All participating veterans of Voices of Veterans have been touched by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in one way or another. They have all bravely agreed to share their story, personal feelings and true experiences through creative and written expression to help others.
Matt is a veteran of the Royal Australia Navy of 24 years service. He has served on the RAN's front line warships, in exercises and on operational deployments to the Middle East and Hawaii. He has also served many years at various Navy Squadron's (Aviation Units). Matt is a contemporary artist on the beautiful NSW South Coast, Australia and works in many different mediums and techniques, being mostly self-taught. After many years of suffering from major Depression, Matt was diagnosed with Autism Level 2 and PTSD. He is on a journey of self discovery that is seeing him transition from female to male and how Matt has deeply identified since he was a young child.
"It was not until Mike started sharing some of his experience with PTSD that I was able to move past the thought that only war or warlike service was the cause. I imagine that this similar train of thought resonates greatly with many in the Veteran community. Being a part of 'Voices' has provided me with the opportunity to share my story. A story of traumas that did not originate from Operational service. Many aspects of military life can cause trauma for an individual. I hope that I can shed light on some of those that are hidden and less spoken about. Being autistic and on a massive transformation journey I was somewhat nervous and apprehensive about doing this photography shoot and what it entailed. It did not take long once I had a hand in the bucket of molasses to be soothed and relaxed by the sensory stimulation it created. Mike allowed me to interact naturally and spontaneously during the shoot and to get messy. For me this was literal and metaphorical as my service life has been messy. I have never felt that I fit in, that I was dirt, that my service was never good enough. The cleansing of the molasses at the end of the shoot from my body brought relief and was like I was shedding a skin that I no longer wish to belong to my body or mind" - Matt
Clare is a currently serving Navy officer, who has completed 14 years of service. She has served as a Marine Engineer in four ships and a variety of shore positions. Clare is an artist and photographer. She's focused on ink and watercolour drawing inspiration from the ocean and details of the environment.
Clare was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013 and has managed this in conjunction with her continued service.
"My experiences with PTSD have informed how I work as an officer. I do not want my sailors and officers to feel like they have not been supported, or that they have been let down by the system. The shoot opened up some interesting feelings for me. There are things I did not expect to come up, which did. It can be rough when some of the difficult memories come up without warning. The physical sensation of the molasses was interesting, but the visual impact was even more notable. On first impression on my skin, it reminded me of tattoos - particularly the cultural tattoos of New Zealand and Pacific island nations, where the bearer wears their history on their skin. The patterns drawn in the molasses have layers of intent and meaning. The scrolling curving patterns are a common part of what I draw - inspired by water and the ocean. The sensation of drawing them along my skin is similar to self-soothing actions; fidgeting, but also working through pain of injuries. When it dried, it was almost like a second skin, a shield, a thick hide protecting against the world. Imperfect and rough" - Clare
Naomi is a current serving member of the Australian Army. She has worked as a medical technician for roughly eight years. She has been posted to Albury, Darwin and Townsville. After completing the Underwater Medics course in 2020, she started to seek help for her anxiety and was diagnosed with PTSD in 2021.
Naomi is an artist. She finds that drawing and acrylic painting allow her to express herself and also brings a state of calm.
"I never knew or considered the fact that I could have had PTSD. After being diagnosed, it was like a big ah-ha moment, answering so many questions I had about myself. The diagnoses was a huge explanation for me. However, as a medic it concerned me that I went under the radar for so long, living with its symptoms without getting help. I reached out to Mike as I wanted to help express and bring awareness to PTSD. I felt the Voices Project resonated very closely to what I believe the world needs. For me, the PTSD was not caused by me as such, but my surroundings, environments, and people over several years. We wanted to demonstrate that it was thrust upon me continuously, so the slashing idea was formed. From the first slash of molasses, I channelled what I could in a healthy productive way how PTSD had echoed in me for years. For the rest of the shoot, it felt released in a way. This was a relief as I had been suppressing it for so long. I am hoping that the Voices Project enables others to have more of an understanding about PTSD and encourages them to get help earlier" - Naomi
Mick Cook is a veteran, writer, and digital producer. Mick’s work focuses on creating opportunities for public debate about war and society. He is also a PTSD survivor.
"For years I’d been fueled by a burning ball of rage deep within my core. It was a wellspring of pure anger I could tap into. I used it as a source of energy for my work and projects. I thought it gave me an edge, but it didn’t. Instead, it was consuming me from within. After 5 months of living away from my family due to ‘service need’, this burning ball of rage consumed me totally. In the end, the sleepless months and breakdown were worth it. They forced me to confront my PTSD and learn how to extinguish the anger. By the time I stepped into Mike’s studio, I’d recovered and maintained a mental health plan that guarded against any resurgence of the rage that had driven me for so long. The use of molasses in the shoot is perfect. The sticky mess, sometimes hidden under the uniform, permeates everything and will remain with you unless you can cleanse yourself of the burden. Even after you remove most of it, you will find a remnant – sticking to your arm, or your leg, or your hair. It remains a part of you. For some of us, that part is a distant memory of a challenge faced and defeated. For others, it sticks to tightly and it threatens to consume them” - Mick
Rachelle worked for the Department of Defence as a civilian for over 15 years. She deployed as a Senior Policy Adviser to both the Philippines during the Marawi Crisis and to the Middle East, including Iraq. Within International Policy Division, was Director of the Iraq/Syria section; the Afghanistan, Africa and UN Peacekeeping section, and the Afghan Locally Engaged Employee Program, and has some experience in international and operations law, including undertaking health threat risk assessments of new weaponry. Fuelled mostly by caffeine and dogs, she is also a certified geek with a PhD in Medicine, studying the effects of deployment to the Middle East on the reproductive health of veterans. She designs and makes cosplay props and costumes, and is an expert procrasti-baker.
