Bearing my soul.

I was in the middle of writing a different blog but I felt compelled to put that on hold to write this one instead.

I have been absolutely stunned by the kindness of so many people who watched my interview on ITV News. I have only just caught up with messages on twitter, facebook, email and on here but I am definitely not complaining. I truly appreciate each and every message I have received and I am so very humbled by it. What is very evident is there are so many who are in the same position as me, suffering with a hidden illness no one can really fathom. I have received so many offers of help from wide and varied practitioners and I am truly thankful for that. As you can appreciate my head has been very ‘busy’ over the last few days following the news piece so I hope you can understand I cannot make any decisions just now. I do value all the offers though and it will certainly be food for thought.

I do appreciate that not all comments will be positive because people have different beliefs, values and thoughts on the subject of armed forces personnel. I did expect to have a few negative comments and I am more than happy to address them. The comments had been made on the ITV News Facebook news feed and I take them all on board. In response to those comments I will comment one by one.

“It saddens me that she has just been abandoned by the RAF…”
I was diagnosed in Oct 12 following my most recent tour of Afghanistan. I saw a GP in the RAF by the name of Paul Seddon who was and remains fantastic in the help and assistance he has afforded me. I cannot fault his care whatsoever. I also went through counselling through DCMH whilst at RAFC Cranwell and again I cannot fault them. The problem arose once I was sent on permanent sick back in May. I was offered care through DCMH but as you know the journey was just too long and unpractical. A SSAFA caseworker by the name of Eva has been in touch on a regular basis and has been a great support but there is only so much she can do. Also Paul has been in touch once a month to check in on me. I was blessed to have been contacted on Linkedin by the Veterans Council who were fantastic in guiding me to a counsellor in Wigan. I have had a couple of sessions now thus far. Apart from that I have heard absolutely nothing from the very system I used to work for. I feel let down and abandoned by the RAF but I will be ever thankful to certain individuals as mentioned. It’s extremely difficult to find any help in the civilian arena but I remain hopeful. I remain proud to have served and my career turned me from a very shy, under confident person to a very confident cheeky lass. I met some amazing people and I will never be sorry for that.

“She made the decision to go to war and bomb other countries…..”
I made a decision to join the military, that is absolutely correct but no one expects to go to a terrible war as seen in Afghanistan. I joined up as a medic for the sole purpose of helping others and not to kill them. Yes I was aware the military go to war but I never expected to see myself on the front line, in the firing line, having to fire my own weapon. I never expected to see the sights and the level of trauma I was exposed to. When you sign up you spend 90% of your job in a peacetime role, carrying out your duties in the UK in an office or out with the NHS ambulance service. Yes we carried out weapon handling training and tests once a year but if I’m being truly honest I never expected to actually have to carry or use the weapon in anger. That I was definitely not prepared for and naively I never expected to be shot at on the front line. There are those in the military who have never deployed in all the years they have served as not everyone does so I can perhaps be forgiven for thinking I may not have expected to be on the actual front line. Prior to training as a paramedic my operational tours where carried out in the Falklands and in Bahrain, both of which I worked in a medical centre, much like the GP practices in civilian street. I qualified as a paramedic in 2008 and then reality hit. Bottom line is I trained to help others and that is it.

“She received training so should have known what to expect…..”
I did indeed receive training and I would say that apart from the lack of paediatric training everything was as good as it could have been for the most part. I was trained through the civilian NHS system as a Paramedic and then received battlefield training through the military. Practical exercises where very well set out and as close to reality as possible by using Amputees in Action as our trauma patients. Sadly it was not really recognised that we needed any paediatric training and if you think about it military medics don’t usually get called out to children. However, I’m not altogether sure anyone expected the vast amount of paediatric casualties during operational tours in Afghanistan. I do feel sadly that this was lacking right up to me being medically discharged.

The training was as close as it could have been to reality but all of this aside ABSOLUTELY NOTHING can prepare you for the amount of trauma we had all been exposed. Training in a controlled environment is not the same as the reality of war. Not withstanding the actual traumatic visual sights you are subjected to there are sights, sounds and smells as well as the real threat for your own life every time you leave the base. From the very start your anxiety levels are raised waiting for the alarm going off, then there are is the noise of the helicopter starting up, taking off, preparation of kit, sound of everyone on the radio, rotors of the chinook, vibration of the helicopter, dust flying into the cab along with the wind, landing on to a load of dust and sound from the ground, people from the ground shouting as we approach them and the casualty, the smell of the ground, the distinct smell of the poppy fields, the smell of blood, dust and smelly feet along with the shock of seeing the trauma. I could go on but as you can see most of this cannot be appreciated in the classroom setting. Preparation can only go so far….

“Getting on the compensation bandwagon……”
I was absolutely stunned by this comment if I am being truthful. It is so very sad to think that someone would even think that this would be a reason…… Trust me when I say I never asked for this and compensation is the very last thing on my mind. This is a very real illness which needs to be highlighted to help raise more awareness in order that more help becomes available. I served for so many years and the last thing I wanted was to lose a career I have wanted since I was 13 years old. Over 20 years service in a fantastic community and its suddenly all gone on medical grounds. This is far more than about money, this is a terrible illness which plagues you and scratches at the inside of your eyes. There is little escape from any of it – money is the very last thing on my not so small mind and I am upset at the very suggestion of it.

