The Lifeline

By: Journeys

Edited by: Lauran Timlin


“I really don’t want to live anymore. I am useless. My life is over”

Roger wandered off into the winter night to die. The war had left far too deep scars or wounds or in his mind and he could no longer bear life in the mental hell that was his life. And the fight that had fallen to his girlfriend Angela became more demanding than ever.

Roatan, Honduras 2022.

The huge turkey vultures sail over the jungle in search of carrion. The waves beat lazily against the Mesoamerican reef. Inside it, a fisherman casts a line from a turquoise rowboat well into its ninth decade, wrapping the line around a plastic bottle as he jigs. A couple in love whizzes by each holding a coconut fitted with a straw. The wind has taken a break after rotating strongly over sea and land disguised as a hurricane and destroying houses and homes for many on the mainland a few days ago.

Roger Bjorøy-Karlsen (60) lifts a deformed conch from the beach sand pointing it towards the sun, which is about to set behind the moist horizon, allowing the rays to shine through the holes in it.

“We live here!”

Roger clutches his arm as he sits on a tree root down on the beach on this island surrounded by the Caribbean. The heat and light hit him.

A few years ago, life was pitch black. His experiences from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan as a soldier in international military service for Norway, with shelling, attacks from all sides, and suicide bombers who came too close, had left deep mental scars. He had loved military life. Contributing with his knowledge so that the situation once more became stable was his expertise. But around him, the war raged. Night and day.

After he returned home from Afghanistan in 2015, the downward spiral began to spin violently. His girlfriend Angela (51) tried to convince Roger that he had post-traumatic stress disorder, better known as PTSD. But Roger flatly refused. He looked upon himself as a big and strong soldier, although the nightmares actually told him otherwise, as did his avoidance  of crowds, panicking if they got too close to him. Eventually, they could no longer share a bed. Roger kicked and punched and choked Angela in her sleep while the nightmares battered his sin.

Roger eventually agreed to a conversation with a doctor. After two hours, the doctor determined that Roger apparently had PTSD, although more extensive investigations were needed.

The world collapsed around me. Angela tried to keep my spirits up, but the weight of flashbacks, nightmares, and the realization that I wasn’t up for much more was shattering.

He finally collapsed in 2017 and took sick leave from his job and his role as an officer in the Armed Forces. He felt that everything had been taken from him. Thirty-six years in the military seemed to be in many ways erased. Five of those had been spent abroad assisting in foreign countries. Roger found that his ability to make and perform music was crushed under the weight of the illness. The depression hit like powerful waves. Dark, rainy days were replaced by grey winter days meaning more time was spent indoors for someone who was decaying both mentally and physically. Suicide was a way out that was always on his mind. Was life worth living when you couldn’t perform, be out among people, and only experience the strife of war every night?

-The fall from the high of receiving The Meritorious Service Medal, an American medal for exceptional performance while serving in Afghanistan, to struggling with simple things like tying shoelaces was horrific. The ability to concentrate was more or less gone.

One day he said goodbye to his girlfriend who felt helpless and totally exhausted. In a fit of anger and despair, she said he could just go out and take his life if that’s what he wanted. She wasn’t going to stop him this time. 

“To this day I regret saying that,” says Angela. “But I was desperate and was constantly in a fierce fight with him. I felt I  was also on the verge of giving up. But instead, this episode gave me new strength”

Roger went to die. Wandered down cold winter roads and then broke off into the snow cave. In among the spruce branches he sat down and looked at the stars as life ebbed away in the cold. Maybe he would end up somewhere up there?

But he never got that far. He was caught by the long arm of the law, who got him back to the house and had a stabilizing conversation with him.

Hours with psychologists and psychiatrists marked the next few years. Digging into the memories of the war often knocked him out for two or three days afterward.

In 2019, Roger received disability benefits, three years before he would have retired. The war had taken away all his abilities. But he realized more and more that there was nothing to gain where he was anymore, that this was the right way to go. The memory had failed. The ability to concentrate was knocked out.

“I have eventually realized that I am not riding the horse I rode through most of my life. That I have a different point of view. That the only chance was to start from this new place of understanding. Relearning things I once knew and constantly running into obstacles, but being told not to give up. Easier said than done, but it was the only option not to wear it completely to pieces.”

He looks at the one that is now his spouse. They got married in Iceland in 2017, in the small church built on the estate of the legendary saga figure Egil Skallagrimsson, Borg á Mýrum. Roger let the tears flow as the church room was filled with the Norwegian hymn “Deilig er Jorden” (Lovely is The Earth) while the branches hammered against the church wall from  the storm raging outside.

Angela is marked for life having been through this with Roger. But he’s glad she’s still here.

“Without her, I would never have survived. Very few had managed to stop me on my progress toward deep darkness. But my love for her means that I no longer focus on the end of life. That I want to be here with her”

“It is demanding. I often get a short notice when the disorder is at its worst with him”, says Angela.

In 2020, they moved to the island of Roatan, which belongs to Honduras. An escape from the demanding seasons in the home country. Into bright days, in a place where the temperature never drops below 20 degrees Celsius.

– For me, this has been a lifeline, says Roger.

– I miss my family and friends, but this has been absolutely necessary and right. I have taken up composing and playing precisely to try to improve my ability to concentrate and process emotions. I enjoy life more and more.

In addition, he has found that as long as he has something to puzzle with, it keeps his focus away from the war. Even if only for a short while.

Angela works in the jungle garden around their house and will soon start making decorative glass art. Life up on a hill on a tropical island keeps getting better for the married couple. Step by step they move step forward, sometimes backward, in an attempt to fill life with the good things. But the darkness hums behind. Probably forever.

– I have realized that I will never recover totally, but I work hard to function as well as possible, says Roger. Something they both agree with.

The fatigue also helps to drag down his motivation. Knocked out and down almost every day. But as long as he is aware that the facets of PTSD are the cause, he pays attention, rests, and tries to come back stronger.

The love is there and it keeps them together. Today they are working on the script for a book about how the suffering struck and the struggle began in this life. Angela uses her experiences to help other injured veterans and relatives in long and demanding phone calls. They hope that the book can be published during 2022 or 2023 so that others in the same situation can get advice and feel that they are not alone in such arenas.

– PTSD has affected many. It doesn’t have to be about late injuries from war to have something left for this book, Angela concludes.

The reflections revealed in this book are deep and raw both from Roger and Angela’s perspectives.

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