5 Life Lessons From Our PTSD Psych

Last Wednesday, I took a very special walk with Randall. It was a walk we had taken together five years ago – a first walk. This time it was a last walk; we hope anyway.

Randall Smith and Tricia VelthuizenFive years ago, Randall began seeing Dr Andrew Khoo, a psychiatrist with a depth of experience in treating patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We hoped he would be able to help Randall out of a very dark place.

On that first visit, Randall asked me to come with him.

As we sat in his office, I looked at Andrew Khoo and I looked across at Randall and I looked at my hands in my lap. I had no words and so many words all at once. Most of all, I just wanted to say three words: help – us – please.

When we walked out of Andrew’s office on that first day and the elevator door closed around us, we were both committed to this path.

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I didn’t attend another appointment with Randall, but throughout the five years of treatment, Andrew Khoo impacted our lives in ways we never expected and have always appreciated.

Walking in to Andrew’s rooms last week, we wanted to round off Randall’s treatment as it began: together.

The chat with Andrew on that last appointment reflected over the past five years – the achievements, the learning and the chuckles.

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He’s a wise man, and this last official visit was ripe with wisdom. I have been thinking on Andrew’s insights for the last week and with the year finding its stride, we thought it was worth sharing his five key messages:

1. Minimise Regrets

As a doctor, Andrew has been with many people in their last days. He’s observed what it means to pass in peace and what it means to carry regrets.

It is this experience that has helped Andrew Khoo believe that we should aim to travel lightly through life when it comes to regrets.

That can mean taking the high road, acting with greater grace than perhaps we believe is deserved, and thinking of ourselves differently: Will our response to life, to people or situations give us regrets or peace? It is not so much a matter whether we are right or whether we have been wronged. That is already done. What matters is our response.

It is a philosophy I have seen being lived for a number of years by Randall and truthfully one I have had to work on. I have hung onto grudges or felt wounded for too long. In the last year or so, I have been letting the days gone by truly go by, and I have felt much better in myself.

I figure it will help me carry less regrets into my years ahead.

2. Deliberately Make Memories

Tricia and Randall familyLike us, Andrew Khoo has a clear focus on family. It was his first piece of homework for Randall in his darkest days: five uninterrupted minutes with the children every day. Connect with them. See them. Talk with them. Be with them.

It is homework that has given so much to our family.

As we finished our last appointment with Andrew, he encouraged us to continue to deliberately design opportunities for making memories as a family.

Yesterday, we sat down with our four children and came up with a list of things we want to do together to make memories that will bring us together beyond the moment.

Admittedly, the kids did conspire to get a new dog and with five dogs already at home, we did knock that one back … the family Christmas in July gathering got the thumbs up and heading to Tassie is on the agenda.

I hope they will even remember how intentional we were about prioritising experiences to share as a family.

I hope they know how much Randall and I love them.

3. Balance

When Randall realised his body could perform physically in his 50s beyond his 20s’ levels of fitness and that the rush of chemicals made him feel good, he went a little hardcore. He ran 30kms at a time up and down mountains with less rest … and his body got punished.

Dr Khoo gave him a measure of success: balance. Anything that takes over your thinking and actions in an extreme way can also break you. And the mission here is to live in a way that lets you do the things you love, well into old age. So run the mountains by all means but do so in balance. If you are breaking (and PTSD abounded with brokenness), it is a sign you lack balance and self-care.

4. Cross each bridge as you get to it

Recovering from something as pervasive as PTSD was hard to wrap our heads around in the beginning. Experiencing COVID in 2020 was full of the unknown and possibly diabolical. Losing a job, a relationship, finances or friendships can all be overwhelming. Sometimes we laid awake worrying how we could possibly make it in the event of the worst happening.

And then one day, we decided to follow Andrew’s advice and stop spending our energy on worrying.  Instead, we would cross each bridge as we came to it: if a bad or hard thing came along, then we would choose action. But only if and when we came to that bridge. It has been a philosophy that has changed our lives and brought us freedom because much of what we have worried about in life never eventuated.

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5. The door is always open

When I held Randall’s hand to walk into Andrew’s room for the last time, I had one small voice asking one large question: what would happen if Randall ever became unwell again?

In sending us off, Andrew said very clearly: if you ever need me, my door is always open.

There are good people in the world and there are doors open to you, to us, if we ever need them.

And from time to time, we all need time with good people in hard days.

Andrew Khoo has been that good person for us and many others.

Randall’s recovery is testament to Andrew’s care and knowledge as well as Randall’s determination and commitment.

Randall and I wanted to publicly acknowledge the wonderful work of Dr Khoo and express our deepest appreciation to him. We may have walked out of his rooms but we know that Andrew’s wisdom shared so willingly over the last five years will stay with us throughout our days.

Take care,

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