Living with PTSD: a war within

"Normal people experiencing a normal reaction to an abnormal situation."

This quote was taken from one of my subjects when attempting to explain to me how he wanted people to see him as a sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

For the last eighteen months I have been trying to unpick away at the truth behind the front pages. As a documentary photographer it is my job to produce documents as an observer to record and report on the world around me. The project’s aim was to give voice to the voiceless and make the realities of PTSD accessible to everyone.

I have no personal experience of mental health issues. My interest was sparked from a chance meeting with a Falklands veteran. Cmdr Inskip ship HMS Glamorgan had survived a strike by an Argentinean Exocet missile. The project I was working with at the time was on veterans; mental health had never even entered my mind as something I might encounter.

Commander Ian Inksip, photo by James Arthur Allen | A War WithinCmdr Ian Inskip, at his home in Cornwall, © James Arthur Allen

On talking with Ian I began to understand that his traumatic ordeal had changed his life inexplicably and that for Ian every day was anchored to his experiences of war. For the last thirty years he had been unable to escape from an event that was initiated by something as simple as someone pressing a button.

I remember driving home from this meeting asking myself how this could possibly be? I immediately set about researching PTSD and quickly realised that the condition was not just limited to the armed forces, quite the opposite. In front of me lay a landscape of people from all walks of life. Young and old, male and female.

One of the symptoms of PTSD is a reluctance to talk. A long time was spent posting on forums, chasing up emails and bloggers. The doors seemed to be closed.

Out of the blue I received an update from a forum I had posted on. An individual passionate about the letting people with out the condition know how it is to live with a mental illness but unable to get the message out.

Over the next few months I began to start correspondence with “Oberans Wife” as she was called online. We started a correspondence and I quickly learnt her name was Elizabeth. Over time our relationship grew, trust was formed and I ended up in the city where Liz lived and worked. Our relationship was now one of trust. Elizabeth’s strength amazed me. I decided then and there that my pictures where to be captioned by the subjects. I had to give an opportunity to voice opinions and experiences. That by doing this I could empower people to tell people the reality of living with mental health issues, an opportunity to clear out the closet, confront misconceptions and tackle stigma.

A few images from my work are below for you to see and hear the stories of my subjects.

Main stood inside metal sculputre, photo by James Arthur Allen | A War within

"It’s PTSD; you live with something that happened twenty years ago - you still cry about it. You can’t stop, because you’re still not over it. You’re not allowed the space to, because you’re not allowed to talk about it. Even with therapists you start talking about the gory details and they cover their mouths with shock. They’re anxious because they don’t want to hear the really horrid bits. I was seventeen when I went to the doctors to tell him that I’d been raped. He just patted me on the head. It’s shocking." ©James Arthur Allen

Man stood in from on microphone, photo by James Arthur Allen | A War Within

"People think “it happened, so get over it”. They don’t think someone can go through something like that and not get it off their mind. But I have always said to them that when you remember something negative, like breaking up with a partner, that stays on your mind for a while. It’s like that but much much worse. It plays on your mind constantly. You start blaming yourself - thinking you could have done things differently. It’s complicated to explain to people. I think I hide behind it - people don’t want to listen or hear it.” ©James Arthur Allen

This approach allowed me to educate people, allowing them to find the same conclusions as me. That people suffering from PTSD are normal people having a normal response to an abnormal event. Ian, Elizabeth and everyone else I met on my journey are no different to anyone else. Apart from one thing. They had all endured a traumatic event. That’s all.

The last eighteen months I have met many people on my journey. All of whom have amazed me with there strength courage and convictions. They have inspired and humbled me and have turned my opinions on mental health on its head. Instead of shying away or avoiding conversations I believe its essential that instead we should be discussing this issue openly. By starting a discussion we can effect change and empower people to treat their experiences as a tool to help others. Isolation and loneliness are two things that crop up constantly in conversations with my subjects, the feeling that no one cares. This has to change.

There is no shame in experiencing a mental health problem. I hope that by exhibiting and publishing my work I’m going some way to helping people understand PTSD and mental health. I occasionally hear from people that seeing my work has moved them to speak to a GP or family about how they are feeling, or share their experiences with others.

This makes it all worthwhile.

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James Arthur Allen is a photojournalist based in Bath, UK. His exhibition on PTSD “A War Within.” Is currently being exhibited at the Royal Armouries in Leeds until February. Alternatively you can view his work at www.jamesarthurallen.co.uk 


 

Comments

PTSD

I work for the NHS as a Medical Secretary and am waiting for ill-health retirement to go through any day on PTSD. There is a brilliant book by Frank Parkinson on PTSD that might help sufferers and family to have an understanding. You constantly need support and understanding and as it is a mental health issue is hard for people to get to grips with. It is such a 'grey' area and as it is not a physical illness, the average person is unable to visualise it. I first had 3 months off with depression and counselling, approximately three and a half years ago, off again a little while later and diagnosed with PTSD (counselling then for a year) and also dissociation and then some time later (February 2012) off of work again, to date. I have independently had six session of Pure Hypnoanalysis which needed a lot of backbone, with regression to a young age. I have found this very healing BUT you have to be prepared for anything coming to light, and when it does, answers may not be available, which I am finding very hard to come to terms with. I was told that I had repressed feelings but not dissociative ones with this. You certainly find out who your true friends are, although I will say that the general public don't like to 'go there' when it worries them. After all, unlike physical illness, which all can see, this is not. Lynda Fry

