PTSD - The People That Matter

Tomorrow will be my 17th wedding anniversary and 19 years since my relationship with Colleen began. When we met I was a normal (ish) 24-year-old man who was loving life in the Royal Air Force Police, not really a care in the world and nothing but the ambition to progress, learn and see as much of what the world had to offer as possible. I was what many referred to as a 'Cheeky Chappy', I was never really a social butterfly but I got on with most people and liked to make people laugh.

Colleen and I met online, unlike in these modern times though that wasn't the norm, especially in N.Ireland! I know it's cliche, but from the very moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was the one. Colleen was and is far from stupid the first time we met was in a public place at a shopping centre and she had 2 of her friends with her. I remember coming up the escalator and as I crested the top I saw her and vaguely remember seeing her 2 male friends walking away (a few years later she told me that they saw me and said bloody hell he's big and then scarpered :D).

To be honest, though all I saw was her and from that day I have always questioned what she saw in me because her beauty wasn't just skin deep, her humour, intelligence and overall personality had me hooked and at that moment I understood what addiction must feel like. Colleen and I got engaged a year later, I planned a surprise trip to Paris where naturally I was going to ask her atop the Eiffel tower! The thing to mention here is that I am absolutely shocking at keeping secrets and as we were Christmas shopping  not long before the planned trip Colleen said to me as we were shopping we needed to buy wrapping paper I responded with "It's ok we will get it when we get back from Paris." I immediately realised my error and thought to myself it's ok maybe she didn't hear me, one glance at her face and I knew that was incorrect! To this day she has always told me that even though she knew we were going to Paris, she didn't know I planned to ask her the big question, she's nice like that always trying to protect my feelings :) Either way, thankfully she said yes!

We had planned to get married on a beach somewhere like Mauritius but not for the last time my obligation to the RAF, Queen & Country stepped in and I was told I was to be deployed to Iraq on OP TELIC. I wasn't going to leave without making sure Colleen was provided for so we brought the wedding forward and on a fresh winter's day on 17th November 2005, in Shropshire Colleen made me the happiest man in the world by saying "I do".

Now, this blog post is clearly about my thoughts and feelings for my wife as we approach our anniversary, but there is something more important that I want to highlight. When Colleen and I met she was fully aware of the job I did and I made sure she understood the issues that could arise by having signed on the dotted line to serve in the Armed Forces as many people have before and since. She married me knowing all of these things and has followed and supported me throughout the rest of that career without question, proving the strong and caring person she had always been.

Life proceeded as normal and we moved a few times and got to see some places like Germany and the Falkland Islands together, I had a few more detachments but nothing caused us much issue as she continued to be my foundation and strength.

Then of course in 2012 my last tour of duty happened, something I have written about many times on this blog. My resultant diagnosis of C-PTSD from doing a job which I hadn't been aware of the full extent until I got there and one that had no support in place to protect those that did. This is where I truly believe Colleen would have been well within her rights to cut the cords and run as fast as possible from me. This was not something she signed up for at any stage and to be fair it wasn't something I had signed up for.

Years before my official diagnosis I had begun to change as a person, sleep became much more difficult, I became much more volatile with regard to my mood, I became more isolated and wanted to be around people less and less and all of this was something that Colleen witnessed much of the time. At work, I became an expert at wearing a mask to hide my issues, but at home, I could not keep that mask in place as the energy required to wear it all the time was very much beyond me. In those early days, I think Colleen and I hoped it was just something that would pass and life would return to normal. The problem was I had no idea how to deal with the thoughts in my head and I couldn't talk to friends or family about them because the last thing I wanted to do was hurt them. In those days mental health was not talked about openly in the Armed Forces and was still seen as a weakness and had a huge stigma attached to it. So I did what most men do and I pushed it deep inside and ignored it.

I was eventually medically discharged from the RAF Police in Feb 2020 and have had amazing support from OP Courage (Previously TILS) and medication has helped to stop the spiral that I was in. Unfortunately after much therapy, a realisation has set in that the damage has ultimately been done and as I didn't have the required tools to deal with processing the images at the time of carrying out the role, my head doesn't carry just one trauma it carries thousands of traumas. The thing I work towards with therapists now is an ability to try and trust humans again, enlarge the bubble that currently only contains Colleen & of course Leffe, start to enlarge the secondary bubble containing only my closest friends and family and maybe one day start to accept others into that bubble. I honestly couldn't tell you what lies ahead as I literally take each day as it comes and sometimes each hour as it comes, getting out of bed some days is the goal and if I can achieve that then it's a big two fingers to PTSD.

PTSD is not something I can describe with words, it's hard to explain to people what it is like when your brain, the thing that controls literally everything you do, becomes an enemy seeking to cause you pain, trauma and despair. The effect it has on me is something I rarely think about as for me it is the effect it has on those closest to me. I have mentioned before that I have lost friends to this disorder and have family who think I don't love them or want to spend time with them, but the honest truth is I seek to protect them from me and also protect myself from the triggers that exist in their lives.

The biggest fear that I have always had since the psychiatrist diagnosed me though? Losing the one constant guiding light in my life and my very reason for breathing, getting out of bed and continuing to try and improve life and that of course is Colleen. She had every right to cut ties and run but I am blessed every day that she has stuck by me and that is why I try never to take her for granted as she carries a heavy load by living with me and I am thankful that she has amazing family and friends who support her the way I used to.

Take care of the people in your life who are there for you because you never know when life can do a complete 180 on you and everything changes in the blink of an eye.

To you Colleen, I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow, you are my moon & stars forever.