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Shell Shock: the diary of Tommy Atkins

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Title: Shell Shock: the diary of Tommy Atkins

Author: Neil Blower

Publisher: Firestep Press, 2011

Reviewer: Joanne Thompson, senior sister in critical care, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham

What was it like?

A heart-wrenching account of the difficulties faced by a 23 year-old squaddie suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after leaving the army, having served six years including a tour of Iraq and two tours of Afghanistan. His attempts to fit into civilian life will make you laugh and cry, but will also make you cringe at today’s society as seen through this young man’s very old eyes.


What were the highlights?

As Tommy attempts to construct the next phase of his life we observe his struggle to maintain relationships with the people he loves. He experiences over-emotional responses to everyday stresses – meeting new people, shopping trips,which leads him into a downward spiral of alienation and suicidal urges. Although the short diary excerpts make it easy to stop reading at convenient points, you won’t want to put it down.

Strengths & weaknesses:

The short diary-style narrative, written in the vernacular, makes this book easy and quick to read, but the effects will last much longer. It is a fictional account written by a British Army veteran who has himself suffered from PTSD. Colonel Tim Collins, in the foreword, recognises that ”the salvation and lifeline from the black hole of PTSD is our collective awareness and willingness to help”. “Living” the experience with Tommy not only raises awareness of the symptoms related to this tabooed illness, but goes someway to helping us understand the emotion and shame  related to those symptoms.

There is a strong language warning on the cover of this book, and while the use of such language is completely in context (as anyone involved in the military will know), it is not for the faint-hearted.

Who should read it?

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone involved in the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen – healthcare staff, families and patients alike. But these people are easy to spot and help. This book makes it clear that anyone can suffer from PTSD, and special attention should be paid to those men and women who return from tours with no physical injuries having lost colleagues and friends, because some part of them will think “it should have been me”.

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