Over the weekend of 27-28 September 2014, I will be racing in the Scott Australian 24 Hour Mountain Bike Championships. While I have raced in dozens of other mountain bike events this will be the first time I have ridden for 24 hours solo! That’s right! This year my big fundraising challenge is to race on my mountain bike for 24 hours straight!
Why would I ride my bike for 24 hours?
Because I can! One of the most critical aspects to my ongoing recovery with PTSD and depression is cycling. Being physically fit helps me to stay mentally fit and riding with a purpose is especially beneficial.
For me the last 4 years has been an ongoing struggle to stay positive and set attainable goals. It has been very easy to set the bar somewhat low for a lot of my goals in order for me to achieve them. This year I wanted to do something that would set the bar incredibly higher and challenge me physically, mentally, and emotionally.
This race will be the most challenging thing I have done since hanging up my Australian Army uniform.
Why do I ride for Soldier On?
During my time in the Australian Army I served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009 after returning from 9 1/2 months in Afghanistan I knew something wasn’t right. I was aggressive to most people, wary of crowds, couldn’t sleep, had sleeping issues and started drinking heavily. Like most Soldiers, I didn’t want to talk about my issues in case I was seen as being weak and God knows there were others that were worse off than me. So I kept quiet and not surprisingly, things got worse. I didn’t want to spend time with other people and I started thinking this world would be better off without me.
After several days of no sleep, heavy drinking and almost wrapping my car around a pole on purpose, I approached and asked the Senior Soldier at my unit for assistance. Instead of the words of encouragement and avenues of support I expected from a person of that rank, I was met with “harden the f*** up and get over it”. In that one moment I felt defeated, I was dismissed by the one person who is solely responsible for the welfare of the Soldiers subordinate to them. If this person wouldn’t help me and I could no longer help myself then what was next?
Luckily for me I posted into a new unit and found the support I so desperately needed from my new workmates. After a while I finally found the courage to tell my family I needed help. Road blocks were set up by another Senior Soldier and my desperation grew greater until I hit rock bottom; I attempted to end my own life. It was only when my life was at its darkest did professional help eventually appear; it was provided by a civilian agency and organised by a very kind Navy doctor.
With only the bare-minimum of support coming from within the ADF I relied heavily on my family and friends for the ongoing support I needed. After having all support services cut off after I left the Army and the near-impossibility to secure an appointment to see a DVA accredited councillor; I started talking about my issues with others and realised that many other Soldiers had been experiencing the same obstacles; especially those that had separated from the ADF.
This is the reason I am so passionate about the provision of mental health care for returned veterans. The system is not yet good enough and so we rely on each other to be open and honest for ongoing support.
Soldier On helps by providing something other support services do not. They provide hope, confidence and a hand up – not a hand out.