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For 11 years, I've grieved the loss of my husband. But he's still alive.

This post deals with suicide and might be triggering for some readers.

Twelve years ago I said goodbye to the man I loved for what would be the last time. The man I had married, the man who would be the world's best dad, the spontaneous, cheeky, thoughtful and loving man that he was.

My husband who loved to travel, who was energetic, enthusiastic about life, who loved to socialise, who felt safe and reliable to have by my side. My husband who was easy to talk to, who made me feel heard and supported and who made me feel loved.

Eleven years ago, a different man returned. A man changed by nine months in Afghanistan. My once spontaneous husband now finds it difficult if plans change at the last minute. My once thoughtful husband has trouble remembering anything. My once loving husband now has an emotional numbness that I can't get through. 

I know his thoughts get scattered, he feels self conscious, he overthinks every decision he makes. I know he finds it hard when we argue. I see him trying to control his urge to flee and I know he gets consumed by his sense of injustice. He doesn't want to travel the world, his world seems to have become a lot smaller, because I know that must feel safer. I know he finds it hard to talk, about his time in Afghanistan, about anything.

For 11 years, I have slowly had to grieve the loss of the man I loved. He has returned physically unharmed, for which I am forever and eternally grateful, but never the same. He is a really good man and a great father, but he is not the man he wanted to be, the man he was going to be, and that has been hard, for him and for me. We have a great life, two amazing kids, we love each other and most days are good. I know that some other veterans and their families aren't so fortunate.

All these years on, I am so proud of how far he has come. The night terrors have stopped, the drinking has stopped, the suicidal thoughts, the running away from life. This week I fear they will return. This week I have seen the light go out a little. I see him cloud over when I try and make plans, I feel him retreat in a room full of friends and I worry he is struggling but can't say. I worry my father-in-law is struggling, I worry my friends are struggling.

Watch: The Afghanistan war crimes report. Post continues after video.


Video via ABC.
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I know most people have an opinion on Australia's involvement in Afghanistan, an opinion on what is being reported in the media this week, and what will be reported on in the weeks to come. I am incredibly proud of the important work my husband did in Afghanistan. He handled himself with strength and compassion when faced with unimaginable trauma. I feel incredibly proud of all our veterans. I know the sacrifices they have made and the lifelong impact of those sacrifices.

I can't ask that everyone understands why our soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan and continue to be deployed to Afghanistan, or to Vietnam, or to Iraq or Korea or any conflicts Australia has been involved in. I just want people to understand that this week is hard for a lot of our veterans and their families. It's hard for my husband not to relive every moment he spent in Afghanistan and it's hard for me that his sacrifice, and the sacrifice of so many of our veterans, may be tarnished by some who may be found to have done the wrong thing. To have done any of the horrific things they stand accused of. Who should absolutely face justice.

But my husband didn't do the wrong thing. Thousands of other veterans didn't do the wrong thing. They served with honour, they served bravely and they served honestly.

This week, the media has reported another horror statistic about the number of our young veterans who have taken their own lives. In just three weeks, there have been nine ADF suicides, and some are blaming the added stress of recent Afghanistan war crimes report. 

As the wife of a veteran, a friend of veterans, a daughter-in-law of a veteran, these numbers worry me. Yes, I believe the ADF should do more to understand how to better support the mental health of our veterans. I believe what they are currently doing isn't working. I believe they should do more to recognise the impact of this inquiry on all our veterans, now, and into the future. 

But so too should everyone who is watching the news and following the media coverage of this inquiry, who have an opinion on how this inquiry will impact our country and our defence force. We should all take the time to understand the impact this inquiry will have on our veterans.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

For support for veterans and their families, you can contact Open Arms on 1800 011 046. 

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