accident haunted him.
“That night – the trauma and the screaming – it just kept coming back,” he said. “I thought of my son-in-law as a son and (that night) is something that I can’t forget. It sure hurt when he was gone.
“After that I put on weight and my blood pressure felt a little funny. But, I never thought much of it and I kind of laughed it off.
“I was also very angry,” Genaille continued. “When times were happy they were happy but it didn’t take much to aggravate me. Just the small things would set me off.
“I was also getting nightmares which would lead to a lack of sleep. And, when my children would leave the house I was in constant fear that they would not come back home. I was on the defensive all the time.”
By chance, Genaille attended a wellness fair in Winnipeg where nurses doing routine testing alerted him to his soaring blood pressure and sugar levels, advising him to seek medical attention immediately. He ignored their warnings.
“I waited until I was in the hospital, almost having a heart attack, until I finally explained to the doctor what was going on,” said Genaille. “His advice was to go and get some help from a counsellor.
“That’s what I did and we started meeting regularly. Shortly after I was diagnosed with PTSD.”
Nearly two years later Genaille still sees his counsellor regularly with no plans to stop anytime soon.
“This is an ongoing thing,” he said. “I’m still learning about what I am going through and finding ways to manage it.
“I am learning how to cope and what tools to use to try to counteract what I am feeling. When I hear fire trucks and ambulances or the Lifeflight it still takes me right back to the night. Sometimes it’s something as simple as the weather being the same as it was that day.”
When Genaille tells people that he has been diagnosed with PTSD he is often questioned if I was a soldier or an emergency worker.
“No I’m not but it still happens,” he said. “All it took was one life changing event.
“It’s frustrating. You want it to just go away but it doesn’t. I want it to leave my mind to not only give me a break but my wife as well. She is always right there by my side and she worries about me.
“But, there are many days where I’m feeling pretty good,” Genaille continued. “The hope is to achieve more of these days and less of the ones where I feel despair. It’s all about figuring out different ways of thinking.”
While the process seems simple – have a problem and get help – Genaille was like many people who are afraid to seek help.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t know how just talking would ever help and I had always thought of those people as weak,” he said.
“But, after these last few years, my mind has changed. I might have had a weak mind back then but I needed help and I only get stronger each day. But, I have never been a weak person because of this. I want to be a role model for others that a big strong guy is not weak or any less for getting the help that they need.”
The trauma that Genaille and his family and friends experienced brought them together, made them closer and created the opportunity for music to help with his healing process.
“We needed each other to get by and that’s why we started having the get-togethers where we would sing karaoke,” said Genaille.
“My wife noticed how good it made me feel and invited me to play at one of the local care homes that she worked at, so I did. It was my first time performing in front of people and they loved it. I went back again, again and again and I upgraded my guitar.”
In addition to performing in the local talent stage, numerous coffee houses and, most recently, the GX94 Star Search competition, Genaille has continued to play classic country music in Valley care homes throughout the past two years.
“You play and they start to bob their heads, tap their feet and even clap,” said Genaille.
“One time I played at Christmas and I didn’t know any Christmas tunes but I made the attempt to play Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. While I did this song the lady, who I bet was 95 years old, jumped up and started dancing like she was 25 years old. That really put a smile on my face. And, every time I leave they always ask me back. It’s so rewarding, they appreciate you so much and they really come to life.”
Lately, Genaille’s focus has been on his music and getting his name out, hoping to enter Star Search again next year and maybe even win.
“The music has helped me and I want to use it and my voice to raise awareness about PTSD and tell people it’s ok to get help,” he said. “I don’t take medication and instead have found ways to cope and change my mind set. It’s forever an uphill battle. It’s a very slow process.
“You have to speak out and let people know it’s ok and you don’t have to hide.”
Genaille also wants to use his story as a caution against both speed and impaired driving.
“My son-in-law was drag racing and drinking while he was driving,” he said.
“This town is way too fast for its size. It’s not OK to do 80 km/h through a school zone. It only takes a minute and people don’t realize how their lives and the lives of others can be changed. Nobody wants that. It doesn’t take long to get from one side to the other.
“I can’t change that this has happened to me but hopefully, together, we can change so it doesn’t happen to the next person,” Genaille concluded.
To hear Genaille sing, check out the video posted below or one of his many performances on youtube.com by searching Jesse Genaille.