My dad has been a soldier all my life and he joined the army when he was 16, he loves the army. He is home on leave now, but he is very sad and when I asked him what was wrong, he asked me to go with him for a walk in our favourite woods, which are next to our house. He was very quiet and I could see he was crying, so I held his hand.
We walked in silence for a few minutes, then we stopped and he then told me, he was retiring from the army. I asked him why, he went quiet and then said "I am unwell darling." "Daddy do you have an injury?" I asked. "Yes darling, but not on my body, but in my mind." I told my daddy I would give him extra special cuddles every day until he was better. Neither of us knew how hard this journey would be for our family.
Let me start at the beginning, my name is Ruby, I am 13 years old and live with my mum and dad and my brother Tommy who is 6. Having my dad in the army has given our family a great deal of pride and gives us all, a strong sense of community. I learnt at a young age that the army was my family too, due to the strong bonds, shared values and sense of belonging between families. Which really helps when my dad is away, because we all miss him very much when he goes.
Because of the postings my dad has had, we have lived in different places in the U.K. and even in different countries. Now my dad has a permanent posting, mum and dad have bought our own house and it's wonderful, mind you when we can, we go to our local army camp, to meet friends and be part of the army family. So our life was very fulfilled, until this weekend, when dad came home, it felt different, he looked different. After our walk in the woods, when dad told me, we came home and mum was also crying, I knew our life would change and all I knew was I was going to help dad and mum any way I could.
I am a computer geek, love learning new things and have a mind that is like a sponge, that takes in everything. At school I am called teacher's pet, because I enjoy every subject. Name calling does not worry me, because my dad taught me at an early age, to be proud of who I am. While dad was having a rest, I asked mum what was wrong with dad's mind, she knew I would keep asking, until she told me. She explained that dad had PTSD, I did not know what that was, but I was going to make it my business to find out, before I went to sleep tonight. My dad, like my mum have always been there for me, loved me unconditionally and always proud of what I do. Both Tommy and I loved them unconditionally and are proud of them too.
During the last year my dad has been home, he hasn't had much patience with us, going for walks on his own and he has been having nightmares, as an army family we understand how tough dad's job is. As I began to research PTSD, which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I cried, my poor dad, he must have been keeping this from us for months, trying to protect us. I realised if dad had broken his leg or arm, we would know what to do, but with the mind it is different. All I know, is right now my dad needs a lot of cuddles, compassion, love and patience.
Before I go any further, I should mention that my mum was in the army too, that's how my mum and dad met. We often laugh about how they met, they were both on a night exercise and both jumped into the same hole knocking each other over. When my mum discovered she was having me, my parents decided that mum should leave the army. I know how much my mum loved the army and I appreciate every day what she has done for Tommy and I.
Next morning I got up early to make dad a special breakfast, but when I got downstairs, mum was already there and told me dad had gone to the woods for a walk. I put on my coat and boots and went to find my dad, he was not hard to find, he was standing by our favourite tree, it's where Tommy and I had learned to climb a tree. My dad is standing there and I can see he is having a flashback. I learnt last night a flashback is when the memory recalls a trauma. I slipped my hand into dad's hand and squeezed it gently.
Ruby had a friend she could talk to within the army
community, Larry. I didn't realise Larry's father has had PTSD for 5 years
now, he was in a better place now and settled in civilian
life. Ruby gave Larry a call and Larry told her to come
straight over. Larry's dad answered the door and said
"hello" and told Larry to put the kettle on. "I
know why you are here, let me tell you what it was like at
He then went onto to say, like
many people living with PTSD, at the beginning I struggled
with everyday life. I served in the military for 15 years,
until PTSD mental health issues forced me to retire. Simple
daily activities that most of us take for granted were
causing me untold pain and anxiety. Our family life was
falling apart, I was constantly picking on the kids and the
future was looking hopeless. "
Larry came in with the coffee and sat next to his dad and then said "everything changed when mum bought home Honey." Honey was Larry's dad's dog, although all the family love her. "I had tried therapy, mindfulness and nothing had worked." Said Larry's dad. He went onto say that everything literally changed when Honey came bounding through the living room door and jumped on my lap and would not move. Everywhere I went, Honey came, wagging her tail.
