"My journey in to mental health crisis really started as far back as 2004 when I returned from my first tour of Iraq. I will say, at this stage, that the foundations of mental health had been laid from previous tours in Northern Ireland, Africa and the Balkans. I write this now fully understanding what happened to me and why it happened to me. I must be eternally grateful to my family, the NHS and in no small part my Service colleagues.
Those around me started to see changes in me like aggressive behavior and abusing alcohol to “make it go away”. I would not report sick with the matter for another six years. The stigma and my need to crack on with a successful career were at the forefront of my bizarre thinking, thus putting my family at the bottom of my priorities along with my self preservation. At the time, I know now of course, I was suffering from classic symptoms of PTSD and the very subtle manifestation of a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Unbeknown to me at the time, this was the start of my unhealthy relationship with death (my death).
I carried on regardless and relentlessly with life on “11” and the school continuing to make the bad choice of keeping my mental health issues in the margins and taking comfort from alcohol. Self medication was my journey that eventually led to my self destruction.
I returned from yet another violent and distressing tour of CEXC Iraq and I had finally completed my journey and made my first attempt on my life by overdosing on prescription drugs. I was to make quite a few more attempts. In 2010, I voluntarily placed myself in to psychiatric hospital to clean my act up. It was a move I would later regret. A military psychiatrist declared me fit for Service after only a short stay. The civilian clinical staff at the unit disagreed with him but I was a number and I belonged to the military machine. I was discharged and being who we are in the ATO and AT world, I took the bull by its horns and cracked on.
By 2012, I was fully diagnosed with the incurable PTSD and chose to ignore its consequences yet again for the good of the Service. The next chapter was to disown my family and latch on to another life with someone else. Again, this was a huge mistake as the relationship became toxic beyond my nightmares and flashbacks. Safe to say I am back with my family now thank goodness and feeling safe again.
In 2014, things got so bad with me going in and out of crisis, the Service offered me a medical discharge on the grounds of severe and chronic mental health issues. I agreed and was discharged in to the civilian community on 30th September 2014.
I struggled from the start. A military career spanning nearly thirty years does not and cannot prepare you for the wild savannah of civvy street. I had no concept of what a civilian is and how I was supposed to interact in this new and bizarre battlefield. This, coupled with still being in a very toxic relationship, reinforced my thought train that I should be dead. I wasn’t supposed to be a civilian.
I took a couple of contracts in the US, Middle East and I eventually ended up in a UN job in Mali in the North West of Africa. This is a truly murderous and violent place and it did nothing to improve my mental anguish. I was dispatched there for the money.
I struggled on in despair. My behaviour by now was so out of control that I was Sectioned in to psychiatric hospital by the police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. I remained in a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for a number of weeks before I could go on to the main ward community because I wasn’t safe to myself and around others. This was now the lowest point of my life so I decided to escape. By devious and pretentious behaviour, I got out of PICU and allowed on to the ward where I then hatched my plan. I observed the various secure doors being opened by the staff and set to work on breaking out with a view to killing myself with powerful psychiatric drugs that I had saved up instead of taking them so that I could swallow my final cocktail. I escaped as planned, took my cocktail and was discovered some three hours later by a concerned housemate. I had stopped breathing and was transferred to general hospital and was placed on life support and induced coma for 9 days. After my recovery in general hospital, I was transferred back to the PICU now under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act for assessment, diagnosis and treatment. This was to be the start of my long road back to mental wellbeing.
Treatment started off very well and I was doing my utmost to immerse myself in the intensive treatment schedules. This included intensive psychological and psychiatric therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and some pretty hard psychiatric drugs. My mental wellbeing then took a turn for the worse when a fellow patient was murdered on the ward by another patient. Utterly awful! The decision was then taken to “farm us out” to another hospital where we could continue our treatment until the “dust settled” I would later be called to the murder trial as a material witness. This was earth shattering for me because back in 2009 on my return from CEXC Iraq I was unceremoniously handed a legal bundle from the MoD labelling me as a co-accused of Iraqi civilians in the now famous Battle of Danny Boy back in 2004. I was now in crisis again. The enquiry cleared me of course from the Iraq incident but the Iraqi Historic Allegations Team still pick away at us like parasites.
Being moved to another hospital when you are Sectioned is another trauma in itself. I was escorted by five burly chaps and a driver. It just fell short of an orange jump suit and shackles. The same was to happen two weeks later when they returned me to PICU and the murder scene. Upon my return, I was told that Combat Stress would not be taking me on because of a lack of resources. It also has to be said at this stage that I was so poorly I didn’t care and the severity of my illness could not have been dealt with by Combat Stress.
After another escape and being brought back to PICU by some very nice and understanding police officers, I started to immerse myself back in to treatment. I formed an extraordinary bond with my consultant and my named nurse, a relationship that was to last for six months as a secure in patient. Not only did they fix me, they made it possible for me to re-engage with my beautiful family. I had initially labelled the NHS mental health community as people who could not understand the military and I was very difficult with them. Together, we all overcame that hurdle and I’m happy again as a family man, working in the USA and on my return, I’ll be going back to university to study Psychiatric nursing, something my clinicians are rightly very proud of and me to!!
If any of you are suffering do not do in silence. If I can be of any help (not to escape hospital I hasten to add), give me a call.