From day one, Clare threw herself into her work with the Royal Army Medical Corps. Only years later did one harrowing experience return to haunt her and trigger Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Combined with this, Clare’s physical health began to falter. Suffering with a string of unexplained, debilitating symptoms, she was eventually diagnosed with Behçet's Disease.
Suddenly unable to enjoy the active life she thrived on; Clare found herself in a ‘very dark place.’ Find out how our Sports Recovery and Hidden Wounds teams helped Clare overcome the unimaginable.
“I’d always dreamt of a career in nursing, so training as a Combat Medical Technician with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) just felt right. From day one I loved Army life. As well as the medical side of things, I also took part in a lot of sport – and frequently represented the RAMC and our Unit.
“Then, in 1999, I was deployed to Kosovo. I worked alongside the field hospital and early on in the tour was tasked with moving bodies from shallow mass graves to be re-interred. At the time, I got on with it and took it as being part of my job. But three years later, after I’d left the Army and when my daughter was born, I started to frequently suffer nightmares and flashbacks.
“My nightmares are always the same. One of the bodies I unearthed was a young woman with a baby cradled in her arms. I always see her face; she was covered in bullet holes. I also suffer flashbacks, which are set off by sudden, loud noise or by certain smells.
“A GP put my low mood down to depression, but the medication did nothing. Then, one day I read an article about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – after 18 years of nightmares, everything finally made sense. It was then I reached out to Help for Heroes.
“Through its Hidden Wounds Service, Help for Heroes provided counselling sessions. These helped me develop techniques, such breathing exercises, to help me manage the nightmares and flashbacks. I still use the counselling support today, which has been a godsend during lockdown.
“Alongside this, in 2012, I was diagnosed with Behçet's Disease - a rare auto-inflammatory condition which affects the blood vessels and causes symptoms including mouth ulcers, bowel problems, migraines, joint pain, eye inflammation and chronic fatigue.
“It took around four years to diagnose and has a huge impact on my life. My mobility is severely affected, so I rely on crutches and a wheelchair to maintain my Independence. On bad days, I struggle to carry out normal daily tasks – even making a cup of tea or blow drying my hair uses all my energy. My mental health suffered again - before becoming poorly, I loved running, but being in pain means I struggle to walk, let alone run.
“My symptoms are managed with medication, but I’ll always be in pain. It’s hard, because I think ‘why won’t my body let me do what I want it to do?’ But I’m learning to pace myself and find new ways to manage day-to-day tasks.
“Whilst navigating Behçet's, the Sports Recovery Team at Help for Heroes introduced me to adaptive sport; from kayaking to archery and handcycling. Taking part in sports again really help both my mental and physical wellbeing.
“Help for Heroes funded my archery kit, and before lockdown I regularly attended my local archery club. But when the pandemic put practice on hold, I decided to focus my attention on my other passion - handcycling. I set up my bike up on my training roller in the back garden and took on a challenge to handcycle 226 miles over 13 weeks to raise money for Behçet's UK… 14 weeks later I’d reached 1,000 miles.
“Help for Heroes’ support has opened my eyes to things I once thought impossible. Participating in sport not only makes me feel physically better, it’s also become medicine for both my PTSD and Behçet's symptoms. Having Hidden Wounds on hand to talk to is also a great help, as although I can speak to my family, it helps to talk to those with a shared experience.
“I genuinely cannot stress how powerful Help for Heroes have been in my recovery - even my family say how nice it is to have me back again… the old me.”