My name is Gavin and I suffer from PTSD

WORDS: Gavin Tunstall PHOTOGRAPHY Gavin Tunstall

An estimated three million Australians will suffer with Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event at some time in their lives.

#WARNING: This story contains graphic content and may be upsetting to some people.

MY name is Gavin Tunstall. I’m 44 and suffer from PTSD.

It started when I was 27 and had signed up for the military. Just two years later, I was sent on my first combat tour to Afghanistan. During my time in Afghanistan, I witnessed the atrocities of war first-hand. Things to this day I can’t unsee and hear. Things no one should ever have to go through. One thing that haunts me the most is when two young Afghan boys on machine guns attacked our unit. It was a kill or be killed situation in order to survive. We survived.

Nobody told me and I never imagined we’d be fighting children. But in their country, young boys are considered men and are expected and willing to fight. I also witnessed the gruesome shooting of a young mother and her baby.

Part of my job was to search the bodies of the Taliban – because we were looking for certain people. I never thought I’d have to deal with the bodies of women, small babies and young boys. Some of the bodies were unidentifiable, blown to smithereens.

When I returned home from Afghanistan I was different. War had changed me. I became violent,  aggressive and felt angry all the time. In the army, I was taught to be aggressive and to kill. But now that I was home I was expected to be kind and nice.

I found it more and more difficult to adjust to everyday life. Having to smile on the outside but struggling with rage and anger on the inside. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was taking lots of prescription drugs. Doctors kept me on a cocktail of opioids, endone, sleep medication, antidepressants, antipsychotics and I washed it all down with alcohol.

I started weightlifting. I thought It would be good for me, that I could work off the rage inside. But as I got more involved, I started taking steroids, which only fuelled my rage and anger. I then started retreating. I stayed home. I wouldn’t go out. I lost my friends, who stopped inviting me to places as they didn’t trust me anymore. I didn’t talk to anyone.

One night after a particularly violent incident, the police were called to my home and I was charged with domestic violence and taken to hospital. The arresting officer, a former reservist, was in tears because he’d had to arrest so many returning vets just like myself.

After spending four months in hospital I was discharged. They sent me home on a cocktail of strong antidepressants which left me numb. I felt nothing. Not up, down, or happy or sad. Just nothing. By this time my marriage had fallen apart. I arrived home to an empty house. My wife had left with our three daughters. Without my family, I fell into a deeper hole and contemplated suicide.

I completed two courses. The Veterans Trauma Recovery Program run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the REBOOT PTSD resurrected course. Both were good while I was on the courses but once I left and went home, my depression and anxiety returned.

So I tried the Brain Wellness Spa, which managed to take away all the head chatter that was in my mind since returning home from Afghanistan. It’s been a long difficult road but I’m now off all my night-time medication for insomnia. I can sleep and my night terrors have stopped.

I feel I’m in a good place. I’ve stopped seeing my psychiatrist and psychologist and I’m starting to reconnect again. I even spent Christmas with my wife and daughters. I can’t tell you how much joy it brought me. Little by little, I’m starting to feel like the old me and now feel I have a life worth living and a future to look forward to.

I’m telling my story in the hope it will help other people suffering from PTSD. You can see more of my story in the documentary Blue Rain – PTSD The Silent Suffering, out now on YouTube. Visit

Empowerment Program for Anxiety, PTSD and Depression in WA (brain wellness