Unprovoked nightclub attack put me in a coma and left me with PTSD

‘One thing that happened four years ago and I’m still suffering the consequences’

A 23-year-old Scot was so badly beaten after an unprovoked attack on a night out that he required life-saving brain surgery, and still has to live with the repercussions on his mental health four years on from the attack.

On a normal Thursday night out with his friends in the Fife nightclub Kitty’s ,Robbie Stirling, a former Amazon worker from Fife, was walking only a short distance alone when two men approached Robbie. One of them punched him so hard, the force of the hit caused Robbie to fall and hit the side of his head off the kerb, knocking him unconscious. The second man continued the attack by kicking him in the head.

Robbie was taken to the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy where they thought he was drunk and suffered only a black eye and a broken tooth. It wasn’t until Robbie was slowly slipping into a coma that is was clear Robbie’s injuries were worse than first thought. An emergency CT scan revealed that he had bleeding on the brain and was rushed to Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital where he received life-saving surgery to stop the bleeding.

Robbie, left, is a life long Hibernian fan

Robbie remembers very little of the night: “The only thing I remember is getting ready to go out and then waking up in a hospital bed in Edinburgh. When I woke up my mum was there and I didn’t recognise her or even myself. I was singing a Hibs song “he’s one of our own” I kept saying, which was a good sign because at least I could remember something.

“After they made sure I could walk and that my memory was alright I was sent home after five days. Because I was sent home so quickly I thought I was fine and there was nothing wrong with me so I was back to work a month later.”

It wasn’t until Robbie was home and started back at work that the long term effects of the attack would begin to affect his life. Robbie couldn’t even go out the house and take the short walk to the shop for fear of the attack happening again. Every night he would suffer from terrible night terrors about the attack, with his mind only piecing together the events from what people had told him. This version of the attack would become a recurrence in his night terrors, coupled with his anxiety things would only become worse when he went back to work.

“At work is where it was worst. I couldn’t get any work done. I was constantly looking around and having panic attacks every day. I had to leave my job at Amazon, which was fair enough because it was a the kind of place where people were coming in and out all of the time and I couldn’t work.”

Robbie’s mental health started to deteriorate further as he suffered from depression and not being able to leave the house meant he couldn’t go out drinking and so to compensate he would drink heavily in the house, which would affect his memory, even forgetting having entire conversations with people.

Robbie recalls on instance where he argued with his mum: “My mum had come in one night with her pal and started having a go at me for drinking too much and we had a big argument about it. I went upstairs, came back down ten minutes later and couldn’t remember the massive argument we’d just had.”

This was a common theme for Robbie, but, like many mental health sufferers, he was reluctant to admit to anyone there was something wrong with him and would skip health appointments. Robbie would deal with the problems he knew he had by still drinking heavily and when he eventually did go to the doctors he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I had a lot of friends in the army and anyone who said anything about PTSD I would say that was a military thing. I didn’t want to believe that’s what was wrong with me. I continued to drink until I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital because I had tried to take my life three times, one attempt putting me into a coma. I couldn’t cope with the night terrors and the constant looking over my shoulder. Looking back on it now it wasn’t the right decision and I am lucky that I didn’t succeed.

“After this is when I decided to get help and it was going well. I had bought a flat and paid six months rent on it, but it was only a matter of days before I felt a switch. I started to attract the wrong type of people due to some compensation money I received, people wanting to come for drinks and wanting to be my pal. The number of people brought back my anxiety and PTSD worse and worse and I started drinking again. Now it doesn’t take a clever person to realise that if you’re sitting in a flat constantly drinking then you won’t get your lease extended.

“I then pushed all my family away, they were telling me I was doing something wrong and I didn’t feel I was. It didn’t matter who told me because I wasn’t feeling anything with the alcohol numbing my head. Before this happened I did think I had gotten over the PTSD because I had a good few months where I was feeling great and thought I was getting better, but it’s not a case of feeling alright for a couple of weeks and then you’re fine.”

Robbie then met his current girlfriend Krystal who he admits himself really helped him in his recovery and encouraged him to stop the heavy drinking: “When I started seeing Krystal I stopped getting myself into these situations because I wanted to be better for being with her.

“The mental illnesses have manifested themselves into a different issue. I developed psoriasis, dry skin, which can develop into arthritis due to high stress and other underlying mental problems, which it has with me, meaning that I have to walk around with a crutch.”

Robbie is now staying with his girlfriend Krystal with his mental illnesses still making a difference in his day-to-day life: “I’m 23, and I’ve been out about five times in the last two years, but being out brings everything back to me.

“If I’m walking anywhere I have to have earphones in and listening to music to distract me from the anxiety or be on the phone to someone so they know where I am and that I’m still talking to them as I’m walking and I’m still on medication and attending psychiatry appointments.

“I can’t go out clubbing with my girlfriend or go to a pub or play football with my friends. It’s not that I don’t want to it’s because I’m either not physically able or my anxiety is playing up and I don’t want to go out- that’s four years on.

“That one thing they did to me and I’m still suffering the consequences of it now when one of them was given 12 months and the other nothing at all, but I’ve been through a four year sentence myself and still going through it now. It’s not like breaking a bone where they tell you you’ll be back in 6-8 weeks, the doctors don’t know how long this will affect me for and stop me doing the things I want to do.”

Looking forward Robbie gave some advice to people with PTSD: “Anyone with a mental illness, not just PTSD, the best advice I could give is to tell someone about it. If I had told someone about how I was feeling before I did I might not have had to go through going to a psychiatric hospital or the attempts at my life. There’s so much stigmatisation towards mental health issues people don’t talk about it, but if you broke a bone you would go and see a doctor. If you’re feeling down, go and see a doctor.”