This is the first time since returning from the Invictus Games, I have had a minute to just sit and think. I have been so busy since returning and my head has been like a computer screen with too many tabs open.
Finally I can focus on the main screen without any pop ups. What a ride these last few weeks have been!!!! I have been so blessed to have been part of such an amazing team. I never thought I would ever compete in any sport, never mind representing my country again. After completing my 3rd lift in the powerlifting competition the BBC reporter asked me “…..so where did you come?”
My life has moved forward so much and I just cannot believe how far I have come. For those reading my blog for the first time, let me tell you a little about me….
In 1991, as a very naive young girl, having lived through child abuse, bullied at school and ignored by many, I joined the Royal Air Force. I had no real qualifications to boast about and very little life experience.
I started training at RAF Swinderby and didn’t find the discipline and inspections much of a problem. When you had cut the back lawn edges with scissors as a child standards didn’t pose a problem to me. Throughout my training my weaknesses had been in academia and fitness. This was a constant battle throughout my military career.
I kept my head down and worked hard. I reached the rank of Sgt and was excelling in my trade. For the first time in my life I was becoming an individual that people took notice of and dare I say it, liked. I was gaining respect from my peers and bosses within the trade and I finally started to believe in myself. I retook my qualifications and passed, then pushed myself to take on and pass new subjects. I decided to go for Paramedic training, daring to dream that I could pass it, and pass I did!!!
My first operational tour as a paramedic was in Afghanistan, being the first female to deploy with the RAF Regiment which I was very proud of. I pushed myself even further and despite the noise in the back of my head saying “you’ll never amount to anything, your not good enough….” I then chose to go for Officer Selection. In Sept 2010 I commissioned and became a proud officer in the RAF, it was a dream come true. However, very quickly my dream career soon turned into a nightmare I would never forget. Running off the back of the helicopter to pick up the wounded, torn, mangled bodies of men, women and children. Dark hollow eyes drained of another life I couldnt save….
On my return from 2 MERT tours I found myself unable to escape the nightmare in my head. Panic attacks every time I tried to leave my front door, having flashbacks, horrific nightmares, some mornings resulting in me standing by my bed, staring at yet another yellow stained sheet that should only be seen through the eyes of a child. I couldn’t see a way out of the prison I found myself in so I started to make a plan…
Make it look like an accident, so it didn’t hurt them as much. There would be less shame and guilt attached to it and it wouldn’t leave them questioning why. Even so close to the end I was always putting others first, that’s how I am made up. But what if I had put myself first for once. Sometimes it does pay off to put others first…
I started to receive the support I needed and began to escape the nightmare in my head. I was finally seeing a reason to live again and I wanted to make the most of it. I realised there was a gap in support services which could have helped me a lot sooner. I decided that having been to the brink, I was blessed with an insight into a place more people than necessary have been to. I knew I had to do something positive with my experience and so in Oct 2015 I launched Behind The Mask Foundation, providing free online counselling and peer support for others who find themselves locked in their prisons. I have been writing this blog since 2014 sharing my experience warts and all. I have also been doing many talks and media pieces, all free, to help raise awareness of PTSD and mental illness. I believe I have been through this experience for a reason and I’m going to use it as #TheForceForGood.
I also began pushing myself to do things I wouldn’t normally do. I thought I was once at the end of my life and every opportunity I have now is a gift and a blessing. On the 3rd email I decided to apply for the Invictus Games having never competed in any sport in my life. I was very unfit, 2 stone heavier and very lonely. Invictus gave me back my belief in myself, fire in my belly and made me go from wanting to take my life, to taking my life as far as I can.
So at the end of my powerlifting when the BBC presenter asked me: “Where did you come?” My answer was “I’ve got absolutely no idea where I came but I don’t care. I hit a personal best and I did it!”
That was my honest response. After I competed in powerlifting and indoor rowing I had not envisaged doing as well as I did. In all of my life I have always come last at sports but never, ever gave up. I always put everything I have into anything and I always will. I am already training for Invictus 2018 but with a renewed belief that nothing is impossible. It takes hard work and commitment but if you believe you can then you will. Training with such amazing people and competing in Toronto is truly the highlight of my life to date. Truly humbling and special.
If I was to answer the reporters question now I would reply “I have come further than I ever imagined I could and life isn’t over just yet. I’m not running away I’m running the London marathon!!