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.