To mark Mental Health Awareness Week Carolyn Stirling-Yeatman, whose husband Jim has been diagnosed with multi-complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), discusses the mental health of veterans and the help and support they both receive from the Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service:
‘Leave him,’ they said. So many people trying to offer advice.
That was the easy option, but not what I wanted.
Jim and I have been together for 30 years, through thick and thin, but now we’re facing our biggest challenge.
Jim served in the military prior to us meeting and then became a police officer, which is where we met. I quickly fell in love with this kind and caring man who made me feel safe.
We married five years later, however in the following years the cracks began to appear. He became anxious, depressed, angry and withdrawn. Things became strained between us and at times I felt like I didn’t know him. He went long-term sick from work, unable to cope and was given pill after pill, assessed by doctors and psychologists with no definitive diagnosis.
Over the years nothing improved, however, in 1999 our twins were born, which was a welcome distraction. In 2002 Jim was medically retired from the police. Following this, his anger intensified, he became more withdrawn and depressed and there was a distance between us; where had the man I married gone? He was angry, rude and intolerant of others. He’d isolated himself and was having panic attacks. We lost friends, rarely went out and didn’t do normal family things.
For years the children and I walked ‘on egg shells’ trying not to upset him or ‘rock the boat’. I intercepted many situations to protect us from his anger. It was exhausting and horrendous.
I lay awake at nights helpless as he relived the traumas, calling out, thinking I was the enemy and sobbing uncontrollably. It was heart breaking. It was at this time that he started to talk to me about the load he was carrying.
In January 2017, we approached an Armed Forces charity – his ticket for help. We cried. Anger had been a constant presence in our home and PTSD the fifth family member. Although the diagnosis was a relief, I felt we’d been dealt a life sentence.
Therapy followed and our home was calmer and happier. I saw glimmers of the man I married, but as great as the treatment was, ‘Pandora’s box’ had been opened and within a few months he couldn’t close it. The hatred, anxiety and depression got worse . He’d lost his ‘tool box’ and become selfish, self-absorbed and not interested in anything or anybody. The anger and hurtful words intensified and would come from nowhere.
Jim was good at putting on a front, but behind closed doors it was another unhappy story that only me and the children saw and hated. The anger and frustrations have worn us down and deeply affected us.
It has been difficult to find the right help as his needs are so complex. Having been recently supported by the Veterans Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service, he is now being treated by the Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service.
Living with PTSD is difficult and destructive. It wears you down so much that you no longer know how you feel. You can’t feel the butterflies you once did, as he is the source of the stress, frustration and anxiety. I love him, but am not always in love with him. I yearn to be a family unit and be filled with love again. Occasionally I see the man I married, but then he is gone.
I’m desperately trying to hold everything together. If I go down, the family will too. I often wonder if I’d made different choices, how my life would be. I didn’t expect married life to feel so lonely, but I’ve made the choice to stand by Jim.
I often feel like leaving, but deep down it isn’t what I want. Our children are my strength and I have a close bond with them. They are my everything, but don’t like their father because he’s always angry and totally self-absorbed. We’re exhausted and damaged by years of tiptoeing around him and being treated like his soldiers. I don’t know who I am anymore and have lost myself in this volatile environment. I have developed depression and anxiety for which I am now undergoing counselling and support. I didn’t realise how bad it had got.
It’s been difficult to source help for our children, but they’re about to get the support they desperately need. I hope this will help them and enable them to rebuild their relationship with their father.
I wish that I’d known about PTSD years ago. If you suspect that something is wrong, seek help and keep pushing. You’re the one living the nightmare and it’s destructive, lonely and no one sees what you see. I’m not sure that any words can describe how bad it has been.
- For information on the dedicated NHS mental health services for those leaving the armed forces and veterans, see this leaflet ‘NHS mental health care for veterans’ and visit the NHS website for more details. We know that families can be affected when their loved ones are unwell, so where required these services will help ensure they get the right care and treatment.
- Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 13-19 May 2019.