Nick Martin suffered from undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for 34 years before feeling able to ask for help. When he did, a new world opened up to him, leading him to wonder what else he might have achieved if he’d sought support sooner.
Nick Martin understands the lasting impact of a mental health issue left untreated. For more than 30 years, the former Royal Navy stores accountant struggled to cope with the after-effects of the Falklands war. He was on board the Atlantic Conveyor ship when it was hit by two Argentine missiles in 1982 – rescued by a colleague who never made it home.
Nick suffered a fractured skull, broken jaw and dislocated shoulder as a result of the blast. And whilst his physical wounds would in time heal, the damage done to his mental health lasts to this day.
On returning from the Falklands conflict, life initially went on and Nick continued to serve with the Royal Navy for four more years. But the impact of what he had been through would quickly shape the course his life would take. Nick made the decision to leave the Armed Forces in 1986, worried that he was missing out on watching his young children grow up. When he returned to civilian life, he struggled to adapt.
“I started to feel guilty about those that hadn’t returned from the Falklands and wouldn’t experience getting married, having children or moving on with their careers. The guilt I felt about surviving got heavier and heavier and eventually, subconsciously, I started punishing myself. I’d go for a run and push myself until my trainers squelched with blood, or I’d put on the heaviest backpack I could find and walk until I was exhausted. I took dead-end jobs because I didn’t want to have to handle responsibility for anything, not even my own life.”
Unbeknown to Nick at the time, he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The following years passed by in a blur. His marriage broke down. There were days when he wouldn’t get out of bed because he didn’t want to face what was on the other side of the bedroom door.
“If I was awake for 16 hours then that was 15 hours too long. I was spending more and more time on my own too, I didn’t want to socialise. There was a longing for something to change but I didn’t know how to.”
Then five years ago, Nick suffered a massive heart attack, almost dying at the roadside. Realising that he’d come so close to losing his life jolted Nick into realising that he needed to take action. A friend who knew about PTSD recommended that he speak to a counsellor. His diagnosis was made, and his recovery journey began.
“Talking to that counsellor was difficult. I was ashamed of what I was saying and deeply embarrassed to talk and to break down in front of him. There’s a notion that those who have served must be pretty tough but we’re not tough, we’re just trained. I was embarrassed it had taken me so long to ask for help because I knew something was wrong. The first step isn’t admitting you’ve got a problem, it’s knowing that you need help from someone somewhere.”
As part of his treatment plan, Nick was referred to Help for Heroes and invited to join the Band of Brothers Fellowship. Immediately, Nick felt the benefits of being around like-minded people, other Veterans who had also suffered injury or illness as a result of service.
“Joining the Fellowship was like instantly having a family of 1,000 brothers and sisters, people who understand each other because of what they’ve been through.”
Having actively avoided socialising for many years, Nick initially found being around others daunting. But with the right support, he signed up to become a member of the Invictus Games Choir and took up sports and art classes as part of his recovery programme. Steadily, his confidence grew.
“I began pushing myself to do things that I’d never have had the confidence to do before. Now, I’ve sung in front of thousands with the choir and I’ve discovered that art makes me feel so calm.”
Now that Nick is receiving ongoing support to manage his PTSD, life is looking much more positive. Last year, he showcased his artwork at the first ever Help for Heroes Creative Force exhibition and took part in the Invictus Games Sydney 2018. He works in a school and he attends a regular Veterans’ breakfast club.
“PTSD is a nasty condition that eats away at you without you knowing it. It took me 34 years to even know that’s what I had and see that it was ruining my life.
“My recovery isn’t complete, there are still things I need and have to do but I’m in the right place now to get on and do them. I do think if I’d had help years ago, what else could I have achieved by now?
“But the change to my life has been phenomenal. I’m no longer stuck in a rut, I’m looking forward, and that’s exciting.”
According to a recent survey commissioned by Help for Heroes, 30%* of Veterans with psychological wounds say they have never reached out for support. For those that have, it takes an average of four years before they ask for help.
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*Statistics based on a survey commissioned by Help for Heroes, December 2018
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