Adoption and PTSD

I was adopted as a 6 month old baby. My current diagnosis is Borderline Personality Disorder, but many other adoptees have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Complex PTSD

Ive suffered PTSD for decades due to extremely abusive childhood, constant brutal domestic violence. David Kinchin, (Bullyonline), talks of Complex PTSD occurring in victims of deliberate repeated abuse, esp by a main caregiver, and especially when a child fears (realistically) that their mother may be killed or seriously injured. Resulting distress, nightmares, flashbacks normal reaction to abnormal experiences such as this. Like veterans, survivors find themselves unsupported, alienated through lack of support, unmet needs & invalidation of their experiences by professionals and public who do not know how PTSD works. The victim/survivor is never really heard or understood, attempts to get help from doctors or social services often result in retraumatising via misconceptions that the individual is "living in the past", and is weak for not "getting over it." The truth is that the past comes uninvited into the present and is triggered by many daily events. The knowledge that society finds your experiences (ie YOU) unacceptable means shame, isolation and adds to the original traumas. Services and the public in general need to listen to victims and survivors instead of telling them what they should have done/be doing. Recent media coverage has had everyone giving strong opinions about abuse, but try fighting through the myths and telling real experiences and people dont want to know. There are not sufficient resources, nor the political will to address this.

i have ptsd

for two years now after multipul trawmers in my life in thoes two years ive had to fight and get sent pilar to post to difrent ppl ive tried finishing it 4 times now and i self harm i dont get no help from no one except a counslor that ive been told ive been on here books to long so have to leave i honestley dont know what im guna do she was the only person ive ever talked to how i feel and tbh duno if i want to be hear its to hard and no help is just guna make it umbbeerable i dont sleep my head never lets go i am just in tears trying to right this all u get is just go in this group hear do this do that and i cnt they dont understand no one does i hardley ever leave the house never mind meet a group im in bits and dont know what to do ive never wrote down anything like this b4 but just feel cnt go on much longer

Hello,I'm sorry to hear that

<p>Hello,</p><p>I'm sorry to hear that you are not able to see your counsellor any more. If you want someone to talk to the Samaritans are always available on&nbsp;08457 90 90 90 or by emailing&nbsp;jo@samaritans.org. You can also talk to the infolines run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and they will be able to offer you practicaly, confidential advice and information.&nbsp;You can contact Rethink on 0300 5000 927 or Mind on 0300 123 3393 or info@mind.org.uk.</p><p>Kind regards,</p><p>Ed<br>Time to Change&nbsp;</p>

PTSD

<P>Hello all my name is Dave and I have PTSD I am angry because it was so avoidable and could and should have been fixed. I seved in the Royal Air Force was injured early 1990's by late 90's had operation that failed and did not walk for about 9 months then only able to walk in extreme pain. Learnt by accident that the more I walked the better my condition became. By early 2000's was doing really well. Walked, walked to work, worked hard, went home , stretched, iced bathed and got ready for &nbsp;next day. Was I living to work yes but was living and putting career back together. Amongst many other things noted that my line manager was writing off equipment that he had no idea where it was also was about to be posted and was leaving me with a huge admin burden when I was going to be mega busy.</P> <P>Later under new line manager who showed no interest was injured twice and he was present both times in some capacity. My chain of commands response was to tell me I was confused at it had not happened neither the accidents nor the mishandling of the inventories.</P> <P>Am I over this no I relive it day after sodding day people knew I was losing my job and stood by and watched like a car crash.</P> <P>Was this good to release it yes so please people talk talk talk oh and I will listen to you and talk</P>

PTSD

Hello , I'm just back from visiting my son who served in the army for over 10 years and saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan . I say I'm just back from visiting him I mean visiting him in a secure mental health unit he was taken there 2 nights ago after trying to kill himself. He has been diagnosed with PTSD and has had real problems since leaving the army . He cant sleep for he nightmares,he has flash backs while hes awake and he just can't take any more . I think he's very angry he was found in time for someone to help him . He drinks ,is on medication and I believe takes drugs to escape from it all . I have tried telling him this wont help its just a vicious circle making his situation worse . The person I went to see is not my boy he's a stranger who can't / won't talk to us . We can't help him just dont know what to say . I hope the people in the unit can help him they seem to be overwhelmed and I'm not sure anyone has PTSD training ? He has served his country and now no one cares just let the politicians come knocking on my door at election time .

i have PTSD

I am 14 years old girl and was abused by my mother for the past 4 years then I finally told someone. Although I now live with my grandparents I still feel really depressed all the time and was diagnosed with PTSD 3 weeks ago after I was admitted to hospital after taking an overdose trying to kill myself because I didn't want to cope with life anymore. Now I am out of hospital recovering mentally, I still struggle with life and sometimes want to kill myself but not as much as I used to. PTSD is a hard thing to cope with it but with counsellors and medication it gets better. Just stay strong

... he's still your boy. Sad,

... he's still your boy. Sad, numb, and preoccupied perhaps but he is still your boy. Hope you all have found help by now.

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