I hope that all my readers are thoroughly enjoying a splendid Christmas, be it either in the bosom of the family home here in Blighty or on a sun-kissed beach on a tropical island. I would like to thank you all for visiting my blog and contributing towards our discussions this year; your support really has meant a great deal to me.
During the past year, I have been showing my support to a chosen charity of mine, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, and on Christmas Eve I received a very touching e-mail from a veteran whose life has been deeply changed by the generosity of the RAF Benevolent Fund:
I’m Paul Miller, and I used to be in the RAF Police. This Christmas I wanted to say ‘thank you’, and tell you how well the RAF Benevolent Fund uses your donations.
It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am. But I’m going to try, and the best way to do that is probably just to get on with it and tell you about how I come to spending my first Christmas in years in a home of my own while I try to crack this thing called PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. You might call it shellshock.
I’d always wanted to be in the RAF since I was a kid – you might know that feeling! It was part of wanting to show my loyalty to the flag and doing the right thing. So I joined the RAF Police and when I was deployed, I felt so responsible.
In the RAF Police, you basically do all the things civilian police would do in a war-torn country. You protect people, solve problems and help in a crisis.
But the day I got injured in Basra, Iraq, my whole life collapsed.
I was driving on my own down a long straight road towards the base at the airport, when the siren went off for a mortar attack.
I could hear explosions getting closer and closer so I jumped out to try to find cover. But as I looked up I saw a black object coming down. It detonated and I felt an almighty pain down my back. I couldn’t feel my legs.
I dragged myself to the jeep, took the brake off, and it hauled me back to base. When I eventually got there, my legs were working again, so I didn’t tell anyone I was injured. I was so embarrassed. I knew it could mean I’d be sent home, and I didn’t want to leave my team.
They were like a family, and I wanted to look after them. Every pair of eyes on the ground counted, so I didn’t want to go. I took lots of painkillers instead.
But two weeks later, while I was looking over a wall for snipers, my legs went again and I ended up on a medical flight back to the UK. There was a guy on there with a massive piece of shrapnel in his head and I tried to talk to him, but he was obviously very damaged. We had a coffin in with us too – a Danish soldier.
Then I was in hospital and that’s when I had my first flashback. I thought I was at a checkpoint that was being attacked, and my legs couldn’t move. I didn’t know what was happening.
You spend a lot of time on your own in hospital, in your own head. Normally PTSD takes about 10 or 12 years to emerge, but for me it was almost immediate. The pain in my back was terrible and I had two operations and a lot of rehabilitation, but everything got worse and worse – the pain in my back and the PTSD.
If you’ve ever known someone with PTSD – for example if you or a relative were in World War II or the Falklands – you’ll know it brings strange behaviour with it. I felt under threat all the time.
At night I was walking round with a baseball bat, thinking we were going to be burgled and I had to defend my children. That must have been hard for my family. I was going a whole week at a time without sleep. I couldn’t shut down.
My wife left. And she took my three young children without telling me where they’d gone. I knew I was facing losing my career too and hit rock bottom.
Like many people with PTSD, I tried suicide – including one time up a mountain in Wales. I took an overdose, but I woke up in the morning. It must have been all the painkillers I was taking for my back, maybe I’d built up resistance!
Back at High Wycombe, I kept seeing things that couldn’t be there, while I was having rehab for my injuries. PTSD was diagnosed. I had a label, which helped, but it didn’t make it any less confusing or frightening.
Then what I had been dreading, happened. I was medically discharged from the job I’d wanted to do all my life.
I was moved into an apartment in Warrington, where I spent a year, never leaving it except for medical appointments. I shopped for food online and my only visitor was my social worker. It was so lonely.
Social services then moved me into a care home for elderly people because they had nowhere else for me to go. I was 27.
The flashbacks were coming and going all day long. I had no control over them. One lasted 15 hours.
‘Flashback’ doesn’t really describe what it feels like. It’s like a memory you can’t stop playing in your head that gets in the way of your thoughts. It’s all around you.
Smells. Noises. It’s completely real. 3D.
The last flashback resulted in me being asked to leave the home. I was in the corridor and felt a warm breeze and as the sunlight reflected on a glass door it created a shape… a threatening dark figure, a real person, an armed Iraqi coming at me… I looked for my rifle. ‘I don’t have it!’ I thought, ‘I’m going to have to deck him!’ and I punched him – or rather I punched the glass. My hand was cut to ribbons.
And the staff had all run away.
That’s when the RAF Benevolent Fund found me and picked me up and changed everything.
They offered to provide me with a home of my own, in a peaceful part of Lincolnshire, adapted for a wheelchair because as my back gets worse that’s what I’ll need. And I’ve been here for almost a year now.
Knowing I have a roof over my head for the rest of my life, the feeling is indescribable. These four walls have given me the stability to get myself fixed. I can put everything now into the counseling and cracking this thing.
I can’t put into words how grateful I am. To the Ben Fund. And to you, because your donations make this possible.
And it’s working. I was referred to a specialist counsellor in the summer who’s helping me unbottle all the feelings that have come with things that have happened in the RAF.
The counsellor says I need to cry now but I can’t yet because I don’t think I’ll be able to stop.
He says I’m putting 110% into it so I will crack it. The flashbacks are dulling now. They used to be so real. I wouldn’t know if I was in my living room in Lincolnshire or in a jeep in Kosovo with bullets flying around.
But I’ve learned how to ground myself to reality now.
Best of all, I now see my children again! It’s great having them back. We have popcorn nights and DVDs! I want them to grow up knowing I do care and to have a steady environment. I’m so proud of them.
I hope that after Christmas I will be in a much better place.
The pain from my back injury is unfortunately only going to get worse. The pain clinic say they can’t do anything more for me. So I’m on morphine patches that will need to get stronger and stronger. If I walk far, I get temporary paralysis from the waist down. So my injury is going to limit what I can do.
But when the counselling has finished, I would love to meet people, have some friends, have a life. I’d love to have a job again, so I’m hoping I might be able to go to a college for disabled servicemen and retrain. I’d also like to help other people with PTSD.
I’ve ‘got the T-shirt’ and I can show them that you can come through this!
This home of mine is what has allowed me to give everything to the counselling and get fixed.
This is what has enabled me to get back with my three children and for them to have a Dad again. This is what is saving my life. So thank you. Thank you for watching my back – and for looking out for all the other RAF people like me who never imagined in a million years that they’d need help.
I know lots of charities will be asking you for support this Christmas. I can guarantee that this one – our RAF Benevolent Fund – will make a massive difference with any donation you give them. I’ve seen it first hand.
With my thanks and very best wishes for a very happy Christmas.
I am so very glad that I donated to this charity, and if you would like to do the same then please consider donating to the RAF Benevolent Fund’s Christmas Appeal.