Born and bred in the North East of England, at the age of 16, I signed on the dotted line to serve Queen and Country. It was something that had been my ambition from a very early age. I served in the British Army for 11 years, which included operational tours of duty in Northern Ireland and the Bosnia & Kosovo conflicts in the 90s. I saw and witnessed some awful things that only now I can talk about. I loved my time spent in the army and met some of the best people.
That's as much as I am willing to let out about the past and what has brought me to this blog. It's not that I don`t want to tell my story, I do, and I have a few times, but I feel it will only make me dwell on past mistakes and missed opportunities. After all, we should only be looking to the future. What happened in the past is in the past and can`t be changed, so my therapist has drilled into me for the last few years, so that’s how it is.
I have lived with the following issues for many years now; sleep problems, chest pain, fatigue and exhaustion, aching muscles and joints, digestive problems, headaches, changes in appetite or weight, feeling agitated and restless. The list is endless. I expend a lot of energy each day, I also love running, something that hasn’t always been my fix, but it's now a huge part in my life and helps me deal with my problems in a way that nothing else can. I am a member of a great supportive running club that is full of positive energy. There are many aspects of the club that I can liken to being in the military. We all support each other though good and bad times.
In the army, you do not accept weakness and you pretend nothing is wrong, but after a number of years, I could not deal with it anymore. The smallest thing would make me remember horrific things I had seen. There was only so much I could do to pretend it wasn’t happening. It was affecting every part of my own personal and family life. It was huge and getting bigger daily. I drank heavily, binge-drinking they call it now. I couldn’t think rationally. It felt like everyone was against me. But I was against everyone. I had a hit-list of all the people that had disrespected me through my life. I put myself in some really strange and difficult situations as if I were in some kind of time warp, a surreal experience that no words can describe.
My time in the army is not completely the main reason for my condition. Losing both my parents within the space of 4 months in sudden circumstances was probably the tipping point. Although this came naturally as a huge shock, I didn't seem to feel pain and if anything, I was completely numb about it all, refusing to talk about it or even accept they were gone. Enter alcohol and this all becomes so much different. Rather than go on about this or delete the above, I will just leave it at that. I think we all get the picture.
So onto getting some help. One day I just said to myself "no more of this shit". I stopped drinking at the back end of 2013 and never touched another drop till New Year`s day 2015. I went to the doctors to see what they could do. Apart from offering me pills, which in no way did I want and nor have I ever taken, they told me they could help with therapy, but there was a waiting list of 6 weeks! I should really speak to a military charity as my symptoms were something they could treat and deal with better, I agreed, but was a canny bit pissed off with the NHS and their lack of urgent help!
I received intense therapy including CBT and EMDR and was diagnosed with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) at the beginning of 2014. It has been proved that this was the right treatment for me, I have intense mood swings and I also struggle with paranoia and severe anxiety, particularly social anxiety. People who will know me well will say "What? You? How come? But you always seem.....", What? Normal?" The easiest part is living a double life, until the blackness sucks you in to the deep hole and then what!! I class myself as extremely fortunate and lucky. It all could have been so much different, with a lot more people getting hurt than needed to. Thankfully, I made the right choice.
The symptoms never truly go away; mood swings, sometimes good, other times bad. There is no alarm clock or certain time of the day. No stopwatch to tell you how long. It just happens. I now have the skills to ease the symptoms and they can work really well, although you do actually learn something every time it happens. Every day is a school day as they say.
The main thing now is I am starting to live a life again and think I have become a better person for it. The anger issues have practically gone, I’ve got my family and most of my friends back that I value. It's an uphill long battle for anyone with the symptoms I have mentioned above. You won’t start winning any battles until you accept there is a problem and you start talking about it and getting the correct help and support you need to get better.
I would urge anyone who experiences anything mentioned in this blog, in any form, to ask for help. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and yes I did feel ashamed! I still find it staggering that we are happy to talk open and freely about say a broken leg or arm, but can`t talk openly about when our brains don’t quite work right! Those of us that suffer and are dealing with it can help those who have yet to find the path to freedom. I know this to be 100% true as I have helped some of my friends that have suffered in silence for years.
You will get some sort of normality back in your life, but don`t be fooled into thinking it will all go back to how it was before your brain decided to stop working. It doesn’t. I can vouch for this as I had to go back into treatment for 3 months after getting into difficulties after my initial 6 week course of treatment. I know that if it gets tough again, then I only have to call and I will be back with my therapist as quickly as they can get me in. You will be more in control of your issues not the other way round. Talk about it, the more people hear about it, the more they will understand. Understanding is all we need not sympathy.
Campaigns like Time to Change & Project SemiColon have helped, charities like Mind & Rethink Mental Illness, are consistently pushing for changes both in policy and in practice. There are lots of support groups out there, social media plays a big part too so get amongst it and see what you can find out. Ask, ask, ask and never stop asking.
For anyone ex-military reading this, there are lots of charities out there; Combat Stress, Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes are the main big ones. The one that helped out are a smaller charity called PTSD Resolution. They had me in therapy within a week after speaking to them and I will be forever in their debt.
I have tried to repay them back by doing some voluntary work behind the scenes including being invited to the House of Lords to talk about mental health with other veterans, which was an absolute honour and privilege. I am also taking part in a series of challenges this year to raise money to pay help for treatments for those in need.
These organisations save lives it really is that plain and simple.
Thanks for taking time to read this blog. It is what it is, and I am what I am!
Do you recognise the feelings Ian had in the past in yourself? Has your history in the military affected your life back in 'civvy' street'? Let us know in the comments below.
Ian is raising money for PTSD Resolution, the charity that helped him, and you can sponsor his efforts on his Just Giving page. You can also keep up-to-date with Ian on Twitter, where he's @Ianlovesrunning