A Soldier’s Exploration of Mental Health and PTSD

It’s amazing how the human brain will pick up something in childhood and hold onto it. So that it affects everything about a person years down the line. I discovered this in the course of therapy I received to help with the after-effects of mental illness.

What happened to me was crazy, I’d seen and done so much in a short space of time. There’s no way I’d come through it unscathed. I served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I married twice, had three children and tried to be in too many places at the same time. Too many spinning plates which inevitably came crashing down.

Now everyone looks at me cautiously, thinking I’m about to go off the rails again. Then again, life’s still pretty hectic.

You see, my second wife lives 200 miles away and try as we might, we can’t move on. We’re at a stalemate, neither wanting to move to be with the other. As you will begin to see, I just bit off more than I could chew.

So let me set the scene. In 2006 I joined the army and went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the home of the British Army’s Officer Corps. Around the same time I met my first wife and fell pregnant. Our eldest was followed by twin boys within 2 years. Time I wasn’t at home due to consecutive operational tours. Destined to fail, my wife left me when I was in Afghanistan and returned to our home town. I suppose I could have left the army then but I didn’t. I stayed in, was posted near to London and met my second wife.

This is when it got even more complicated for me. I’m trying to be a father whenever I can, trying to be the best husband and career driven but I cannot manage it. I deployed again but knew my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to be at home but me and my wife seemed to attack each other all the time. I got angry and stayed that way. I didn’t know what was going on but she was in tears just as much as I was in a rage. I went to the doctor and was quickly diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I don’t know if it was just that but my head was screwed. I started to drink more, withdraw into myself and generally blame my wife for everything.

Then I made a mistake which started a spiral into despair, mental hospital and separation. I took my children away on holiday and chose to drink. They got scared and I lost them for a year. No contact.

I admitted myself to mental hospital but just couldn’t seem to recover. I was in such a dark place. I threw everything away in order to escape from my brain. Left the wife, our home, everything.

And so began my descent to rock bottom before I decided enough was enough and I needed to fix myself or be doomed. I completely embraced my therapy, I quit drinking, I spent a lot of time being mindful.

It was during this time that I learned so much about how my brain worked and why I reacted the way that I did. It began with my Dad leaving when I was 4 years old. My young mind decided at this point that if he wasn’t around, then I needed to replace him. I guess this was rational to my immature mind but the problem is you can’t be anyone else, you can only be yourself.

I tried to be him, act how he would have acted, place him on a pedestal and try to aspire to him. That’s why I joined the army too. Thought I’d follow in his footsteps.

But again, if that isn’t me, how did I think that by trying to be someone else for years, it’d help me? The other issue was that as I’d placed him so far out of reach, I felt I was never good enough.

This continued for years and resulted in me developing an increasing sense of resentment whenever I felt someone was being dismissive of me or belittling me. Therefore with so many plates to spin along with this growing sense of discontent, I started to take my frustration out on my wife.

It is only with hindsight that I can see this. At the time it was totally her fault, or his or hers. Never mine. Recipe for disaster which took me to the brink.

So I left, got a small apartment and cut myself off. I worked down to the darkest place and then brought myself back. Now I’m not totally fixed. I’ll still get an urge to drink too much from time to time, I’ll still get stroppy but I don’t get the sense of resentment which has eaten me for years. I now see things for what they are. My brain working against me, maybe due to the alcohol, maybe due to the frustration.

I had to learn to enjoy my own company, find an inner peace and I think I’m there now. Which now means I have to pick the pieces of what was my life up and fix them too. I’ve started seeing my kids again but know I’ll be under the microscope for a long time yet. I’ve started to make peace with my wife but will be working at that for a long time to come.

I’ve accepted that my army career is over and started to plan a future based on using my experiences to help others like me. I mean, if I can help just one person I’m doing the right thing.