I’m not sure if you managed to hear me talking on BFBS Radio on Wednesday about the 24hr golfathon, where I was asked possibly the hardest question I have been asked about the golfathon.

The question was “Why have you chosen these charities Niall?”  People are more than aware of Help for Heroes, BLESMA is very close to my heart after working in Birmingham, seeing lads coming back with life changing  injuries.  I mentioned that  The Undentable Trust was found through reading the blog of the sister of L/Cpl McKinlay, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan last year.  But the hardest explanation was Combat Stress.

Not because I am unaware of the work that Combat Stress do, far from it, I am only too aware of the fantastic work that they do.  You see, I have needed the help of organisations such as Combat Stress in the past.

I was based at RAF Valley when, on 13 Feb 1997,  at approx 0750, we heard the announcement through the tannoy from Air Traffic Control that nobody wants to hear. 

“Emergency State 1, Emergency State 1, Emergency State 1″

This means that an aircraft has crashed on the airfield.

Myself, my Sgt, and our Senior Medical Officer were deployed to the airfield to see what, if anything, could be done to save the life of the pilot of the “weather ship”, a Hawk Jet Aircraft.

I am not going into details of what the next few hours were like for us, as even now, 15 years on, I still find it difficult to talk about what we found without becoming emotional.  The memories of that day will stay with me forever.

Two months after this, I thought my world had imploded.  Again, details as to why, are known to a few friends and my family, this is not the place to divulge information such as why. 

Working in the Station Medical Centre, would, you would have thought, be the best place to be working if you start to notice that things are starting to go wrong, and maybe for for others, it is.  But not for me.

I am, generally, a very quiet, private, some might say withdrawn sort of person.  I am also immensely proud.  These traits are not those of someone who finds it easy to ask for help, so, like many others, I buried my slowly unravelling world under the carpet.

I was selected to be posted to RAF Bruggen, Germany in December 1997, and accepted this posting with some trepadation, I would be going from being a small fish in a small pond, to a tiny fish in an ocean.  Immediatley upon landing in Germany, I realised I had made a huge mistake.  All of a sudden, I had no support network, no one I could tell of my fears and worries, all of a sudden, I was alone.

Within a week of arriving in Germany, I was notified that I was to be deployed to Croatia, as part of the the NATO SFOR Operation, and couldn’t believe how at home I felt amongst my colleagues.  Only now I realise, it was because we were all in the same situation, we were all away from home, missing loved ones, and friends.  Sadly, my deployment came to an end, and I had to return to Germany.  I had found it incredibly difficult when I first arrived to forge relationships, and here I was, almost 6 months later, having to do it all over again.

We had a new Sgt posted in to the Medical Centre, and let’s just say, we wern’t hitting it off!  It seemed to me, any opportunity he had to make life difficult for me, he grasped with both hands.

It was the day of the second anniversary of the terrible news I had received in 1997, and I had asked my Sgt for a days annual leave, to allow me some time alone, for quiet contemplation.  I had, at great pain, told him the reason why, only to find that he sent a colleague to ask my brother (who was now working in Station Headquarters on the same base), if what I was telling him was a lie.

I still wish no one had to hear the news I had received (although understand it is a sad fact of life), and to have someone treat me in that respect, let alone a colleague, and even more so a member of the Defence Medical Services, still fills me with utter anger and disgust.

The next 12 months in Germany were the worst of my life.  I spiralled into major depression, it scared me how low I was, how useless I was, how I was letting my colleagues down.  Things didn’t improve, even with the “help” of medication, and I was getting tired of being a burden….

When I woke, I was in a German hospital.  To this day, I am not entirely sure what happened, or how it happened, but I do know WHY it happened.  I didn’t get the help I was needing when I needed it.  I was too proud to say I wasn’t coping, too proud to say a small four letter word, help.

So this is why we are raising funds for Combat Stress.  The guys who need their help, have been through situations similar, and I am sure, far worse than I have, but all the same, thay need help.

I still struggle sometimes, I get flashbacks to that cold February morning, sitting on the airfield at RAF Valley, the images which I still cannot bring myself to talk about, and know (however unlikely) if my wonderful wife cannot help me, there is a dedicated team of wonderful people at Combat Stress who can.

This has been the most difficult thing I have ever written.  It’s bizarre, if someone I know discloses that they are having a tough time with their mental health, I am the first to support them, let them know that if there is anything I can do, be a shoulder to cry on, or someone to rant at, I will be that thing they need.  But the the thought of me disclosing this “weakness” is a weight around my neck, but not anymore, I have told someone about it, You. Thank You for being there for me.

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