"I played the “everything is fine” game for years. I’m just a civilian. What I was deployed to do will ever compare to what my military colleagues did. I felt, and still do feel, guilty for struggling when I believe that I have no right to. There is no assistance for civilians who deploy – we’re not covered by DVA and there is no equivalent organisation for us for medical or psychological support. It’s like we are not acknowledged at all, so we struggle through alone. It is a strange limbo to be in - we'll never be accepted as veterans (quite rightly), but we do endure many of the same experiences and feelings. I saw things that will be forever burned into my mind. I know the fear of a direct threat against my life. I know how it feels to be fully clad in body armour. And, as an unarmed civilian, I know what it’s like to feel both completely helpless, and like a liability and a danger to my uniformed colleagues because I can’t do anything to help. Molasses is an excellent metaphor for my PTSD. The feeling of being dragged down into the thick, welcoming abyss until you realise you are choking and drowning. Being able to barely keep your head up enough to catch a breath. The struggle between letting go and slipping under, or fighting to stay above the surface. I have an amazing clinical psych, a fantastic psychiatric support dog and an incredible husband, and I continue to want to stay above that line” - Rachelle
Sarah is a British and Australian Army veteran of 23 years’ service and deployed to Cyprus, Germany, Afghanistan, East Timor and Kuwait. She is now a Canberra based landscape and figurative artist, life model and singer/songwriter. Sarah finds the creative process deeply therapeutic and a means to express complex emotions. She is also a Complex-PTSD survivor and neurodivergent.
“After being bullied at school by girls, I learned to lock down or compartmentalise my emotions and lived in ‘survival mode’, every day waiting for a new threat to emerge. I never felt safe. In the Army, this ability to be ‘alert’ allowed me to react to whatever problem or crisis needed my attention. The people I worked for and environments I worked in amplified the feeling I was under constant threat. In 2018 I completely burned out and ceased to function. I was diagnosed with C-PTSD. Working with the molasses was so cathartic. It felt like a visceral expression of the deep shame I felt from allowing myself to be emotionally violated for decades by not speaking my truth. Washing the molasses off felt euphoric; finally washing the shame away" - Sarah
Roger is a Presbyterian Minister who joined the Australian Army as a Chaplain in 2006. He was posted to multiple locations, and deployed overseas to Timor-Leste and Afghanistan. Roger was medically discharged due to PTSD in 2019. He now works primarily as an author, and has published one novel to date, with another to follow very soon. He has been very happily married to Anna since 1994, and they have six children: Catherine, Thomas, David, William, Jonathan, and Ella. Sadly Jonathan passed away from brain cancer in 2020. PTSD and his son’s death contributed to his withdrawal from public ministry.
"The main thing I remember about 2011 was feeling numb. Close friends remarked that it seemed like I was in chains; a shadow of my former self. It was no surprise. The previous two years had been mad. I’d been the Chaplain of 2/14 Light Horse Regiment, and I had never served in a better unit. However circumstances beyond anyone’s control meant that for two years I hardly had a moment’s peace. I was surfing a wave of circumstances from the moment I posted in to the Regiment, until the time I left. The first death occurred in the first week. The poor fellow died in an accident on base, with one of his brothers witnessing the event. When I got to the scene, I approached the grieving brother, and he said, “Mum, the Padre is here,” and handed me his phone. “Is he dead?” she asked, and I looked over at the body of the young soldier, who’d just been pronounced dead. I knew I couldn’t lie to her, and the danger of the family finding out from social media was high, as the accident had been witnessed by many. So I told her the truth. “I’m afraid so ma’am,” I replied. And then she screamed. That was the first of three deaths I dealt with that year, and the reaction of each of the families was different every time. Except for the screaming. It was the same. A banshee wail that stuck in my mind. However, the busyness of work meant that I had no time to process things. When 2010 rolled around this didn’t change. However the first field exercise of that year held a real surprise. I was told I would be deploying in eight days time — to Timor. It would only be a 20 day stint. After 14 days in Timor, I found out I’d be going to Afghanistan 10 days after I got home. No time to think; just time to react to circumstance and do what needed to be done. Afghanistan was frantic. Pastoral issues, the identification of the fallen, conducting ramp ceremonies, going to patrol bases; all part of life in a war zone. Then I returned home, and hoped I would get some rest. But no. Such was the shortage of chaplains in Brisbane that within two weeks I was involved in the aftermath of two more deaths that had occurred in Afghanistan. Six fatalities in two years, and with five of those I was dealing directly with the families — sitting on the floor telling a child that their father was not coming home — listening to them scream — having to remain acutely aware of my surroundings in case people in their grief did something random or violent, but at the same time having to show empathy. My brain was overwhelmed, but I did not know it. Until later, when I heard screaming again. Then I knew it, and knew that I was broken. An angel of death I had become, the bearer of bad news. Someone whose face would forever be associated with the worst day of people’s lives. The bringer of tears" - Roger