“She made the decision to go to war and kill…..”
I think I covered this above but I would very much like to make further comment on those left behind. I did not go to Afghanistan to kill anyone, I went over there to help save as many lives as possible, including the Afghans (villagers & insurgents). As medics we do not choose who to help and who to save, we help everyone. As with everyone in the emergency services. We help every human being and it plagues me daily that so many have been maimed and left behind. As with our own soldiers, they will learn to adjust somehow. The Afghans received the same life saving interventions throughout the whole medical chain because we save lives, not take them.

I hope I have gone some way to explain where I sit with this. I feel strongly about trying to raise more awareness of PTSD. You will know if you have been following my blogs that I suffer from complex PTSD which isn’t just on military grounds. I have mentioned on a couple of posts that this hidden injury isn’t solely sufferred by people who served in Afghanistan, people going back centuries have suffered from war but it has been forgotten or ignored. Now it isn’t only those exposed to combat who suffer with this illness. Those who have suffered a traumatic event beyond their own capacity also suffer the same degree of pain. All those working in frontline rolls here in the UK are subjected to the same problems, Firemen, police and the ambulance service. Anyone who witnesses a terrible accident, brutal attack, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence……I think you get my point. We all need to help each other to understand that what you are going through is not unique. The experience you suffer is unique but the hidden illness isn’t. The more people who can open up the more it is recognised, and the more people have to stand up and listen.

This is not a new situation, this comes back around time after time yet how much further on are we? It just repeats itself and everytime there is a change in government it’s like the fight for recognition starts all over again….

Despite this I will continue to be open and honest about my condition in as many forums as possible. Please feel free to keep writing and sharing with me. You are definately not on your own and your experience is no worse or better than someone else. At least we have each other to talk to and share our coping mechanisms with.


About mitsanuk

I left the RAF in 2015 following 20 years as a frontline paramedic. It has been an amazing career but then found myself suffering because of this. My blog exists as an outlet for me as well as a place for others to read and try to understand the mind of someone with PTSD. Please feel free to make comment on any post and lets raise some discussions on how we can help to end the stigma which surrounds mental illness. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please follow and share in the hope my experience will help others.
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6 Responses to Bearing my soul.

  1. Anneka Ranford says:

    Michelle, I have read many of your blogs but felt compelled to write after this one. I was introduced to your blog by Keilly, who I’ve worked with for the last 5 years, who regularly shares them on FB. I admire you and your courage more than words can say. I think it is amazing you have addressed any negativity from the ITV report head on. I wish you all the very best on your journey to recovery. You are very much in my thoughts.


  2. Michelle, how sad that you share your situation honestly and so publicly to raise awareness and others ridicule you. No amount of training can prepare you for the reality in truth. Two people can experience the same thing but react very differently. You can be well informed but there are no set boundaries for how trauma will affect us. Michelle, take the negative comments are a reflection of the authors. Maybe they are experiencing their own trauma, having a bad day or ill educated. Or secretly getter that they couldn’t do what you did.
    People like you fight for us to have freedom of speech, and personally I am in ore of anyone who can stand up and fight for our Country. In many walks of life we think we can handle something but in truth we dont react as we expect. Your strength in sharing your struggle reflects who you are. Strong, independent, represented our Country in a dignified manner. Your suffering should have the full support to enable you to move forward in your life. In time, I hope and believe this will happen. Talking about mental health issues of any kind takes huge guts but it shouldn’t. Don’t give up fighting because your blog shows how strong you really are. and many of us really, really care for you and anyone suffering as you are. speak out, let us help, we owe you xxx


  3. WayneFairclough says:

    Hi Michelle,
    Like yourself an RAF Medic of 22years. Diagnosed last year with PTSD @ Severe depression. My fight started in 1993, 20 odd years later I was diagnosed by Combat Stress. I wish you all the best and keep on highlighting PTSD


  4. Lyn says:

    Hi Michelle,
    Your story is heartbreaking and as you mention, sadly not unique. Having a father, and now a brother, in the RAF I witnessed first hand the effects of going to war.I cannot commend you enough for standing up and being so brave in the midst of your pain and dealing with PTSD.
    As you said, you have had many offers of help and only you will know what will be best for you. I don’t want to add to your pile of information but I have put some links below to a new type of treatment that is relatively unheard of in the UK but is supported in the US – I can assure you it does work – please email John Durkin for a reference from his work with the Armed Forces. He was also involved in supporting the fire fighters post 9/11 and suffered from PTSD himself.
    Take care and be gentle with yourself.


  5. Shaun says:

    M,You have some strength to be who you are today, with so much experience of the badness of humankind. I really hope you get to a place where your history remains part of you, but doesn’t drag on you.


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