PTSD. My journey with posttraumatic stress disorder.
Working in Rockhampton, I was living in Yeppoon about a 50-minute drive from my place to the Airport. With work they introduced a 12-hour roster, so it was like a 14-hour working day for me. With lack of sleep due to nightmares, pressure within work and travelling long distances it eventually triggered a mental breakdown. It happened late 1997 when a helicopter flew low over the Met Office at the Airport causing me to have a mental flashback. I thought I was in Vietnam again. Note…
When a person has flashbacks, they almost always have the other hallmarks of PTSD: nightmares, unwanted memories, anxiety, quick temper, avoidance of “triggers,” numbing of positive emotion, withdrawal from others. So the flashback is part of a cascade of symptoms. One symptom precipitates another.
My local GP put me on sick leave and wanted to refer me to a Psychiatrist, but I was convinced I could manage this by myself. To get away from all the pressures of life I decided to go and seek isolation. I left my family and took remote postings. For the following years I found peace and quietness. Solitude was like a drug to me. I’d come home to my family and work a couple months at Rockhampton and leave again for isolation.
1998 posted to Giles Weather Station in the Gibson desert West Australia. The remotest Weather Station in Australia. Eight months away from home.
2000 Leave and Long service leave at home.
2001-2002 posted to Macquarie Island. Again, eight months away from home.
2002-2003 posted to Davis Base Antarctica, eighteen months away from home including six months of training. The expedition chose me to be a scrub nurse to help our Doctor in case of an emergency while down on the ice. They sent me to do a one-month course at the Royal Hobart Hospital. Part of the training was to go in the operating theatre. I was worried and stressed how I would cope with the sight of blood. I didn’t need to worry as I soon found out I didn’t have any feelings what so ever, no emotion, nothing.
2004 posted to Casey Base Antarctica, three months away from home. It all ended at Casey Base, when another expeditioner and myself slipped on clear ice outside the base. We didn’t have any crampons on our boots. The other bloke saved himself but unfortunately for me I slipped and hit my head causing my brain to swell and bleed but as my head was on the ice, the freezing condition slowed the swelling and bleeding saving my life. I was very fortunate as the Aurora Australis was still offshore about 20kms from the base with a helicopter aboard. They rescued me from the ice, but they couldn’t medivac me out until another 24 hours because of a blizzard. It took two weeks to get me back to Hobart. I was out to it until a couple days from Hobart. On arrival they put me into Calvary Hospital. From scans it showed I had extensive brain injury with bruising. After 4 weeks in Hobart they flew me back home. My family was upset and demanded I go and see a Psychiatrist and sort myself out. All I could think of with my feelings were, the only place I found peace had just been ripped away from me. I was finally diagnosed with PTSD, 34 years after my service in Vietnam. For the next two years I went in and out of deep depression and in hospital for rehab. The biggest problem was getting me on the right medication. Some medication made me feel more depressed and others over active. In rehab I spent hours being counselled by my Psychiatrist, Psychologist and Social Workers.
Final Part in the next few days.