Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not exclusive to any group and can affect anyone at any age, including children. Despite the claim that soon 90% of people will experience at least one trauma in their lives, public insight of PTSD remains inaccurate and incomplete, a perception I hope this book will help change.
The book´s arrival comes as the world faces a global mental health crisis. In just three years, Covid 19 has contributed to an enormous increase in psychological distress yet, thanks to stigma and lack of investment, effective treatment remains out of reach for millions.
Hidden and unchecked, it is impossible to measure the real cost society is paying for ignoring the stigma of trauma and how it easily manifests into drugs, violence and social isolation. The WHO estimate that next year alone, one million people worldwide will die from suicide, still the biggest killer of people under the age of 35 and more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
It wasn’t Scottish ale or companionship that lured Frank Drysdale to the King’s Arms Pub—it was solitude. Mornings were always quiet in the small seaside town of Tayport, Scotland, and with nobody around to disturb him, Frank could take his pint and head outside to the beer garden. It was a ritual he had missed during the recent lockdown, sitting at the same wooden table in the corner of the garden, defiantly enduring the Scottish weather as he soaked in the nearby views of the Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, Broughty Castle, the forested dunes, and the River Tay. He loved how the strong wind soothed his mind and the sea air calmed him. His heart rate slowed, the muscles relaxed, and his breathing became slower. For a short while, he was able to forget his troubles.
But today as he sat down, he felt no peace. Even out here in the fresh Scottish air, there was no escaping his nightmares. He could still smell the phosphorus and still hear the artillery and high-pitched screams of men as his mother taunted him. To make things worse, a thick fog obscured his view and the wind passed unchallenged through his thick winter jacket, making him feel unusually cold. Even his beer tasted bitter and metallic, like someone had poisoned it.
Dispirited, he picked up his pint glass and quickly poured half the Scottish ale down his throat. As he was about to place it back down on the table, he suddenly became aware that he was no longer alone. Someone had crept into the garden from behind him, and he was about to turn around when a loud bang rang out. It was a sound he recognised straight away—the distinct sound of gunfire. A pistol shot.
A feeling of dizziness quickly came over him and, losing his balance, he fell off the wooden bench and onto the pavement. There was a big smashing sound as the pint glass he was holding broke into hundreds of little pieces around him, letting the remains of his beer spill across the nearby grass. As he lay on his back staring up at the sky, he could feel his consciousness begin to ebb away from him. Unable to move, he realised he was dying and a wave of sadness overwhelmed him. All he could think about was a promise he had made many years ago. A promise made to a good friend. A promise he would now never keep. Desperate, he tried to shout “Kevin,” but only a whisper came, drowned out by a gust of wind. His face turned an ashen white as his consciousness left him.
Kevin Turner was not used to waking up to silence. Usually, his mornings began by arguing with the wife before getting his four-year-old daughter clothed and fed, then dropping her off at the nursery on his way to work. Today, his third day as a separated man in a rented flat, there was no noise at all, only an eerie silence.
Having taken the week off work, he had hoped a few quiet mornings alone might clear his mind, but guilty thoughts crept in about how his separation was going to affect his daughter and what would happen to the friends and family they had shared for the last seven years. Frustrated at his inability to relax, he got out of bed.
Picking up his mobile phone from the nearby chair, he noticed the same unknown number had called him several times. On closer examination, he saw there was a text message from the same number.
“George Stafford here. Please call me. Urgent.”
The name was immediately familiar. George was the landlord of the King’s Arms Pub in Tayport, a few hundred yards down the road from where he had grown up. Even though it had been twenty years since he’d moved to Dundee, he remembered the man well. George’s nickname, “Gorilla,” conjured up an image of a well-built man with a huge muscular frame. He could still hear the man’s gravelly voice and remember his habit of calling everyone “mate” whether they were or not. It had been a long time since they’d spoken, and curious as to why he had called, Kevin rang back.
As soon as George answered, it quickly became apparent this was not a social call. “It’s Frank, mate,” he mumbled.
“Frank?” Kevin replied, surprised at the mention of his adoptive father. When Kevin’s real parents died in 1982, it was Frank, his dad’s best friend, who had come to the rescue, bringing him up with the help of Frank’s mother, Auntie Kay, as she was affectionately known. Now he had a horrible feeling George was about to tell him Frank was dead. “What’s happened?” he said, bracing himself for the worst.
“This morning he fainted in my beer garden.”
“Fainted?” Kevin replied.
“So…you mean he’s okay?” Kevin asked, relieved but confused.
“Well, okay is not the word I would use, mate,” George replied, sounding disgusted that Kevin wasn’t as appalled as he was. “This morning I was going outside to empty some ashtrays in the beer garden, but I forgot to close the door and it slammed behind me. Next thing I know, I see the daft sod’s collapsed on the bloody pavement!”
