When it comes to spinning dits, we veterans are absolute artisans. However, opening-up about our innermost feelings is often an alien concept. Our mental health is something we need to take care of as much as our physical health. Maybe we have spent too long in a macho environment where overt displays of emotion can be viewed as a weakness, or maybe we are just in a state of denial that the ‘god damned sexual tyrannosaurus’ that is the military veteran could have any perceived character flaw. Either way, we need to overcome that hurdle as a community. Here’s my efforts to do so:
I left the RAF in 2006 after 9 years as an aircraft technician; 9 fantastic years where I deployed to Northern Ireland and Iraq, drank my own body weight in Warsteiner and Spicy Rum, and became a member of an extended family so wide and varied my chest still puffs out in pride at the thought of it.
Seven years later, I’m waking up in a shop doorway next to complete strangers with needles in their arms, smacked off their faces. What went wrong?
In 2012, I was sectioned. Half-arsed attempts at suicide and a feeling of detachment from myself and reality led me into a S136 mental health assessment suite. I was then placed under a section 2. So began my recovery. Except, it really didn’t. As most people who have ever been treated in NHS mental health facilities will know, (or private, but that’s another story for another post), they are merely a sticking plaster for immediate needs. As a society, we are terrible at treating mental health. Chronic under investment combined with the stigma of mental health has led to a poor service. We can, should and must do better.
The downward spiral continued throughout the next year. I was self-medicating through drink, ruining my relationship with the mother of my children and putting my employment at risk. Eventually, the wheels came off my wagon. Relationship destroyed. Job gone. I ended up living in a caravan in a field for a short time. Then, disaster. Money ran out, and I’m hitting the pavement. A 50 mile walk to London followed, and I’m a statistic sleeping rough on the streets.
I wasn’t broken through military service. Nothing in my career affected my mental health. In fact, after being diagnosed years after leaving with Adult ADHD and Bi-polar disorder it was reckoned that military service had probably held me together for such a long time. Structure and routine, or something.
And so, we get to the point: most veterans are fully functioning human beings who thrive in civilian life. The minority don’t. Not all have issues because of their service, but those that do suffer acutely. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who take the Queen’s Shilling. There are some superb military charities out there who punch well above their weight in achieving positive outcomes for their clients. There are also some huge charities who need a kick in the slats to remind them who they are supposed to serve.
This is why Families4Veterans Directory is here. To give veterans a one-stop shop in all things veteran related.
As a postscript to my story above: I was picked up by an awesome charity, Veterans Aid. They squared me away in minutes. Fed, watered, housed, and marched away to the doctors for some much-needed medical care. Nearly six years after leaving New Belvedere House I can still rely on their support should I have a wobble. Through this life-changing experience I gained a BSc in Sociology and Social Policy, I’m working on an MSc in Veterans and Family Studies, and I now work in Social Housing. To paraphrase the CEO of Veterans Aid, I was not broken, I’d merely fallen out of step.