Identity (…aka Letting Go & Moving Forward)

It has been over two years since I wrote two of my more reflective pieces about leaving the Australian Army.  Taking Off The Uniform was a brief post written on the eve of ANZAC Day 2013 and Standing In The Shadow Of The Green Giant followed a few months later in early July 2013.

The central themes of both posts were my pre-discharge months of being treated like a number and not a Soldier and the subsequent months post-discharge when I struggled to deal with no longer being a Soldier and adapting to life out of the uniform.  Since I wrote both pieces, a lot has changed in my life and I recognise that I have also changed.  I am now married to a beautiful Wife, I have a gorgeous Daughter who brightens up the darkest of days and our family will include another member in May next year.

I often think about whether or not this scenario would have been possible if I was still a serving member, and quite honestly I don’t think it would have been.  I grew up in a Military household; my Father was a career Soldier, who would often be away for many months at a time.  I am acutely aware of what it is like having a Father who was incredibly supportive and loving; but would also be away for Birthdays and other milestones in his children’s lives.  I see this realisation in my Father’s eyes today, when he spends time with his Grandchildren, he is living some of the events he missed out on with his own children; and this is something I never want to do.

In this regard, I know I made the right decision to leave the Australian Defence Force.  But this doesn’t stem the feelings of being out of place a lot of the time.  I struggled to put my finger on it for quite some time before I came to the conclusion that not only did I stop being a Soldier by hanging up my uniform; I also lost my identity.  It’s a throw-away line by most ADF members that life is a balancing act; you take the uniform off at the end of each day and you are instantly a different person.  The reality of this assumption is that you aren’t a different person out of uniform and the expectations placed upon you are very different from the vast majority of society.  There are months away from home on courses and exercises and months away from home, often in harms way, spent on foreign soil.  There is no other job that is like this and put simply, this is why most people are not suited to the ADF.

My transition back to being a civilian was not an easy one.  To this day, almost four years later, I still feel like had more to achieve and more to prove to myself and others.  The identity that I had forged as a Soldier is no longer mine and I have struggled to establish a new identity; to establish who I now am.  I have attempted to fill the huge void in my life by interacting with and assisting a Veterans’ support organisation; trying hard to keep the link to my previous identity.  But like many attempts at self-reinvention this was akin to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  My attempts to help others by speaking out for PTSD affected Veterans came at a huge personal cost.  Multiple relapses into depression that were harder to climb out of each time.  The very feelings of isolation and obsolescence I felt in the final months of my time in the Army were once again occurring.  Ironically, by trying to help others I was slowly but surely breaking myself apart.

Somewhere along this journey, my identity had changed to that of a quasi-Veterans’ advocate and I was not able to see that some activities were detrimental to my own mental health.  Due to opportunities afforded to me for my own recovery I felt I couldn’t say no and when asked if things were okay, I would lie and say they were.  History was once again repeating as I didn’t want to put my hand up for support in fear of seeming weak and letting others down.  Because of this willingness to keep putting myself out there I kept digging further and further into the darkness.

When the time came for me to try and get myself out of the hole, I was too far down and to be brutally honest the support often advertised, that I thought I had worked for and earned, just wasn’t tangible or there.  Once again anger and resentment joined forces with my depression and I was forced to withdrawal from something that was effectively keeping grip on the last thread to my identity as a Soldier.  I had to let go and I had to do it not only for myself, but for my Family.

In order to move forward I once again had to look backwards.  My journey up to this point had been difficult and if I stayed on the current course it wasn’t going to get any better.  It was time to let go of that final thread.  I had to accept that I was no longer and never would be an Australian Soldier again.  I wasn’t a voice for service affected contemporary Veterans.  I wasn’t a person that could inspire others with their recovery.  I will never forget the road I have travelled to get to here; and my past will always cast a shadow on my future but it isn’t who I am today, it is not my identity.

I am Chad; Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Uncle; a man who once wore a uniform and served his Nation.
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Reclamation (…aka Starting To Take Back Control)

Even during the darkest moments in life, lightness can and will shine through.  This is not an epiphany, nor is it an instant fix to all of your woes.  The most appropriate word to use when describing this evolution is lucidity.

