Imagine being torn between helping your partner with Post-Traumatic Stress and protecting your kids. How do you stick it out during the tough times so that your loved one can heal and not feel abandoned even though you are suffering and feeling completely alone?
Kylie Richards, the partner of former Royal Australian Navy submariner Chris Pitman and mum to five children knows firsthand what this like and kindly agreed to share her story with The Road Home.
“Living with someone with mental health if like navigating a minefield. It’s walking on eggshells while managing escalations.
“It’s putting yourself on the backburner because all they can see is themselves. It’s protecting the kids and playing the peacekeeper, it’s co-regulating another adult while trying to keep yourself sane.
“It’s tiring, it’s stressful and it’s scary for the kids.”
Chris joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1987 and discharged in 2007. It wasn’t until years later that he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress due to his service.
“Chris and I began our journey over four years ago. At that time, he did not disclose any mental illness; instead it was triggered after we moved in together. Digging a bit deeper I discovered that his second marriage had ended via email while he was at sea on a deployment – on Christmas Day.
“I work in education with our most marginalised students impacted by trauma. I recognised the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress and broached the topic with Chris. He resisted what he initially saw as a label and rejected the idea of medication which was frustrating as I just wanted him to feel better.
“At times I had Chris dressing and undressing and going to get in his car up to six times a night.
“He would pack his bags and say he was leaving, then want to connect but not know how. It was a combination of trauma behaviours and the emotional abuse cycle all in one.”
The conflict for Kylie was supporting someone who requires ‘sticking it out’ through the tough times in order to heal but also having to consider the impact it would have on her children.
“There is a grieving process for the relationship you thought you had but don’t and a requirement to reconcile with the type of relationship moving forward,” said Kylie.
Perhaps you or a loved one can relate to how Kylie is feeling?
Please make a donation today to The Road Home Remembrance Appeal so that we can provide much needed support for the people who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress and the families that care for them.
For Chris it has been a long and at times painful journey.
“Last year I ended up in a very dark place and attempted to take my life.
“It was an extremely scary time for me and our family and Kylie had to make the difficult but necessary decision to involve outside people to ensure I was safe and got the help I needed.
“If it wasn’t for this intervention, I could not confidently say that I would be here today.” Chris said.
“I owe my life to her.”
While Kylie was able to help Chris, a recent study funded by The Road Home revealed that not all families know where to turn to get the help needed for their loved one or themselves.
Led by Professor Sharon Lawn and her team at the Flinders University Behaviour & Health Research Unit, the project revealed that families living with Post-Traumatic Stress need more emotional, social and organisational support when it comes to helping their partners.
“Our findings strongly suggest that responding to the needs of the partner is critical in the recovery journey of veterans and emergency service personnel with Post-Traumatic Stress because of their key role in supporting their partner’s autonomy and sense of purpose in life.
“Partners face considerable barriers in seeking support for themselves and their partners (i.e.; the ones with Post-Traumatic Stress), primarily due to a lack of understanding by GPs and other assistance providers of their lives and needs.
“We must ensure better systems are put in place to help partners better support their loved ones when experiencing a traumatic event in the course of their work,” said Professor Lawn.
Professor Lawn’s study makes 11 key recommendations.
But there is still much more to be done to ensure these progress to actions.
“With more funding we will be able to identify and combine Australian and International evidence from existing wellbeing programs and supports for families with our research outcomes so that we could then develop our own.
“A specific wellbeing program for families of veterans and emergency services first responders with Post-Traumatic Stress would go a long way to helping them get the support they so desperately need,” said Professor Lawn.