Coping with the impact of trauma
WHEN Dick Hilling listens to Enya it takes him back to the first Gulf War and Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile attacks.
He feels relaxed and at peace, though, because the Irish singer’s haunting sounds were what he listened to once the all clear sounded.
“We took our respirators off but we still had our Noddy suits on and I would listen to Enya,” said the 64-year-old retired RAF psychiatric nurse, who chairs Swindon Trauma Group.
“It was relaxing because we weren’t being Scudded.”
Dick, a father of two of West Swindon, describes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as the Cinderella of conditions.
“Our aim is to give people information and help, and to spread the message that the symptoms sometimes mimic those of other conditions,” he said.
“There are many veterans in Swindon who have alcohol and drug problems because their illness has not been dealt with.”
Dick knows about trauma and stress first hand. During more than 25 years in the RAF he served stints in Northern Ireland and helped to debrief prisoners of the first Gulf War. Part of his work at Swindon Trauma Group includes running courses to help people deal with their own memories. Debilitating memories and flashbacks are keynote symptoms of PTSD. The group was founded in 2007 and meets weekly at Asda’s community rooms in West Swindon. Not every member is a military veteran but what all have in common is a set of circumstances that mean kindred spirits are rare.
We’re all comforted by sharing our troubles with people who’ve been through the same or something similar, and most of our troubles are common ones.
Relationship problems? Worries about job security? Children hitting stroppy adolescence? Fitness fears in middle age? We always know somebody who’s walked the same path.
Some people, though, have issues of a kind shared by only a tiny section of society.
Trauma group members include, for example, Rob Fenton. He’s a 64-year-old retired financial high flier who lives in Taw Hill and worked in bomb disposal during the Rhodesian civil war in the 1970s.
“I was there from ages 19 to 25,” he said. “My career was just on hold. I was a sapper defusing IEDs. It was 50 days on and 10 off. I didn’t kill anybody and I’m very grateful for that because I don’t think I could live with myself.
“I saw what explosions did to people. The chopper would come and you didn’t know where you were going. You land and there’s just mangled stuff there. You try to make a device safe but you know there could be another one.”
Rob’s later civilian life was haunted by his experiences, and so was that of his wife, Judy. There was a period when they self-medicated with alcohol as a form of anaesthetic. Both now attend trauma group meetings.
Judy said: “You can see somebody who’s had a leg or an arm blown off but you can’t see trauma. The more we get out there and say ‘This is our story’ the better. ”
Another member, 69-year-old Joan Haddrell, is a retired nurse who travels from her home in Chippenham for the meetings. She was called up as a reservist during the first Gulf War, and was injected with a cocktail of a dozen drugs supposed to protect personnel from germ warfare. Like many other veterans of that conflict, she found that her health was never the same again – and that was on top of the stresses of tending the wounded.
Her reason for attending the group meetings in Swindon is simple: “It’s like-minded people. We can discuss things here and know they won’t go any further.”
More information can be found at swindontraumagroup.org.uk and on 07705 476139.
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