Army veteran Paul Colling was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan before a traumatic leg injury left him in near-constant pain. Once back in civilian life, he was devastated by the vast change to his future. He spent months in bed after surgeries – his own personal lockdown – and his mental health deteriorated to the point where he considered ending his own life. Thankfully, aid from Help for Heroes and his friends and family got him through. Here he reflects on what he learned coming through that trauma and offers advice to those furloughed, on the frontline or struggling mentally on how to get through hard times.
‘I’m an expert at being at home and staying focused. Over the years I’ve had surgery that’s left me in bed for six months at a time. My tip if you’ve been furloughed is to make Monday to Friday different to the weekend. For me, at the moment, that’s getting up at 7am – or a time I set for the week – and walking my dog first thing in the morning. Then I’ll do a little workout in the house. That lets me still know its a weekday. I keep my days filled and busy with positive things so that I don’t have time for my mind to wander down a depressing route. Then at the weekend I give myself time to rest and take in everything. I get up, I’ll eat what I want, I won’t train, I won’t walk the dog at a set time.’
‘As hard as it sometimes feels to pick up the phone, talk to people. I’m not very good at picking up the phone so gaming is really important to me. I wouldn’t call my brother, but we will log on to the computer, play a game and de-stress over the chat.’
Don’t be too hard on yourself
‘When it all got real for me and it was all going wrong, I was my worst enemy. I still wanted to do the best I could, be the best I could be – almost do more than what was physically possible. I did it wrong and that’s how I learned not to be too hard on myself. If you’re there on the frontline right now, be kind to yourself and be honest with yourself. If you’re struggling, let people know that you’re struggling. Let your hair down in the evening – via a fitness class or virtual pizza – and just talk, be there with people. Just know you’re doing your best and your best is good enough.’
Help for Heroes is working to provide services for current frontline workers who may experience similar PTSD symptoms as veterans. The charity has published a field guide to self-care for NHS staff. It has also launched Hero Up, a gaming platform where you can raise money for veterans.
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