“Everything I’ve done through Help for Heroes has been so good for my mind, body and soul and helped me to move forward with my life.”
Carl Shadrake was critically injured twice in Afghanistan. The second time, not only did he have to come to terms with his own injuries, he also had to cope with the devastating news that his brother had been killed in action.
During his first tour of Afghanistan in 2007 with the Grenadier Guards, Carl suffered a brain injury when a suicide bomber detonated metres from him. His driver died instantly and Carl lost so much blood that he had to be resuscitated. Yet despite a long period of recovery, it never occurred to him to give up the career he loved. “I was young, motivated and all my friends were in the military. There was no reason for me to leave.”
In 2012, after making a full recovery, Carl found himself back on a plane to Afghanistan, feeling slightly apprehensive but looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead. Four months into his tour, tragedy struck again when, during a Taliban chase, a colleague stood on an IED and lost both legs. Despite his own injuries – Carl had shrapnel embedded in his face, arms and stomach from the blast, all he could think about was getting his comrade to safety. He radioed a helicopter and managed to stabilise his critically injured friend on the way to the hospital. It wasn’t until they reached safety that Carl realised how much pain he himself was in. “I was put in a wheelchair and I woke up in intensive care in Birmingham.”
This time, Carl didn’t just have his own physical injuries, which included permanent nerve damage to his shoulder, to overcome. As he recovered, he was told his brother had been shot and killed in action. Overcome with grief and unsure of his own future, Carl struggled psychologically. “I was trying to be strong for the rest of the family and I was dealing with guilt – my brother had joined the same regiment as me and I kept thinking that it should have been me, not him.”
As Carl tried to come to terms with his grief, he was told that his military career was over. “It wasn’t a huge shock but I think I was emotionally numb at the time. In quick succession I’d been wounded, lost my brother and lost the career I thought I was going to have for life. Mentally at this point, I was in a dark place. I didn’t want to get up in the mornings and I didn’t want to go to bed at night.”
Although Carl was offered mental health support at the time of his discharge, he struggled to accept there was anything wrong. “I was told I probably had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but I didn’t want to believe it, I thought I was just upset and stressed.” He and his wife tried to get on with their lives, but Carl struggled, his anger and lack of motivation making life difficult for them both.
It wasn’t until he came into contact with Help for Heroes that he realised they both needed support. Both he and his wife joined our fellowship programme and started spending time at our recovery centres. “I can’t stress how good it was to spend time with like-minded people in a calm environment, where it felt safe to talk about our issues.”
We introduced Carl to our sports recovery programme, which helped him to find motivation and purpose once again. At his lowest, he’d had lost all interest in his appearance and become unfit and overweight. Now he has discovered a love of running and cycling and has even competed in over 20 triathlons and three Ironman events, despite the permanent damage to his shoulder.
“Everything I’ve done through Help for Heroes has been so good for my mind, body and soul and helped me to move forward with my life. It’s helped my wife too, she’s been on respite weekends, nutritional courses and had counselling. At one point I thought our marriage may not have survived due to the mental state we were both in. The support we’ve received has had such a positive impact on us both.”
Now, Carl has a full time job in project management at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and even a side-line as a film extra; he’s had parts in two of the Kingsman films. He and his wife have two beautiful girls and are positive about the future.
“I count my blessings every day. We have two healthy, energetic, gorgeous little girls, my wife and I have a fantastic relationship and we both have careers. Now, we are enjoying the path life is taking us on.”
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