Case study — Winning my PTSD battle

Experience in the Army and the Reserves

I spent my service in both the Army and the Reserves. I began in the Reserves in 1985, training at Jezzine Barracks in Townsville. I did a mix of part-time and full-time service. I was doing shift work and my employer wasn't very supportive. This made it hard to continue in the Reserves, so after nine years of service I reluctantly gave it away in 1996.

My circumstances changed a few years later when I went to a Military Police Corp reunion and my old company commander encouraged me to re-enlist. With his sponsorship I re-enlisted in 2001.

I initially struggled when I re-enlisted. I'd been out for a long time and found it difficult to get back into training. I ended up doing a corp transfer to Transport and I was posted to 1RAR in the Transport Platoon.

From there I deployed to East Timor,. When I came back I was transferred to Puckapunyal before being deployed to Banda Aceh in 2005.

I didn't really want to leave the Army but family circumstances meant I had to leave, and I transferred to the Standby Reserves. I then moved back to Brisbane and got a job driving trucks interstate.

Easy transfer of skills to civilian life

It wasn't too hard to adjust when I left because it was pretty similar to what I had been doing in service. Looking back on it, I was on my own a lot and was responsible for my own time management getting jobs done. That was pretty much what I was trained for in the Army.

In the Army, I'd often drive trucks where I was detached from my own unit and have to attach to other units to run special operations all on my own. Essentially, I was doing the roles that usually would be done by Corporals, Sergeants and Lieutenants in service, so that type of responsibility held me in good stead for civilian work and expectations. I prided myself on doing the best job possible.

When my first-born turned two, I gave up the interstate work and got a local job, which I did for a couple of years. I didn't mind it. It was less pay but the hours were flexible. I bought myself a motorbike and I loved riding it every day to work for my early morning starts.

Out of nowhere — PTSD hit me like a ton of bricks

Then one day, I went to work, made myself a cup of tea and then just out of nowhere, something came over me and I had a meltdown. I just dropped into a heap on the ground.

I was found by one of my workmates. The bosses drove me home and a workmate rode my bike home.

When I got home, my wife was put onto DVA. They sent a car over to my place and took me to my GP. But my regular GP was on holidays. Filling in for him was an Army Major. He knew straight away what was going on. The next day I was in hospital. I stayed there for three months.

Funny thing is, I didn't think there was anything wrong with me. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. I've never cried so much in my life.

Before my episode, I never cried. Not when people died, not when I got injured, nothing. But since I've been diagnosed with PTSD (posttraumatic stress) I have been so emotional. I've felt like an emotional wreck.

I just didn't know what was going on. My psychiatrist said I'd never work again, I was just a mess. Then I entered the Psychiatric Unit and started trialling medication.

I was sad I had to discharge from the Reserves. The Army has always been my passion. I didn't know anything about DVA to begin with, but when I found out more about it I did what I needed to do. I went to my first interview with my rehab provider.

My consultant was excellent, she made me feel comfortable. This is really a big thing for a veteran, feeling comfortable. It's especially important if you have PTSD.

She worked out how to get the best out of me; she really had a positive effect on me and we got great results.

My rehabilitation consultant was integral to my recovery. She got me started and provided the encouragement and support I needed to get me to a point where I successfully completed my goals in my rehab plan.  

Kung Fu helped get me active  

From there I found a new support outlet with martial arts, starting with Kung Fu.

I was able to include it as part of my rehab plan. I started off training two nights a week, but I was enjoying it so much that two nights a week wasn't enough. After 12 months of doing Kung Fu, I decided to learn Wing Chun.

What I love about martial arts is that they build character, self-discipline and self-confidence - all the attributes that you want to develop in your community and life in general.

I found it really helped with my condition. While I was doing this, it gave me the confidence to go back and instruct Military Cadets, which I also loved doing. So in 12 months, I went from doing nothing at all - hiding away at home - to being active again. 

Having a Dad with PTSD

The big thing for me is that I'm not the person I was before the episode.

I was really proud of who I was. I was very capable. I had a good reputation and I was really proud of that.

Ever since I was diagnosed with PTSD I feel like I've become dumber and dumber every single day, and physically and mentally weaker. It just brings to the forefront of your mind what your situation is and what you used to be.

I feel like my illness has impacted on my family. I have two daughters now aged 12 and eight and they have grown up with me having PTSD.

Over the years my symptoms, like my mood swings, my quick temper, anxiety and severe depression, has had an effect on their lives. Other children in normal families can't comprehend what it's like to have a father with PTSD. I mean, recently I have gone a long way to improving myself, but I believe that the years of me being at home with PTSD has impacted my family.  

Winning my battle

The one thing I've learned, is regardless of the situation, it doesn't matter if you can't go forward in leaps and bounds, if you are only taking one or two steps forward or even a step backwards, as long as you can focus on moving forward with intent then that is a step in the right direction. Find out what will motivate you in your recovery to give you some drive to build up yourself so you can enjoy life, get your pride back, your independence.

I have amazed people and myself with what I've been able to achieve so far, but I understand I still have a way to go. I feel I'm winning my battle. My symptoms are not as bad as they were before and I've improved a lot, but I understand that I still suffer from PTSD and I need to maintain my health.

Take action

If you think you or a loved one might have posttraumatic tress, speak to your GP. A GP can refer you to specialist care or prescribe medication if appropriate.

Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling

If you're concerned about how you're feeling, or concerned about a family member, Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling provides free, confidential, unlimited counselling sessions and support for veterans and their families.

Open Arms understands that your situation is unique to you and some issues are more difficult than others. Open Arms' case management service can help address multiple issues impacting mental health.

Call 1800 011 046 for further information, or visit openarms.gov.au.

AT-Ease

AT-Ease is DVA’s wellbeing portal. At-Ease provides veterans and families with information, resources and links to services which support their mental health and wellbeing, including information about posttraumatic stress.

The PTSD Coach Australia app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that commonly occur after trauma.

Features include:

  • Reliable information on PTSD and treatments that work.
  • Tools for screening and tracking your symptoms.
  • A scheduler that allows you to manage all your self-care, health appointments and activities.
  • Convenient, easy-to-use skills to help you handle stress symptoms.
  • Direct links to support and help.
  • Designed specifically for ex and current serving ADF personnel.
  • Always with you when you need it.

The app is designed to complement treatment from a GP.