Your Life: I Feared I'd Never See Carl Smile Again. THE HIDDEN FACE OF WAR EXCLUSIVE: Signaller Carl White, 38, from York, Gave 12 Years of His Life to the Army. but When He Developed Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, It Was His Wife Sue's Turn to Fight

Article excerpt

Byline: JUSTINE SMITH

Sue's story: Choking back the sobs, I watched my husband sleep. Where had my big, strong soldier gone? And who was this frightened little man in my bed?

I had just picked him up from a psychiatric hospital where he had been for 23 days.

I could still hear his screams and see the fear in his eyes as he was dragged off by armed police.

After years of strange behaviour and wild mood swings Carl and I had needed a break from each other so he'd gone to Greece in the summer of 2006 to try to set up a home for us - it had always been our dream.

But he suffered total meltdown after yobs beat him up when he tried to stop them picking on a tramp.

He went missing, reappearing days later in flip-flops and shorts, burned to a crisp with his feet covered in hideous blisters. We got him back to England but he was beyond my help. So he was sectioned, released, and now here I was, lying next to my broken husband.

Just a few years earlier, he had been the perfect partner and father to our son Luke.

He had all the qualities the Army needed: patriotic, cool in a crisis, loyal, brave, tough.

We'd managed our finances carefully so we could retire to a small-holding in Greece at 40.

Instead he'd been left unable to work, a paranoid wreck.

Like many ex-soldiers, he'd started drinking to suppress the memories. Then he'd scream the place down.

He would call me a fat, lazy cow when I had been working 10-hour days to pay the mortgage then come home to look after him.

At the end of my tether, I considered divorce, but I couldn't.

I work in mental health care and knew his behaviour was the result of his service in the Army.

Carl's first tour was to the Gulf in 1991 when he was 22. He returned six months later with his face etched with deep lines.

Two years later we were posted to Northern Ireland. Then Carl was sent to Bosnia before another year in Northern Ireland. He finally left the Army in 1999.

We all felt huge relief but our problems were only beginning.

He had seen terrible things and was showing symptoms of posttraumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) - a variation of the more well known post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It should have been picked up and it should have made him a priority in the NHS. But doctors failed to diagnose or treat him.

Initially, he was turned down for a War Pension, meaning he didn't get the preferential medical treatment the government promised.

I'd hoped the new start in Greece would help but instead it tipped Carl over the edge and, three days after he was allowed home from hospital he started stabbing the sofa with a knife.

I had never felt scared of him before. I panicked, fled and called 999 for an ambulance. Instead, police cars screeched up and the house was under armed siege for three hours.

Carl was sectioned again. He spent six weeks in a high-security psychiatric ward before a solicitor got him out.

He was on such strong medication he was a drooling zombie. I was horrified. Nobody was trying to help him, just keep him quiet.

I felt most sorry for Luke who was in the middle of his GCSEs.

No kid should have to watch this happen to their dad.

I was devastated. My friend told me I had to let the old Carl go and mourn for him. I feared the old Carl was never coming back, that I'd never see him smile again and I had to learn to love the new Carl the way he was.

But now, at last, we have turned a corner.

Carl got private counselling, which has helped. And his condition has been recognised by the authorities. Just being believed helped - so much of his anger came from being effectively called a liar. …