RAF veteran tells of post-traumatic stress disorder ordeal

Mar 30 2009 By Craig McQueen

DURING his military career, Andy Lorimer saw action in warzones and troublespots including Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.

In his wedding photos, an impressive collection of medals are proudly pinned to his chest.

But the 46-year-old's bravery came at a cost and it's one he's still coming to terms with.

Andy, who joined the RAF when he was 21, has spent years trying to piece his life together after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

At his worst, there were bouts of heavy drinking and irrational behaviour, including having to flee from a supermarket in panic because he realised he was not carrying a gun.

Only now is Andy, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, getting somewhere, thanks to the help of his new wife Nikki and the founders of a charity who are aiming to help more people just like him.

Andy said: "My PTSD probably started before the first Gulf War when we had to recover a couple of bodies.

"I wasn't conscious of it at the time.

"You just got on with your job and moved on to the next thing. You didn't build up the memories of it.

"And I started to work in higher and higher pressure environments. I would get where I wanted to be and then I would change and do something else as I liked the challenge.

"It meant I got involved in a lot of situations and saw a lot of things, which, when taken individually, you might be able to cope with.But mine was an accumulation of all those things."

Andy worked on Hercules aircraft during the first Gulf War before working with helicopter crews.

His varied career also saw him working with the Parachute Regiment and special forces and undercover in Northern Ireland.

He survived but saw many others lose their lives.

Andy said: "I lost a total of 13 friends - 12 in military action and one in a parachute accident.

"When the Hercules was shot down in Afghanistan, the flight engineer and the load-master were personal friends of mine.

"I was drinking in a bar with one friend and he was killed the next week.

"I also had breakfast with two of the crewmen on the morning of the helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre."

Andy's experiences in the Balkans were just as painful.

He said: "One time in Macedonia, we came across an orphanage with 140 kids and three staff, only one of whom was medically qualified.

"Kids were chained to the beds. I got very upset. All they wanted was physical contact. You'd have four or five holding your hands as you walked around."

Andy's experiences slowly took their toll. He found his short-term memory was deteriorating, he was isolating himself from colleagues and friends were showing their concern.

He said: "I was having nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia. My behaviour was very odd. I was sent for evaluation by a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with PTSD."

Medically discharged in 2003 with a war pension, Andy then had to try to get help.

He said: "I was in such a bad state. If it hadn't been for my parents, I would have been living out on the streets.

"I was isolating myself, not answering the phone or the door and not meeting people. I even developed a stutter and a dependency on alcohol as well.

"One time, I was in a supermarket and realised I wasn't armed. I had to leave.

"There was a lot of irrational behaviour.

"Very good friends would visit just to make sure that I was still alive, but I would get hospitalised three or four times a year because I wasn't eating. At one point, I lost two stone in two months.

"I went to the NHS and was told I'd get treatment if I stopped drinking, so I stopped drinking for five months, went back to them and I was told there was no more money to treat me. So I went back on the booze.

"I was tearing my hair out because I couldn't get the treatment I needed."

Then Andy met a former comrade who told him another way to get help.

Former SAS man Rob Hope also had PTSD but started getting better thanks to neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

NLP examines patterns of behaviour and the experiences that underpins them and aims to help people change their behaviour through self-awareness and effective communication.

Rob now runs a charity called Talking2Minds, who aim to help former service personnel with PTSD by using the technique.

Andy, who now heads the Scottish branch of the charity, said: "I was terribly sceptical about NLP. It was only because Rob had done it that I thought about it.

"It's about taking a negative experience and unhooking the negativity from it, so you're just left with an experience.

"You don't get asked about what you've done or seen or how it's affected you.

"Instead, you focus on your mind and you think about positive things in a way which helps you lessen the negative feelings you had before.

"And it works. The immediate effects of it were superb. "

Andy, who has just celebrated his first wedding anniversary with Nikki, is now keen to help other people with PTSD rebuild their lives.

He said: "Everyone involved with the charity has been in the military so we know what it's like.

"And we're not going to be charging guys for treatment if they can't afford it.

If they want to make a donation, they can, but not everyone can do that."

Andy is not getting paid for the work he's doing but he's acutely aware of the scale of the problem and desperate to make sure more people have the chance to escape the downward spiral he found himself caught up in.

He added: "PTSD really screws your life up. A lot of guys don't even realise they've got it.

"Then when you're told about it, it's a case of whether you'll accept it or not.

"And to do something about it - that's when you really need the help."

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