"Dad and Honey go everywhere together, for walks, to the shops and to dad's appointments." Said Larry. His dad smiled and said "Honey gives me the freedom to talk, has helped me reduce my anger greatly. She has given me an additional purpose in life, she looks after me and I look after her and she gives me a level of loyalty that I thought I would never see again, once I left the army." Larry went onto say, that his dad is much calmer now, can be heard laughing and that they have their old dad back. "I am no longer seen as a person with PTSD, but as a man with a dog. It allows me to walk on my own quietly when I need to and be with others the rest of the time." said Larry's dad.
Larry's dad continued by telling her it's all about baby steps, that once you made that first little step, it is the one thing that makes the biggest difference. That Honey just seems to know when he is feeling low and will place her head on his legs and keeps it there until he strokes her. That, since having Honey, his life has changed in a positive way and continues to change each day. Through her, I see things that I haven't seen before and it gives me the daily motivation to go out. For example, while I was asleep I could not bear anyone touching me, until Honey arrived. The first morning she came racing into the bedroom while I was asleep, the whole family were horrified, until they heard me laughing and found Honey licking my face and nudging me. Since then I am fine with someone touching me when I am asleep.
"I have learned my trauma won't go away, but each day I learn a little more how to live with it. Honey works for me, it's an individual thing. Just be patient with your dad." Ruby reached over and gave Larry's dad a big hug and said thank you. As she left Larry said to her at the front door "thank you." Ruby looked puzzled and replied "why are you thanking me?" Larry went onto say, that was the first time he had seen his dad so open and that he was so proud of him, as he has reached out and is helping another person. As Ruby went home she smiled and cried at the same time.
That evening dad sat me down and said he wanted to talk to me, he said it wasn't anything to worry about. Dad went on to say "I want to talk with you, about some tough things I am dealing with right now. Just as I have always asked you to be open and honest with me, I want to share something personal with you. I have been dealing with some difficult stuff lately and I would like to talk with you for a few minutes. How do you feel things are going in our family?" I looked at dad and then I said "Dad I know something is making you unhappy, mum told me it's not us, I just want to help." My dad began to cry and knelt down and hugged me and said "I am so lucky to have such beautiful children."
"While doing my job, I saw things that really upset me, when I think about it, it makes me unhappy. I won't be sharing the details with you because talking about it is hard for me. I am working on moving forward and I hope that knowing about my PTSD and how I feel will help you understand me better." At that moment I could have not been prouder of my dad. Dad continued, "I know I am snappy and get angry, even when you haven't done anything wrong, sometimes my PTSD means I get angry quickly and easily. I feel really bad I haven't been to your sports day, plays and parents nights. Part of my PTSD makes me feel really uncomfortable in large groups." I sat there and listened to dad and then I said "It's okay dad, we have got you."
"I know you sometimes you feel sad and confused about why you can't have other children over to the house to play when I am here. Sometimes going through tough times can make us stronger. I know it's not the same, but I do enjoy watching you play with your friends at the park, when I am able to come. It doesn't mean that I don't love you, I love you very much. You remember when Tommy broke his arm playing football, he went to A & E, took medicine and did physio. Managing my PTSD is a lot like that. Sometimes I go to the doctor, take medicines, and go to therapy. Even though I don't have broken bones, I have experienced something really difficult and it affects how I think, feel and act. It is taking time for me to heal, but I am getting better."
"Please come to me whenever you want to talk. I want to hear your feelings and questions and I will do my best to help you. There may be times that I am going through a really rough spell and cannot talk, but when I am having a difficult time, know you can always talk to mum." Dad finished by saying he had printed out a card for me, with a simple message on it and it read " PTSD, can affect thoughts, feelings and behaviour and effects everyone in the family. Doctors and councilors, will help our family get through this tough time and this treatment will help me manage and recover from PTSD. You are not to blame for my PTSD, please share your feelings with me, I want to support you and love you very much." I hugged dad so hard, I made him laugh.
While dad was talking to me, mum was talking to Tommy in the kitchen. "Tommy I have a story to tell you about daddy and it is not a happy one." Mum then said "Tommy as you know daddy has been a soldier for many years, more than you have been alive. Even though your daddy is an amazing soldier and has helped many people, not everyone could he save and he has seen some really bad things. The sadness and hurt from all this, stays with him in his mind and that's why he is no longer in the army. He simply cannot bear any more sadness and hurt. When this happens to someone, the doctors call it PTSD."
