Julia Molony, a trained psychotherapist, is the founder of The Ripple Pond: “local self-help support groups for families of injured servicemen and women”. The group grew out of Julia’s direct experience of desperate isolation as she watched her son endure endless operations and finally the amputation of one leg as a result of the injuries he sustained in 2009 while on active service with the British Army in Afghanistan.
Julia has four sons, three of whom joined the Army. One has now been medically discharged while two continue to serve. I interviewed Julia about The Ripple Pond at her home in Brighton in January 2014. The words that follow are her own.
“I met Sue Hawkins [co-founder of The Ripple Pond] in August 2011. We discovered that our sons had been injured on exactly the same date but a year apart. We just found talking to each other was so helpful, supportive, and liberating.
It started to make me think that what I really did want to have were groups where people could meet with other people. Somewhere safe where they could talk about whatever they wanted to talk about, say the things that they couldn’t say in front of their loved one and just hope that that would help them to process things and move on.
When my son had his leg amputated it just finished me off. I thought I can’t stand this. That’s when I desperately needed someone to talk to. I tried very hard but he knew I was upset. It was impossible to hide it but I did try not to tell him exactly how I was feeling.
I can remember saying to a friend that: ‘I hate being with him, I hate seeing him.’ She was horrified, absolutely horrified that I had said it and I could see it on her face. I thought: ‘Oh … okay … I can’t really tell people how I feel.’
Then I was talking to Sue Hawkins. She asked me something and I plucked up the courage again to say: ‘You know he sits there with his horrible bit of leg poking out and it’s not his leg any more and I just feel sick. I just want to weep. I just want to scream. I hate being there. I would almost rather go out of the room than sit with him.’ Sue just sat and let me say what I needed to say. After I had said it I think I started crying.
The next time I saw my son was about ten days later. I got an opportunity to talk to him and I said: ‘I know it’s been really difficult and I’ve been really difficult but I’ve really hated it, I’ve really hated seeing you there with your leg like that.’ He said: ‘I know. I know Mum but this is the way it is. It’s not that you hate me.’ … We had a long conversation and it was such a relief.
Since then it’s been much easier for me. All the time I was bottling up my own feeling it was becoming more obvious that there was something that wasn’t being said … I didn’t want to say to him that I hated seeing his leg but, by the time I said it there was much less passion and rawness in it, in my emotion.
It’s a secondary trauma. That summer I was looking for help I was talking to a counselling friend and she said: ‘Hang on a minute. Let’s go through this slowly.’ She had in her mind the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) criteria and she asked me specific questions. I didn’t quite fit all the criteria to be considered PTSD. I can’t remember exactly now but I think there are three categories and you have to have five out of seven and I was minus one from each of the categories.
… You build yourself up for six months before the date you know they’re going to go, then they go and the adrenalin runs high because you’re up here waiting to hear from them, hoping it’s a ‘phone call to say they’re okay. When they come back your adrenalin slowly comes back down again and you return to normal.
That’s normally eighteen months of adrenalin rush which the general public don’t have to go through. Then, if you get bad news, the adrenalin rush is up there high – it’s trapped. There’s nowhere for it to go because you’re not fighting for anything. They have got to fight to get themselves better but your adrenalin is trapped in a bit inside you.
So my aim for the groups is that trapped adrenalin has a space to be heard – so that the anger, the fear, the sadness, the raw emotions can come out. So that there’s somewhere safe for you to say what you wouldn’t initially say to your loved one. You can talk about it later when you’ve calmed down a bit. I do think that if you can activate your own energy to release that you’re going to be in a better place to recover from that trauma.
We don’t take on family members where there’s been a bereavement. I wouldn’t want to talk about my son losing a leg with somebody whose son has been lost altogether. It’s difficult enough talking about the raw feelings you’ve got about your son losing his leg when you know there’s somebody in the room whose son has been brain damaged.
It’s difficult to manage but it’s one of the things we make clear in our agreement with people – we don’t care what the trauma is. We – as parents, and wives, and family members – have been traumatised by that trauma and that is why we’re here … We are getting an awful lot of partners caring for those with PTSD.
Rank is totally irrelevant. If a general’s wife were to come to talk to us because she wanted support she would be treated like the rest of us. At The Ripple Pond we don’t need to know that your son was corporal so and so, or captain so and so. Your son is your son or your husband is your husband. He doesn’t come with a rank within the group.
I hope The Ripple Pond, as a concept of small personal groups, meeting locally and reducing the distance that people have to travel, will take off. We meet in Essex; we meet in Tonbridge; Southampton; Norton House, Surrey; Tidworth; and Gloucester. So, having started off with one group, we have got six going with another two coming up.
We support all three services, the Royal Marines, and the Territorial Army. It’s for the family members over the age of 18 of veterans and those currently serving – anybody who is closely involved with the family or impacted by the trauma is very welcome to join our group.
There’s no charge – I don’t think we want to go down that route. We have no support or funding regularly from anybody. We’re not a charity. We don’t fundraise but we seek funding.
We have applied to some of the regiments, to their welfare and benevolent bits to say we’re supporting their families and could they give us some money to put towards brochures and the cost of ‘spreading the word’, such as attending conferences/events and the cost of getting to those events. We don’t charge our time but the actual physical cost of getting there is expensive and that’s the only way that we can spread the word that we exist – by attending events.
Passing on the word about The Ripple Pond is the important way to support. I think the biggest thing is getting word out there because I know there are so many people who think they are on their own, struggling. Then you have to convince those people, once you have got the word to them, that actually they’ve got a right to come and talk.”
Julia herself has recently become seriously ill. At no point during this interview did she refer to her own illness.
(For further information on The Ripple Pond please contact: Julia Molony on 07968 310329 or Sue Hawkins on 07748 364675. The email address for the group is: firstname.lastname@example.org)