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FIRST PERSON: PTSD, Writing and Self Belief

All of us have times in our lives when awful things happen, things that never should have and which leave us in the very pits of despair. One of the worst things is the self-realisation that we aren’t as strong as we once thought we were. Perhaps a family member or faithful friend who we thought would always be with us, no longer is, or something horrible has happened to alter our lives in such a drastic way that it affects even our personalities.

I fought in both the Falklands War and the Gulf, but it was only in recent years, after I had a serious head injury, that memories from these times in my life returned to haunt me.  Previously I’d always been able to deal with my experiences in the Navy by shutting the memories out. Following my injury, I attended a young woman writhing on the ground in pain whilst at work and, whilst helping her, I suddenly found myself back all those years ago on the ship and under attack: seeing the HMS Sheffield in flames and knowing they had taken a missile that would likely have hit us otherwise, then looking down from a helicopter at another ship on fire in the dead of night.

I knew some time back that something was wrong with me after my head injury, but didn’t know quite what it was. I couldn’t seem able to do the things I’d found so easy before. When I finally went to the doctor he immediately referred me back to the hospital, where they proved that the bleed on the brain I’d suffered had affected my memory and ability to deal with things, resulting in a cognitive impairment. Shortly after, when a long-term relationship broke down, I went to pieces.

The neurologist was very understanding and I have so much to thank her for. Basically she rebuilt me, giving me mental strategies that are now almost second nature. I’m not saying I’m cured, far from it – sometimes I forget those strategies and hence struggle – but I’ve come a long way and I am finally used to my own company after two long years.

A few years ago, when I first realised that something wasn’t quite right, I decided to challenge myself and applied for a MA in Professional Writing. I was daunted – this was a massive undertaking – but i had previously published writing work under my belt, so decided to give it a go anyway. When I eventually got the diagnosis of what the issues were behind my problems, it made me more determined than ever to succeed. To my astonishment, despite the issues I faced, I passed the MA with flying colours. I was completely taken back but absolutely delighted.

One of the problems I faced was concentration and focus –  I’d often start doing something and find myself doing something else completely.  This would happen time and time again, but I persevered and began to get more and more work published. This modicum of success gave me a much-needed focus in what was an otherwise mundane existence. Instead of sitting at home staring at the wall, I wrote.  Finding myself on something of a roll, I decided to follow up my Masters with Diploma in Copywriting, and to my astonishment I passed that too. I’m now halfway through another qualification in Proofreading. I’m finding it extremely hard going, but I’ve discovered the secret now: no matter how difficult or challenging  you find things, you simply have to plough on.

Before passing the MA, I’d been out of work for some time and had, over the months, applied for over 650 jobs resulting in 7 unsuccessful interviews. Once I could added the MA to my CV, i applied for only 4 jobs before landing a position. Things were finally starting to look up. I started to get the odd freelance copywriting job here and there, and then became a part time writer for an American copywriting company. When I had a short story accepted for a 4th anthology I began feeling more confident and so much better about myself. A short time ago I was also able to attend my first remembrance ceremony, thirty years after the Falklands War, something I hadn’t been able to face before.

I remember being told by my ex partner that I probably wouldn’t pass the MA and, if I did, it wouldn’t come to anything. That degree got me my job, and now the book I wrote during my Masters course is being published. It was only through sheer determination and a need to focus on something that got me through that Masters, but the hard work has paid dividends in a big way, both in terms of employment but also, more importantly, on a psychological level.  I have a self confidence now that i never had before.

If all of this has taught me anything, it’s that you need to have faith in yourself. When the chips are down and things look grim, find something you love doing and put your entire heart and soul into it. Mix with like-minded people and share thoughts and information. Support each other, and you’ll find yourself starting to smile again.

I’d like to thank my two sisters, Sue and Kris, for the support and love they’ve given me – even so far as to going with me to the hospital. The future’s much brighter now, and I’m finally starting to feel at peace. If you don’t believe in anything else, believe in yourself. Things do get better and, as they say, time’s a great healer. With determination and perseverance you’ll really surprise yourself at what you can achieve.

You can find out more about Mark and his writing on his website, follow him on Twitter or check out his Facebook page.

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