When living with with a depressive illness; it is easy to dismiss the positives and dwell on the negatives.  Climbing out of the deepest, darkest holes in your mind is half the battle each day.  The other half is standing up and learning how to hold your head high.  Each and every day is a fight to keep the balance in your life.  Tipping one way brings the risk of depressive relapse, tipping the other brings momentary highs; but an inevitable slide back into the darkness.

I always use the term living with instead of suffering from, when describing life with depression and PTSD.  This is not an attempt to be politically correct, this is intentional on my part as a way to personalise and own a very dominating aspect of my life.  A person suffering from a mental illness rarely sees a reprieve in their life.  I shy away from this term as I see it as way to justify using depression as a crutch in your life.  Why try to live with and overcome when you can just settle with the issues and obstacles that litter your journey through life?

While many of us affected by our military service choose to hide and be deceptive about our illness and troubles, others choose to speak openly about what life was and is now like.  I have swayed between both; and both have had positive and negative effects on my life and my overall well-being.  My period of lucidity came mid-year when prolonged illness took hold and I was eventually diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  For the first time in a very long time, I was able to regain control of a seemingly uncertain part of my life.  A change in diet, health and lifestyle was cathartic.  It also removed a deep rooted sense of doubt and negativity that had been plaguing me during days when fatigue was dominating my every waking minute.  I was relieved when I found out my symptoms weren’t psychosomatic and an unforeseen progression of my mental health illness.

A great weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I took that uncertain first step in deciding other areas in my life now needed to be addressed.  Changes to circumstances in life are quite often triggers for depressive relapses that can manifest into erratic and dangerous behaviour.  It is force fed during counselling and wellness sessions that routine and structure in life is key to living with and overcoming mental health illnesses.  I have also found this advice to be a roadblock in a number of key events in my life post my military career.  It’s akin to walking around your house in the dark and not knowing where your next step will take you despite the fact the you have trod this very ground a thousand times before.  It is true that this tentativeness in life can protect you, but it can also hinder.  Sometimes that next step into the darkness may actually be a step out into the light.

I have used this system of routine and structure for a number of years, but I have also deliberately allowed for the routine aspects of my life to be fluid; and myself accessible and open to change.  This doesn’t work all the time and I find myself becoming either defensive or aggressive in response to unplanned change.  This is quite evident when interacting with my family.  Not all things go to plan despite my and other people’s best efforts; but understanding my negative reaction to such disruptions does in fact inflame and often overshadow the actual issue is important to keep in mind.  Learning from one’s mistakes and (over)reactions may not help the next time life doesn’t go to plan, nor the time after, but eventually big issues don’t seem that big all and you can better control how you react to them.  There will of course be relapses, but knowing you can and have reacted more positively is very reassuring when the dust settles.

I am often guilty of living life through a negative and obstructionist point of view.  Surprisingly, in mid July this year, I came to the conclusion that my routine, my structure in life had in fact become askew and this negative way of seeing the world and living my life had become the norm.  My first step out of the darkness and into the light it would seem.  But what about my next step?  It was time for me to start owning my ongoing recovery and stop using other people and avenues of supposed support as aids to navigate through life.

It was time to take stock of where I had been, my journey to now and where I wanted to be in the future.  For probably the first time it was overtly apparent that my actions in life had a direct effect on my Wife and Daughter.  I was no longer a singularity, responsible for only myself.  I was and had been for quite sometime, responsible and accountable for other people.  This new moment of lucidity brought with it not uncertainty; but certainty.  It also came at an entirely unexpected and surprising moment; during a Death Cab For Cutie show at Canberra’s ANU Uni Bar.  I dare say I can credit Ben Gibbard performing Passenger Seat to an enthralled audience for being a catalyst for jump starting my recovery.

Over the next few weeks I felt as if I was sharing those days when the literal and metaphorical skies where blue and the sun was shining with the two people I love and cherish the most.  I wanted more days like this for not just myself; but for them.  I wanted my Daughter to grow up with a Father who would look after her and not the other way around.  It was time to drop some of the excess baggage in my life.  This is the next evolution in my recovery and something I can honestly saw I am looking forward to.

