Holiday charity helps military veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder

Former army nurse Chris Buswell says time away helped him cope with grief and work-related trauma

Former army nurse Chris Buswell says time away helped him cope with grief and work-related trauma

The Holidays for Heroes Jersey visitors

Military nurses, care assistants, medics, doctors and other healthcare professionals are witnesses to a high degree of trauma. We not only see battlefields, peacetime training, traumatic injuries and death, but we have to help the wounded and provide care from the point of contact through to the next level of triage and treatment, or aftercare.

When overseas, our caring role often extends to roles undertaken by the police or mortuary staff. This can have a lasting effect in our minds.

Loss and flashbacks

I suffered the most catastrophic loss when my son passed away, which merged with past traumas from more than 20 years ago and my time as a nurse in the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps.

This resulted in flashbacks, nightmares and invasive thoughts about some of the dead patients I had cared for and who I felt I had not done enough for. My mind went on a downwards spiral and was saved by the care of a fellow Queen Alexandra nurse, my wife. I was taken to see a combat stress psychiatric nurse. However, I was unable to go to their six-week residential care programme because I am the physical carer for my wife.

Instead, my GP referred me to an NHS psychologist and, knowing that there was a six month waiting list, she also referred me to a local counsellor. I received eight sessions until the service closed.

I was prescribed pregabalin and mirtazapine, which helped to calm the nightmares.

Seeing the psychologist, a few months later, was an anxiety-ridden experience. Through eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) she has helped me work through the memories of the main trauma from my army nursing days, overlapped with my grief of losing my son. There were times when the memories were so vivid that I wanted to walk out, but I knew that I had to keep going because when my nightmares are bad I thrash around in bed, which can be dangerous for my wife.

The psychologist I see has a great deal of experience working with the military and I feel so lucky to have been referred to her. Her gentle manner helps to soothe me during the worst of the EMDR sessions.

During this time, I was assessed for a Bravehound assistance dog. Bravehound is a charity that provides companion dogs to veterans. It will help me with the isolation I experience as a veteran learning to live with post-traumatic stress disorder, as a carer and as someone who works from home as an author.

Holidays for Heroes Jersey

The Bravehound assessor told me of a military charity, Holidays for Heroes Jersey. 

Dawn and Richard Woodhouse founded the charity more than ten years ago, and have helped hundreds of veterans and their families. They bring veterans who are disabled in mind and body, along with their families, for a relaxing holiday to Jersey. Flights, hotel rooms and food are all paid for by the charity.

My wife and I went in April and had a wonderful time. During the week there is a well-thought-out balance of organised activities and alone time. This included a visit to a natural therapies centre, where many of us experienced our first massage.

The trip came about halfway through my EMDR work and proved to be a double blessing. Not only could I relax and enjoy a holiday, I could chat with fellow veterans and learn that they too experienced many of the symptoms that I did. Though we had different triggers, we had the same low feelings.

They helped me discover new ways to ground myself or distract myself through mindfulness when the intrusive thoughts and flashbacks start.

Visit the Holidays for Heroes Jersey website 

About the author

Chris Buswell was a nurse in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps and is now a novelist.

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