Kevin remained silent, unwilling to interrupt and make George even more angry.
“He’s been behaving very strange lately, mate. He doesn’t talk to anyone anymore, drinks too much. For a second, I thought he’d had a heart attack. I nearly called an ambulance, but he came ’round. But do you know what happened then? Do you know what he told me?”
Hearing the disgust in his voice, Kevin decided against guessing.
“He said someone had shot him, Kevin! Shot him! For Christ’s sake, he’s losing it, mate.”
Unsure what George wanted him to do about it, Kevin asked, “Where is he now, still in the pub?”
“I sent him home.”
“Okay,” Kevin said, still unsure how to respond. He was sure it was just Frank drinking too much, nothing more. The pandemic lockdown hadn’t been easy for anyone, and he knew Frank had been depressed after his mother’s death six months earlier.
“Look, mate, do me a favour. Just give him a call, talk some sense into him?” George said, his desperate voice rising in volume.
Kevin sighed. George seemed to have forgotten he and his foster parent had been estranged for years. He had always found talking to Frank difficult, like there had always been an unspoken tension between them. He could not ever recall having a meaningful chat with Frank before, so what would be the point now? Besides, at this moment in time, he had other more pressing problems to consider, like trying to get his own life back on track after his recent separation. Now that it was clear Frank wasn’t a corpse needing to be picked up off the pub garden, he was even more reluctant to interfere.
“I’ll see what I can do, George,” Kevin lied, then thanked him for calling and hung up.
As he made himself a cup of coffee and sat down to watch the television, he found himself unable to forget the phone call. What George had told him about fainting and gunshots seemed so absurd, and why had the guy gone out of his way to find his number and call him? Something wasn’t right.
What if Frank really was ill?
It was just a phone call, he reminded himself as he stared at his mobile. He dialled Frank’s mobile number and waited.
Frank lay down on his sofa and opened a can of beer. As he quickly drank half of the contents, he noticed the living room was in the same state it had been all week. Despite leaving the house an hour ago to walk to the pub, the television was still on and the curtains and windows still open. Nobody had cleaned up the mess of beer bottles and old newspapers. The wooden floor was still covered with a thin layer of dust, making it look like a closed museum. Normally, it would have been a depressing reminder that his dead mother was no longer around to clear up after him, but today, he had more important things to think about and the cluttered state of the house didn’t bother him.
As he stared blankly at the television, he continued to mull over the earlier events. He could have sworn someone had crept into the pub garden from behind and shot him with a pistol. He clearly remembered hearing the distinct and familiar bang of the gunshot and wondering who wished him dead. He also recalled the regret that a promise he had made years earlier to a close friend would remain unkept.
But he had not died, only fainted. Regaining consciousness, he had looked up and seen a worried looking George looming over him. Embarrassed and confused, he had grabbed the landlord’s arm, hoisted himself up and, after convincing George he was okay, staggered back home.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud rattling sound in his kitchen. Despite being on silent, his mobile phone was vibrating on the wooden table. He hated the disturbance of mobile phones and, angry at himself for forgetting to turn it off earlier, he got up and walked into the kitchen to see who was calling.
As he picked up his mobile, he stared at the screen in disbelief. Kevin Turner? What the hell did he want? He hadn’t seen or spoken to him for months!
Right now, he was the last person in the world he wanted to talk to. Furious at the intrusion, he turned off the phone, grabbed another beer from the fridge, and rushed back to the sofa.
The moment he sat down again, he was hit by a wave of tiredness. Straight away, his body tensed up in fear. For the last few months, he had been experiencing very unpleasant nightmares. Chronic, disturbing dreams that made him too scared to sleep.
It had only been four of five hours since he last slept, but he could feel his bones getting heavier and his senses overwhelming him. Sleep was slowly creeping up on him, and there was nothing he could do. Exhausted, he leaned back against the headrest of the sofa and closed his eyes.
As he fell into a deep sleep, his nightmare began. It was always the same dream, on a battlefield thousands of miles away from home, lying in wet mud as he took cover behind a small rock. Even though it was night, the sky was ablaze with tracers of red and green and flashes of white phosphorus. In front of him, up the gradual rocky incline less than a thousand yards away, the enemy bombarded his regiment with artillery and mortars. As the wet ground shook from the heavy weaponry, he could hear soldiers nearby shouting and screaming.
But it wasn’t the sights and sounds of battle that held his attention. It was the lifeless enemy soldier lying on the ground face up a few yards away, to his right. As he stared at the face, he saw the eyes flickering open and shut at high speed and its mouth moving to say something. Curious, he crawled a little closer and listened.
“Why, Frankie? Why?” it whispered to him, the words inexplicably clear amidst the noise around him.