Redemption (…Or What Happens After A Relapse)

It’s difficult overcoming obstacles in life and a lot more difficult overcoming obstacles that you set up in your mind.  Depression is a mental illness that can, and often will, manifest into the physical form.  I have experienced anxiety attacks, rapid weight loss, nausea, migraines and of course self harming behaviour.  A lot of people describe living with depression as living with the Black Dog.  A silent companion that is always following you, lurking in the shadows, waiting to bark and bite.

For me a depressive episode is like being alone in the ocean.  One minute it’s sunny and calm and the next, it’s stormy with waves crashing down upon me.  It’s a struggle between trying to stay afloat in between holding my breath and being dunked under; and just accepting my fate and sinking down to the bottom.  But what happens when I sink to the bottom is hard for most people to understand.  Imagine the contrast between the rough seas and the struggle above you, and now the calmness and introspective nature of looking upwards to all of that.  But of course this moment is fleeting, while you may no longer be exposed to the what is adversely affecting you; you will eventually drown from being underneath it.  The battle to swim back to the top and fight against the waves is what ultimately calms the ocean once again.

For me the end of last year was spent fighting the waves in between sinking to the bottom.  For the first time in a number of years I spent a lot of time on that bottom looking up at the crashing waves.  This was my Relapse.

An important part of Recovery is what happens next; and that is what I call the Redemption Moment.  It is the moment you realise your Relapse has finally let go of you.  My Redemption Moment occurred when my daughter Celeste smiled at me when I went to get her out of bed one morning.  In that one moment I knew everything I have experienced, everything I have done meant nothing to this little girl who wanted only for her Father to cuddle her and protect her.

For so long I have felt my life and who I am has been defined by the years I spent wearing the uniform of an Australian Soldier.  Now, as I move forward with my life post Army, I’m becoming more aware that what I have done in the last few years, is how my friends and family see and think of me.  It’s a difficult transition for me to come to terms with.  The events and experiences, the choices and decisions, the good and the bad; and of course the darkest day of my life can be attributed to my military service.  But slowly, as the years pass, I’m able to stop looking in the mirror and seeing a Chad wearing an Army uniform that no longer exists.

Late last year, I was extremely fortunate to have been surprised with portrait of myself by renowned Australian artist Caroline McGregor; gifted to me by my very good friends Jason, Sarah and wife Carly.  Caroline is well-known for her portraits depicting Australian Soldiers and capturing the person behind the uniform.  My portrait was a different direction for Caroline, who usually depicts the subject on operations.  A number of photos were submitted to her of me including some from Iraq and Afghanistan, with background information about me over the past few years.  The one photo that struck a cord with Caroline was of me in my Soldier On Cycling kit during last years Remembrance Ride.  The photo was taken by SO Cycling photographer Matt Connors on the first day of the ride; when I was acting like a fool with the other riders, some of whom I would later travel to France and ride in the Trois Etapes with.

Caroline chose a photo of me, doing what has been integral to my recovery with PTSD and depression; riding a bike, representing Soldier On, building my confidence and connecting with others that have been affected by their service.

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.:Matt’s original photo:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography
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.:Caroline’s Portrait:. https://www.facebook.com/CarolineMcGregorArt http://www.carolinemcgregorart.com/

 

Representation, Relapse, Recovery #takeanextraminute

Where do I start?  This has been the common theme over the past sixteen days.  The draft of this post has been sitting in my draft folder for a little over two weeks now.

The intent was clear, I was going to dedicate a post to the Take #AnExtraMinute campaign that I helped Soldier On launch on the lawns of Parliament House on Monday 10 November 2014.  I decided to hold off and wait until the pre recorded interview I did with Sunrise went to air on Remembrance Day, 11 November 2014.

.:Below is the link to the Sunrise: Honour Those Who Are Often Forgotten segment:.
https://au.tv.yahoo.com/sunrise/video/watch/25480373/honour-those-who-are-often-forgotten/

The Facebook post below summed up my feelings and experiences in the hours after the Sunrise segment went to air.

https://twitter.com/ChadPD/status/531960116640112642

In the days following the launch and interview airing, I found myself regressing more and more each day.  As is the norm after I speak publicly and share my story, I became depressive and withdrew from my support network; my family and friends.

