SCARRED BUT NOT DEFEATED: FIGHTING THE PTSD TABOO WITH RAOUL JANSSEN
“Everything is going well in life, but a feeling of dissatisfaction dwells in the background. You’re searching for the answers to the following questions: How is that possible? Where does that come from? What is the cause of that? I count my blessings: a buddy, family, friends, acquaintances, work, a roof over your head, always something to eat, parties and outings and moments of rest. All basic ingredients are present. It all seems to be right, but where do those moments of loneliness come from, where do those moments of grief come from? Where do those moments of penance come from, where do these moments of guilt come from? Where do they come from…? (R. Jannsen, 2017)”
At this moment countless soldiers and veterans are struggling with these thoughts in silence due to their posttraumatic stress disorder. Either because they fear our judgments, are afraid to lose their jobs, are on the waiting list for professional mental support or simply because they do not know what is going on. Although the reasons why people deal with this darkness alone is diverse, it clear that taboo of having PTSD exists. The awareness of PTSD needs to grow in order to understand, support and treat PTSD better. In the spirit of the past Veteran’s day, we would like to address this issue. This is why we fight today, together with Raoul Janssen to break the taboo of PTSD and help people to get the treatment they need.
About Raoul Janssen
Raoul Janssen is a true veteran. He has served (in) the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee for 32 years and has been part of multiple missions in Egypt and Yugoslavia. In the course of his career, Raoul developed PTSD but remained an active employee in the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee. The first traumatic event that triggered his PTSD was witnessing a fatal car crash. The more he progressed in his career the more traumatic his experiences became. After learning to live with his PTSD, he decided to share his knowledge with others through workshops, lectures, blogging, writing and radio broadcastings.
Could you describe your battle with PTSD?
Janssen: “Looking back I already experienced signs of PTSD six months after my mission in Yugoslavia. The mission was very intense. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day we were dealing with explosives, shootings, and deaths. We were present at a hostage and I was the team leader. It was our mission to free them in any way whatsoever. I knew something was wrong, but I was too preoccupied with others to care for myself. Unconsciously, I knew that not taking care of myself would sooner or later take a toll on me. I did not give myself space to express and vent my own emotion and experiences. This resulted in the well-known physical mental complaints of PTSD: sweating, cramps, and falling without any reasons. I was in complete denial. I avoided conversations about my missions and tried to run away from my experiences, because I was afraid to cry in front of others or because I was scared of being judged. I began to isolate myself from the rest of the world and started to become less and less social.”
Janssen: “When you are aware of having a problem you undergo therapy. It doesn’t take a lot of experience to break down, , but building yourself up costs extra effort and extra energy. In the end the darkness of my scared soul will never be erased. The moments of tiredness, loneliness, dissatisfaction, tears will continue to come and I realize now that I cannot change anything about this. Acceptance of this matter is a necessity otherwise you will not make it. You could see it as a sparkle of hope in the darkness.”
Janssen: “Now I am at the stage where I am able to smile again. I have learned from my experiences but I still pay the price for that. For example, nowadays people live a complex life. They focus on what happens around us. They have to deal with (school) work and what the society imposes on us. Therefore they sometimes forget to look further. After losing to the negativity from 1993 till 2008 I made my life simple and spontaneous. I enjoy the little things twice as much as I used too. I don’t plan a lot anymore, but I enjoy every day as much as I can. If the sun shines then I will enjoy the weather and go fishing. Living this way gives me more energy.”
Why was it so hard to tell anyone about your struggles?
Janssen: “Well, your boss expects you to be able to handle everything that comes across your path because you were trained to do your job. Besides that, you don’t want to be inferior to your colleagues. It’s a man’s world after all. If your colleagues don’t talk out how loud about their suffering, then you won’t open up about your feelings that easily. You think well never mind then because you’re afraid of the judgment and opinions of others. Especially at times of austerity within Defense you’re afraid that if you confess to somebody your boss may simply fire you. These are all obstacles we impose on ourselves to not tell that we are struggling. Nowadays people still feel those obstacles and that’s why I am so determined to show it can be different. Having PTSD does not have to be the end of your career. I have PTSD and I still work for the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee.”
How did PTSD affect your family life?
Janssen: “PTSD was one of the reasons why I got divorced. I felt emotionless and did not show any interests in my children’s life. Well, I did that in the beginning but I could not keep that up for a very long time. My youngest son, who has PDNOS, takes everything literally. He thinks you were not here for me when was I little, now I won’t be there for you either. For two and a half years he has been punishing me by not keeping in touch with me. It makes me sad, but not angry. In a way I understand it. Now I am waiting for my punishment to be over. In the future, I like to show him that life is beautiful. I want to catch up on our precious lost time in order to build up a “normal” father and son relationship.”
Do you have any criticism towards the clinical world?
Janssen: “Yes, as a matter of fact I do. My first complaint is the long waiting lists for getting professional treatment. I had to wait for about three to four months to get help. When I said I did not need any help anymore because I wanted to step out of this life they suddenly had a place for me. Another example is a married couple I met. They waited for six years to find some help, even though all the symptoms were present. It should not take such a long time to get help when all the signals are present.
My second complaint concerns the way the clinical world clings so tightly to EMDR. I went through EMDR myself. In the end, it really helped me but on the other hand, I truly despise it because I had to relive all the horrible traumas again. At some point, I even wanted to take my own life. The treatment gave me tools to live with PTSD, but couldn’t make it disappear. In the end, It did work because I live a happy life now, but there are so many different ways to treat PTSD that are not used yet. Maybe if the Dutch Ministry of Defence would be open to use new ways to treat PTSD then the waiting list might become shorter.
Finally, my last point of criticism is the big gap between theory and practice. A few days ago I visited the Ministry of Defence and they did not know that so many active members of Royal Netherlands Marechaussee were waiting for a treatment. I wondered, how can they not know this? PTSD is not a new disorder so they should know their facts. They could have used our experiences in order to help struggling soldiers identify their problems. This could have helped them to take the right steps towards treatment.“
What are your thoughts about how soldiers are prepared and taken care of in the army?
Janssen: “PTSD can’t be prevented. You are more or less susceptible to PTSD. What I do find a shame is that soldiers are prepared for war but not for situations that might turn out to become traumatic. For example, soldiers go on a mission to Chios, a place where circa 300 hundred refugees drown and die a day. A possibility of getting involved in a situation like this is actually very high. Yet, the only thing they tell you is that it might be traumatic. They do not teach you how to handle or detach yourself from such an experience. Truth be told, even psychologists who used to travel with the army to provide psychological support for those who might be experiencing trauma, were cut off the budget.“
Last but not least, do you have a message for our readers?
Janssen: “Stand in the front line, learn from practical experiences. Do not depend on the theory, but use it as a basis for change… and for God’s sake: increase the awareness of PTSD. I’d advise future psychologists to stand their ground, age says nothing. If you are able to help those who suffer from PTSD, convince them that you can.”
Want to learn more about Raoul Janssen and his upcoming events? Or do you want to get more insight into PTSD? Check out his blog: www.jehebternietvoorgekozen.wordpress.com
By Melissa de Gast