'I Was Outgoing before the Army but I Can't Speak to My Friends Any More Because They Don't Have a Clue' Post-Traumatic Stress Is Not Uncommon in Those Who Have Served in the Military Yet There Is Still a Reluctance to Talk about It. Here Is the Account of One Former Soldier and How the Support Services of Cwm Taf Health Board Have Helped Him
THERE'S an almost vacant look on Tom's face as he describes the daily reality of living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
But there's also a note of defiance when he says he hopes the rest of his life won't be like this.
The 33-year-old served in Northern Ireland and Iraq during his seven-year Army career, initially searching for bombs and later working as a member of the bomb disposal team. He returned to Iraq as a civilian, undertaking similar work.
His family have since told him they noticed a difference in him when he first came home from Northern Ireland. When he returned from his last tour of Iraq he wasn't the same man.
Today, the father-of-two, who lives in Pontypridd, is receiving treatment from Cwm Taf Health Board's veterans' health and wellbeing service.
Tom was initially assessed by the Cardiff and Vale NHS veterans service but he only began treatment 11 months ago when the dedicated Cwm Taf service was set up - his GP was sympathetic but felt unable to help "I played rugby before - I was quite social and outgoing. But I can't speak to my best friends anymore because they don't have a clue," he said.
"If I didn't have the support, quite possibly I'd have topped myself. I used to have those thoughts five or six times a day, now I only have them five or six times a month.
"But there's also a knock-on effect on my wife and family - they have to deal with the stress of looking after me.
"I'd like to think there will be a time when PTSD isn't everything but, at the moment, I don't think I'll get over it because I have so many trust issues."
Tom, like others being supported by the Cwm Taf service, is undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy with veterans' therapist Andy Tovey. He also sees a psychiatrist at the Maritime Resource Centre, in Pontypridd and is on medication to help control some of the symptoms.
In a brutally honest account about the impact PTSD has on his life, Tom said: "I have a very short trigger and can become very aggressive - it's my way or the highway.
"I don't trust anyone and I'm very sceptical. I'm pessimistic and always think the worst is going to happen; nothing is ever simple.
"I have to check things over and over again and I'm very security conscious.
"I don't open the front blinds and before I go out or in the house I check the rooftops.
Even when I pick my son up from school, I'm looking at the rooftops.
"Before, when I'd come here [the Maritime Resource Centre] I'd have to know all the cars in the car park - I'm memorise their registration numbers and would be checking out the window all the time.
"There's a rage burning inside me and I don't know how to get rid of it. …