I didn’t think you were that sort of person…

When I left the British Army in 1995, I really wanted to go. I had had enough of all the bullsh*t, the ball-aches & all the ‘Yes Sir, no Sir’ stuff. I had done my stint & I really wanted to study, so I took the plunge & signed-off. But after a year or so in Civvy Street, I began to struggle. Nothing seemed right & I was feeling like the proverbial square peg in a round hole.

In 1996 I decided to seek professional help through my GP & after a couple of sessions with a psychologist, I was diagnosed with PTSD. (BTW the title of this piece is what my civvy boss said to me when I told him I was visiting a psychologist). But the diagnosis never sat right with me & after 20 odd years of not belonging I discovered that I was suffering not with PTSD, but with PSL (Post Service Loneliness) – an extremely common issue in ex-forces personnel.

The issue of social isolation post-service, isn’t to do with having friends or being around people, it is to do with indoctrination & loss of identity. When you pass-out from training, you have changed from being a ‘civilian’ into ‘service-man/woman’. Through sheer hard mental & physical graft, you have become a proud member of one of the most prestigious armed forces in the world. You then join your regiment, corps, ship or station, where you start to live, work & socialise with hundreds of other, like-minded degenerates. It’s like being part of one big, depraved, p**s-ripping family.

So when the time eventually comes to walk out of the camp gates that one last time, suddenly all those p**s-ripping mates have vanished & you are on your own. In an instant you have stepped from one world where you have a hard-earned identity as a squaddie, matelot, bootie, or the other lot, backwards into another, where you are a relative nobody. But this is the thing, ask any ex-forces if they are a ‘civvy’ & if they don’t punch you in the face or tell you to Foxtrot Oscar, they will give you a resounding ‘no’. The real problem is that in basic training, the ‘civilian’ is knocked out of you & you evolve into becoming a ‘service-man/woman’ – a one-way, non-reversible process. As they say, once a squaddie, always a squaddie.

So what helped me

Self-rescue: Understanding that you have a problem & knowing that only you can sort it out.

I understood that I had an issue that in my mind was only getting worse. So I started to hit the search engines. It wasn’t long before the Oxford Mindfulness Group’s website popped up & I decided to join a simple mindfulness course. This taught me how to just stop & objectively observe what was constantly ricocheting around in my mind & showed me that loneliness is just a state of mind – and as such, it can be mentally viewed, analysed, accepted & squared away.

Once I understood why I felt so isolated, I started to appreciate, well, being alive. Bizarrely, for someone who is ‘lonely’, it was being alone out in the wilds that turned in to my therapy. Just getting out & bimbling about in the countryside – whether it was walking, cycling or canoeing, was just my thing. No agenda, no reason, just being out & about for the shear craic of it.

Believe me, it takes a lot of bottle for anyone to admit that they are lonely – least of all roughy, toughy, ex-forces types. But let’s not mess around here, loneliness can & does kill. Suicide among ex-forces is rife. The way I have learnt to deal with my PSL may not suit all, but the important thing is to learn to understand & then talk about it.

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