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In 1982 I was nineteen and at such a tender age I had already taken the lives of two men and watched over fifty being killed and many hundreds badly burnt and injured when I was sent to the Falkland Islands after it was invaded by Argentina. Those summer months nearly thirty years ago are the most memorable of my life for all the wrong reasons. None of us had ever heard the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) even though many Vietnam veterans were suffering from it in the 80s. If someone had even bothered to inform me about it as a testosterone filled patriotic British soldier I probably would have shrugged thinking nothing of it.
During that brief but savage War 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers tragically lost their lives as well as three civilian Falkland Islanders. Those horrific events were to become burnt into my mind forever and even typing this short article brings it all back again. The more shocking statistic is that more Falkland veterans were to eventually take their own lives due to untreated PTSD than were killed in action, a similar story to Vietnam only the suicides in the US have been on a much larger scale due to the length of the War.
Its Thirty years next year and the anniversary of the Falklands War and I’m still here to tell the tale unlike Mickey who served alongside me and sadly succumbed to PTSD a few years ago. In 2007 I returned to the Islands for the 25th anniversary, the Falkland Islanders kindly opened their homes to the returning liberators, I chose to sleep in a portacabin at an army camp as I regularly suffer from night terrors and did not want to disturb them especially if they had young children. Three marriages down the road I’m sure my ex wife’s would testify to my reliving of the War at night time.
An expert in PTSD told me that “We are heading for a Tsunami of mental health cases.” after our follies in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is even more foolish is thinking that a human being can witness the most barbaric sights imaginable and then hop on a plane and come home as easy as if he has just been down the local store for a bottle of milk. Amazingly there are many in Britain that think our young servicemen and woman should be able to kill and watch their friends being killed simply because its their job. They think wrongly that men who fought in older conflicts were unaffected even though the term shell shock came out of the horrors of World War One. If a fire-fighter finds the bodies of badly burnt children in a wardrobe as they try to hide from the flames, he will be rightly so affected by the events. I would be more worried if he wasn’t. But soldiers , well it’s their job isn’t it? In my opinion this stigma attached to PTSD is a contribution factor to the large number of suicides, we British should just make a nice hot cup of sweet tea and put on our best Stiff Upper Lip , if only it was that simple.
I was diagnosed with PTSD ten years after coming out of the forces by a civilian councillor and refused to talk to her about my problems. She asked me to do something that changed my life and it did not involve any drugs. She asked me to go away and write my thoughts and feelings down. It’s much easier to open up on a piece of paper and I did.
From the suicidal wreck who was living rough in a hole in the ground I became a published author and campaigner for veterans rights taking me to all the way to The Prime Minister at Downing street and many TV newspaper and radio appearances. My writing and poetry opened up to gates to my soul a gave me a valuable tool in the arsenal against PTSD.
My latest book is a book of poetry to help raise fund for the mental health charity Talkin2minds started by a former SAS soldier Bob Paxman. If you would like to contribute to this International project please send your poetry / short story. Photos, to email@example.com an amazing lady and champion for all veterans who are suffering due to their service. You don’t have to be a veteran. We are all human beings.
The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.
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