Moving to Noosa in 2016 to slow down the pace of hectic city life shortly after the birth of their second child was an idyllic location change for founders Andy & Claire Fermo. Noosa ticked all the boxes; being closer to immediate family support, by the ocean and semi-rainforest and allowed them to operate their small businesses remotely.
Their honeymoon period was short-lived. Andy found it difficult to find, secure and reconnect with the mental health support specialists and there was shortage of veteran/first responder ex-service organisations that met his contemporary veteran needs.
His PTSD symptoms worsening, Claire reached out to some close friends who’d founded Breath Me, a holistic modality of “Active Breathing” and meditations to assist Andy whilst he searched for specialists he felt a connection with. It proved to be a life-saver and since become a daily practice.
It was now 2018 and the Fermo’s jumped at the opportunity to secure a family home. The elation was another short-lived moment with a change in circumstances culminating in the loss of their home just-in-time for Christmas with Andy’s mental health and PTSD at an all-time low.
Shocked at being essentially homeless, they took to camping trip in Kilkivan to process everything. One evening by the campfire, Claire mentioned she felt like “Just running away in a caravan.” Andy’s response to the prospect “I was a Special Forces soldier…I’m a fighter and don’t run.”.
A lightbulb moment happened and Claire floated the idea “Why don’t we document your PTSD recovery journey and story, connect and create a resource with the local services, programs, organisations and respite retreats in the area….and then we can replicate it with a PTSD national awareness tour and share the stories of others? That way veterans and first responders don’t have to go through what we have?” Invisible Injuries was born.
To the present, Invisible Injuries is an ACNC registered national charity with DGR status and the Fermo’s are currently realising their goal on their PTSD national awareness tour providing support through connection and ambassadorship to better the mental health and wellbeing of veterans, first responders and their immediate support experiencing PTSD.
Meet the team
Andy enlisted in the regular Army in 2001 as an Electronic Warfare (EW) operator in Royal Australian Signals Corps, being posted to 7 Sig Regiment in Cabarlah, QLD. In 2006, he was posted to 2CDO (formerly 4RAR (Cdo), Sydney), immediately deploying domestically with TAG-East to support the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
Having a taste working with the Army’s elite Special Forces elite he applied, and completed the arduous selection process, becoming commando qualified and realising a career goal. Following on were two deployments to Afghanistan on SOTG IV & IX as an Electronic Warfare team leader.
Andy was awarded a Special Forces commendation by Major General Hindmarsh (retired) for his performance on SOTG IV. Believing he’d be in the Army for life, Andy was at the pinnacle of his trade and passionate about his future.
However, Andy refers to the “Trauma triangle” on his second tour. Experiencing a series of traumatic events in close succession, including; witnessing the death of a colleague, surviving the impact of an I.E.D roadside bomb (Improvised Explosive Device) and the major injuries of his colleagues amongst many other traumatic incidences as a mental health “time-bomb” waiting to happen.
Andy was medically discharged in 2010, prematurely ending his career, and later diagnosed with PTSD. This turn of events wasn’t how he thought it’d turn out, and like many veterans without a purpose, Andy struggled daily to find a passion for a life and career outside the Army including becoming a volunteer firefighter with the NSW RFS.
Early in his recovery journey, Andy credits advocate D.C. for teaching him a holistically based navigation roadmap, to persist in connecting with the right specialist and the importance of immediate support to managing his PTSD.
To the present, Andy’s renewed passion for music, adventure, healthy living, emphasis on (immediate) support and social engagement network now play a major role in his self-care plan and post traumatic recovery/growth. It’s this ethos that’s formed much of the framework for Invisible Injuries holistic approach to PTSD and as a mental health ambassador.
The army life and culture was foreign concept when Claire met Andy rock-climbing in 2008. By day, a manager in the Corporate Finance industry and active with her passion as an actress in the performing arts, they were worlds apart.
Claire was thrust into the deep end when Andy deployed on his second tour to Afghanistan. Just as her relationship with Andy was becoming serious she quickly learned what it was like to be the partner of a soldier on high-risk military operations.
Not being on the front-line didn’t mean Claire didn’t live her own trauma and like many of the partners, daily she experienced feelings of uncertainty and anxiousness being fearful that Andy wouldn’t be returning home.
The events in Andy’s “Trauma triangle” only became known to Claire in the official defence statement and others long after they’d occurred, adding to Claire’s “at-home” trauma. A call not received from someone she didn’t know was barely a consolation, instead leaning on the support of the other partners, family, friends and welfare networks. Soon after Andy’s return she knew he wasn’t the same person as the one who’d left. She also felt that the system had failed when Andy was medically discharged and diagnosed with PTSD.
Early on, Claire was open to being an active part of Andy’s recovery plan, participating in several key sessions with his counsellor and mental health specialists. As a couple, they agreed she would call him out when he was having a PTSD moment and he would acknowledge that when she did, to listen and act.
Knowing a lifestyle and location change would be part of Andy’s recovery journey, Claire moved from corporate, becoming an entrepreneur business owner and having the flexibility to be there for him in support.
To the present and being a people person, Claire’s biggest goal with Invisible injuries is to represent what partners/supporter and kids experience when they are close to someone with PTSD. She also believes the experience for the support person and kids is often just as difficult as the sufferer and is an advocate for facilitating the conversation for people in that role.
Helena Connor | In-print coordinator |
Our PTSD national awareness tour goals
To raise PTSD and mental health awareness in veterans, first responders and their immediate support and connect with 1000 veterans & first responders and 200 families / immediate support.
Our tour impact - To date (July 2021)
Tour Stops x 15
Veterans x 210
First Responders x 35
Support / Family x 94
Crisis x 5
Group address x 7 @ 163 reach
Editorials x 3 @ 170,000 readership
Radio Interviews x 1 @ 120,000 listenership
Impromptu Gigs x 2 @ 18
Podcast x 19 episodes @ 1000 downloads in 90 days
Memorials x 12
Veterans Retreats x 5
Collaborations / Ambassadorship 1 x Winter Warrior Challenge / Veteran Mindfulness Australia
Mindfulness Narrations x 14 (for Veteran Mindfulness Australia)
Mindfulness through music mixes x 5 @ 1hr
Tactical Breathing series x 5 @ 3min “on-the-go” meditations
ABC Sunshine Coast |PTSD Awareness Day 27Jun20
Caption - Australian commando Andy Fermo recounts PTSD crisis, says more support needed for veterans
Link - https://youtu.be/5AB5yY0z_s0
Pluggas (Veteran owned filmmakers) | Documentary concept trailer
Caption – No longer fit for duty
Link - https://vimeo.com/425375894/a608c51814
Podcast Guesting – Clint Vosloo (Health and Fitness life coach – Sunshine Coast)
Caption – PTSD and Invisible Injuries with Andy Fermo
Link - https://youtu.be/f0OJYIvMQps
Veteran wellbeing and mental health ambassador – Veteran Benefits Australia
Caption – Winter Warrior Challenge
Link - https://veteranbenefitsaustralia.com/pages/winter-warrior
In-print media (Invisible Injuries Tour newspaper editorial 2021)
Gladstone News (21 June 2021)