This time was quite difficult for me.  The Sunrise segment was the first time my story would go out to a very large audience.  For those that think it’s not a big deal; imagine the one thing that you are most ashamed of, the one thing you would take back if you could, and now imagine that being shared with over a million other people.

Once the realisation of how many people saw my interview hit me, it became a battle to keep my head above water.  As I type this, I’m still reeling from the knowledge that so many people now know the most intimate detail of who I am, the single most confronting aspect of my life to date.

While that decision I made four years ago may not define who I am today, it set the foundation that I have rebuilt my life upon.  And that foundation is has not quite set.

Mental Health Stigma, The ADF – An Ongoing Cycle

I sit here typing this with my infant daughter asleep in my arms. For me the days, months and years since I was at the lowest point in my life have been a road to recovery. For many others this isn’t the case.

This week we farewelled another Australian Soldier who had succumbed to the emotional wounds he suffered years ago while serving his county in Afghanistan. The reasons why he never recovered from his invisible injuries may never be known; but the fact still remains he is another lost to a battle that still continues in the minds of many. A never ending war of light versus dark, good versus evil and ultimately life versus death.

Four years ago I lost this very battle. Four years ago I found myself alone in a dark hole I couldn’t escape from so I accepted what I believed to be the fate I deserved. Despite the odds stacked firmly against me I am here today. The reasons for this are solely due to the unwavering support from my family and friends.

When I hear of an Australian serviceperson taking their own life I feel a deep sadness for not only them but for their family as well. When a person decides to take their own life there is nothing you can do to stop them; nothing. This of course does nothing to comfort them in their grief; but knowing a tortured soul is finally at rest should.

I don’t pretend to know everything about mental health issues, mental health support or suicide. I know only of what others have shared with me and from my own experiences. And one of the most harrowing aspects to this silent battle is the ever present stigma that is attached to admitting you have a mental health illness.

Support, like the causes of mental illness, is very much an “experiences may vary” scenario. I have heard of support avenues being offered that were exceptional, some mediocre and some downright dismissive and a catalyst for suicide attempts. My own recovery was made up of all three; although the bad experiences often overshadow the good.

My initial experiences with asking for support from the ADF reads like a how-to-guide on rejection, dismissal and victim blaming. The desired effect for me to shut up and go away worked; albeit long enough for it to become someone else’s problem.

I don’t begrudge the ADF as an institution for this; but a stigma against mental health, especially PTSD and depression, still exists within the upper ranks. My time in the Australian Army ended two and half years ago. I was happy with what I had achieved as a Soldier; especially on operations. If I had my time again I would definitely sign up to serve, but in saying that I would certainly do some things very differently.

In regards to my mental health support, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have accepted the dismissive and intimidating culture of the SNCO’s and Warrant Officers I encountered. I experienced a level of bullying from people of certain ranks that should have known better. The attitude of some pushed me over the edge and directly attributed to my attempt at ending my own life. I am still angry and bitter at how I was treated and how I didn’t act to better protect myself. But when one is so mentally exhausted everyday activities such as eating become a chore, so the seemingly simple act of speaking up for yourself just does not happen.

This stigma still exists and is still prevalent within the ADF. Not a week goes by that I don’t get asked for advice and help from a still serving friend on how to deal with someone acting as a roadblock to their recovery. Sadly, more often than not, this person will be a SNCO or Warrant Officer in a position that requires them to be responsible for Soldier’s welfare; something that they clearly fail at.

I don’t know how the ADF can fix this in the long term, but I do know that the majority of SNCO and Warrant Officers are incredibly supportive to mental health support. One thing that the Service Chiefs and CDF could try is taking action against those that hinder Soldier’s recovery by denying their access to support, bullying those at risk and continuing to deny illnesses such as PTSD and depression exist.

