Dents in the soul – living with PTSD

Two years ago, my untreated PTSD cost me my marriage, and almost my life. Why? Because I didn’t think it was as bad as it was, and I was too ashamed to ask for help, which when you think about life in the military is a completely bullshit excuse.

Military units are the sum total of ALL its moving parts. When one part isn’t working, the unit starts to break down. In uniform, when we saw a mate struggling through the obstacle course, or out in the field, we helped them. But out here on ‘civi’ street where we  often don’t have our mates within arms reach, we try and deal with our shit alone.

The fact that so many of our fellow veterans are harming themselves, and even worse – taking their own lives – is testament to the fact that trying to fight this alone doesn’t work. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, or just know in your soul that something just ain’t right, the only way you get better is to understand what PTSD is, and isn’t, and then begin reach out to mates or professionals to get it under control.

Here’s a primer on PTSD, gratefully supplied by the DVA.

PTSD – The Basics

Traumatic events such as those involving actual or threatened death or serious injury, or witnessing human deprivation (eg. regions ravaged by famine or war), can have a strong impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is one of a range of mental disorders that individuals can experience after traumatic events. PTSD can be distressing with negative consequences for your health and wellbeing. It can affect anyone, but there is help available.

Army, in conjunction with Joint Health Command and singer songwriter John Schumann, have produced a 30-minute documentary designed to address stigma, offer support and raise awareness of the issues surrounding PTSD for Army personnel and their families. Featuring Army members who share their own experiences with PTSD, the movie supports the important message of look after yourself, your mates and your family.

This documentary aims to de-stigmatise PTSD and to show that it can potentially happen to anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic event. Developing symptoms of post traumatic stress after exposure to trauma is not a sign of weakness it is simply being human.

Recovery rates from PTSD are high but early diagnosis and treatment are particularly important. Generally, the longer the symptoms persist, and go untreated, the longer the eventual recovery will take and the greater the disruption to the person’s work, family and enjoyment of life.

Singer Songwriter John Schumann, who wrote I Was Only 19, is the narrator of the documentary and helps walk viewers through diagnosis, treatment and effects of PTSD on individuals and their families. John Schumann also shares his personal experience with PTSD in the film.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a traumatic event?
What is traumatic for one person may not be so for another. However, it is generally accepted that certain events, like threat of death, serious injury, seeing dead bodies, death or serious injury of a close friend/colleague/family member or witnessing wide spread human degradation, have the potential to cause significant distress.

What are the main symptoms of traumatic stress?
Most people will normally experience strong reactions after traumatic events. Commonly, these include re-living the event, having intrusive thoughts about the event, avoiding anything that reminds them of the event, feeling sad and tearful, feeling highly anxious or panicky, sleep disturbances, being easily startled, extreme irritability, difficulties concentrating or remembering, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, and relationship problems.

If I am experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress, when should I seek help?
The initial symptoms of traumatic stress would be expected to subside after 2 to 4 weeks since the traumatic event. If the symptoms persist longer than this, you should seek professional help to manage the symptoms and to reduce their impact upon your ability to function.

If I have symptoms of traumatic stress, will I automatically get PTSD?
No. There is a continuum of how people react to PTEs or CIs, from mild disturbance to quite severe impact. Generally, the more severe the reaction, the more likely a person is to develop PTSD – however, if the symptoms diminish within a few weeks, it is less likely that the person will go on to develop PTSD.

What is PTSD?
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious mental illness that can occur after exposure to a traumatic event. It is characterised by repeated and disturbing images or memories of the event, avoiding places or situations that remind people of the event and significant hyper-arousal including exaggerated startle responses and sleep problems.

If I have PTSD, does this mean I’m going crazy?
PTSD is a serious mental illness that will significantly impact upon a person’s quality of life. It does not mean you are going to change to an entirely different person, or not be able to lead a quality life.

I have watched the DVD, now what?
The booklet and website accompanying the PTSD DVD includes guidelines for accessing support for issues or questions raised by viewing the DVD. The booklet suggests that questions are written down and then discussed with local mental health professionals or providers. These are described in the booklet as Nurses, Chaplains, Psychologists, Social Workers, Psychiatrists or Medical Officers. The possibility of discussing the DVD and questions that arise with mates or the Chain of Command is also suggested.

The booklet and website includes contact details for additional resources including the Army Wounded Digger website, DCO, VVCS, DVA, Defence Families Australia, Mental Health, JHC, the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health and the All Hours Support Line.

Additional Resources and Contacts

All Hours Support Line (ASL)
– 1800 628 036

Defence Family Helpline (Defence Community Organisation)
– 1800 624 608

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS)
– 1800 011 046

Mental Health

Joint Health Command

Wounded Digger

Defence Families of Australia

Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA)
– 13 32 54

Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health (ACPMH)