My uncle is a former Marine in the U.S. Army. During this article it will become clear why I’m only referring to him as my uncle and not giving away his identity. First, I’d like him to know how proud I am of him for volunteering to join up and for his years of loyal service prior to his honorary discharge in 2006. During his service he served in Afghanistan, completing two tours. However, during the second one his convoy was hit by an IED. Luckily for him, his vehicle was not directly hit and he suffered only minor injuries.
Over time, long after the physical damage had healed, he began to develop signs of PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not limited to our veterans, though their plight has helped the rest of us understand the condition more. My uncle’s first signs developed toward the end of his tour and began with flashbacks of the incident, being unable to forget the sight of his dead friends by the road side, and an almost overwhelming feeling of guilt. Over time he tried to find ways to expunge these flashbacks using alcohol, and when this was not enough, he turned to drugs. His marriage broke apart, his children began to hate him, and we struggled to hold it together for him.
Eventually, we were able to help him get back on the wagon so to speak. It started with an intervention and a frank conversation. We then encouraged my uncle to join a local addiction group, so he could meet people who have overcome similar issues as him as well as get expert advice. On his request, we helped him dry out and keep him away from alcohol until he was back on his feet. It was a long and difficult struggle, but he got there and together, we never let any setbacks stop him trying for his ultimate goal. His marriage never recovered, but he’s back on speaking terms with his ex and sees his children regularly, he has a job again, gets support and therapy, and is closer to the uncle I knew from before.
However, like the title of my article suggests, it’s never an easy road to recovery and the long term effects of PTSD can stay with someone for the rest of their lives. Of course my uncle had setbacks and times where things went wrong. The greatest of these happened recently and it was an almighty struggle to put him back together again.
It happened after he completed and filed his taxes for the year. It was rejected because someone with his details had already filed a tax return in order to fraudulently claim for a refund. This left him devastated and triggered a fresh meltdown. The fraudsters probably did not know how fragile his grip on the world was, but it was enough to shatter it. No doubt my uncle is not alone in this and many others have suffered severe stress while being victim to fraudulent activities.
I’ve had my Facebook account hacked and I’ve seen my fair share of phishing scams in my inbox. The former left me angry, upset, helpless and paranoid – what had that person done with my account? Had they messaged people? Stolen my details or signed me up to random stuff?
Imagine now what it does to someone suffering PTSD or any other kind of mental illness from depression to anxiety. It’s not nice, is it? My uncle is a resilient man and has a strong supportive family around him, but not everyone is so lucky. If we had not been there to help pick up the pieces, take action against the fraud, and help get him back on the wagon who knows what could have happened.
The second time we helped him back on the wagon was in some ways easier than before and in some ways harder. We knew the basics and had a large group of people to help because he was still, until then, a regular member of a local support network and undertook group therapy. The harder parts were based around getting him to trust people again and to overcome the fraud, to make sure he could properly submit his taxes and that authorities were aware of what had happened to him. Luckily they were understanding and helped steer us through the process.
He is more isolated than before and relies more on cash payments than before when out shopping. For a while he let himself get more isolated and kept off the Internet altogether. Keeping an eye on him proved harder when he ditched his phone, but touch wood, things are OK now. He always says he is the luckiest man because so many people are not willing to give up on him, but we all know he’ll be there for us too if we need him.