PTSD Was Killing Him: But a Dog Saved His Life
An ex-soldier suffering from horrific flashbacks and nightmares from his time in the Army says a dog saved his life.
Paul Wilkie joined up in 1990 and saw active duty in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq but when he left the Army he suffered from chronic PTSD.
Losing his wife, his home and his job, he lived rough in a forest in Perthshire.
But a companion dog, trained to help him cope with his symptoms and with everyday life, has given him hope.
“I lost everything and was living in a forest, homeless,” Paul told BBC Radio Scotland’s Kaye Adams Programme .
“The armed forces charity SSAFA in Perth were the first to help me out and then Perth Council stepped in and got me a wee cottage just past Scone palace. But I had nothing in there. I had the clothes on my back, a bed and a sleeping bag.”
Paul suffered from terrible flashbacks and nightmares.
He said: “There’s a lot of baggage that comes with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – severe depression and anxiety attacks.
“That’s why I lived in a forest. I couldn’t face anyone. I was hyper-vigilant. You think somebody is going to do something to you.
“Even now I can’t go shopping during the day. I go to Asda or Tesco late at night so there are hardly any people. And Irma will go with me.
“There are loads of triggers for PTSD. The smell of a barbecue. A lot of soldiers can’t handle the smell of a barbecue because they think of burning flesh.”
Paul couldn’t even go to watch his football team St Johnstone because the sudden cheers would set him off.
In 2016, Paul got Irma, his companion dog from a charity called Bravehound .
The charity trains dogs, with their new owners, to provide comfort and security to veterans suffering from PTSD.
Paul said: “Irma and Bravehound have pretty much saved my life to be honest.”
“What Irma does is she will jump on my chest and lick my face and it wakes me up out of the flashback or the nightmare. So instead of going through the whole thing, she brings me out of it quickly.
“She is amazing, she reads me like a book. She knows when I am upset, she knows when I am angry, she reads all my emotions.
“If someone approaches me she will stand in front of me to guard me because I am still on the defensive, weighing people up in the street.”
Paul says Irma has made a massive difference to his life and given him the confidence to get out: “I have got her watching me and me watching her so it’s taking my mind off everything around me.”
Paul suffered from sepsis and had to spend seven months in hospital, and Irma was by his side throughout.
“There’s a lot of buzzers and alarms in a hospital and I wouldn’t have managed that without Irma by my side.”
Paul now helps other ex-soldiers who are struggling with life after the Army.
Because he has been so open with his battle against PTSD, he says he is a “first point of contact” for friends who are leaving the armed forces.
He lives in his cottage with Irma, a pet duck called North and a cat named Mr Tibbs and says; “We are a wee happy family.”
Irma was recently named Most Caring Animal in the UK by the RSPCA.
Paul laughed: “I was so amazed she won that but she deserves that living with me!”
Details of organisations offering information and support with mental health are available at bbc.co.uk/actionline, or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 08000 564 756.