Pathfinder editor, Mal Robinson discusses his own military resettlement journey and mental health experiences for World Mental Health Day on October 10 as featured in the October issue of Pathfinder, which you can read for free here.

“I can feel the barrel of the rifle pointing at me around 200 yards away. The weapon is there for my safety, but it is pointing at me at the moment, until I am identified as a non-threat.  Yet still the barrel could well be resting against my skull, such is feeling of intensity in this situation.

I can’t help but think about the consequences should the Belgian soldier manning the entry gate, along with several of his comrades, accidentally discharge the round sat loaded and aimed at me. It was always a wave of relief when we had concluded the security checks and I was allowed to enter inside Kabul International Airport from outside in what literally was “no-man’s land”.

It is one of many scenarios to have dogged my mind in the years since, both consciously and thoughts and memories that have been itemised in my brain, but not necessarily processed. There have been a number of “what ifs” and close shaves in my time in both the RAF and then civilian roles abroad.

Combine these thoughts with a series of life events to trigger and ignite the brain and the near misses come flooding back, the explosions, the mortars, the missiles, even the time I was under observation for suspected rabies and Ebola in one incident.

Throw into the mix the other memories, the offloading of dead Afghan bodies from a Hercules transporter aircraft in front of their families, the repatriation ceremonies of the fallen back in the UK and then being accidentally sectioned in 2010 by MOD staff and your head is suddenly not in a great place.

On leaving the forces in 2011, I landed a role in Kabul, Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, hoping to run away from any demons and put to bed my previous times in conflict zones, face up to your fears so to speak. Yet the hyper vigilance went into overtime, me now a “civvy” on the streets of Kabul, trying to blend in, but always on edge.

This role though was great in terms of still being encompassed within that military bubble. I had been hired by my boss in the RAF, whom I had worked with in Iraq, I was surrounded by more RAF mates and eventually two more of my bosses followed me out there. Add a couple of Army and Navy blokes for the full set and we had in effect our own mini military outfit, albeit without the orders and uniform, but the same toilet humour, banter and camaraderie, you’d find on operations anywhere in the world involving the British military.

The world of contracting is a precarious one and eight months later, I had secured a role as Managing Director of my own media company publishing football magazines, through a chance encounter in Kabul.

I had always been involved in media in some form or another whilst in the RAF and outside, penning two books and I had started the media company before departing the RAF, mainly as a hobby. Through this chance meeting in Kabul and then Dubai, I secured an investor to hire me full time and expand the company.

The job was home based and this is where the problems started to arise.

Looking back now, I was residing in London (my partner at the time was still in the RAF in Northwood) and I was away from family and friends. My father had already been diagnosed with cancer and had been given five years maximum to live, I was playing part time house husband too, looking after our 1-year old daughter and before I knew it, isolation and depression had crept in.

Still, I didn’t know this at the time and these elements only came to light two years later whilst working in Sierra Leone as part of the mission to help with the Ebola crisis, riddling the country.

I spent the first year of my father’s passing in a hotel room in Freetown and couple this with anti-malaria pills jumping on the depression band wagon, the walls literally caved in and I had to escape, or so it seemed.

It was whilst working alongside the British military once more out there, did I realise I had possibly left the RAF too soon, did not do due diligence on my future in terms of resettlement, I hadn’t looked at the bigger picture and took the offer of a job, when I probably wasn’t in a good place anyway to make a call as huge as that.

Fast forward another two years and I am now in my current role as Pathfinder editor. I finally realised I needed help, even after all of the previous warning signs.

A series of incidents in 2018 saw me at my lowest ebb, in a dark place, thinking bad things. What was the point of life? Why were we here? Questioning your sheer existence on many occasions.

I eventually was diagnosed with elements of PTSD and suffering from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which was feeding off the PTSD in a vicious cycle. The PTSD we often hear about, but not the accompanying depression which can trigger the demons.

I was given Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment for the PTSD side of things and I was taught cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to combat the GAD.

The important word in the last sentence is “taught”.

Having gone through all of the above and more, I have come to accept that mental health doesn’t go away as such; it is more about how you manage your own mental health. There have been wobbles since the treatment, it is not always a quick fix, but the large majority of the time, it is under control and I feel all the better for it.

That first all important step though is identifying any mental health problems within your own mind and look at getting some help. What would you do if you had a broken leg? You would get it fixed and sorted. So why wouldn’t you ask for help if your mind is broken?

I hope by just scraping the surface of my own experiences here, it may resonate with someone reading this and in turn seek help for them.

We need to remove the stigma on mental health and realise that depression is not a dirty word.”