“It’s really nice to see you smile again Daddy”
That was the comment RAF veteran Darren’s nine-year-old daughter made after his treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Darren (age 43) joined the RAF 12 days before his 18th birthday. Working in Logistics, he served for 12 years, with tours taking him to places including the Falklands, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Iraq.
However, after being badly physically injured in a missile attack in Iraq in 2003, he started to suffer from flashbacks and nightmares.
“When I returned home, my treatment focused on trying to help my physical injuries. I was discharged from the RAF as my spinal injuries meant I couldn’t continue to serve. That’s when things really started to go wrong. I was angry all the time and drinking heavily to forget.
“I couldn’t work out what was going on, why did I feel so angry? I’d only just got married and family life soon began to suffer. I buried my head in the sand though and struggled on for eight years until my wife Charlene said I had to get things under control or she would leave and take our four children with her.
“So in 2011 I went to see my GP and broke down when I told her how I was feeling. I was referred to a local NHS mental health nurse who in turn suggested that I contact Combat Stress as they would be the best organisation to help me.
“But I couldn’t ring the number she gave me. It took me 18 months to contact the Combat Stress Helpline and even then I did it all by email. I couldn’t speak to anyone on the phone, I wouldn’t have been able to get the words out as I was too emotional. For me, email was the best way to ask for help.
“When I was given my diagnosis of PTSD, it was such a relief. I knew there was something wrong with me but I’d never heard of PTSD before. It was so nice to know it wasn’t my fault, there was a reason for how I was feeling.
“I was however really reluctant to go to Hollybush House, the Combat Stress residential treatment centre in Scotland, as I didn’t know what to expect. Also my spinal injuries mean that Charlene is my full time carer and I was worried about other people having to help me. We worked through my issues though, gradually building up the time I spent at the treatment centre.
“In September 2016 I undertook the six-week PTSD Intensive Treatment Programme and that made a huge difference to my life. Before I did it, crowds, noise, people – they were all a problem to me. In fact I hadn’t been into a supermarket since 2011 but now I can.
“I use all the tools that Combat Stress provided – mindfulness, grounding techniques, coping strategies – and Charlene also knows how to help me use them. I still have days when going to the supermarket is hard but I know now how to catch myself and what to do. I’ve come a long way but there’s still a long way to go.”
Charlene adds, “Darren came back an almost different person after his six-week stay at Hollybush House. He's not cured but I've noticed that he's not as angry anymore. He can sleep that extra hour or two before waking with a nightmare or flashback and when he does I am able to help ground him.
And our youngest daughter has said it is so nice to see her daddy smiling on a regular basis.”
Darren adds, “If I hadn’t made contact with Combat Stress, I wouldn’t be here now. My kids wouldn’t have a father.”
For more on Combat Stress and the support they provide, head to www.combatstress.org.uk