On 11 November each year I think of my Grandfather and Great Uncle who were in the trenches in the First World War and suffered from PTSD for the rest of their lives. As an innovation coach, I am deeply interested in this condition because although atrocious symptoms often go hand in hand with PTSD, if therapy is received then full recovery is usually possible. Additionally, there may be a massive personal existential upside in terms of the elimination of what may previously have been an extremely limiting life paradigm. In fact, this is the view most definitely held by Professor Gordon Turnbull who is the foremost expert on PTSD and was the psychiatrist engaged in treating victims of Lockerbie, as well as for a multitude of other disasters. Professor Turnbull is also the author of an excellent book called 'Trauma', which I thoroughly recommend.
It was only in 1980 that PTSD was officially registered as a discrete mental condition and entered into the WHO's book of mental disorders. This was one step towards helping sufferers achieve insight into their condition and seek therapy. However, it wasn't up until recently that a consensus was reached where PTSD was finally and crucially recognised as a PROCESS rather than an illness. In other words a PTSD victim has undergone an experience outside his or her normal range of exposure, which has resulted in a catastrophic disruption of their everyday paradigm. Symptoms include flashbacks, depression, anxiety attacks, loss of confidence and so on. I believe this process can be usefully compared to someone yanking the 'life tape' out of your head and screwing it up such that all consistency of thought and emotion applied to past events and with which one navigates today and imagines the future is distorted or eliminated. No one can deny the personal trauma of this catastrophic disorientation but recognised as a process and with good therapy, I believe it stands to reason that the sky is the limit in terms of the creation of psychological conditions that constitute a perfect entrepreneurial and innovative mind-set. However, as you will see from the following stories, my Great Uncle and Grandfather's symptoms went untreated and thus there was an enormous negative impact on the long-term quality of their lives.
During the early part of the First World War, my Grandfather had gone into Sheffield on a regular Saturday to meet his best friend, Jack. My Grandfather had recently and successfully undergone a trial for Sheffield Wednesday but on that very normal local weekend, his football career became doomed forever. For whilst they were wandering around the streets, they were suddenly accosted by a group of jeering girls who stuffed white feathers in their breast pockets. There wasn't conscription in the first part of the War, but my Grandfather and friend were so ashamed they ran straight down to the war office to join up. Meanwhile, down in London, my Great Uncle who was a junior banker and mathematics whizz working in the Square Mile, was horrified at the loss of five French cousins. And his response to this 'Saving Private Ryan-style' massacre was to abandon his desk, throw off his City suit and rush to volunteer.
My Grandfather tragically lost his friend on the battlefield and suffered from depression for the rest of his life, which rendered him unable to speak for the days surrounding 11 November. My Great Uncle was severely, severely shell shocked and as an additional complication, the PTSD triggered psychotic episodes during which there was an attempt to break into Buckingham Palace.
These stories illustrate the reality of PTSD and the effects if left untreated.
However, there was an upside to my Grandfather's and Great Uncle's PTSD which was as a result of the natural course of human healing. Although my Grandfather abandoned footie and pursued a low-grade and banal career in the civil service, he developed a passion for building radios in his spare time which was therapy for his morbid states. And it was to the mesh of those radios that my Mother would eagerly press her ear to hear Churchill's speeches - this later inspired her to pursue a successful career in grassroots politics and become a good public speaker. And after an extremely long period of recovery, my Great Uncle eventually went back to work in the City but the experience almost certainly deprived him of the ability to fulfill his pre-war career potential. However, his PTSD was later the spur to achieving his childhood dream of jumping on a cargo ship to Australia. And this adventure was to inspire my cousin to undertake a gap year in Australia in the 1970s when to do so was most definitely not the norm.
We can thus conclude, therefore, that nature does abhor a vacuum and no matter what happens, living in its very essence does guarantee a future for yourself and for those whom you inspire with your courageous endeavours. In other words, no time is wasted - ever!
This article is dedicated to Jack Waterhouse, my Grandfather's best friend and the five sons of my Great, Great Uncle Gustave Dehorter. And in remembrance of our own futures, lest we forget!