SUKIE OWERS

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"When my husband left for his first tour of Afghanistan, I resigned myself to the fact that there was the high risk of him returning with horrific life changing injuries or worse still, not returning at all. Six months later, I was grateful for his miraculous and safe return, but both of us felt a deep sense of remorse and sadness that other families were not as fortunate as us, particularly those who were out there with him. There were many significant moments where we felt that we could not celebrate or be happy, due to other people’s loss. Many of his friends or colleagues were still in Selly Oak, he was attending funerals and the news was reporting loss after loss.

 

All of the information that I had read had indicated that it would take some time for readjustment to normal family life after a tour and that certainly was the case. My husband displayed the typical signs of being distant, not particularly wanting to engage with social situations and sleepless nights. However, over time (quite some time), the situation was improving...or things were becoming the norm.

 

Two years later, my husband embarked on his second tour of Afghanistan. I had some grave concerns about the close proximity of tours. After another six months, thankfully, my husband arrived back home safe and sound.

 

Over the years, I heard about other service men and women suffering from PTSD and wondered how my husband managed to get through without being affected. Some of these people, I knew well. Others were people working with my husband. I witnessed many phone calls and personal contact with soldiers/officers where my husband was there for family support and guidance.

 

Approximately, seven years after that first tour, my husband admitted that he had been suffering from PTSD. To see my husband break down and explain how he had hidden the symptoms from me for so many years, left me feeling that I had failed him. How could I have missed the signs? Had I missed opportunities to detect them?

 

My husband was fortunate that during his routine physiotherapy sessions for his knee, he had built up a trusting relationship with his Physiotherapist. It was a safe space to relax and talk. Over that period of time, she was becoming aware of some common symptoms and had the expertise to probe a little further. One day, she confronted my husband with her assessment that he was suffering from PTSD and urged him to speak to me. I cannot thank her enough.

 

My husband opening up helped me to understand his patterns of behaviour over seven years: finding excuses not to join in with our family outings; preferring long periods of time to himself;  not coping with crowds;  not wanting to travel; preferring not to stay overnight at friends and increasingly feeling less comfortable with people staying at ours; .....

 

For such a strong willed and proud man, I was relieved that my husband was prepared to engage in any support provided. This highlighted to me how much he had been struggling.  

 

Unfortunately, the next part of our journey was riddled with disappointment and trepidation. His first therapy of EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitisation & Reprocessing) was not suited to my husband’s trauma. In preparation for each weekly session at DCMH, he was expected to complete a written account of one of his traumas. I found it difficult to comprehend how pouring out each incident was going to improve his recovery. In fact his flashbacks during sleep increased to 5-6 episodes a night and during the day he became more hyper vigilant. I was left increasingly concerned that he was driving back having had no time to come down from replaying vivid traumatic experiences. Thankfully, his second therapist who carried out EMDR followed the procedures, bringing him to a “safe place” before his journey home.

 

I desperately wanted guidance on how to support my husband’s recovery. Do I wake him in the middle of a flash back? Do I tell him how may episodes he had? Should I encourage him to talk or leave it to the experts? Was I doing/saying anything to exacerbate the situation?

 

My experience of so many others in his situation destroying themselves and their families was still quite raw, so my mission was to equip myself as best I could to protect our family. Although, family and friends were amazing when my husband finally gave me permission to tell them about his PTSD, he was not ready for them to talk to him about it. I knew that I needed professional support so I rang a number of known charities for professional insight or signposting, but came to a dead end, which is when I tapped into education based help lines due to my profession. I believe that their support played a key role in my husband’s near recovery, alongside the right therapy that was finally identified for him by his third therapist. CBT  (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) was the definitely the key to his road to recovery, with a respectful and holistic approach. Again, I am so grateful for the work that his Psychologist did for him. We followed all of her suggestions and finally saw some tangible improvements that were beginning to have a positive impact on my husband and our lives as  a family.

 

Preparing to leave the army is daunting enough, but leaving with PTSD was incredibly difficult. If my experience can help you in any way, please do get in touch. Please do not feel alone. "