Former Leading Hand Russell joined the Royal Navy at 17. He loved being part of the Navy family and travelling the world. In 2004 Russell developed an infection after returning from deployment, which left him with life-changing physical injuries and mental health problems. Through Help for Heroes, Russell got the support he needed to rebuild his life, and he even represented his country as part of Team UK at the Invictus Games 2022.
“The military runs in my family; my dad and grandad were in the Army and my stepdad was in the RAF. The Falklands War was still in a lot of people’s memory when I was young, and then the first Gulf War happened. I’d wanted to join the military from a young age and the Navy allowed me to serve and travel. I loved the Navy family and the places we got to go.”
Upon returning from deployment in South America in 2004, Russell suffered a life-threatening infection, causing blood poisoning which left him with permanent muscle damage in both legs. He returned to the UK for surgery and spent the following month in a coma. It took him months to learn to walk again. Fifteen years later, he still relies on splints to walk and occasionally uses a walking stick.
At the time Navy doctors said he had recovered, but in 2010 Russell was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety.
“I was having nightmares and had a very short temper. At my lowest I didn’t feel like myself, I could be angry, I didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone. The only way I could cope was by drinking.
“There were some dark times when I thought about taking my own life and ending it all.
“It was very hard for my family to watch. I didn’t understand what was going on, and they didn’t either.”
Russell lived with his injuries and mental health issues for over a decade, but in 2018 he reached out to Help for Heroes Hidden Wounds Service.
“Accessing Hidden Wounds potentially saved my life. The times I’d had suicidal thoughts, I didn’t go through with it, but who knows what would have happened if I’d have felt like that again and didn’t have the support.
“Through Hidden Wounds I found out about the Big Battlefield Bike Ride and was encouraged to take part in 2019 and just caught the cycling bug.
“From there I went on to try out at the Sheffield Invictus Games trials and was selected to represent Team UK at the Invictus Games at the Hague 2022.
“The games allowed me to join the military family again, to be around like-minded people and challenge myself in ways I didn’t think I’d be able to again. Each time I attended an Invictus event I began to feel a little like my old self.
“They gave me a sense of purpose, an interest in sport and helped me get my life in a more manageable position. Being around people in similar positions as me was a real benefit to my mental health. I feel proud of myself again, I feel worthwhile and it’s a feeling I want to continue.
“I can’t over state how important Help for Heroes has been in my recovery. From 2018 when I first got in contact to now, I have completely changed my life. I have gone from just existing and plodding on to really wanting to live and find things I enjoy doing. I've got a new job, started to manage my mental and physical health better, found a passion for cycling and wheelchair rugby. Everyone can see the difference. I can’t put into words the feeling of having my eldest child comment on how much better our relationship is now. I have such a love of cycling now that I’ve even signed up to take part in the Big Battlefield Bike Ride again this year.
“I’ve got my confidence back, I’m able to speak to people again. It’s given me my life back. I would absolutely tell other people in a similar situation to me to get in touch with them.
“Help is out there for people suffering mental health issues, all you have to do is ask. If I can start the road to recovery, anyone can.”
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