Lest we forget

 

404

I got an email from one of my readers, Mel, the other week. I get all kinds of emails that come in and this one stopped me in my tracks. She wondered, if I might like to share something with you guys about Anzac Day. It’s not the most upbeat topic, it’s not pretty flowers in vases, or food placed just so on a table. But it’s real. And it’s about what many people out there go through on Anzac day, and every day.

You see Mel and her family are one of the wives and families who support veterans that return from war. The wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, mums, dads friends and family that pick up the pieces of those who return injured.  As she said “You see there is a new generation of us out there caring for loved ones who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. We are in the prime of our lives (I’m now 42 and my husband is 44) and our worlds have been changed forever. You won’t find us at the local RSL or selling fruit cakes for Legacy. We are a new generation. We are your next door neighbour or the person behind you in the supermarket que or the stressed out wife who has become socially isolated because going out is just way too hard.”

I am honoured to share Mel’s story with you guys on here. Mel writes a blog herself sharing her stories if you’d like to read a little more. Thanks for sending me your story Mel.

Today I will not forget the sacrifices that so many people have made for our country and for those who will continue to do so.

They shall grow not old, 
As we that are left grow old, 
Age shall not weary them, 
Nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun, 
And in the morning 
We will remember them. 

_______________________________

Something was not quite right. In the days, months and years to come exactly what was wrong would slowly be revealed.

My husband deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. The man that returned was not the man that I had said goodbye to six months earlier.

This is my story.

On returning home my husband was; withdrawn, irritable, angry, having nightmares, in pain both physically and emotionally, prone to mood swings, had sudden explosive outbursts, fatigued constantly, depressed, increasing his alcohol use, in denial, shut down, silent for long periods, suicidal and so the list goes on. I was to finally learn this is what acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and major depression looks like in real life.

Like many, the true extent and impact of the trauma took some time to truly come the surface. Along the way what was obvious was it wasn’t going away any time soon.

PTSD bubbled away intruding on our lives in unexpected ways and in doing so completely turned our world upside down.

The ripple effect of war related PTSD and depression on those around the veteran often has a huge impact and for me this was certainly case.

The grieving for what has been lost, the complete and utter helplessness felt when it looked like all avenues for improvement had been exhausted, the fine balancing act that each day required of me, the educating of family and friends while trying to make sense of what was happening myself, the transformation of my mate into a person I hardly recognised at times, the suffering in silence that was often the best way of dealing with a situation and the exhausting and humiliating process I have endured to access help via a bureaucracy that treats veterans’ akin to tax cheats.

There were periods when there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Anyone living with a veteran who is suffering with PTSD and depression knows the path is often a rocky one. No two experiences are the same but what does seem to be common to us all in the early stages is the frustrating inability to help our loved one and to understand what it is that they are dealing with. I found the isolation, anxiety and loneliness hard. Often my own anger, resentment and despair would surface. I would often feel totally overwhelmed.

Five years on… countless counselling sessions, group work, books, internet searching, soul searching and writing to decision makers to highlight the huge gaps that still exist in their cumbersome processes, there are still days when I feel like I know very little about how to manage our new reality.

One thing I am very certain of. The role we all play in keeping our loved one afloat during these horribly difficult times is incredibly important.

Often it’s all about them and that’s ok, it needs to be. However I believe we do need to be heard and acknowledged for the vital role we play.

For me, I feel the time has come to open the conversation up to those of us who ‘pick up the pieces’ and ‘keep the fire burning’ while supporting an acutely mentally ill person.

We are a rare breed but also a growing breed and as others before us have stuck together to get through the really tough times we will need to also do the same.

This topic is very personal. In my experience there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness and ignorant judgment by others can hurt.

There is so much we can share and exchange. The support we can provide one another should never be underestimated.

I have contemplated for some time what it is I can now do to connect with others who are going through, and have gone through, a similar experience to me. I want to talk with others and bring the conversations we have behind the firmly closed doors of counselling sessions out. If we can talk more broadly and openly about our experiences then that isolation that can so often be part of this process might actually start to fade.

I have decided to start a blog. http://hopehelpsptsd.blogspot.com.au

It will just be a small, quiet space in an otherwise noisy, crowded and often demanding online world. I intend on sharing a story or an idea, or I might ponder how we can help one another a little more or share something that has worked for me or something I am really struggling with.

Sometimes there will be no words. I’m a prolific iphone photo snapper. I love a good sunrise and I’m fascinated by clouds so they may make an appearance from time to time. There could be the occasional rant or vent but I hope it will be a space that is real, relevant and mostly happy!!

For those of you out there that may be in a similar situation or are looking for support I asked Mel for some suggestions on places that can be of help. She suggested Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVCS) vvcs.gov.au 1800 011 046 ( A wonderful service for all the family, they continue to provide help and support to us to this day)
Partners of Veterans Association – pva.org.au 1300 553 835 (A group that supports the partners. They provide friendship, support and education and can be found in each state. I’m a member here in Hobart)

What does Anzac day mean to you or your family?

Comments

  1. Krista Warren says

    Thank you for shining a light on this Mel and Beth…we are a USMC family with a son graduating from USN bootcamp tomorrow. (flying off to Chicagoland here shortly with my dad, a retired USAF colonel) We are a family of warriors – each of us are warriors in our own way. People passing us on the street wouldn’t look at us twice. In awe and grateful for the profound sacrifice of our warriors worldwide…fighting for what might make the world a better place.

