A staff member shares his own recovery story

This Remembrance Day, our thoughts turn to those who have experienced wars and conflicts.

Among our staff we have military personnel who bring with them crucial insights and experience, which are of benefit to the care we provide.

We recently caught up with a member of staff who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, following his time in the military. Here he shares his story…

I was just one of many, another face in the crowd, but I felt honoured to have the opportunity to serve my country overseas and be a part of something bigger than myself.  Although the years march on, many of these memories retain their clarity and every detail is ingrained into ones psyche. Strangely enough, these are usually the memories one wishes to forget- it is strange how the mind works.

1987- I was a fresh-faced 23-year-old, looking for a new challenge and fresh purpose. Five years older than most of my new comrades, I was given the title of ‘Grandpa’ and ‘Old Man’ – and was quite often a shoulder to cry on – what a difference those few years made.  One learnt responsibility, duty, attention to detail, the ability to follow instructions instinctively, and strangely enough – a sense of humour like no other. 

My personal service story is nothing special. I am proud of having had the honour and ability to have served the Crown, as my father did before me, and his father before him. I expect nothing different for having done so, no special treatment, no accolades except those given to me by my comrades. I came home, some did not – that is understood when you ‘sign on the dotted line’. I honour them in my own way, avoiding parades, marches and fanfares.

A poppy is just a symbol – but remember symbols have power.

I was determined that the skills I had learned during my time in the Army would be put to positive use in Civilian life. The challenge of turning a ‘negative’ into a ‘positive’ appealed to me. I was concerned by the derogatory image that the media portrayed of our servicemen, concentrating on solely the negatives, using sensationalism to sell column inches in newspapers and soundbites on national TV, all to the detriment of these brave men and women.

A few years after leaving the army I was using my practical skills and volunteering as a youth leader. Army field-craft skills become map-reading lessons, camping, hiking and backpacking expeditions. Instructing for the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, first aid instruction and team building events proved a positive direction for all those years of Ministry of Defence training courses. Brilliant. I was loving life 100%.

A couple of years later, I was teaching in a Secondary School which required discipline, administrative management and the ability to think under pressure. I was liaising with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), working as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator, and dealing with external services and members of the general public, all second nature courtesy of the Ministry of Defence. Building on my skills, I was getting extra training to supplement my skills as an Instructor. Course followed course, followed by another course – I was improving my profile along the way.

Life was great. Until 2001.

BOOM! The walls come tumbling down. Things would never be the same again.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?  Nope – not me – that is something that happens to other people, weak people, people who can’t ‘hack it!’. Nope definitely not. I am strong, an ex-Non Commissioned Officer.  I have seen it all, jumped out of aircraft, climbed mountains, buried comrades… I am the strong one who people can rely on. Nope not me!

I was working on my Education Degree one minute and a complete wreck the next. How is it possible to wake up in the middle of the night and have temporarily lost your sight? Not only that, but to lose your memory, to have no idea of who you are. To eventually know the true hopelessness of fear. To hit rock bottom.

But then how can society as a whole train young men to fight and kill the enemy, live through hardships that they refuse to disclose even to their closest family and friends, terrors that keep them awake at night, and expect them to return to Civilian life, reintegrating into society as many would call ‘normal’.  What is normal?

Post-traumatic stress disorder. It sounds too clinical to describe what it does to you. As time changes the words change meaning. Once it was called ‘Shell Shock’, then along came ‘Battle Fatigue’, followed by ‘Operational Exhaustion’, and finally we have PTSD.

The road to recovery was a long one. I was too afraid to answer the telephone, too frightened to even answer my own front door to a visitor. After not leaving the house on my own for 18 months the journey was a painful one.

But the answer was, in the end, a simple one - difficult to admit but simple. Ask for help. Accept help. Take your time. As one specialist once said to said me: “It’s OK to be not OK!”

2014 was a time to reflect and re-direct. A new career and new possibilities.

I discovered how to put my experiences to work for the benefit of not only myself but others. Fully aware of the dangers of Mental Health issues, I decided to look to new horizons.  Hello St Andrew’s Healthcare.

I have learned more about myself in the past six years here at St Andrew’s than I ever thought possible. The work has been rewarding and challenging, I have had the opportunity to put my ‘life skills’ to good use. It may even be said that I have had an advantage towards my care approach because of my past traumas.

Our history develops our skills, and because of this I have a whole library of experiences to draw from.  Working here has undoubtedly improved my own coping strategies, having access to the Staff Support Network has been invaluable.

2019  and onwards - It is true to say that some days are better than others, and I have learned not to dive into my work to avoid my own past, but to ask for help. The work I have the privilege to do on a daily basis helps me to put things into perspective. The support that I am able to offer day- to-day is, I think, ‘the gift that keeps on giving’. Everybody wins, because every time I help or assist somebody else, I am also helping myself.

As my old Grandfather used to say: “The roughest seas make the greatest sailors!”