This time of the year is very special, on Sunday I will line up with other old soldiers, whose hair is too long and dangling medals on their chest at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and spend a couple of minutes standing to attention remembering friends who died in combat. It’s also the centenary of the start of the First World War which affected East Africa in oh so many ways.
My days of running headlong towards the enemy are long gone, but those days still reside within me in the here and now. I was recently diagnosed with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It’s a condition that affects 1 in 5 combat soldiers, but also non military people who have experienced sexual assault, rape etc. There are many who were at Westgate who are still reliving that terrible incident every day. It’s a bugger of a condition, so hard to explain to others. They just think you’re a bit of an angry chap, not very compromising and prone to bouts of being grumpy. Which in fact is all true. But that’s what you see from the exterior, inside it’s far far worse. I'll try to explain:
“It seems that it’s becoming more regular, it’s definitely each day now, it’s always the same, I become sad, down, remote and depressed. It has been slowly creeping up on me over the last few months and has been quietly removing from me my happy mental possessions, leaving me with a bare cupboard.
It’s not gone unnoticed, first I thought the fear of financial insecurity had landed and was pecking away at my calmness. So I took a well paying job to plump up the bank balance Then, whilst having three jobs, I decided to stop doing so much, to take back time, as tiredness and being overworked must be my issue. I resigned a job, the one that was outdoors in the sunshine to be able to relax and catch up. I never did relax though, I never did catch up.
The removing continued, whilst I foolishly and unknowingly tried to bandage my feelings with practical decisions rather than real healing. I started to feel stress and pressure, to be short in conversations with work colleagues; I started to become a frustrated man. The removing continued, but this time into my home life, I used to like climbing, but no more, now it is a distant memory of times spent as another person. I would stand at the bottom of a rock-face and deem it unfathomable, unclimbable and then feign illness to prevent me losing face. I used to like reading, but each word on the page becomes a comparison of oneself, one which I fail to reach up to.
So now, each day, I wear this dark cloak called PTSD, when I put it on, my confidence and self belief disappear like magic. I am unable to enjoy the company of friends because I feel so unworthy inside, that even my conversation is pointless and that their time would be better spent between themselves. That the future is unobtainable now, all those plans we all make will never come true as somehow, it will go wrong, because I don't deserve it to go right. The kind loving words of a loved one become lies, as I cannot believe I can be loved, cannot be thought of as special and certainly not capable of all those nice qualities mentioned.
I got this cloak in Afghanistan whilst fighting for my Queen and country against the harbingers of terrorism. I am one of many who suffer. My cloak is heavy, it is tiring to wear, it feels like it impregnates me with poison, I do try to take it off but there are no buttons and it just tightens when I try to remove it.”
So if you do know an old soldier, someone who spent time in uniform, or suffered trauma, and isn't quite the same since then, that’s what it is like. It’s true they may be grumpy but they also may have their own dark magic cloak.
Kenya never stops Buzzing. You shouldn't either