I tried to sleep but, as usual, couldn’t and just lay there trying to relax. At about one am one of the rooms personal alarms went off but I thought it was a fire alarm and got up to find the place deserted: the staff had, of course, responded to the relevant room and were not in the reception. They apologised, unnecessarily, when they returned and realised I was up. Hearing an alarm like that when you are in a half asleep state is quite shocking and I was transported back to Northern Island for a moment – a place where alarms like that meant it was time to shelter under the nearest structure (usually a bed or a table). In this case there was only about an inch under the divan bed so I decided not to risk the squeeze. Thus again in a state of wakefulness I went back to bed and wrote this on my laptop. Tomorrow, well, later today, I’ll be seeing the shrink – I was nervous yesterday about dragging up the past but after my talk with the nurse I feel hopeful that the usual bureaucracy will not be evident.
The night dragged on and with only a few small pockets of sleep interrupted by the creaks, clicks, and hisses of the house, my fellow inmates and the heating system. Eventually my alarm sounded and I got up for breakfast. It’s good that breakfast is at 8 here because it is just early enough to push you to get out of bed but not early enough to be aggressive. It’s not like hotels ‘breakfast served from 7 to 9’ it’s breakfast at 8 or nothing. There’s no rush but if everyone has finished eating, and the staff have cleared up, you will have to ask the catering staff to knock up something for you (they will do that without a problem, though). Breakfast was good – not up to bed and breakfast standard but sustaining and more than enough. I felt awkward and nervous being sat with people I didn’t know – more so because I knew they were all ex-military: an unwanted reminder of being in the army. New faces were always treated with a kind of distrust, I remember, and you tended to stick with your own squad members. This time it felt as if I was the new face. After breakfast I went back to my room to have a lie down until my appointment with the shrink in the hope he can help clear up the tangled weeds of my mind.
The talk with the psychiatrist was good, very good, unlike my experience with the NHS shrink – he was only interested in watching the clock above my head and fobbing me off with a printed handout about the risks of drinking too much. However, with this man I felt respect. We talked in depth about my experiences from childhood to the present, with lots of juicy bits in between and he, more or less, said ‘damn, you need antidepressants’. Well, artistic licence etc. I said I’d give it a go and left his office feeling hopeful and with a freshly weeded garden.
I feel much more comfortable today and chatted to a number of the other vets. There was an air of mutual respect and even signs of care and protectiveness amongst them. Conversations never became pushy or forced, the silences were comfortable, and the humour wholesome. Meeting their eyes was a shared acknowledgement of the experiences we’d all been through in varying degrees. It makes me wonder how many people there are out there who have nobody to share this with. It takes a kind of courage or desperation to openly come to a place like Hollybush House and reveal your vulnerability. Hopefully someone reading this blog might be motivated to get in touch with Combat Stress. Rest assured, you don’t need to talk in detail about anything if you don’t want to, but the peace and respect alone is worthwhile experiencing.
Off to watch a film or two. More tomorrow.