Michelle’s dream job as a paramedic in the RAF turned into a nightmare when horrors from the battlefield led to flashbacks, nightmares and an eventual diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She lost her home and her career, but in her own words describes how she found the resilience to battle back.
“I spent 23 years in the RAF, starting as an aircraft woman, working my way to sergeant and eventually commissioning as an officer.
“Becoming the first female to be deployed with the RAF on the front line in Afghanistan was the making of me. Initially, nobody thought I was capable but eventually they agreed I could do the role on a trial basis, and I became the first of many women working as frontline paramedics.
“On call, we’d bring casualties onto the helicopter - often dressing stumps and trying to keep them alive.
“It was hard, not just physically and mentally, but spiritually too. By the end of my third tour I was suicidal. It was a very dark time. I lost my fiancé and friends, I lost my home and I lost my career.
“A few months later I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The diagnosis was a relief because I knew why I couldn’t function anymore. I decided I didn’t want it to beat me. I didn’t want my 23-year long dream career to suddenly turn into a nightmare. I knew that I needed help, so contacted Help for Heroes.
“I received support from Hidden Wounds and was assigned a psychologist to talk to. And as part of my recovery, I also engaged with the Sports Recovery team and started training to take part in the Invictus Games.
“Sport and exercise helped me to build both my physical and mental resilience and training for the Invictus Games, where I competed in powerlifting and rowing events, gave me a sense of purpose and self-belief. One person who really got me through was my friend and fellow veteran Michelle Turner, who I met during the Invictus training camps. She’s amazing and we’ll be friends for life.
"If it wasn’t for the Hidden Wounds team and the opportunity to take part in the Invictus Games, I absolutely wouldn’t be here now and I wouldn’t have my own business – and I’m forever thankful for that.
The support I’ve had has also helped me to get through this tough past year. Not only did coronavirus put my business at risk, but my niece, Ashleigh, was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. After months of treatment, she sadly passed away a few weeks ago.
“It’s been an incredibly difficult time for the family, but the resilience I developed through having support for my PTSD and taking part in the Invictus Games, has helped me support them. There have been times I’ve wanted to give up, but then I remember we all have the strength to get through anything if we want to.”