“For me, the real heroes of my summit of Denali were many miles away back in the UK. All the hardship and challenges we faced on the mountain pale into insignificance when compared to the ferocity of the challenges I faced, and continue to face, every day at home. And although this has been horrific for me, it’s been awful in the extreme for my wife Amy and our three beautiful children. Amy in particular has been unbelievably courageous, identifying the problem not as me per se but as the PTSD’s total and deeply malign influence. In doing so, Amy has refused to let PTSD devastate our family in the way it has for so many others. In turn she has given me the best reason in the world to keep going, to keep battling this hideous disorder and to never give in. I’d gone from being this capable Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Marines to barely being able to look after myself, let alone walk my children to school. I didn’t really exist anymore as far as I could see it.”
Amy, who has been married to Joe for 9½ years, agrees: “We are critical to Joe’s recovery; he needs us there every day to support him. I simply didn’t have time to think about myself.”
Amy received counselling and childcare support from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, but it is the RNRMC’s funding of the charity Ripple Pond which has really made the difference to her. Uniquely dedicated to supporting the adult family members of physically or emotionally-injured service personnel, Ripple Pond has a regional network of people going through exactly the same journey of living with a spouse or partner with PTSD. They can share whether they are having a rough day or a good day and meet up regularly to give one another support.
Joe said: “It is very important, I feel, to get out there that mental health issues, as life-changing and devastating as it is, with the right support and the right determination, we can prevail over our demons. Without my family I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today. Amy is the most important person in my recovery and yet, were it not for the RNRMC she would have got nowhere near as much support as I got and have no one or nowhere to let off steam.
Climbing Denali has not cured my PTSD; I continue to struggle with my symptoms. But in many ways the journey has done something even better. It’s given me a glimpse of a much happier, brighter, and less chaotic future, a future in which I am a better husband, father, and friend, and a future where I am, at last, at peace with myself and the world around me. I also take huge comfort from the fact that Amy has found such a valuable support network and a group people going through the same as us.
My message is simple: as bad as this illness is, with determination and support, we can come through it as a family.”