"PTSD can affect anyone, but it is more likely to affect people who work in the emergency services and soldiers like daddy, who go to war, who all see a lot of sad and scary things. The sadness and hurt in Daddy's mind sometimes gets overwhelming and it rushes out as a loud angry shouting voice, lots of banging and a very scary face." Tommy thought for a moment and then said "is that why daddy has to go to angry camp?" My mum realised Tommy had worked out that dad was going somewhere else rather than work. "Yes, Tommy, that's where daddy goes to learn about why PTSD makes him feel sad and angry."
"In angry camp, there are other people there too, with PTSD like Daddy, the doctors teach them ways to get their bad feelings out safely. They also work out which medicines might help Daddy. So, when daddy's PTSD is triggered, it often comes out as a lot of anger, sometimes it comes out as crying and sometimes it comes out as nightmares when he's sleeping. It makes Daddy very tired and you already know about how he needs time on his own when he's feeling stressed."
"Although PTSD will be
with daddy forever, because no one can block out bad
memories, there are three things you must always remember.
It is something that has happened
to Daddy, nothing you did to make it happen and nothing you
do will ever make it worse. It
might make Daddy scary and loud at times, but his anger is
never your fault.
It will never ever stop Daddy from loving you to the moon
and back. We are the reason Daddy tries his best to overcome
all that PTSD brings." This bought a big smile to Tommy's
face, as for a long time he thought it was him, that made
dad angry. Mum said later, how proud she was of Tommy, that
he had understood everything.
It will never ever stop Daddy from loving you to the moon and back. We are the reason Daddy tries his best to overcome all that PTSD brings." This bought a big smile to Tommy's face, as for a long time he thought it was him, that made dad angry. Mum said later, how proud she was of Tommy, that he had understood everything.
Since then, once a week we talk as a family, it really helps my dad and us too. We understood very early on, his behaviour does not always reflect his true feelings. We tell him, that we know that's not him talking. Dad on some days does not want to go out with us, because he is afraid of running into upsetting thoughts and memories. As a family we are aware of dad's triggers. We know that the evening news on TV, triggers dad's PTSD, so we make that time, when we prepare tea, so that dad doesn't experience that particular trigger. Dad says it's a conspiracy to get him to make tea every night, which makes us all giggle.
We have learned to change the way we do things, like Larry's dad, my dad also has nightmares and doesn't like to be touched when asleep. Dad told us, he feels he is being attacked if touched. So as a family we needed to come up with a way of waking dad, without touching him. Mum came up with the idea, simple really, on his phone dad has a song he really loves. So, one night when dad was having a nightmare, mum played the song, dad started to quieten down and went back to sleep. In the morning, when mum told dad, he went quiet, we waited and then we saw tears in dad's eyes and he hugged us all and said "thank you." Now dad is okay being touched when he is asleep.
A few months ago, my dad met a man called Charles, who has had PTSD for over 20 years, who has not been in the army and they have become good friends. My mum gets on really well with Charles's wife too, because of their experience with PTSD in civilian life, they are able to tell my mum and dad what works for them. Dad has learnt that PTSD can affect anyone and that it's an individual journey, but Charles has shown him some basic tools to improve his life. Charles writes children's stories, upcycles furniture and cooks, these help him relax and improve his life. Dad has always loved to keep fit and after talking to Charles, has decided he wants to run a marathon and has worked out a timetable to achieve this, when he told mum, she cried, dad looked worried, but mum told him they were tears of joy.
Today dad has come up with a wonderful idea, my dad is a proud man and struggles to ask for help, mum says it's a man thing, but I think all of us struggle with asking for help at some level. So, yes this wonderful idea, dad has a favourite red baseball cap, I must admit it is very old, but he loves it. Dad has decided to have it with him at all times and when he puts it on, it is a signal that he is struggling. Only we will know what it means, its gives him his dignity and enables us to help him even more, when he needs it the most. Dad's baseball cap has given us many giggles before this, mum used to throw it out and then dad would get it out of the bin and hide it and mum would find it again and so on. Now the baseball cap has a new life, as a tool to help dad.
