My name is Sarah Chapman, I am a 37 year old mother to two girls. Not your likely case study to end up on here, but I went from being a fully functioning member of society with a career in neuro intensive care nursing, a marriage, successful campaigning history, to becoming a ghost barely existing, unemployed, on benefits, removed from reality. My husband lost his wife, my girls lost their mum and I nearly lost my life. I hadn’t been in Iraq or Afghanistan, Northern Ireland or Kosovo, even Sierra Leone. I was in Cambridge and I was quite literally dying day by day. What happened to me? I lost my hero, my brother in Iraq on their first election day, the day my long awaitied little girl had her 4th birthday. He was one of the ten crew killed when their Hercules plane was shot at by insurgents.

My mind was being cruel to me beyond belief torturing me with thoughts, images, sounds and feelings about what Bob would have gone through, how long it would have taken. I even had believed that he would come at night and though I told myself repeatedly that he was dead when I looked out of my house as real as it could ever be was my big brother, in his flying gear outside looking in. I saw the bodies breaking, thrown around the plane, I felt the fear of the crew, to all intents and purposes I was on that plane. Trouble is I hadn’t the release of death and I couldn’t escape my head. I had nowhere to turn and so every waking hour and the rare snatched sleep I was stuck in groundhog day. The terrorist video needn’t be played on tv any more as it was like a stuck tape in my head. I started to withdraw from my family and became massively resentful of my hubby and the fact that to me he seemed only to be interested in his feelings. Never mind the fact that I was like a coiled spring snapping, shouting, angry at the lack of support. The day Bob died so did I and the end of my marriage was cemented.

I experienced what many siblings do and that is to be watching the aftermath unfold as a forgotten part of the family and so the damage started. The days that ensued were filled with what I can only describe as tragic but necessary milestones. The revealing of the crews names, the speculation as to what happened covered by all aspects of the media so there was never any escape, then the terrorist video which over the years has been played in relation to any news report, the knowledge that the boys were being loaded on the plane to be taken from Basra to Baghdad soon to come home and then the repatriation. There is no real way to describe what happened that day. A day I would relive until it actually drove me mad. Watching ten coffins come off the plane knowing that only a number of actual bodies had been recovered really messed my head. Not knowing what bit of what person was in which coffin was one concept too far. It was further compounded by the visiting of the coffins lying in state in a hanger. At least as they came off the plane it was in rank so you had the chance to acknowledge your boy but in this hanger made into a chapel of rest I was faced with ten coffins, unnamed. That moment in my life became one of my nightmares for the next 5 years as I went to each coffin breaking down as I didn’t know who’s to stand at what to do, so I broke down at each one as I didn’t want to risk not saying goodbye to Bob. I went on to develop nightmares from that day reliving the experience. I’d drink to numb the memories, to create a false happiness, for a few hours, then to help me to sleep.After a few months I admitted I couldn’t cope and wanted to end it and commit suicide. I got met with anger at my selfishness and as I looked around at my family who had disappeared into the jaws of grief I looked at my daughter and knew if I gave in to my feelings, despite the desperate longing to succumb to my feelings I knew that if I did I’d be lost forever, and she had lost so much and was watching a living hell unfold in front of her 4 yr old eyes that I decided to keep running from the feelings and buried myself into work, life and campaigning.

My anger, irrational outbursts, mood swings, nightmares and drinking continued. The irony of the situation was that in order to stop myself from dying I was killing myself with self medicating! I thought if I stopped for one moment then I’d be a goner. I still worked in the intensive care but my ability to do my job was severely affected. I eventually went for counselling, a whole year and yet no relief, I saw my GP, got nowhere. Even when my I had my second baby I underwent counselling, still no break. Tablets and talking with people who didn’t know what to say or how to handle it exacerbated the feelings that I was fighting off.I , as a sister, did not qualify for help from the military charities. My life was absorbed with all I could cram into it, but also no escape from the reality as I was campaigning for improved safety in the Hercules, then there was the pre inquests then the inquest which extended to two parts, then the legal case against the MoD.

When my marriage finally ended it was to prove to be the final straw. I had basically fell into the abyss of despair and kept falling and when I reached the bottom I was a single mum, unemployed, rendered unable to even care for myself, let alone my girls. The triggers had more exaggerated effects. Life to all intents and purpose stopped. My depression swamped me and I started with grief induced hallucinations both visual and auditory. I became even more hyper alert and hyper vigilant at that point I was diagnosed with PTSD. Not being able to function, I removed myself from life. The tablets did nothing, the new counseling gave me an hour every 4 weeks and then the referral to psychiatric team took forever. I stopped answering the phone, opening the letters, going out induced panic, I stopped people from coming around. I could only contact people via the computer or texting so I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. It was through facebook that I saw a link to Bob Paxman interview for talking2minds as I was desperately scouring the internet for help with the PTSD. It was that moment that I cried so hard but it was relief that there was someone in this country who understood. I had an open mind to alternative therapies, my mum did her best with reiki, the medical route hadn’t helped me. It dealt with the symptoms and not the problem. I got hold of Bob and he told me to email Dave. I listed my symptoms and when I got the email back saying they could help and my name was on the waiting list.
I was a shell, existing and it got too much. The drinking had increased to dangerous levels and I became suicidal. I still don’t know what happened to stop it the night I was going to do it, but thank god I didn’t. I had emailed Dave and Bob again to say how ill I’d got, I had a return email putting me on the next course, the following week. Talking2Minds literally saved my life. I could hold out for a few days then I’d be okay.

The first day I was so nervous but Bob made me feel relaxed straight away. The course was run by veterans for veterans and I was neither. However, even though I was in a priviledged position being sat in the room with the most amazing people it all started to make sense. I started off arms and legs crossed, closed off body, shoulders up by ears and Bobs dogtags that I was wearing were wound around my hands so tightly I nearly cut off my circulation. The other guys were totally in their heads and we were all checking each other out. Mick started to talk and so the journey began. Within a few hours we had started to come out of our heads and into the room and the smiles and chatting increased. The only way I could describe it was as if the practitioner and I went into my head and quite literally sorted through and got rid of the issues that stopped me from being me. I slept that first night, no tablets, no drink and right through! The next day I remember walking to the course and realized something, I felt alive, I experienced and was aware of my surroundings instead of being stuck on a loop inside my head it was like a rebirth and I had stepped back into the world. I felt lighter and as the days went past I was energized, renewed…ladies and gentleman Sarah Chapman is back in the building! Watch out world I am back! The transformation of others unfolding before me was further inspiration from being on guard ready to fight to falling asleep in the middle of the room as he was so relaxed. You know who you are if you read this!

I am part of the talking2minds family and my girls have got their mum back and the PTSD well that has gone. How do I know? When the Basra Memorial wall was brought back to the National Memorial Arboreteum( where we had bob’s funeral) was shown on the news followed by a repatriation and the procession through Wootton Bassett I shed a single tear, I watched it all the way through and was fine. Before the course I would have been lost into flashbacks, I was fine.

The thing is us military families are that we get PTSD too, we live Groundhog Day, our lives are blown apart. I have been asked to train as a  talking2minds practitioner, and I hope to go on and help those that come to talking2minds. I am back on the campaign trail, which is a great feeling, as instead of cursing my PTSD I am using it as a positive tool as part of my lifes journey and to raise awareness. Thankyou for helping me back to life.