Man next to a Land Rover
The Land Rover was a big part of my recoveryImage by: Victoria Middleton Photography
Man next to a Land Rover
A collection of pin badges
Man dangling from helicopter
9 November 2021

Andy's Story: There is always hope and nothing lasts forever.

6 minutes read time

"I’ve worked in the Emergency Services for 20 years, most of that time as a ‘Dope-on-a-rope’, dangling under a rescue helicopter, as a paramedic. The bulk of that experience was in the Royal Air Force on Search & Rescue helicopters, but I also served in Afghanistan on the battlefield rescue helicopter (MERT – Medical Emergency Response Team).

Although I have various awards for physical courage, the bravest thing I have ever done is speaking about my flashback experience and openly living with depression & burnout. I am on my recovery journey everyday but I have positive mental health and feel happy and fulfilled in my life most days…

Serving in Afghanistan on MERT was the highlight of my career, an accomplishment which I am proud of and yet, it was the most difficult experience of my career and the most horrific experiences of my life.

The relief of being home again after my tour was short-lived however, as when I arrived home my wife told me that she wanted a divorce. This was completely out of the blue for me & meant that instead of processing my experiences of war during my time off, I was dealing with a relationship breakdown. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this meant that some of my experiences were bottled up and not processed and would come back to haunt me in a few years.

" I got into the shower one morning & suddenly, right in front of me, was a patient trapped in a Land Rover after an IED explosion. "

5 years after my service in Afghanistan, when I had rebuilt my life in civvy street, was married again & felt like I was really enjoying life – that’s when I had my flashback.

I was on holiday in France with my second wife. I got into the shower one morning & suddenly, right in front of me, was a patient trapped in a Land Rover after an IED explosion. I could feel the 50-degree heat of the day, the sand on my skin, the weight of my body armour and yet I was standing naked in a shower in France on holiday. I could feel the fear inside me that my life was under threat and the pressure to do something to save that patient’s life… I closed my eyes, but I could still see him, I turned the water onto full cold to cool down, but it didn’t help and no matter how much a scrubbed, I couldn’t get the feeling of sand off my skin. It was totally as if I was right back on the battlefield at this incident, which I had attended during my tour.

I knew I had to get out of that shower, this wasn’t good, and I wanted to escape – enough was enough! I jumped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and was out into the tiny apartment with my wife immediately (it was such a small place). She knew straight away that something was wrong and asked me what had happened, “What’s wrong, what happened in there?”

I was still trying to compute this myself! I was feeling better now that I was out of there and talking with her, I knew I was safe again, but I was very unnerved and very unsettled by what had just happened. I realised that I had just had a flashback experience and was trying to work out what this meant for me… did it mean that I had PTSD? Was this the end of my career? Would this lead to my 2nd marriage ending? Why me? Why now? I had so many questions running through my head, I couldn’t ignore her, she obviously knew that something had happened in there. I knew that I couldn’t cover this up.

I wouldn’t normally talk about my experiences in Afghanistan with my wife, I’d have rather spoken to a colleague or military friend, however it was just the two of us in France, so I had no option. I knew that talking previously about other traumatic experiences on Search & Rescue had been helpful for me, but this felt like it might be opening a massive can of worms...

I knew I trusted this woman and that I was safe with her, so I told her what I had just experienced in the shower. She was amazing – she listened carefully, didn’t interrupt me and didn’t judge me. She made it OK to have had this experience. She turned my life around that day, just by listening without judgement. I will never forget that!

I now realise that the empathy she gave me that day was key to me processing that experience into a memory that I could live with and that this allowed me to finally process my battlefield experiences, when I had space in my life. I have not had another flashback since.

A few years later, after an extended period of caring for ill parents, bereavement, multiple house & job moves, setting up my own business and promotion at work, I realised that I was depressed. After 2-3 years not sleeping well, trying to fix myself & covering it up (which was so exhausting) I finally opened up to my GP. I had dealt with everything as it occurred in my life, but it had been an extended ‘perfect storm’ and the cumulative effect meant that I needed a rest, to reset and recharge. I was burnt out & depressed.

The biggest stigma I faced was admitting this to myself. Once I accepted the facts, I was able to rebuild myself and my life. And you know what, I discovered that you can spiral back up as well as spiral down! Buying a classic Land Rover was a big part of my recovery. It meant that I had a project, a focus and something to be mindful of either when working on it or driving it down the road. It reminded me of working on old cars with my late father, but most of all it gave me a positive Land Rover experience, instead of a negative flashback experience. 

There is always hope and nothing lasts forever.

An early intervention provides a better outcome with physical & mental health. Be your own best friend – take some decisions for you – be honest with yourself and those closest to you.

Be a better man, be a man of more words! One opportunity to do that is #MenDoLunchDay on 14th Movember. I founded this day in 2018. It’s one day in the year which is an excuse to invite a man you care about to lunch, ask him how he is, how he really is & then listen. Just post a selfie with the hashtag #MenDoLunchDay. It’s free to take part, but any donations are always welcome at

It’s all about normalising the conversation, so go on – have a chinwag at lunch!

As a veteran, I allow myself to reflect on my service at this time of year & my thoughts are often drawn to fallen colleagues, mates lost and to the many injured service personnel I picked up and treated on the Afghanistan battlefield.

I honour them all, I honour the silence, their sacrifices and the memories I have of my own service. ‘We will remember them.’

If you are struggling this Movember, tell someone you trust & be a man of more words."