He froze as he recognised the voice of his mother, unable to understand what she was doing on this bleak battlefield so far from home.
“Why, Frankie? Why?” she whispered again.
Before he had time to reply, there was a big white flash and a loud scream followed by an explosion that covered him in a red mist.
This was always the moment he woke up to the sound of his own screams. Opening his eyes, he was overcome with panic and nausea as he struggled to breathe. His clothes were drenched in sweat and every inch of his body pricked by pins and needles. He had moved so much while asleep that his feet were now on the opposite side of the sofa and his head hung over the edge, inches from the floor. Falling to the floor, he ran to the bathroom to be sick.
It took ten minutes before he felt secure enough to venture out of the bathroom. Even as he did, the stench of gunpowder and death still lingered in the air—the unmistakeable smell of burning gorse mingled with the pungent odour of blood.
He had to get out of this house. Now.
He looked at his watch and ran to the front door. At this time of the day, there was only one place he could go.
As Kevin drove across the Tay Road Bridge and onto the B946, George’s angry words were still ringing in his ears.
“For Christ’s sake, he’s back,” George had shouted into the phone minutes earlier.
At first, he’d felt George’s anger was unfair. He had called Frank as requested. It wasn’t his fault that the guy had not picked up the phone, but it quickly became clear the situation was more serious than Kevin had believed.
“Please,” George had pleaded, breathlessly explaining how Frank had shown up at the pub again, this time looking even more fragile. “He’s dying, mate,” he had then shouted in a desperate tone.
“Okay, I’m on my way now,” Kevin had replied, at once hanging up and running to the front door, picking up his car keys on the way.
The nearer he got to Tayport, the more George’s words unnerved him. The guy was not even sixty years old, so “dying” felt like an inappropriate description. As far as Kevin could recall, Frank had never been ill or in hospital, his only medical problem had been some childhood accident that left him with a permanent stiff right shoulder, making lifting heavy objects difficult. He knew Frank’s mother’s death had hit him hard. Apart from the time he got married and moved out, he had spent almost his whole life living with his mother, in the same house in Tayport. Auntie Kay had spent most of her life looking after her only son, spoiling him, cooking his food and washing his clothes. But then, a few months ago, at the age of 76, she had collapsed at home with heart failure. It had been a huge shock for Frank. Alone and with nobody to look after him, he struggled to adjust.
However, now that George had convinced him Frank was ill, Kevin was beginning to regret their estranged relationship over the years. He still found it hard to feel he was to blame when Frank had resisted all his efforts to make their association more pleasant. Frank never answered the phone when he called. He hadn’t come to Kevin’s wedding despite being invited and still hadn’t met Kevin’s daughter, Rose. So why was he driving over to see him now? Yet the call this morning had made him emotional, and he wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was the fact that Frank was a war veteran, someone who deserved better than to spend his last years alone. Maybe it was because, despite everything, Kevin knew he had a lot to thank Frank for. His parents had died when he was only a few months old, and Frank had saved him from foster care. Thanks to Auntie Kay, it had been a good childhood and he had never forgotten the sacrifice Frank made by adopting him. Whatever problems had passed between them over the years, they now seemed petty. Frank needed him. He had to try.
Arriving at the King’s Arms Pub, Kevin parked his car and put on his mask. Even though he had not been there for years, the old Victorian pub located on a quiet back street just outside the town had not changed. It still had the weather-beaten white walls he remembered so well from his youth when he had been sent by Auntie Kay to pick Frank up and get him home.
The pub was quiet as he made his way inside. Straight ahead, behind the bar, he spotted George, who must have seen Kevin coming as two beers were already waiting for him on the bar.
“Hi, Kev. Thanks for coming. I appreciate it,” George said as Kevin approached.
Even with the mask on, he noticed George had aged a lot, though he still had the same expressionless face. He could have witnessed a hundred people being killed and still have the same look. He was a man who seemed to have spent his whole life behind this very bar, and Kevin could only imagine all the crazy things he had witnessed over the years. He reached for his wallet, but George waved his hand to brush the formality away.
“No, mate, I appreciate you came. On the house,” he said as he winked at Kevin, as if making it clear that the beers would double as a peace offering to make Frank more receptive to his arrival.
“When was the last time you saw him, Kev? Was it a while ago?” George asked.
“Well, I saw him briefly about six months ago, at the funeral.”
“Oh, I see. It was just that, Kev, when he fainted this morning, well, it was weird, mate. He…” George stopped, seeming embarrassed to say more.
“He what, George?”
“Well, he was lying with his back on the grass, soaked in beer, clutching his arm as if he had been shot. As I got down on my knees to check if he was breathing, I heard he was whispering your name.”
“Whispering my name? Are you sure?” Kevin almost shouted. That Frank would now be whispering Kevin’s name as he fainted seemed so unlikely. Perhaps George’s hearing was deserting him.
