Saturday, April 2, 2011

Facing down death … and learning to live again – a soldier’s story

People return from war haunted by their battlefield experiences. Moody, jumpy, and unable to settle down, they drink too much, use drugs, are given to fits of rage and despair, and feel utterly alone and unable to connect with people who love them. What happened to them? Author and former career British Special Forces soldier Theodore (Theo) Knell knows from painful experience what it’s like. "As Special Forces soldiers,” he writes, “we were actively discouraged from talking about our feelings and the personal effects of combat on our mental health... Talking to a doctor could be perceived as [a] personal weakness, a flaw in our makeup... [S]o you learned to keep quiet, bottle it up and crack on.”

Away from combat when one’s mind is no longer preoccupied with staying alive, it “is left free to roam”. The old rule of bottling it up and cracking on, instead of keeping nightmares away or bringing loved ones closer, has the opposite effect. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) appears bringing horrific memories of battle unbidden at the most unexpected of moments, disrupting everything and sending the sufferer into a tailspin and pushing away loved ones who want to help, but can’t.

“Once inside [Starbucks] I grab at my coffee like a junkie with a long needed fix. I'll head for a corner, any corner, as long as I can get my back to the wall and still see the door.

Across the aisle sits a stranger hunched over a large black coffee, elbows on table, head bowed, pulling quietly at his unkempt hair. He has those same smoky eyes and that thousand metre stare.

There's nothing on earth that can open up old wounds like a mirror.”

When Theodore Knell’s From the Corners of a Wounded Mind was published, he quotes former soldiers coming up and saying: “I didn’t know you felt like that as well, I thought it was only me,” and wives telling him: “I just never realised, if only I'd known I would have tried to help more.” PTSD drives people away from loving relationships and friendships and into isolation and pain. Reconnecting brings life.

This book is a wonderful resource for men and women who suffer from combat-related PTSD. Had it been available while I was a practicing mental health counselor, it is a book I would have recommended without hesitation to the war veterans and police officers I counseled. Written in plain-spoken, compassionate prose and verse, it is a book that touches people where they hurt and helps them heal.

If you’re a combat veteran or police officer with PTSD, know someone who is, or are a mental health professional that works with combat veterans and police officers, and you are looking for a helpful resource, Theodore Knell’s From the Corners of a Wounded Mind is one that I recommend without reservation. 

Available in paperback and Kindle editions.

Without a doubt, a clear  ***** winner.

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