  2. Reannon Hope says

    My pop is a Vietnam vet, he spent his whole career in the army. My baby bro spent 8 months in Afghanistan. He was 18 when he joined, 20 when he left to go over missing his sons first birthday & Christmas, his finances 21st birthday & had his own 21st birthday over there. He’s still in the army, it’s his 5th year, & each & every ANZAC day I am so incredibly thankful both these men came home safely. I am so incredibly proud of them, & all their comrades, who have fought for our way of life. Saying thank you never seems enough….

  3. Oh man, the hidden and ongoing costs of wars …

  4. Oh Mel, thanks for sharing your story – these stories need to be told. X

  5. My grandfather died a few years after WW2 from a disease he contracted in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. My grandmother then had to raise four children on her own, working solidly as she was told she was ineligible for a war widows pension. 45 years after the death of her husband she was told that her husband did die from a cause of the war and actually was eligible for the pension after all. Years spent away from her four children, desperately struggling to make ends meet and relying on assistance from Legacy.
    When I read Mel’s line about getting assistance for veterans and their family and being treated like a “tax cheat” I felt so saddened that veterans and their families were still struggling to get the assistance they need and deserve.
    Thank you to Mel for sharing her story. So important for us all to recognise. I so hope her family gets the support they need.

    • Hi Corinne, I really really want to tell you we get the support we need, when we need it without having to fight. Unfortunately that’s not the case. I’ve never fought so hard in all my life to get my husband what he was and is entitled to. He hasn’t had the mental capacity to do so. I honestly can’t believe the way our veterans are treated when interfacing with DVA. They have such a long way to go in improving processes and treating people with respect. I could go on but I won’t. Rest assured I will continue to fight, as exhausting it is. Thanks for your lovely comment.

      • Mel, it’s utterly shameful! You would think (and hope) in this day and age what we know about PTSD and the ongoing emotional and physical effects of war that a foolproof support system would be in place for veterans. Especially after the many years we were in Afghanistan and Iraq. And especially after the way veterans of Vietnam were treated.
        I wish there was something I could do help? I currently live in the middle east, but would be willing to do what I can – write letters to MPs? I’ll certainly be reading your blog. Xx

        • Hi Corinne, shameful it is. Thanks so much for your offer to help, I’m sure you can. I will talk more about it over on my blog and hope to see you over there. Thanks again for your interest.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your story Mel, I hope others can find comfort and help by visiting your blog.

  7. From the bottom of my heart thank you Beth. Your willingness to share this with your readers has no doubt helped enormously. If this post allows one person to feel they’re not alone or to put their hand up for help I will be a happy gal. Thanks to your readers for their comments here and also on my blog, a great way to get this important conversation started xx

  8. Lisa Mckenzie says

    Thank you Mel for sharing your story we just don’t know enough do we Xx

  9. There is the other side as well. The Iraqi Australians who have suffered immeasurably- whose families have been killed, lives ruined- our homeland burned to the ground.
    1,000,000 dead as a result of the last eleven years of war.
    So much pain and hurt, for everyone involved.
    There’s an episode of the West Wing where they’re discussing war crimes, and one of the characters says, “war is a crime”.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing this story and the simple, yet explanatory description of what PTSD is.
    You are certainly right in saying that it’s the wives and families who wear the brunt of the outbursts and irrational behaviour and from my experience, it’s when the serviceman or woman has discharged from the military. Just ask my wife, who’s seen the ugly monster rear it’s head in many forms.
    On the other side of the coin, the word ‘Veteran’ is used all too often and in these times of equality, political correctness and anti discrimination laws, anyone’s who served overseas can use this label to their advantage.
    Less than 10% of our troops overseas were in war fighting roles and more often than not we were undermanned and made do with the best we could. One example of this was an Infantry Platoon. They started with 31 fit, strong and damn good soldiers, however by the 7th month of an 8 month tour they were down to 14 men due to injury, illness, wounded and gross incompetence of higher command. Our Cavalry section had to plug the gap and together we conducted operations as per normal to keep the Taliban in check.
    Why tell this story? For the 90+% of those who served and never left a safe environment with air conditioning, hot showers and 3 cooked meals a day their ‘war’ is slightly different (that’s sarcasm by the way) to a Cavalryman, Infantryman or Sapper. His was one of constant vigilance, maintaining a sense of humour, praying like hell you don’t hit an IED, hope the ANA don’t shoot you in the back, staying as clean as you can to avoid contracting a disease from the locals, watching helplessly as children suffer from malnutrition & abuse, open homosexuality beyond belief, keep your fingers crossed that the fighters you’re up against are locals, listening to the screams of a wounded Soldier who knows his wounds are fatal, sleeping with a loaded pistol under your head in case the bad guys tried to snatch you at night and working on minimal sleep.
    Yes the term ‘Veteran’ can be used used or abused. It’s unfortunate that people have returned home, having done zero war fighting to claim the title ‘Veteran’ and it’s these people who, in my experience abuse a system designed for
    Veterans’, not latte’ sipping aircon sucking office johnny’s. A lot of those who served in support roles need to take a good hard look at themselves before claiming the title of ‘Veteran’.cos’ they’re just kidding themselves and their families.
    Amna, you are spot on in pointing out the civilian casualties from the invasion of Iraq.
    I wish you well Bec and your blog helps out those in genuine need.

Leave a Reply to Reen Cancel reply

*