Before I left the ADF I named two Warrant Officer Class One’s, both RSM’s and two Warrant Officer Class Two’s both SSM’s in a minute to the Chief of Army as habitual bullies who made physical and psychological threats to me and others; yet no action was taken.

It is the cycle of generational suicide in the ADF that still continues that proves the current system for mental health support, reporting and ongoing care is not yet good enough.

The Silent War

Last year on Sunday 29 September, I sat down with Canberra Times Sunday Editor Scott Hannaford and photographer Melissa Adams to share my story about life with PTSD, depression and life after I hung up my uniform and packed away my boots.

Scott had seen this blog and contacted me via Twitter and asked if I wanted to take part in a story he was putting together on Veteran’s experiences with post traumatic stress disorder and life after deployment.

For a few hours we sat down and talked about my time in Iraq and Afghanistan and my fundraising/awareness raising for Soldier On.  On Sunday 13 October 2013, Scott published a story in the Canberra Times about my fundraising campaign leading up to the 2013 Battle Of The Beasts.

CanberraTimes Article.:Click here to read the original story at the Canberra Times:.

After months of hard work Scott’s story was published in all major Fairfax newspapers and online with a suite of interactive media including our interviews and photos from overseas.

Below is my interview from the Canberra Times website and video interview with Scott and Mel.

.:Click here to view my video interview:.

.:Click here to go the interactive website:.

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An Open Letter To The Minister For Veterans’ Affairs

An Open Letter to Senator the Honourable Michael Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Dear Senator Ronaldson,

On 12 November 2013 I sent both an email and a letter to you via your gazetted Ministerial Office contact details.  To date I have not received a reply nor have I received any acknowledgement that my correspondence was received by your office.  Although traditional mail does occasionally fail to arrive at its intended destination, an email with the correct recipient address does not.

My original letter to you was in regards to the comments made by your Department’s Mental Health Adviser, Doctor Stephanie Hodson, which were aired during a segment on Channel 7’s Today Tonight entitled Fighting A Mental War.  Dr Hodson’s comments were not only highly controversial, but also quite insulting to Australia’s Veterans.  To claim that a major part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs inability to provide timely support to Veterans with mental health issues was in part the fault of the Veterans themselves is nothing short of victim blaming.

Did I, like many others ask to be haunted and troubled by the traumatic experiences from our deployments?
No, we did not.

Did I ask for help from within the Australian Army?
Yes I did and on numerous occasions I was told to “harden the fuck up”.

Did I ask your Department for assistance?
Yes I did, but instead of the support that I was entitled to, I was forced to jump through hoops and make my way through a maze of red tape.

Like many Veterans, I found the system that is supposed to provide us assistance and avenues of support was, in reality, creating more roadblocks on the long journey to recovery.  Roadblocks that ultimately resulted in me turning my back on DVA and finding the help I so desperately required from my family and friends.  To be honest I couldn’t help but assume this was a deliberate ploy by DVA; make it as difficult as possible for Veterans to access support services and they will eventually give up; saving the Department a large sum of money.

Unfortunately many Veterans do not have the type of support from family and friends that I do, and when the world is at its darkest, some will take their own lives.  This year alone more than twenty returned servicepersons have committed suicide.  I must stress that this number reflects only those that are clear cut cases of suicide and not single-vehicle accidents and incidences of drowning while intoxicated.

I was extremely fortunate to attend Paul Barclay’s Boys Don’t Cry forum at the Australian War Memorial on the evening of Thursday 21 November 2013.  During this forum members of the panel discussed various issues regarding PTSD and depression with a focus on the Australian Defence Force and withdraw from Afghanistan.  It would have been highly beneficial for a member of your Department or staff to have attended in an official capacity in order to answer some questions regarding the level of support offered by DVA.

LTGEN Peter Leahy was a member of the panel and spoke about returned servicepersons accessing support from within the ADF and DVA.  While I wholeheartedly agree that the ADF is getting better and that the stigma associated with PTSD and depression is slowly dissipating.  I found LTGEN Leahy’s claims that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is learning from the mistakes of the past a complete and utter fallacy.

