The “Big Strong Lad”
I am a former army commando and was, for a time, a high-risk searcher in Afghanistan. That particular role consisted of the unenviable task of actively looking for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and bombs, instead of keeping away from them. I was also a physical training instructor, serving on the pre-commando training team and in a training school. Outside of my job, I was a powerlifter, covered from the neck down in tattoos. You get the picture. As they say where I’m from, I was the quintessential ‘big strong lad’… and this ‘big strong lad’ developed a really strong inner voice to support him which told him to ‘get up and go’. I could push myself physically and mentally, even during tough times – whether carrying 100lbs for 16 hours as a 19-year-old, trudging 30 miles across Dartmoor or approaching a road notorious for IEDs.
The Family Supporter
In 2012, my father had a stroke leaving him hemiplegic - unable to use the left half of his body and leaving him in a wheelchair since. Not long after that my Nan passed away, followed by my mum being made redundant and suffering a break-down. This was the start of a new role for me: ‘the family supporter’, as my mum and brother moved into my house.
I could deal with tough times but on reflection I was not equipped at all to deliver the support required. I soldiered on anyway, being the ‘rock’, or ‘big strong lad’ of support, so to speak.
As the expression goes, ‘it doesn’t rain, it pours’ and whilst this was going on, unfortunately, a friend of mine suddenly died. I was deployed to Cyprus very shortly afterwards and didn’t have time to process the loss. Shortly after that, my sister-in-law’s partner also died suddenly. This guy was an athlete and lived his life very much like I did. It was too much: these events sent me into an anxious spiral.
I developed a health anxiety, constantly worried I was developing a debilitating disease. These were dark times for me. Nothing seemed to help.
Hearing my inner voice again
I would see doctors and psychiatric nurses, but nothing seemed to work. I was hopelessly paranoid. The only thing that seemed to calm me was my wife. She would appeal logically to my inner voice that was still there, and reaffirmed what the doctors had told me, making me realise I was catastrophising.
This lead me to realise it was logic that saved me. I knew what I had to do: I had to repurpose my ‘get up and go’ inner voice and make it battle against the anxious voice. I won't pretend that I never hear from my anxious voice, but I when I do, I recognise it and I can neutralise it pretty quickly myself.
So, thankfully, with the support of my wife and the recognition that my inner strength was still there, I regained control of my life.
● Sometimes people with the strongest appearances (that ‘big strong lad’) could be struggling and may need support.
● Don't undervalue your own support network: my wife knew me best, and I am so grateful for that.
● Don’t underestimate the support you get from your own inner strength. Reflect on: ‘Can I deal with this myself?’ and ‘How have I dealt with other tough situations?’