Mental Health, Reflections

September 1, 2021

The Prairies Won Me Over

Nic in Shilo Manitoba
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My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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I can vividly recall the moment I thought my summer was ruined. Over a Zoom call, an excited Captain sealed the fate of myself and six of my soon-to-be graduated classmates.

“The following personnel are on the new, exported course to Shilo, Manitoba: xyz, abc, McCabe,” – my heart nearly fell out of my chest.

‘Shilo is where dreams go to die’, I thought to myself, as I forcibly smiled at my camera. Images bounced around my mind – of me. In the flat lands. Sad and alone. I was nose diving into a world I couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

Before I knew it, graduation from RMC (Royal Military College) was over and I hopped on a plane to Winnipeg. From there, I began my isolation on the base in Shilo (Read about it HERE).

At first glance while isolating, it appeared I had confirmed my suspicions. My window looked out over a flat parade square surrounded by what appeared to be the minimum acceptable amount of trees, flat fields beside the flat parade square, and some – typical army – grey buildings. Most importantly, however, there was no sign of civilization.

I looked on Google Maps; the closest city was Brandon, nearly a half hour drive away, and I didn’t have wheels. To top it all off, it appeared that I wouldn’t even be able to see that distant semblance of civilization – we were “confined to base” indefinitely because of COVID concerns.

I felt crushed. I fought to find a way to make the best out of my situation but I just couldn’t. I thought about how atypical this feeling was for me; I’ve always been the one to stick with a smile through even the toughest of situations. Don’t get me wrong, I was still smiling, but this was more cynical. Funny enough, I was laughing at my own pain – and I think that’s what kept me going through isolation and into the first week of my course.

The first few weeks were tough. Work immediately piled on right after the course began, and it seemed that the group was largely unconcerned with how many people were burning the rubber right off of their tires attempting to keep up. When I looked around the classroom as my course-mates and I learned the 5th new subject of the week, on a Wednesday, just after being told about exams coming down the pipe for Thursday and Friday, I noticed something. The excited and eager faces I saw around me the first day or so of instruction were less excited, less eager, and much more anxious. Legs shook underneath their tables, pens flicked around, tempers shortened, and confusion loomed over our heads.

The Shilo Scaries had gotten to my course-mates as well.

However, things took a turn for the better in the third week, and this momentum carried the vast majority of us through until the end of the course. We were granted leave off of the base, and many of us took advantage of this opportunity. We got to know each other more as time went on, too. This helped a lot. We shared the bond of uncertainty that we faced when we first arrived.

We began to make the best out of our circumstances and appreciated the things that we did have available to us. I made good friends with all of my course-mates. I went for runs with one of them nearly every day after classes concluded. I got an AirBnB with my friends for Canada Day. I met truly wonderful people, who made me a better person. Life started to look up in the Prairies!

I distinctly remember our second field exercise, looking out over the plains of the Shilo training area as the sun began to set. The sky seemed to go on forever. The clouds glowed a fiery red and just about half of the sun hung overtop of the trees. A light breeze brushed my face, cooling my warm, sweaty skin. It felt like the Earth had set up a private viewing of the most beautiful landscape painting I’d ever seen.

Prairie Sunset in Shilo Manitoba

It was at this moment that I realized I had grown an appreciation – I could even say a love – for the place that I thought was going to wreck me just a few weeks prior. I now loved the environment, the people, and the flat lands that used to be a butt of every joke I made about Manitoba. I found the best of my situation by making it myself.

When it was time for me to leave the province only a few weeks later, I wasn’t surprised to find that I was now extremely upset to leave. My course officer put it well: “You’ll arrive in Shilo kicking and screaming, and leave kicking and screaming as well.” I grew a lot over the summer, learned more than I had ever imagined, met some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of encountering, and had a ton of fun once I got over the initial whirlwind of uncertainty.

What was the point in me telling you about my summer? Did I really think you’d care to know about how I managed to have fun in the prairies? Of course not! But I think an all too familiar lesson can be learned from what I experienced, and that’s why I wanted to share. The lesson is simple: appreciate uncertainty.

I’m not in the Army to choose where I train. If I did, I’d probably pick to train at the closest place to my home, or somewhere I know. It’s human nature – go with what you know. But that dive into what you don’t know… that’s where the real fun begins. That’s where you grow, and where you learn to love what you didn’t even know you wanted.

You can read more posts from Nicholas: In My Shoes & What I Have Learned as a Runner

Nicholas M.

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