Army veteran Christopher Dorrington served in seven tours in Northern Ireland and in conflicts and trouble spots around the world.
But his 41 years in the military, in the Parachute Regiment, Royal Engineers and later a Reservist, left him suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, symptoms of which are persistent nightmares and flashbacks.
His physical health has suffered from severe arthritis and gout in his joints which means he is in pain a lot of the time. He also has a heart pacemaker fitted.
When he left the military, he tried to control his nightmares with alcohol which just made him more depressed. His problems finally led him to a drug and alcohol unit. He was recommended to contact the forces’ charity Combat Stress and the diagnosis of PTSD followed.
“It took nine months to be assessed and see a professional psychiatrist and seven years of treatment. I haven’t touched a drink for more than seven years,” he said.
It was also suggested he contact Education Programmes for Patients (EPP Cymru) which offers a range of self-management courses and workshops for people living with a health conditions and for carers.
“I went up to Treherbert for a six week course but even at the end of it I didn’t understand it. So I asked if I could go along again and another six weeks later the penny started to drop.”
His attitude and personality impressed the programme’s coordinators who asked him to train as a tutor. He is an example of how the course can help to turn your life around.
“If you have problems, we can give you the tools to manage day-to-day living,” said Chris, who lives with his wife Pauline and dog Molly in Llantwit Fadre, near Llantrisant.
The techniques help him to organise his day, to lessen his symptoms of chronic pain or anxiety. He says that the ‘Dark Lord’ of PTSD is there all the time but he has learned techniques which help him to understand his issues and how PTSD affects him
“If you have nightmares, trying to put yourself back on an even keel is a hard task.
“The benefit I got from the course was how to control my emotions and the stress and anxiety. I use Mindfulness and relaxation techniques .
“It is about how to use the tools you are given in the toolbox to break the cycle of pain, anxiety, difficult emotions, shortness of breath, fatigue and poor sleep. The only person who can do that is yourself.
“Going out for exercise, planning your day, saying the word ‘no’ more often, and giving yourself rewards. Communication is also important.
“I feel that as a tutor, having my own chronic illnesses and issues, is an advocacy for EPP because I have gone through it myself.
“I didn’t realise how bad I was. It has given more meaning to my life rather than running and throwing beer down my neck. It really has improved my quality of life.
“You feel rewarded as a tutor seeing people at the end of the course become a different character, helping another person also makes you re-evaluate your own issues too.”
EPP Cymru provides a range of free self-management health and well being courses and workshops for people living with a health conditions or carers.
Debra Moore, EPP Cymru Cwm Taf coordinator, said: ”The courses are free and last for six weeks, 2 ½ hours a week, at suitable venues in the community.
“It is run by lay tutors who have been on a course and benefited greatly and have the opportunity to train to become a volunteer tutor.”
More details about Education Programmes for Patients Cymru can be found at www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/home.cfm?orgid=537