• Michelle Partington

The Aircraft Has Landed But The Journey Has Only Just Begun.

So I was so relieved when the aircraft finally took off from Camp Bastion. My heart was pounding so hard, I actually thought it would rip through my chest wall! That is exactly how I felt after leaving Afghanistan in Aug 12. It was the worst operational tour I have experienced for so many reasons. That is however something for another day. What I would like to talk about is what happened to lead me to a diagnosis of PTSD?...

I was so excited to walk through the sliding doors at Brize and see my partner and my lovely pooch. My little girl was so very pleased to see me and jumped all over me before my partner could get anywhere near. It was such a wonderful welcome but then reality set in. My partners mum had been really poorly. Just prior to my tour commencing I had been shopping with her and we had arranged a shopping trip on my return to the UK. Unfortunately she deteriorated rapidly and passed away a couple of days prior to my return. If my flight had been on time I would have made it home to say goodbye to her so that was my first piece of sadness right there. My post deployment leave was spent at my partners parents house and attending a beautiful lady's funeral. I had to push my own rumbling emotions to the back of my mind so I could be strong throughout this tough time for my partner and family.

My first day at work was just awful. I was so looking forward to a gradual return but that sure didn't happen. The coming days proved less and less tolerable, something I really had not felt before. I did not think a lot about it initially as to be fair how can you compare being in a war zone on the front line picking up the wounded one week, and the next sat at a desk shuffling paperwork.....it just doesn't compute!

A week or so following my return to work my partner proposed to me and I was so pleased. Something good was finally happening...or at least I should have been happy but the coming weeks proved even more difficult and I was becoming increasingly withdrawn, emotionally imbalanced, anxious and irritable. I was jumping at every little noise heard and could not settle at all. I was snapping at my fiancé all the time and I had no interest in doing anything or going anywhere. I was having horrific dreams which sometimes followed me into the day and most times I was shattered sat at my desk. I was being pushed and pushed at work and eventually I snapped at home. I was putting a jacket onto a hanger in the wardrobe but it slipped off and fell on the floor. I put it back on and it happened again. This happened a couple more times and I felt rage consuming me...I became angry and pulled everything off the rail onto the floor and then I fell to the floor and cried so hard. I had no idea where it had come from back then but obviously I understand a little more now. My fiancé just held me on the floor whilst I cried and cried. That is when I knew there was something seriously wrong at that point and had to admit that I needed help. I spoke to my mentor from my previous unit and he suggested I seek help from the MO as he felt I was suffering from reactions of tour. I did this and I was signed off sick for 2 weeks with a hesitant diagnosis of adjustment disorder. During this sick leave I did next to nothing, I felt numb and I just didn't want to talk to anyone. My fiancé suffered so much as I was obviously unable to handle any of my emotions. My gorgeous little doggy was the only thing I could cope with. She seemed to sense my moods and she stayed with me all the time. I have to be honest and say if it wasn't for her I would probably not even get up in a morning. At times I didn't even want to exist in this living hell anymore. The only thing that stopped me ending my life was what it would do to those I care deeply about. That is hard for me to admit but I need to be honest or else there is no point to this. I was thinking of ways I could possibly get away with it so it wouldn't look like I had taken my own life but then I kept going back to what it would do to those I love.

I returned to work and things weren't getting any better. My fiancé was prepping for a tour to Afghan and it was the day of dropping off. Prior to leaving I was getting angrier and angrier because things were being left until the last minute. I couldn't control how I was feeling and was raging inside. I slammed the door and went into the bedroom and collapsed on the floor in tears. Again my fiancé came and sat on the floor beside me and just held me. Afghan must have been a safer bet than staying with me back then that's for sure. I had to go back to the doctors and it was clear things were becoming progressively worse. It was just my little girl and me at home and I locked myself away most of the time, cancelling nights out and other organised time with friends. I just couldn't bring myself to go, I became anxious and panicky at the mere thought of going out. The only people I would visit are Lozzie and Meesh because they accepted where I was. They didn't understand it but accepted it and I could sit there in silence if I wanted to. They lived very close to where I was going to be posted to so it was fantastic for me.

I was posted to Lincolnshire and my new bosses where absolutely fantastic with me. I was referred to a consultant psychologist who delivered a diagnosis of PTSD in Oct 12. I was absolutely gutted, embarrassed and extremely angry with myself. How could I not be able to cope when people younger and with less experience than me carry on when I am falling apart, it didn't seem right. I was scheduled for regular counselling sessions and in-between those I would turn up for work. I say that because some days that's all I did. I would stare at the computer screen despite the fact it wasn't even switched on. One day it was so noisy I walked out of the office, out of the building and onto the playing fields at the back of the building. I walked to the middle of the field and just sat down on the grass and that's where I stayed for a long time. I remember walking my little girl on the fields for the first time and heard a gunshot. This made me crash to the floor instantly. After a second or 2 I realised where I was and started to get myself together. As I looked up I saw a farmer running over to me and my little girl Mitsy was jumping around me. The farmer was panicking and was asking if I was ok whilst helping me get up from the ground. I told him I was absolutely fine and tried to explain what had happened but it all happened so quick. He walked off to shoot more rabbits and I rushed back to my room in the mess with Mitsy and locked my door.... It is funny now when I look back on it but it sure wasn't then that's for sure.

My struggle was on and off for months following this. At one point I thought I was making fantastic progress and then a massive trigger regressed me right back (this happened twice). My fiancé and I committed to buying a home I had previously lived in and I felt safe there. I felt a lot of comfort there as a lot of history was already there for me, lots of lovely memories. Unfortunately my fiancé and I clashed and clashed on and off. Following a night when things came to a head, my fiancé cracked with absolute verbal aggression which must have been pent up for months. The top finally blew off the pressure cooker and anger spilt out like I have only ever experienced once before in my lifetime. I moved out for a little while and then my fiancé moved out to let me move back into my sanctuary. I really wanted it to work between us but there was no going back after that night. At the time I didn't know what was going on so why would my fiancé have understand never mind handle it. The end result was that we split because it became too much for my fiancé to handle and I wasn't in a position to fight another battle besides my inner demons of PTSD. We sadly parted ways, I was forced to sell my sanctuary and move back into the officers mess. I was absolutely gutted but still I couldn't deal with any of this and withdrew even further....

Due to the triggers surrounding me at my military base I was signed off sick and moved up north to be close to family and now awaiting a medical board. I was looking forward to moving close to my family but I also really wanted to stay down south to be near my friends but as well as what was going on I had hurt a dear friend. I wanted something to work so much I told a lie and now she doesn't trust me which I can't blame her for. I had a massive drop in judgement but again I didn't see that at the time. I didn't mean any malice in it I just saw it as something good happening for us all and I couldn't see beyond that. I have tried so much to rectify this but time will tell if there is a way back. For now, I deal with the triggers when I can, I have food delivered because supermarkets are too much and I am trying to progress to living with this hidden illness instead of currently just existing with it. There have been so many times where I have wanted to escape from all of this but I know I have people who love me and want to see me recover to a level where I am living again. This will never go away I know that but if I can at least manage this and have a life again I will be content.

I have been extremely open and honest about my journey in the hope it helps others to recognise things in themselves and source help. Also for partners of those going through it, remember that it isn't only those diagnosed with PTSD who suffer. Those around them will suffer because they will not understand the change in those they love. I am not the person I once was and I have to get used to that fact and accept how I am now. Until I can do that how can I expect others to accept me as I am now. I have good and bad days, sometimes I am completely consumed by it but I take one day at a time and deal with things as they rear their head, its the only way....

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