Stories

Mike

I served in the Armed Forces for almost 10 years. I had a few operational tours in Ireland, where I encountered violence on a limited scale and Kosovo, which was quiet.

I left the Army with some dependency issues which I got treated in 2005 (whilst still serving) and thought everything was ok.

After resettlement and securing a job I really began enjoying having my life back. I met my partner and we started a family.   After our first son was born it was hard, and I wasn’t sure I coped with the stress too well. But work was ok, and we were getting on.

By the time our second son was born, I knew something just was not quite right. I’d gone back to Afghanistan to do a civvy job, and that was quite hard, I felt very vulnerable. I’d started using recreational drugs as well as drinking hard, which I was ashamed about.

I went to my GP and said I needed help and she put me in touch with the South West Veterans service. The diagnosis I received from them shook me to the core. I had been struggling with mental health for some time, but had not realized it.

The truth was, I struggled to talk to my wife about the way I felt, and civilian friends had no idea about my military past, they seemed to speak with awe – which isn’t what I needed.

Also, since I left the military I had chosen to exclude myself from the endless round of boring reunions and old boys back slapping themselves, I wanted to make it as a civilian. This was a way of running away from my problems.

The treatment from the South West Veterans also revealed, that one of the reasons I was good at being a soldier, was probably rooted in my childhood where I’d first had to deal with exclusion, bullying and violence.

The fact is, since I completed my treatment with the South West Veterans Service I’ve had more ex service colleague confide in me than ever before. It seems a lot of people struggle and don’t know how to make contact with people who can help.

I’ve learnt to see the value in the world around me, it’s stopped feeling so grey, and I’m only sad that I didn’t get some help earlier. The sense of shame for my past behaviour has left, as colleagues and family and friends say how much they’re glad to see the ‘nice me’ is back.

I’m proud of what I did in the services but I’m no hero. I’m stronger now because I’ve learned to acknowledge my experiences, place them in context and move on. I’m lucky – I live in an area with such great mental health support for veterans.

I wish I’d gone to my GP or seen this service was available sooner.

One of the other lads in my Battalion killed himself recently, he was just down the road, and if he could have just seen what could be done, he might be here now.

Let the professionals help you, don’t suffer in silence.

 

 

Joe

I left the forces in 2010, got a job and a house and tried to become a civvy.  I struggled to deal with the change, and I ended up getting arrested.  The Custody Sgt in Yeovil police station that night happened to be ex-RAF too and he came and had a chat with me.  I realised that I had been fooling myself, that I hadn’t been coping and that I needed some help.  After seeing a few people for assessments I ended up at South West Veterans Mental Health Service.

It wasn’t easy talking to them about the things that were causing me problems and the treatment involved re-visiting the events that I really didn’t want to think about, but it did work.  Fairly soon I was able to think and talk about my past, I realised that my emotions were a normal reaction to circumstances that were far from normal.  EMDR sounds like total bollocks when you get told about it but it works.  It isn’t easy and it is unpleasant but if you’ve got the balls for it then it does work and it will help.  You’ve heard this before – No Pain, No Gain.  Strangely it applies to Mental Health as well as the gym.

We all underwent basic training to turn us from kids into servicemen and women.  We all got programmed to think and behave in a certain way. That way doesn’t work in Civvy Street. Unfortunately, there isn’t a training package to de-programme us.  Should there be?  Probably, but, for those us that leave in the meantime, we have to find our own way.  It isn’t drinking until you pass out to stop the bad dreams.  It isn’t getting arrested for violent behaviour and road rage.

 

 

Rick

I joined the Army in 1991 and have 12 years military experience. The majority of my service was served in Northern Ireland and the Balkans. It is through tours in the Balkans and incidents that I saw that occupy my thoughts and that have shaped the way I process my now everyday experiences. I entered the South West Veterans Mental Health Service recently due to a relationship breakdown after 13 years and due to the upheaval of this break up all my insecurities, fears and traumas from my service came to the fore and I spiralled into a depressive state.

I found myself isolating myself in a bubble, I lost my marriage, my home, my whole life had been turned upside down and I reset to my default setting, that of a soldier. Basic skills kicked in. Food, water and shelter. I lived in my car for nearly 7 weeks, 4 weeks in a ex services hostel before I found a home. During this difficult period the SWVMHS aided me in getting my mental focus back on track. I was living out life as if I was a soldier on tour/exercise keep moving and survive but what I didn’t realise was that buried deep in my subconscious, thoughts of Bosnia still played heavy in mind and occupied my train of thought during my darkest hours.

The service helped me come to terms with my incident, reminders that plagued me today that sent me back nearly 20 years were still raw and full of emotion. Anger, regret, failure, sadness all at some stage wash over me. What the SWVMHS did for me was to address them individually and come to terms with, that although a tragic set of events I was not to blame, I didn’t fail, that it was right to get angry and that to have a memory of the past is fine but how best to manage my incident so that in time it didn’t have that same crippling effect on my emotional state.

Well, I now have a home, my job and my life have settled down and routine has reaffirmed itself. I still have thoughts of the past; some I remember with great fondness, some with great sadness but my rollercoaster of emotion isn’t as severe. My therapist guided me through the fog with some different techniques that I still use myself today to ground my senses and thoughts; and its because of his patience, understanding and direction that I am the person I am today.

I am proud to have served my country but I am equally proud to say I been treated by the SWVMHS and that they have helped me restore my self worth.

 

Andy

I left the forces in 2011, landed a decent job, got a flat and thought that my life was settled. I had served since 1989 and had served in the Gulf, Balkans, Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq. Things were fine for a bit but after a while, started to have bad dreams and starting to have anger issues, losing my temper easily, sometimes for no reason. I never got violent but I did start to have problems at work.

I went to my GP and she started me on CBT, helped for about 6 months, things seemed to be back on track again but lo! and behold, the problems started again. I started having problems sleeping, started to drink to help me sleep and after a further outburst at work was thinking I had nowhere to turn, I started seeing my GP and all she wanted to do was prescribe antidepressants, I was in such a low mood I even considered suicide. I was at my GP one day and saw a poster that had just been put up for the South West Veterans Mental Health Service, I had contacted RBL, they gave me Combat Stress contact details but was put on a waiting list, so thought here we go again, got home and emailed SWVMHS.

Within an hour they had replied via email, and within a further hour, was contacted via telephone. I was able to outline my problem to them and they gave me some hope and arranged for a meeting the following week. I was dubious, thinking that all it would be is a load of psycho bollocks but they started my counselling right away, giving me some basic coping mechanisms on that first meeting and gave me a date to start my counselling proper.

During my counselling, I had to revisit the events which were troubling me, hard to do but once I had started I found I was able to put things in to some perspective, understanding things and within a number of weeks was far more positive and understood the reasons why I was suffering, I always thought that PTSD was bollocks but how wrong I was.

Other people have stated that we all joined up and were transformed from a civvy to a soldier/sailor/airman but when you go to leave the forces, there is nothing that can be done to transform back to a civvy, the old age old adage of “you can take the man out of the army but cannot take the army out of the man” is so true. I am proud of my service and even prouder to stand up and say that I have had a mental health problem, probably the hardest thing I have ever done is to stand up and say I had a problem, the stigma around mental health made me scared to ask for help, so glad I did though. I cannot thank the guys at SWVMHS enough. I have now relocated to the North East and am now rebuilding my relationship with my kids and am still doing well, no further major instances of problems and when they have happened , am using the coping strategies they gave me.

Thank you guys, really appreciate the help.