I’ve been offline for a couple of days because I have had a special couple of days. It has reminded me of the reason I get up in a morning and why I keep fighting my demons. I haven’t been out much so most of the triggers which normally set off my ‘moments’ I have been isolated from. However there have been a few times where I have struggled but still managed to keep it together.
A couple of programmes have been depicting characters who are sufferring from a mental illness. I already mentioned in a previous post about Neighbours covering a combat PTSD storyline but there is also Holby City telling a story of a doctor being diagnosed with Bipolar. Coronation Street are taking on a story about Steve Mcdonald going through some form of mental illness yet to be diagnosed. It’s great stories such as these are being tackled but so few of them provide a realistic portrayal of mental health illnesses. Neighbours for instance chose a male actor sufferring with combat PTSD and he is always angry and hitting out. This is only one symptom of PTSD yet it appears to be the main characteristics shown. This gives the impression to readers/viewers of media or programmes to assume that all combat PTSD sufferer’s are angry, drunken, violent people. This is not the reality at all, in fact it only accounts for a percentage of all those going through it.
Those following my blog will know by now how I reached my diagnosis. As a MERT paramedic I was subjected to such awful amounts of trauma on an almost daily basis. No sooner had we dropped casualties off we were getting ready straight away for the next shout, whatever that might have been. MERT where the second chink in a hugh medical chain reducing the number of deaths which would normerly happen within 10 mins of being wounded. The whole team would fly into intense fire fights with bullets hitting the chinook yet carried on regardless. Weapons would also be aimed at the paramedics who had to leave the helicopter. Tricky which was our callsign, would always be called out to the most severely wounded as we were effectively taking intensive care to the battlefield. The casualties would then be dropped of at what was proudly named the best trauma hospital in the world and then flown back to the UK within 24 hrs with life changing injuries before then going on to Headley Court.
It has been mentioned to me on a number of occassions that I should feel proud because a big number of people are still alive today because of the work I and our team carried out on the front line. The sad loss of 453 brave soldiers could have been much bigger they say. I know that just over 200 of those lives where taken by IEDs with many more severely wounded. This was the enemy’s weapon of choice which had been made cheaply and filled full of nails, bolts and any other bits of crud they knew would cause damage!!! Villages and most routes had been littered with IEDs which sadly meant casualties included many innocent children.
In my head I know the team carried out a worthwhile job, and I am also aware the number of lives lost could have been far greater. However, this does not ease the burden of war I carry inside me daily. I am not always angry and hitting out like the TV shows portray although I do have my moments. I walk around numb, void of any emotion or feelings half the time, I guess due to having to switch off whilst on tour. My nights are haunted, dreams somewhat fierce at times. Some days I have no words and other days I feel like an empty shell. I can be in company yet feel isolated, even detached from my own body on occasion. Tears one minute, elated the next whilst perfecting a convincing smile other times. I am often exhausted in part by my medication but also drained from having to keep it all together for fear of hurting the ones we love which has already happened due to the change in me.
None of this is depicted in any programme I have seen. These same programmes already mentioned as well as a drama series called ‘Our War’ only cover those affected by war in Afghanistan yet there are so many others who served their country in other wars struggling through PTSD, some who sadly took their own life to escape their demons. Others are serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure behind bars because they could not adjust effectively to civilian life. Every single war carried a high casualty rate which included PTSD but was not taken seriously (no doubt because it could not be seen) until perhaps the Gulf War. My dear friend Simon sufferred horrendously from seen and unseen injuries sustained during the Falklands Conflict. PTSD was left undiagnosed and therefore untreated during this and other wars. With the little bit of coverage now being shown on our screens and in the media it’s time it was identified as an urgent need for acknowledgment and treatment. Mental Health needs to be taken seriously and not have lip service paid to it. I have 2 talks arranged in January alone to try to speak out for all those who where shot for ‘cowardice’, those returned to the battlefield untreated, those who felt compelled to take their own lives to escape their demons, those from wars past and present still living and working with demons hidden inside yet to be exposed, for all those too ashamed or afraid of speaking out for fear of retribution. Those who spoke out yet received no help and now lost in ‘the system’ those behind bars or shivering in a doorway somewhere…. for all those, for me.