Some may think that discussing PTSD on an outdoor blog is a bit strange. But it is part of the story that brings me here and makes me who I have become in recent years.
This is my story and covers the past 20 years and a premature end to lifelong career. I will look at the way my anxiety levels rose, how I was diagnosed and what the cause was. I will then discuss how I was cured and how I keep it all under control.
But first of all, what is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder which you may develop after being involved in, or witnessing, traumatic events. The condition was first recognised in war veterans and has been known by a variety of names, such as ‘shell shock’. But it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers – a wide range of traumatic experiences can cause PTSD. (Mind)
So, a little background to help put the circumstances surrounding my PTSD into context.
I joined the RAF in 1979 as Aircrew and served for nearly 30 years on Nimrod Maritime Patrol and Surveillance Aircraft. I had a series of ground tours as the RAF Liaison Officer to a US Navy Facility, Flight Simulator Instructor and as Deputy Officer Commanding the RAF Kinloss Combat Operations Squadron. I also did a double tour as an Air Instructor, flying Dominie Aircraft out of number 6 Flying Training School at RAF Finningley.
Throughout this time, I was married to my first wife who spent the latter years of our marriage working for British Aerospace at RAF Kinloss, the company that carried out the major servicing of our aircraft. During major services, the aircraft are stripped back to the bare chassis so that any damage or stresses can be identified.
So how did the PTSD start to manifest itself?
I started finding every excuse I could to get out of flying! This was strange, as I had always loved my job. I would fake head colds or call in sick or any number of reasons. It was suggested by my Squadron Commander that I see a Doctor about my apparent decline into almost permanent ill health. Absolutely no sympathy or attempt to identify the issues was made at this time!
When the Doctor failed to find anything wrong with me, I was referred to a Practice Psychiatric Nurse for a ‘chat’. By this stage I was having strange dreams about air crashes and pending doom. I was quickly referred up the line to the Scottish Regional Military Psychiatrist and eventually to the RAF’s most senior Psychiatrist.
So how was I diagnosed?
I first consultation lasted over 2 hours and the whole time we were just chatting and quickly he identified that I was in fact suffering from fear of flying brought on by some traumatic event. The next issue was to try and identify this event. I had not been involved in any airborne accidents, nears misses and other airborne event that may have triggered this fear.
However, you will recall that my wife worked for BAe. One of the things the engineers did as part of the major service was to inspect the main spar (the piece of metal that hold the wings on). They would regularly find cracks and bring the photos into the admin off to show the boss. Of course my wife, the Bosses PA, would see the photos and talk about them at home in the evening!
Bingo, we had found the cause. The comments about the wing cracks and photos were slowly gnawing away in the back of my mind and creating this abject fear of flying. This led to the bad dreams and anxiety attacks and slowly dragged my mental health into a downward spiral. Also, by this time I had separated from my wife and I had put in my notice the quit the RAF.
The first thing the Psychiatrist did was to ground me and put me on long term sick leave. This way he had removed the cause and distanced me from my very uncaring Squadron Commanders and the whole RAF environment. Following a much shorter second visit 2 months later, it was decided that I did not need medication or therapy as I had found a way to control my anxiety. My sick leave was also extended until I was due to leave the RAF.
With all the spare time I now had I was able to get out into the Scottish hills and mountains more frequently. I had moved away from RAF Kinloss and settled in Stirling with the Cairngorms to the north and Southern Uplands to the south, I was in outdoor heaven. My mental health and the PTSD had been brought under control and all was well again.
The only thing that was niggling away at my mind, was the fact that I could not leave the RAF until I have been declared fit. However, the Psychiatrist even had this under control. He knew that it was take a week to do all the paperwork back at RAF Kinloss (known as clearing). So, with a week to go before my exit date he declared me fit to work and therefore, able to leave the RAF.
Over the intervening 14 years since I left the RAF, I have had a series of highs and extreme lows. I married for the second time only for my wife die of a heart attack the week before our second anniversary. I eventually found solace in my third wife, who is my soulmate and best friend. The overriding thing through all of this domestic ‘roller coaster’ has been the ability to get outdoors.
Since the death of my second wife I have really suffered with my weight but have managed to bring that back under control. I suffered a minor Stroke in 2014 but the comforting constant has always been the great outdoors. I prefer to walk solo as it gives me the chance to mull over daily issues and rid myself of life’s detritus. I don’t believe I will ever be ‘cured’ but I will be happy as long as I can get outside.
PTSD is not just limited to the Military; it can affect anyone who has suffered or experienced a traumatic event. It may not manifest itself immediately and may hit when you least expect it. Thankfully, these days PTSD is understood and it controllable or curable. There is no reason to suffer in silence.
If you are affected by mental health issues, then please seek medical advice from your GP and visit the Mind Charity website for good tips and information. If you wish to support the work of Mind, then please follow the link to my Just Giving page at the top of this page.