I’ve been unusually quiet for the past couple of months. I have been working through a couple of problems that has been identified and now feels the right time to share.
It all started when I was going through how a formal medical board works with someone who had been referred for one. That’s my normal job. I do it on a near daily basis. I give the brief and tell them what to expect. Going from the worst case scenario (for some) of medical discharge, to it’s just an admin process and you’ll carry on doing your job for years to come. From my experience of delivering the brief, and my own personal experience of the process, I had to be honest and tell this person that it could swing either way because of X Y and Z. I was telling them that they need to be completely honest about what they could and couldn’t do, and if they expect to fully recover. That way the doctor will be able to give an honest assessment on what their decision would be. As I was saying this it was like I was also giving myself the brief. I have been struggling but didn’t want to admit it. After I had finished the brief I had a meeting with my line management about my appraisal. All the way through the reporting period my line management were pushing me to see beyond the 3 years that I have left on my current contract. To set my objectives where I see myself down the line when I get signed on. As they could see it they had no reason to suspect that I wouldn’t. That I would go on to have a full career in the military. Go away on deployments and be back for tea and crumpets. The whole nine yards. I kept saying I can’t see past 3 years but never gave a reason. However on this one occasion I broke down in tears when pushed. In a previous blog (Conquering Mountains) I made out that everything was fine and I was well on the way to full fitness. That my problems were behind me and a brighter future was ahead. I really wish that was the case.
Since my back surgery I have still been in pain every single day. Nowhere near to the degree I was in, but still pain. If I’m on my back I’m like a turtle. I have to try and roll over to be able to move as this causes the minimal amount of pain. I have a literal pain in the arse constantly. This then radiates, for the majority of time, down my left leg and causes my foot to go numb after about 10 minutes of walking or exercise. It can transfer down my right leg as well when it’s really bad. I definitely cannot run for any period of time. Going up Ben Nevis was a huge risk. When we sat down for something to eat at the top I wasn’t entirely sure I could stand back up. Thankfully I did. And with a lot of encouragement and will power I was able to make it down to the bottom without having to get help. At this point I need to thank and apologise to Michael McGuire who I went up with. I didn’t tell him any of this at the time. It was his encouragement that made me have the willpower to make it up and down. However one wrong step or slip and it could’ve been so very different. I am sorry for potentially putting you in that position. I have also started having severe pain in my right wrist. Which the doctors think could be the first signs of arthritis. Being 37, having already had spinal fusion surgery, and now potentially arthritis, it’s hard to take. It’s not something that you would associate with someone of my age. When I look at others my age, and older, and what they’re doing it affects me greatly. I see them still playing football well into their 40’s and 50’s. I see them having fun filled adventure weeks away. I see them going on gruelling training courses and detachments. All while I’m having to get up from my desk to go for a little leg stretch so I my back doesn’t stiffen up too much, or my wrist hurts so much that I have to resort to typing one handed. I feel like I’m back to when the pain was really bad and I physically couldn’t do anything. That’s not the case but it might as well be. It is affecting my relationship with my wife and family. After revealing my troubles I can see her being on constant edge to make sure I don’t go back to the old days. I can also feel myself erring on the side of caution when it comes to interactions with the kids. Any sort of increase in pain and I immediately step back and let them carry on without me. It’s not how family life should be. But we work through it together. Every single day is a battle both physically and mentally. I’d like to think that most days I win that battle. But it’s a long slog from waking up, right up until going to bed.
Now going back to the breaking point. When I explained all this to my line manager I initially saw they were shocked. But they didn’t say anything. They sat there listening intently. Not butting in. Not judging. Just listening to my verbal diarrhoea of how I really was. It was exactly what I needed and I thank them for it. The release I felt from not hiding anymore was unbelievable. It was like someone had opened up the tap and released all the pressure that was building up. My line manager was unbelievably supportive and understanding of my decision of only thinking about the next 3 years in terms of a career in the military. It has also brought us closer together and I think that we have greater relationship because of it.
Dealing with problems alone is exhausting and will break you. Being able to open up about them and talking to others can release that pressure and allow you some breathing space. I know not all of you will be able to do that with a line manager or family. But there is someone out there that will be able to help. That is why Buddy Check is here. We are here, as the Armed Forces community, to share your problems with. We are a very unique community of over 2 million serving and veteran personnel. We do things that those that have not served will never understand. By working through and sharing problems together, we can make a difference.
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