"I couldn’t accept the job I always believed I’d do had come to an end; I was furious with myself and my mental health suffered. Twice, I considered ending my own life."
Aged 17, Paul joined the Army as a physical trainer - it was all he ever wanted to do. He never imagined an injury to his ankle would lead not just to his medical discharge 17 years later, but to the decline of his mental health as he struggled to come to terms with the loss of his military identity.
Find out how Paul found the strength to navigate his challenges.
“I joined the Army aged 17, it was all I ever wanted to do. Sport played a massive part in my life, so becoming a physical trainer in the Royal Corps of Signals was the perfect fit.
“Early on in my career, I damaged my ankle on a 40-mile loaded march – rupturing ligaments, tendons and cartilage. But I worked through the pain; despite the fact it continued to get worse.
“Then, whilst serving in Northern Ireland I broke my ankle. I recovered from that and moved into a new role, training recruits. But unfortunately, another training exercise caused even more damage. I saw physios, but by that point I couldn’t run or walk anymore.
“At my scan, all the damage I’d sustained over the years came back to haunt me. Sent for rehabilitation at Headley Court, I was also diagnosed with a minor brain injury - which affects my cognition and short-term memory. So, as well as focussing on the physical side of recovery, I was also told I needed to focus on my mental wellbeing and brain injury so that I could cope better.
“Throughout these two years of rehab I still hoped I’d find a way to return to my career. But in 2017 I was told I was unfit for service – it felt like a brick wall hitting me.
“Even then, I couldn’t accept the job I always believed I’d do had come to an end; I was furious with myself and my mental health suffered. Twice, I considered ending my own life.
“Fortunately, Help for Heroes were there to help me embrace my new future. Their continued support empowers me and gives me the confidence to face my day-to-day challenges.
“Sometimes the challenge might be something as simple as getting up in the morning. Physically, the first thing I feel is pain, which is constant. Even during lockdown, the Charity’s Clinical Support Team made sure I got the leg surgery I needed, whilst the Grants Team provided me with a new leg brace – enabling me to continue exercising and get out and about with my dog, CJ.
“When it comes to my brain injury, I’ve had to learn to adapt and accept what I can and cannot do. Crowded environments are really difficult for me as my senses overreact to loud noises and I can get very stressed out. So I avoid going down the pub or out for a meal. Instead, I now enjoy time outdoors walking CJ – he’s a real tonic and knows when I am in a bad place.
“Online gaming has also been a powerful tool for managing my mental health – as the Charity’s Hero Up streaming fundraiser has proved. Gaming develops my hand-eye co-ordination and takes my mind off of my pain. It’s also helped me to develop friendships in an environment where I feel safe and secure.
“What’s more, through fundraising, I’ve been able to give back to the Charity, which is incredibly fulfilling. Whether through online gaming or volunteering at collection events – making a difference and helping others has given me a newfound purpose.”
If you are a wounded veteran or family member looking for advice or support, get in touch today.