I feel comfortable in this forum to share this post. The main reasons I want to share this is to help raise awareness for mental health and to encourage blokes to talk.
In July 2005 at the age of 21 I was half way through my first tour in N.I with B coy 1 Para. We were called back to Dover to attend a 3 week training package with 22 SAS and then deploy to Iraq to support them. It was just before SFSG was formed. I, along with the whole company was very excited for this opportunity. We got back to Dover, signed all of our kit out and got on the coach ready to head to Hereford. I was called off the bus and told to report to my then Pln Cmd Mr W… I will never forget his words: ‘PTE Nickels, I do not believe you are in the right state of mind to attend this training package but I look forward to working with you in the future’. He saluted me and got on the coach leaving me on the parade square.
Mr W… was right and I am forever grateful that he recognised there was something wrong. I was assessed by doctors and taken to the priory hospital. I was completely paranoid. In my mind I thought I was being followed and tested 24/7. My brain had gone ‘pop’. Everything I had been taught in training had taken over my mind. I was looking for cover everywhere I went, I even knocked on someone’s door to ask if I could walk through his house because I didn’t want to set pattens!
I walked out of the priory hospital because I didn’t want to be there. After a few hours the police found me and arrested me for my own safety. I was held in a cell for a few days whilst they decided what to do with me which intensified my paranoia. I was then taken to a medium secure hospital and detained for 28 days under section 2 of the mental health act. There were some seriously ill people in that hospital who had committed serious crimes and had been diagnosed mentally ill whilst serving their prison sentences. I didn’t belong in there. I got caught up in the system because I had left the priory and the doctors needed to put me somewhere secure to work out what was wrong.
The doctors described it as a ‘psychotic episode’. I didn’t take any medication and I was lucky to recover after about 3 weeks. Not completely but enough to satisfy doctors and not get sectioned and discharged from the Army.
I had about a year off work in total and then went back to 1 Para. I am eternally grateful to the Army for looking after me during that period. Also thank you Ama Nesciri who was my O.C when I got back to work, he listened to me and welcomed me back whilst other senior ranks had that shit attitude towards mental health which helps nobody. I went on to serve another 10 years with the Regiment and they continue to support me to this day.
I was one of the lucky ones. I got the right help at the right time and was lucky to have good people around me. The doctors told me when I left that hospital that 1/3 of people who have an episode like I did never come out of the system. 1/3 recover but have another or multiple episodes throughout their life. The other 1/3 it’s a one off and it doesn’t resurface. I’m hopeful I’m in the later. What really inspires me is helping others who have had or heading towards a ‘breakdown’. In return that helps me.
When you loose your mind you have nothing. The main lesson I learnt was to talk about my feelings. It’s the only way to deal with stress and move forward.
Stay safe Paras!
Awesome post Ben
I just wanted to say how much appreciated your honesty is
It’s only by being so frank about mental health issues that the stigma will be chipped away at. In a nutshell I’ve had mental health issues since my teens.
They were, and still are, schizophrenic- type symptoms. I see and hear things that aren’t there basically.
I have acute paranoia at times and hyper-vigilance all the time.
I’m often asked why I didn’t do 22 years in Para Reg if I love it so much.
The reason is simple, the choice was taken away from me in reality.
I had what I now know was a psychotic episode at Palace Brks in 92 that was written off as delirium by the M.O. due to overtraining.
I’d made no secret of the fact that I wanted to try for Selection or PF after that tour ended and was training most nights with a mate who was much fitter than I was. I hadn’t had issues with the voices or visual hallucinations since well before Depot Para but I got walloped one evening. I felt it coming on and I just didn’t feel like I was in control of myself or my surroundings.
Luckily we went on leave days after but whilst at home I shut down and refused to leave the flat. I got out of bed only if I had to. My wife insisted I talk to the M.O. but instead I chose to talk individually to two friends I trusted implicitly.
Back in 92 attitudes were so different and both stated in typical Reg fashion that I had to crack on or I’d be out of the Reg and Selection/PF was a non starter for sure. I didn’t ever talk to the M.O. as that would be a career killer and due to feeling utterly ashamed of my condition I just faded away back to Civvy St.
I knew I’d never serve a full career in the Reg as the symptoms would trip me up at some point and I didn’t want to endanger my mates by not being 100% on point. I saw a psychiatrist after I left and he recommended a total break from everything and so my wife and I backpacked around the world for a year.
I still refused to speak to anymore professionals as I felt “sorted”. I was in denial of course.
Fast forward to now with two marriages ruined due to my closing down emotionally, a valid suicide attempt, avoiding being sectioned twice by the skin of my teeth, two years of NHS counselling and childhood sexual abuse counselling as well as my subsequent police career ending at 20 years via medical retirement on mental health grounds and I STILL stuck my head in the sand whilst my life imploded around me.
10 weeks at Combat Stress and ongoing help from my Community Mental Health Team finally got me to admit I had a problem.
My hallucinations continue and antidepressants and antipsychotic meds reduce them to an extent. I was so ashamed of anyone in the Reg knowing why I left and so I kept quiet. Prior to this post there were 4 people from the Reg who knew the real reason, (one of them, Haggis, is no longer with us), for my leaving but I couldn’t hide from my police friends why I’d had to go.
I was so ashamed of it all and being labelled a “nutter” but I’m not anymore.
Ben, your post could well be exactly the nudge that someone out there needs to get help and that’s awesome mucker.