"As a veteran I define myself completely by the fact that I am a soldier. So coming back into civilian life where you're not a soldier any more and life doesn't revolve around the things that soldiers do. It's really hard." I heard my dad say to Charles as they sat in the living room drinking coffee. They continued to chat as I emptied the dishwasher and as I past the door again I heard Charles say "I can only sit in certain places, especially in public. Most of the time, I need to have my back against a wall so I can see everything going on in front of me. So no one can creep up behind me." My dad replied "Charles I am exactly the same."
I am so happy they are friends, they are both able to help each other, what with dad's experience in the military and Charles's experience of living with PTSD. Yes, dad has us, but now he has someone out there in Charles, who understands dad and gets him and because of that dad is not alone with his PTSD anymore. Through Charles my dad has learnt that it is about learning to live with PTSD.
Charles told my dad one day, that one of the greatest wonders of children is their ability to see the good, to play and find joy in even the darkest of situations. It's not always easy, but dad needed to try to enter our world and share our joy when he can, that it can give dad relief from everything else. The dishes can wait, the television will still be there, but those moments are what really matter.
Charles went onto to say that he was a big kid inside and loved being with his grandchildren and with other children in his life and that it worked for him. My dad could see that in the children's stories that Charles wrote. From that date, we had what we called "silly time", dad found it a bit strange at first, but now he is the biggest kid during our silly time. It is wonderful to see dad laughing, giggling and playing, Charles was right, you could see the relief in dad.
Mike, a friend of dad's came around the other day, Mike and dad had met at what Tommy calls "angry camp." The name always makes us giggle, as dad says it works for him. Mike told us, that one day he went to the stables with his wife, he had a riding lesson and discovered he had an infinity with a particular horse. He discovered, that, both horses and veterans have a heightened sense of their environment for survival. That horses are tuned in to their surroundings to assess for threats which allows them to pick up on emotions and feelings. That his horse looks to him as the herd leader to feel safe and in doing so, that the horse mirrors the emotions that Mike has. Mike could see that Tommy and I were excited and invited us and dad and mum to come to the stables with him on his next visit.
Mike continued by saying, "if I am calm and relaxed, the
horse will have the same emotions; but if I am scared or
anxious, then the horse feels unsafe and shows the same emotions. This
helps me, as like your dad, I struggle with the emotional
effects of PTSD and this helps me to gain more
self-understanding and self-awareness. "
Dad had been having nightmares for over a week, he was finding it hard to sleep and was wearing his red baseball cap nearly all the time. Tommy and I gave dad lot's of special cuddles and were extra good, so that dad could get better. One evening mum sat Tommy and I down and told us that dad was suffering from constant flashbacks. "Is that when dad remembers bad things mum?" said Tommy. Mum and I looked at each other, we were so proud of Tommy. "Yes" replied mum. Mum went on to say dad had phoned Charles and Charles was coming in the morning to take dad to the lakes and have a walk and lunch.
As they walked dad talked and Charles listened, Charles was a great listener and because of that, dad felt free to talk. Dad had accepted that PTSD is a constant challenge and the more he talked and processed things, the less power it will have. My dad is a born fighter, but for him Charles is the true fighter, Charles of course says my dad is. Dad has learned from Charles, that it is so important to keep your mind and body active, to talk, talk, talk and fill your life with positive people. To consider therapy and a support group, but only when you are ready.
So I have reached the end of my story, let me tell you what I have learnt. PTSD can affect anyone and happens after a traumatic event. Remember to keep hope, faith and like my dad, never give up no matter how much pain you might be in. Dad takes every day as it comes and has learnt from Charles, it is baby steps and there will be good days and bad days. As a family we keep things normal around dad, giving him a solid and safe home life. I remember Larry's dad telling me, there is no magic wand, but to help dad make new memories., focus on the present and find joy, while being understanding of his symptoms.
Dad's PTSD effects every single part of his life, it has changed him and how he views life, the good thing for us as a family, is dad understands that, hence the red baseball cap. I have to giggle, as mum would still love to throw it away, but we all understand how vital and important that baseball cap is. If you take nothing else away from this story, take this, compassion, support and comfort is vital and simply be there for them, with lots of special cuddles.