Knowing is half the battle, speaking about it is the rest.
‘Working with PTSD’ is an initiative I’ve created that informs employers and encourages employees with the condition back into work. Being an equal opportunity employer and able to relate to this gives me a perspective that the civilian market can’t match. I hope this article gives a glimpse into how to cope with PTSD-related issues and how to work through them.
I’ve not been diagnosed with PTSD and like most others in my situation, I never will. Preferring to suffer in silence than seek help or advice, it is only when things get out of control will we get, or be given, the help we need.
My experience started in 2005 after the previous year’s Iraq tour. The signs were there (excessive drinking, mood swings, attitude changes, anxiety in populated areas and headaches) but I couldn’t recognise them. My career and relationship began to suffer, I couldn’t handle stress in any shape or form and I began to get into trouble. The institution I was part of failed to recognise that I was suffering, choosing instead to punish my indiscretions. I went AWOL from the army and was rightly punished by my unit. I was arrested in Manchester for being involved in a fight, and taken to court. This led to a conviction which, on appeal, was reduced to an absolute discharge. The fact that my solicitor was, like me, formerly of the Household Division was a major factor in my favour.
The Squadron Leader saw that I needed some time away from the unit, and arranged a placement for me at the recruitment office in Manchester, which meant I could be home with my family. For a time this helped but it did lead to the eventual breakdown in relations with my girlfriend. I can’t blame her for anything – I wasn’t faithful and I became too hard to deal with on nights out.
2007 saw me go back to Iraq. I’d been promoted and felt a renewed sense of purpose: recognition and responsibility can do wonders for your well-being. The tour itself was tough and as it drew to a close I was sent home to complete a commanders course – 5 months’ intensive training covering all aspects of leadership, tactics, gunnery, driving, maintenance and advanced signals. This came with only one condition: I had to be part of another tour straight afterwards – to Afghanistan in 2008.
During my Crew Commanders course, I met my now wife, Shirley. We hit it off immediately. I didn’t hold back on anything, all the infidelities, problems and gory details, so she could make up her mind about me – and luckily she stayed. She endured the toughest tour I’ve experienced, with two colleagues lost and many more injured. She still today thinks me lucky to have not been hurt or worse out there. The lowest moment came with the loss of one of the kindest men I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. In a very short time I came to admire his work ethic, his manner and his complete professionalism, whilst everything around us was literally falling apart. Trooper Ratu Sakesi Babakobau (‘Babs’) died on the 2nd May 2008, and I felt responsible. When my vehicle broke down I asked him and another of my dismounts to cross deck into another vehicle. Almost immediately afterward he was killed, whilst driving through a ravine, by an IED. My sincere condolences always go to his family.
As our tour came to a close we sadly lost another fantastic young soldier, Trooper James Munday (‘Magpie’). He had a great personality and lots of potential, yet was sadly killed on 15th October, 2008. I only spoke in passing with him, as we hadn’t worked together before, but as many of my friends and colleagues will agree, he’s sorely missed. His Mother continues his fight for justice to this day.
In 2009, upon my return to work, I was promoted and posted to London for ceremonial duties. This absolutely broke me. I felt as though I’d been betrayed because I had been promised the chance to train to be an instructor and go to one of the Army training units. Instead I had to learn to ride horses, clean kit and not sleep or eat properly for several months. During this period I found that Shirley (now my now wife) had become pregnant, and this along with my bitterness toward my situation caused me to sign off and leave the army. My stress levels soared and I literally ran away from everything – from the slightest confrontation or challenge, and I pushed people away from me. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe how low and suicidal I felt.
This time it was serious, and my wife made me seek help from a doctor. That year she experienced all of the effects someone can go through as a partner. I suffered nightmares, visions and anxiety, I spoke different languages in my sleep, called fire orders, shied away from any loud noises, I didn’t want to go out, I lost weight, lost interest in sex, I collapsed, and even tried to strangle her in my sleep.
I don’t understand how she managed, yet the year passed, our baby arrived and I became a father. I think this was my defining moment. Life wasn’t about me anymore. Someone relied on me completely, and I loved it. I began a new career outside of the army for the first time in almost a decade, and I won’t lie it was scary. However I found new ways of coping. I began to exercise daily, read more books, began courses online and spoke to like-minded people about their experiences.
Chris Vaile a young American Marine I met in Iraq 2010 became a good friend and we did everything together – eating, working, and exercising – every day. He had been through similar events but had a different perspective on life. It impressed that me he was such a very positive person at just 24 years old and having been through so much, including surviving an IED in Fallujah. Tragedy hit later that year when Chris Was killed by an IED whilst working in Afghanistan. I remember we had plans for his 25th birthday. My wife and I, along with Chris and his girlfriend, were going to hire an apartment in Vegas to celebrate the occasion. My heart truly goes out to his Mother, Cara and father, Duffy. I still miss Chris.
In total, I spent eight years away from the UK in hostile environments meeting some great people (some not so great), and I lost good friends and colleagues along the way. While in Iraq, Nick Hunt died in a car accident; Steve Hovarth suffered a sudden heart attack. People I have known have put their own lives in peril in order to provide a better life for the loved ones back home.
These events contributed towards my decision to help others in their journey through their own personal struggles, many of which I can relate to. Personally, I don’t advocate medication to solve mental illnesses. I found that exercise and speaking to the right people were more beneficial. I can’t count how many times people have sought my help or advice in these matters, but I have saved relationships, stopped people from harming themselves and encouraged people to look differently into their issues.
My experiences led to me set up a company which gives veterans a job worthy of their skill sets, working with someone who understands them without prejudice.
Those of us in the military community are very bad at asking for help. I’m not a charity. Instead I’m giving people a way to help themselves. And if they need some guidance, I’m here to advise.
The Cheshire Group