By Dean Clarke
I left the army back in 2012 shortly after the London Olympics. I had just come off the back end of another operational tour and I decided enough was enough. I had completed 8 years’ service, it was time to start a career in something else and leave on a positive note.
The moment I stepped off the plane and landed back in the UK as a civilian was one of the strangest feelings of deep emotion I could ever describe.
I instantly felt free. It was like a huge weight had been lifted of my shoulders. There was no one to answer to, no morning parades to be on, no more time away from my friends and loved ones and no more institutionalisation.
I was hit immediately with my first wave of indescribable feelings of emptiness. I felt a numbness towards my closest loved ones, my long term girlfriend being one of them.
Some days I would sit around the house in complete darkness with these strange, numb, cold and emotionless feelings. These feelings would then boil over and suddenly erupt into anger and rage. I look back in shock and regret at the amount of times I’d throw something, smash something, shout and scream at her and punch an object or part of my house in a fit of rage. This then carried into my life outside of those confined four walls.
I found myself being arrested on a number of occasions. Alcohol was a big issue for me. I couldn’t keep up with the volume I used to consume when I was back with the lads at my unit in civilian life and get away with it. In short, drink was ruining me.
Within a year of being back in civilian life, I was in court and also awaiting another court appearance for a drink driving offence. Throughout this whole ordeal, I had no idea that in fact I was struggling to adapt to this so called ‘easy life’ I wanted when I left the army in the first place.
Months went on and the episodes started to become more frequent. Night time and sleep became a huge issue. I’d be lost in some form of military operation in my sleep. I’d trace the steps I once walked back in Helmand Province. My life was falling away from me right in front of my eyes but the whole time no one knew what I was going through. This became my biggest secret.
In my head, there was no way I’d tell anyone what was going on. Why you my ask? Many reasons: I thought I could beat it myself, I thought it might go away on its own, in the days I felt fine and okay were the days I said to myself nothing was wrong.
More importantly I was scared shit-less to say I was struggling and I needed help. I couldn’t control these emotions any more and they had spiralled out of control but the last thing I wanted to do was talk to someone about it.
These thoughts deepened and my thoughts and dreams turned to reliving other past experiences of war. What started off as re-living my time in Helmand province became Dakar instead and before I knew it I was ready to end it all. I could not possibly tell you the amount of time I’ve sat and said to myself I want to kill myself, sat and cried saying to myself I can’t do it anymore, I can’t cope.
Everywhere I would look my mind would find connections and ways I could take my own life. I’d drive past a car and I would imagine driving head in to it, I’d look at a bridge and imagine myself hanging off it, I’d be sat in my kitchen knowing that I could do it with just one knife. It was like a virus. I couldn’t beat it and it was only a matter of time before it was going to kill me.
The inevitable happened. I thought it had beaten me. Last year I decided that nothing was good enough and I was tired and sick of feeling like this. I told a close friend of mine that it was too late. “It’s won” I said to him, “It’s drained me of everything I had and it’s going to kill me”.
Three days later I took an overdose after a work party. I remember walking around with this sense of numbness but also relief that I knew what I was doing. No one else had a clue. I was the same happy smiley Dean everyone had grown to love. For me, that wasn’t enough anymore.
This suicide attempt followed me for a very long time and I was in and out of hospital for a significant period of time. It was hell and what was worse was my secret was out. I was scared and ashamed. It was time to talk and it was time to ask for help.
The response I got from letting my secret out was amazing. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make but it was also brought about the most positive impact to my mental health ever. Getting help and learning to live with this illness was vital in giving me the best chance of never trying to take my own life again.
After six years of broken relationships, countless times in police stations, hospitals, huge amounts of debt, sleepless nights, suicidal thoughts and trying to take my own life on more than one occasion, I finally found my answer.
I thought the biggest weight off my shoulders was leaving the army. I was wrong. The biggest weight off my shoulders was talking about how I felt and my mental health.
Asking for help & learning to live with the fact it really is okay to not feel okay was the best decision I ever made. It’s a part of me now and accepting that was just as important as it was in asking for help in the first place.
In January 2018 I was diagnosed with bipolar & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD for short. The journey is still ongoing but I have all the support and help I need because I asked for it.
This illness that I kept a secret is now a gift. It’s a daily battle but a battle I know how to beat.