My name is Tommy, I am a wounded British Infantryman and I have PTSD. I refused to admit it to myself even when the doctors told me I had it in 2013. I refused to talk to anyone about it even when Army health professionals told me I needed too. I was afraid how work would react if I had that on my record. I was a soldier. I was tough. I just needed to rub the patch and drive on. And drive on I did...until one day in April 2013.
I don't know what the trigger was. Maybe it was the young soldier, a mother of two who had just been redeployed, who I watched being cut down after she hanged herself, weeks after returning from Afghanistan. Maybe it was the faces of the children I saw behind all the doors I knocked on to tell them their father or mother was not coming home. Maybe it was because it was the same time of year when my uniform was covered with the blood and brains of a 6-year-old Iraqi child who'd been caught in an IED during Ramadan. I don't know what the trigger was, but it hit me hard.
I went home one evening and all of sudden, I felt a tightness in my chest, it was hard to breathe, I felt closed in and panicky. I bolted out of bed thinking I was dying. I paced the room in the dark for hours before I exhausted myself. I almost went to Accident and Emergency that night, but the soldier in me said to 'stick it out'.
The morning came and it hit again. A panic, a fear of being closed off, claustrophobia and pains in the chest. I thought maybe I was having a heart-attack and I needed to see a doctor, but felt like I was just being ridiculous and that it would pass over time.
I went to work that night and, on my way to work, I got this overwhelming feeling in my gut to drive my car over the edge of the road and end this horrible feeling that was starting to engulf me. I got to work and just sat in my car in the car park and sobbed. I cried like a baby. I was completely petrified and could not understand what was wrong with me. My manager at the time happened to walk past my car and saw what a state I was in and immediately sent me home. The next morning, my wife ordered me to go to see my GP. The Doctor ordered a battery of tests to exclude any heart condition. When my heart was cleared, the Doctors recommended I see a psychiatrist and speak to Help for Heroes. I thought to myself "I'm not crazy, why do I need to see them?". I didn’t want the tag of a broken man, just another army statistic.
I knew I could not live like this. They said there was probably some trigger that set it off. I didn't want to believe it, but I knew that I needed something or I would face the same thing again that evening. I 'officially' saw them and was prescribed some psychotropic medication to help with the anxiety in order to help me function.
My Army Days
Even though I was home, I never left the battlefield. I brought the war home with me and it took a toll on me, my family, wife and children.
A big piece of me wanted to go back to battle because the battlefield made sense. Coming home to emails, politics, mundane life did not suite me. I also knew that if I went back, a bigger piece of me did not want to come back home again.
The home I came back to was not the one I left. My family was not the same. I was not the same. I felt that something important was stolen from me and there was nobody I could talk to about it. Nobody except the guys I was over there with. I would look for buddies to talk to, look for the soldiers who went through what I went through and felt the same way I did. There were many of us. Our experiences were very different, but we had one thing in common. We felt different. We were not crazy or had some defective genetic failing.
It was hard for us to come to terms with all the death, destruction and pain we had participated in and witnessed. We were all reluctant about 'officially' talking to someone. Even if we needed help, we would not go as we were soldiers and we just 'got on with it'.
I felt we were alone. I'm trapped in my own memories, sometimes trying to ignore them and often not being able to. I watch as our suicide numbers go up. Sadly, they're still going up.
The Armed Forces have tried (and is trying) to change this trend but is having very little success. I cannot honestly say that a piece of me, at one time, did not wonder if the world, my family, would have been off better without me.
For soldiers with PTSD, we often feel the very act of seeking help from a mental health professional could be information that could be used against us, to target us, to make us feel we were burdens to the system. I felt that way and was afraid to get the help I needed. I now fear that the problem may be made worse with the so-called discovery of a PTSD gene. If this data is used incorrectly or misinterpreted, those of us with PTSD now could be considered genetically dysfunctional.
I ended up being a burden to the most important people in my life; my wife and children. The fear of being minimised as a soldier, I, like so many others, went underground.
When I close my eyes at night, sometimes I still see myself picking up the body parts of my mates, civilians, that all lost there lives to roadside bombs. I still see the blood of Iraqi children spattered all over my uniform as they take their last breaths, due to no fault of their own. In the quiet moments of the day, when I am with my family, I see the faces of the all the wives, children, husbands, mothers and fathers whose lives were destroyed.
My mind tells me that I did not cause their pain and grief, but my heart tells me otherwise. I know I can't change their pain, but I can change mine and the pain I inflicted on my family due to war. Only a soldier understands that physically, being home doesn't mean coming home.
Coming home from battle seemed to be one of the easiest things to do. It seemed that you just get on a plane. After spending hours, weeks and months getting help and talking to someone about my wounds, I am only beginning to understand how to come home.
I am, in our army culture, what some would identify as a 'broken' or 'deadwood' soldier. I have no bullet holes to show my wounds. I will not get any medal that will recognise them. As with so many of us, my wounds are the invisible kind, the type we bear in our souls. I am not ashamed of them. For me and others like me, they are just as real as ones that bleed.
I am getting help because I'm tired of not being home. I am tired of being on the battlefield I brought back with me. It is time for me to come home. It is time for all of us to come home. My name is Tommy and I am a wounded British Infantryman. I am not ashamed of my wounds and I have no genetic failing. I am proud of my service and I am going home.
Let's go home together.
How amazing was that!!! I'm sure you'll agree, regardless on your views about the war itself, we owe the men and women who are deployed around the world, the maximum amount of respect for what they go through. We certainly offer ours, as well as our thanks, to Tommy for sharing his story with us. Do you recognise any elements of Tommy's story? Have you been affected by your experiences in the military? Let us know in the comments below.
You'll be glad to know Tommy has gone from strength to strength since. He started his own social enterprise helping servicemen back into work with the help of professional football clubs. You can find out more about that via his website at www.sportingforce.org. He's also on Twitter, where he's @SportingForce.
(Image Courtesy of The Northern Echo)