This was an opinion that I shared with the panel and audience during the question time at the completion of the forum.  For almost 25 minutes I spoke about my struggles with PTSD, the systematic failures of the ADF and DVA when I was trying to access support services and my fears for Australian Veterans in the future.

The Department of Veterans Affairs exists for the sole purpose to provide assistance to Australian Veterans, whether they have experienced overseas service or not.  This is a role that DVA seems to fail at more often than not.

Senator Ronaldson you are quoted on the ABC’s World of Today webpage from a report by Lexi Metherell from Tuesday 10 December 2013 as saying:

MICHAEL RONALDSON: We cannot repeat the mistakes of post-Vietnam, where this country let down those men who were doing no more and no less than serving the nation at the nation’s request.

Senator Ronaldson I implore you to open your eyes to the facts.  The mistakes of “post-Vietnam” were the mistakes from post-World War 2 which was the legacy from the mistakes made post-World War 1.

I am a third generation Soldier; my Grandfather served in World War 2 and was stalwart for Veteran’s advocacy his entire life, my Father served in Vietnam and dedicated 42 years as a fulltime Soldier; and I have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  These mistakes you speak of, the mistakes of the past are in fact the Ghosts of the Past that continue to haunt us to this very day.

I watched as my Grandfather’s legacy and honour left with him as he passed away in a geriatrics ward; a man of such strong resolution, he dedicated the entirety of his post-war life to the Returned and Services League and spent a record 35 years as the President of the Corrimal RSL Sub-Branch.  The Department of Veterans’ Affairs bureaucracy come to forefront when matters concerning his palliative health care and DVA Gold Card became an issue in his final days.

I have witnessed my Father’s transition to civilian and retired life; not an easy feat after spending almost half a century serving this great Nation.  I watched as a child, my Father’s struggles with his past service in Vietnam and later as his friends died prematurely from illness brought on by exposure to hazardous materials and suicide brought on by depression and PTSD; long ignored and compounded by DVA’s ineptness and unwillingness to support struggling Vietnam Veterans.

To listen to spokespersons from the Government, Department of Veterans’ Affairs and even yourself; the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, speak of not having history repeat itself is insulting.

I have several friends with their names on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial; these are men now forever young that I mourn the loss of everyday.  A heavy weight that I and many others carry on our shoulders as we will not let their sacrifice for the people of Australia and Afghanistan be in vain.  Every loss is felt deeply within the Australian Defence community even if it becomes a just a distant memory for most.

I fear with the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Middle East almost complete, the spotlight will dim and the ongoing fight for support and assistance we have earned will not be forthcoming.  Many Veterans spend months waiting to see specialists and have claims processed.  Coupled with PTSD, depression, anxiety and the blasé attitude of some DVA staff this is a catalyst for self destructive and suicidal behaviour.

The number of Veterans who have taken their own lives now surpasses the brave 42 whose names are on display in our Nation’s capital.

Many of these Veterans have continued to fight long after their war in the Middle East ended.  Like a battle with the enemy this too is a fight for survival; and without DVA accepting responsibility and acting on its mistakes this too will cost the lives of Australians that once donned the uniform of a Soldier, Sailor or Airman.

I care not for excuses and the ongoing blame game of previous Governments.  I care only for you the current Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to stand up, acknowledge the mistakes of the past and find a way to move forward for the better.  I ask you Senator Ronaldson, to engage with us, those Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen that have fought against the bureaucracy of a Government Department that has learnt nothing over the past 100 years.

As we prepare to remember and mark the 100th Anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign; can you honestly say that today’s Veterans are receiving the appropriate level of support and assistance that our forefathers never got to experience; or like them will this fight become the legacy of my children when I am long gone from this world?

Respectfully yours,

Chad Dobbs
17 December 2013

This letter has been forwarded to Senator Ronaldson’s contact email address: officeoftheminister@dva.gov.au;
Tweeted to Senator Ronaldson’s Twitter page: @SenRonno;
Tweeted to DVA’s Twitter page: @DVAAus.

Call Of The Beast 2013 Wrap Up

The Call of the Beast was my final Soldier On fundraising event for the year.  After 7 months of intense fundraising and raising awareness for Soldier On it was a relief to just be able to go into an event without any pressure.