“Thought you should know. Has anything happened recently?”
“Nothing at all,” Kevin said softly, noticing a customer approaching the bar from his right, about to distract George’s attention. Eager to get on with task ahead, he said his thanks and picked up the two pints of beer. He made his way across the dirty stone floor, past the toilets, and headed for the door to the beer garden.
As he put his elbow on the door handle, Kevin suddenly felt very alone. He wondered nervously what sort of Frank he would be confronted with today. Frank had always been impatient, with a short temper, and Kevin had never really shaken off the feeling of disapproval. Feeling brave, he pushed open the back door and walked up the small stone steps into the garden.
Even without looking up, he knew exactly where Frank was sitting. He always sat at the same light green, circular wooden bench in the far-left corner. Even if the garden had been full of customers, Kevin still would have spotted him for he was a tall, thin man, the over lanky kind who always stood out in a crowd because of their unusual height. As he approached, he saw a preoccupied Frank huddled up at the bench, looking out over the distant bay, oblivious to Kevin’s presence. It was only when he sat down opposite him and made a coughing noise that Frank finally turned around.
Kevin was horrified by the sight that greeted him. George had been right after all, Frank did look like death. The dark bags under his eyes seemed to have doubled in size since he’d last seen him, as if he hadn’t slept for weeks. Not only had the man lost a lot of weight but his earlier confidence and swagger had gone, like someone had crept up behind him and stabbed him in the back. But it was the eyes staring back at him that worried Kevin the most. Empty, soulless, blank eyes, like there was nobody inside.
Frank’s eyes seemed to cloud over in a mixture of shock and surprise. He blinked furiously, as though trying hard to scramble a memory that might help him identify who this person was. It was a look Kevin had seen many times before but never so intense. Not even the beer glass Kevin pushed toward him seemed to register.
There followed an awkward silence, but eventually, much to Kevin’s relief, Frank’s face lit up in recognition. “Kev,” he said, almost with a soft tone of disbelief.
Or was it disgust, Kevin wondered. “Hi, Frank,” he said, relieved that the man at least recognised him.
“What are you doing here?” Frank asked suspiciously.
“I was just driving past and thought I would pop in,” Kevin replied, running his left hand through his hair nervously.
As they commenced small chat, Kevin was reminded how little had changed. Frank seemed unable to relax when he was around, unable to look at Kevin for long, and, in the rare moments when he spoke more than a few monosyllables, he stumbled with his words. Conversation was, as it had always been, frustrating and challenging work. What annoyed Kevin most was that this behaviour seemed to be exclusively reserved for him. He wasn’t like this with other people. With others, he had no trouble cracking jokes, but for Kevin, the topic of conversation was the same as it had been thirty years ago—either about George and his outrageous beer prices or disdain for the yuppy university students who invaded the pub at every opportunity. Ill or not, it was hard for Kevin not to let all the bitterness come back. Had Frank forgotten that Kevin had a four-year-old daughter? Did he know Kevin was separated? Did he even care?
Kevin didn’t take long to drink his beer. Ready to leave, there was no way he wanted to prolong this circus. Coming here had been uncomfortable, emotionally draining, and besides, it wasn’t Frank who had invited him anyway. Coming here had clearly been a mistake.
As Kevin got up, Frank reached out and grabbed his hand, squeezing it so hard it hurt. “Kev,” he murmured.
“What is it, Frank?” Kevin said, now worried.
Frank tried to say something but kept silent, almost biting his lip as if ashamed. He then let go of Kevin’s hand and looked away.
Kevin was not sure what to say. For a moment, his pity for the guy returned. But in the silence that followed, he knew he had to say something. “Maybe I can give you a call, maybe later in the week?” he asked.
“Sure,” Frank said, still looking away as if he longed to be somewhere else.
Kevin mumbled an apology that he had to get back to work, then got up and left the garden.
George had been right to call him, Kevin reasoned as he made his way to the car park. Frank was dying. It all made sense now, but what was he supposed to say? He was no doctor. Besides, Frank would only deny it, too proud to admit it even to those closest to him.
It was only as he sat in the car ready to drive off that it suddenly occurred to him why he had made the journey. He hadn’t come because he had nothing else to do. He had come because Frank was the only person left alive who had known his mum and dad. He was thirty-nine years old and yet still knew so little about them. For whatever reason, he had never been able to close their chapter or come to terms with their deaths.
They had both died in the first six months of his life, and neither Frank nor Auntie Kay had ever talked about them when he was growing up. He had always secretly harboured the unspoken hope that one day Frank would help keep his parents’ legacy alive, but he had never done so. Now, suddenly, this little candle of hope was being blown out.
With Frank dying, the last link to his parents would disappear.