Army veteran opens up about his PTSD journey
BALLINA Army veteran Aaron "Dogga" Worboys remembers vividly the first time he had a flashback episode, one of the calling cards of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The former Army sergeant - who forced himself through two tours of Afghanistan from 2009-11 despite suffering from the condition since 2004 - came to national media attention this week when he was winched from the pinnacle of Mt Warning after suffering a PTSD panic attack - only to be blamed by volunteer rescuers for being too "unfit" to take on the mountain.
He may be a big man, but he's far from unfit. What he does suffer from is invisible, and more diabolical.
What triggered Mr Worboys' PTSD was a road accident in 2004 when he was returning from an army exercise in the South Australian desert.
He was a passenger and asleep in the car when the driver fell asleep and smashed into the back of a truck, causing internal injuries and fracturing four of Mr Worboys' vertebrae.
Over a year later while, as a passenger, driving with a mate from an army course in Melbourne to Albury he had fallen asleep again.
"And I woke up, I thought we were in an accident and I grabbed the steering wheel, thought he was asleep and reefed us off the side of the road," he said.
"Luckily there was a big shoulder and we just skidded and slided and stopped.
"I just woke up and panicked, and thought we were in an accident. (But) there was not another car on the road, we were just cruising down the highway."
He was formally diagnosed with PTSD in 2006.
"(Symptoms) were creeping in and I wasn't taking notice, but it was that one moment where I woke up and steered it off the road and anything could have happened when I realised something was really wrong," he said.
But that didn't end his army career.
"Malingering is this huge thing in Defence, and if you're ever at the doctor, it's like 'what are you doing... stop being lazy, get back to work'."
"So I pushed through."
He was stationed in Kabul for six months in 2009, when the Afghan capital was regularly rocked by suicide bombings.
"I kept thinking... 'what am I doing here'," he said.
After that his symptoms were amplified, nightmares, hypervigilance, and more episodes than ever.
But he was sent back in 2010 for a second tour.
He quashed any feelings of fear - in the "blokes world" of the army, no one wants to be looked down upon for being weak.
"It would be like a pilot training and never flying an aircraft," he explained.
Returning to Australia for good in mid-2011, it wasn't till 2014 that he was finally medically discharged.
Since then Mr Worboys has made it a mission to raise awareness about the condition, and the events of this week have, in a roundabout way, helped his cause by shining a light on lingering ignorance about the disease.
About three months ago he set up ';IGY', an open Facebook page for sufferers of PTSD and their families to share their experiences. It now has more than 4,500 followers.
The acronym stands for "pause, I've got you" and implores sufferers who feel like ending their lives to stop and realise there is support out there.
Mr Worboys said he believed PTSD to be "rife" in the veteran community.
His organisation also sells specially designed calming beads for PTSD sufferers to wear, the proceeds of which go to Beyond Blue.
He said mental health issues were best "out in the open" so people could talk freely about their condition and seek help when needed.
"That's what ;IGY is all about, it's trying to get it out there."