Each time I got on a bike wearing my Soldier On jersey it was an opportunity for me to help raise the profile of Soldier On in the ACT, NSW, QLD and VIC.  As of 1 December 2013 I have ridden 5’169km while wearing my jersey and look forward to many more kilometres training in racing in it and the new design jersey and knicks combo that will be available very soon.

I was “asked” if I wanted to enter the Call of the Beast just prior to my Wedding in September.  Dan and Luke from Beast-Worx were keen to get me out for their new obstacle course race and I was extremely happy to take up their offer.

I will be quite upfront and state that apart from my normal riding routine I did absolutely no training for this event.  It’s no secret that due to long-term injuries I don’t run.  It’s not that I don’t like running it’s just that a combination of torn muscles, torn tendons and ligaments, dislocations, fractures and osteoarthritis means my dream (not entirely accurate) of running a marathon will never be realised.

So I kept riding and figured I would just cuff it on the day.  My preparation was quite similar to that of a mountain bike race.  Clothes for the event, hydration and nutrition organised, GPS and heart-rate monitor ready and clean clothes for after the race.  Once this was all packed in the back of the car I headed out to Caloola Farm to look at the course that had been set up for the 1200-odd participants.

When I arrived at the event centre I registered, donned my participant wrist band and headed off to watch the Last Beast Standing racers attacking the course.  Round 1 of the elite race was drawing to a close and these athletes had 4 more rounds ahead of them.  Watching these men and women smash down food and water before heading back out again was awe inspiring and made me quite content with the knowledge that I was doing the Fun Beast.

I set up my little spot near the Soldier On stand and chatted with Tony, Anna and Dion for most of the morning.  Volunteer Andy K seemed to be very excited about carrying a loudspeaker and I was dreading having to run up to his checkpoint later in my race.

As the start time for the first wave of the Fun Beast was getting closer, I got changed into my running gear: shorts, Skins shirt, Soldier On shirt, 2XU calf compression socks, water-suitable hiking shoes and my Garmin Forerunner.  I looked the part and headed down to the start line.  I watched as Beast-Worx Dan let the first wave go and then headed down to say hello before lining up with the the second wave.

Adam ‘Rocket’ Rolls, my Scott 25 Hour team-mate, was running in a team and as usual he was focused and ready to run.  The wave started and I slowly jogged off towards the first few obstacles.  I wasn’t taking this event seriously but can honestly say, even with my injury-induced limitations I was making pretty good time through the first part of the course.

The obstacles weren’t very difficult and I was able to scale, crawl through, jump over, roll under, climb up, balance on and run over everything without any assistance.  It was however extremely simple to spot the people with military experience.  Firstly there was the obvious technique in getting through the obstacles and secondly we were the few that stayed on top off walls lifting people up, pulled cargo nets tight, gave boosts, steadied people’s balance and more often than not gave advice on how to do things safely.

BOTB 13 114.:Waiting to scale the first wall (Photo by Canberra Times):.

The obstacles were spread out with a fair bit of running in between.  This was always advertised as an adventure race and not designed as a Tough Mudder knock-off like many of the new obstacle races.  Like the Battle of the Beasts this event’s main aim was to raise money for Soldier On; and with only two permanent staff and an army of volunteers it is commendable that a first time event was so amazing, challenging and fun.

By the time the 11km Fun Beast was over I had run 12.9km in 2hours 22mins.  Not the fastest time but a very fun event that I would definitely do again.

BOTB 13 116
BOTB 13 115.:Strava!:.

BOTB 13 112.:Just a tad dirty:.

BOTB 13 113.:As usual I kept my race plate (a sly reference to my Army days with the number):.

At the end of two big events I had raised $5’790 for Soldier On.  Thank you to everyone that donated and supported me through-out these past several months.

