Case study - posttraumatic stress disorder

Flashbacks and an increasingly short temper made 20-year infantry veteran Mick think he might have an issue with posttraumatic stress.

Time to read: 5 minutes

Mick, 41 years old, currently MEC3 on sick leave from ADF, 20 years in the infantry

Most of my life I thought people with mental problems were wimps or fakers who needed a good kick up the bum. I’m a soldier, that’s what I’m good at. As a warrant officer, I've had a lot of younger blokes look up to me, expecting me to be a strong leader. And I was. I was bloody good.

Until about a year ago.

I’d seen some pretty horrible things in my time but it was all part of the job. I coped by blocking it all out. Job done, put it behind you, have a few beers. And that worked well for me until we went into a little village in Afghanistan a few hours after the militia had left.

They thought the villagers were collaborators and wanted to set an example. I won’t go into details but I’ve never seen so much destruction.

Anyway, we did what we had to do there. We called in the medics and managed to track down some of the militia. Enough said.

But when I got home a few weeks later, I couldn’t get those images out of my mind. There were lots of them, but one in particular stuck in my head, a young child who’d been ... well, the point is that the image came back to me over and over again.

I kept having pictures jump into my mind during the day, and then there were nightmares.

I became short-tempered and I was forever on edge. I was shouting at my wife and losing my cool with the kids. I just couldn’t think straight. I just wanted to lock myself away and draw the curtains. I was losing my mind. I was one of those wimps I always looked down on.

I figured I was going 'round the bend

I’d heard about PTSD [posttraumatic stress] but even when I had all those problems it never entered my head that I might have it. I figured I was going 'round the bend and I was the only one who’d ever felt like this. Yes, I know that sounds stupid, but that’s what it felt like.

It was my wife who got me to ask for help. She saved my life.

Someone she knew at work had a husband who was a cop with the Feds. He was one of the first into the Solomons after the troubles there. Apparently he’d developed PTSD and, like me, refused to admit it. It took over his life until he did something about it and saw a shrink. Since then he's got tablets and some therapy and he's doing OK . Because of that, my wife dragged me along to see the psychiatrist.

I tried to tell him what I was going through, but I kept crying. I felt like a complete idiot but I managed to tell him enough. I'm on some tablets now. I'm not a fan because they've stuffed up my sex life something terrible (although to be honest I wasn’t feeling much like sex anyway since this whole thing started) but they're doing their job. I’ve been on them for four months now and I think they’re helping. The psychiatrist said we can look at a different type of medication down the track that won’t muck up my bedroom performance.

I’ve read a lot about PTSD, and spoken to a few people who’ve had and gotten on with their life, so I’m feeling optimistic. I’m also seeing a psychologist every week. He’s given me a whole lot of tips about how I can control the anxiety.

We’ve just started the really hard part – talking in detail about that day in the village. It is hard, but I also feel a great sense of achievement. I’m not blocking it out, I’m facing up to it (maybe that makes me a real man after all!) And we’ve been through it a few times now and it’s getting easier.

I’ve got a long way to go, I know that, but I hope to go up before the medical review people in about three months. I reckon I’ll be back with the boys by next year.

It will have been a long break, but we had a bloke who injured his back, he was off for a year and came back good as new. Mine’s not that different really. Just happens to be my head instead of my back.

TAKE ACTION

If you think you or someone you know might have PTSD, speak to your GP. Your GP can refer patients to specialists (psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health social worker) and prescribe medication where appropriate.

Specialist services are also available through DVA. If you have served one day in the ADF, you are eligible for:

To ensure access to the services you're entitled to, register with MyService as soon as possible. A range of DVA services are available to serving personnel, so even if you are currently in the ADF, it's worthwhile registering today.

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) also provides support defence members, ex-serving members, veterans and their families with counselling for individuals and group-based programs. Call Open Arms on  1800 011 046. Free and confidential counselling is available 24/7.