“I’m finally able to move on with my life”
Simon Wrigglesworth, 45 from Yorkshire, explains how he eventually sought help after suffering with PTSD for more than 20 years
Being a soldier was all I’d ever wanted, and when I turned 17 in 1988, I joined up as a Private in the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment in Yorkshire. One of my first postings was a six-month tour in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in late 1991, during the Troubles. It could be described as a baptism of fire. One day I saw a fellow soldier shot while we were out on patrol, another day I had a horrible shock when a coffee jar was thrown over the barracks fence and landed at my feet. The IRA had recently started to use blast bombs, or what we referred to as coffee jar bombs – they’d pack explosives in to the jar and fill it with nails.
Needless to say they were lethal. I remember the fear when I heard the crash and, of course, I fully expected the jar to explode and I’d be subjected to a horrific death. The jar was empty but I couldn’t have known that. You can imagine how distressing this was for a young soldier of 19 years old.
I came back from that tour quite changed. I was drinking to cope, and my parents commented that I was jumpy and unsettled. Two years later, in 1993, we were sent to Bosnia for six months as peacekeepers for the United Nations. The operation we were involved in became known as The Convoy of Joy, now documented as being one the most harrowing operations of the Bosnian conflict. All of us witnessed some terrible things, things that stay with you for a long time afterwards.
One experience that stands out happened when the armoured vehicle I was in ran over an anti-tank mine. Fortunately, the vehicle took the worst of the explosion as the shockwaves went out through an open hatch and it is the only reason we survived. However, we were trapped in the vehicle all night awaiting rescue, which was incredibly harrowing.
Back at base I asked one of my superiors for help, as I found I was struggling to cope with what had happened. I was told that everything I was going through was fine and normal and to just get on with it. So I did what I was told. But, at 23, the only way I could do that was by drinking to blot out my feelings. About the same time, I met someone. We married and had a son, Liam. Inevitably, we divorced within a year as I was clearly unable to keep a relationship with his mum going.
In 1995 I was posted to Warminster. I was still drinking heavily when I met my second wife in 1997, around the same time I was about to leave the army. Soon after she became pregnant, and I felt under enormous pressure. I’d been having flashbacks to Bosnia and one night I found myself on a bridge, contemplating taking my own life. The thought of my son and unborn child stopped me. I sought the help of a counsellor through my GP, and with his help became teetotal. But when the counselling ended I still didn’t feel right.
I had eight jobs in the first year after I left the army – I couldn’t adjust or settle at anything for long and I had very little patience. I went into nursing, which I enjoyed, but after a few years I needed a change and became a HGV driver. But I developed problems with two discs in my neck. The resulting surgery left me with limited use of my right side, so I had to give it up.
Then, after 14 years and three children together – Hayley, 19, Peter, 18, and Lara, 12 – my wife and I decided to divorce. I quickly slipped into depression, and without a job to get up for, I found there were days when I lacked the motivation to even get out of bed. If it hadn’t been for a friend who made the call to PTSD Resolution on my behalf, I don’t know where I’d be now. It’s the hardest thing in the world to ask for help.
Soon afterwards, I went to a counselling session with low expectations, but found I was able to speak openly and honestly about my experiences and feelings. The release I felt made a huge difference to my well-being. I wasn’t even sure what was wrong with me because I had been living with the anxiety, the stress and suppressed feelings for so long. But my counsellor listened to me and reassured me that I didn’t have to feel scared or afraid. Everything that had happened in the army was in the past and I could leave it behind. I had about eight one-to-one sessions and was amazed how much better and optimistic I felt after each one. Over the last two years, three of my friends from the army have taken their own lives. I only wish someone had been able to help them before they hit the point of no return.
Things are looking up for me now – I’m actually training to be a counsellor myself. Who better than someone who’s been through what I have to be able to listen and understand other people’s troubles and help them as much as possible? I’m so grateful to PTSD Resolution. With their support, I’ve been able to look ahead and get on with my life knowing that I have the prospect of an exciting new career and a bright, happy future.
TOTAL RAISED: £34,262
- The PTSD Resolution national outreach programme has more than 200 counsellors. It is confidential, private, local and one-to-one.
- PTSD can cause flashbacks, anger, nightmares and depression, which can lead to violence, substance abuse, job loss, family breakdown and suicide.
- Counsellors also work in prisons, and there is an active programme of engagement with the prison service right across Britain.
- Their aim is to provide effective therapy for military PTSD and better access to treatment for all veterans of the UK armed services, reservists, TA and their families.
- Visit ptsdresolution.org for details.
BIG GIVE UPDATE
Money raised will fund therapy for armed forces’ veterans and reservists suffering from PTSD. A course of treatment costs £500 and eight out of ten people experience success via the therapy offered.