BOTB 13 117

The Central Point Of Failure – The Department Of Veterans Affairs

I wasn’t sure if I should write this post.  My last opinion piece about the Department of Veterans Affairs was received quite well by the veterans community and prompted DVA to contact me to discuss my and many other young veteran’s issues.  What has prompted this follow-up piece tentatively titled “You Ignorant Fucking Bureaucrats!”?…

On the evening of 11 November 2013, undoubtedly scheduled to coincide with Remembrance Day, Channel 7’s Today Tonight aired a story about young veterans and the ongoing struggle for support with PTSD and mental illness entitled Fighting A Mental War.

The story began as a fairly straight forward account detailing the struggles of those who have had the unfortunate distinction of dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Frustration, anger and depression are some of the emotions one can feel when dealing with a Government Department seemingly intent on ignoring your calls for help and ensuring you don’t get access to quality support services and ultimately rejecting financial assistance for your national service at war.

This may seem like an extreme statement but when the person asking for support is a young service-person trying to access help for depression and/or assistance after experiencing a highly traumatic incident(s); being rebuffed by the very organization founded to help you only causes more stress and compounds an already volatile situation.  It is a fact that more young servicemen and servicewomen have taken their own lives post-deployment than have been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ordinarily I would take a story broadcast on Today Tonight with a few dozen grains of salt.  But after watching Keith Payne VC fire up (a man I have had the pleasure of spending time with in both Afghanistan and Australia) and the pitiful response from DVA Mental Health Advisor Dr Stephanie Hodson I was poised to hurl my remote control at my TV in disgust.  I sat staring in disbelief, I wanted to break something, I could feel my pulse rising and my face getting hotter as my skin became flushed with rage.

Ultimately I calmed down but not before I fired off a steam of questions and statements to DVA via Twitter, Facebook and email.  Minister for Veterans Affairs Senator the Honourable Michael Ronaldson was also in my sights and received a highly sanitized and more eloquent email demanding answers about his representative’s insulting statements.

What did Dr Hodson say?  Below is the transcript from Today Tonight’s segment.

“Any suicide is tragic, and the department actively monitors suicide in veteran community,” Dr Hodson said.
“We actually do need to work on getting our staff more trained, but also about getting through these claims more quickly.”

Dr Hodson denies the department’s failure to plan ahead is resulting in long delays, leaving claims and lives in limbo.

“The department is processing claims as quickly as possible, but we acknowledge that some claims can take longer than we want,” she said.

Dr Hodson claims part of the problem lies with the veterans themselves.

“The problem is that it’s not until someone is in crisis that they will actually start to look for the services,” Dr Hodson said. “The treatment is there for veterans; we just need them to come and put up their hand and get it.” 

The full video can be found here:
http://au.news.yahoo.com/today-tonight/lifestyle/article/-/19777434/veterans-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/
Dr Hodson’s comments on behalf of DVA start at approximately the 8 minute 15 second mark.

I want to stress I am not launching a personal attack on Dr Hodson; she is clearly a very competent and qualified medical professional.  She previously served 22 years in the ADF as a psychologist and has been with DVA for the past decade.  This is a woman who has dedicated the majority of her career helping service-persons with mental health issues.

I am however attacking the Department of Veterans Affairs for the systematic failure of the past 40 years.  I’ve watched as my Father’s generation has been let down by DVA and his mates have been driven to suicide.  Decades later the same thing is happening to my generation.

By Dr Hodson’s own account, DVA needs to do more work; but also claims that the Department’s failure to plan ahead is not to blame.  So to Dr Stephanie Hodson and Minister for Veteran’s Affairs Sen the Hon Michael Ronaldson I put this to you:

The last Australians withdrew from Vietnam on Anzac Day 1975.  That was 38 years, 6 months and 18 days ago; and yet Australian Servicemen and Servicewomen are still not getting the support that we deserve and have fought for.

To have not learnt from the past and continuing to ignore the Department’s ongoing mistakes is akin to giving a Soldier with PTSD a noose and pointing him or her in the direction of the closet tree with a strong branch.

Riding For Soldier On – Australian Army News

A short article about my fundraising for Soldier On for this year’s upcoming Battle Of The Beasts Mountain Bike Enduro has been published in the 18 July 2013 issue of the Australian Army News.

Army News Jpeg

Army News Article PDF Version

18 July 2013 Army News Edition 1309 PDF Version