Ex-soldier: I considered suicide '“ but then reflected on my grandchildren
Belfast veteran '˜Jim' is now 90% better after surviving PTSD and considering ending his life as a way out.
He served with the Royal Artillery and UDR in the 1970s and is now an administrator with the Northern Ireland Veterans Association (NIVA).
“It took a long time to trigger mine – 10-15 years after I left the Army,” he said. “My wife noticed I was getting more aggressive and drinking an awful lot, shouting in my sleep.
“Then I went for counselling and found my problem went right back to when I was 10 or 11 at the start of the Troubles, because my family was RUC and the house got attacked in Belfast.
“Then you saw bombings like Bloody Friday and then the stuff you did in the Army, it all came out during counselling.”
On one occasion when on patrol with the Royal Artillery on Royal Avenue in Belfast in the late 1970s, they came round the corner to come face to face with a security guard from a chain store who was throwing a shovel of IRA incendiary bombs – disguised as video tapes – into the street.
“He just chucked them at us so we were waiting for that explosion. Thankfully it never happened.
“Then there was another big car bomb at City Hall on Christmas Eve in the early 1980s. We got within 20 metres of it and then we thought better of it. ATO [army bomb experts] later told them it was a 600lb bomb. We didn’t know it was a bomb at the time, and then you starting thinking about what might have happened.”
On another occasion at Unity Flats a gunman opened fire on them one night as they drove past.
His brother, who was in the RUC, was wounded several times. When Jim was around 14 he saw him blown up, though he survived.
At the height of his nightmares he considered taking his life as a way out. His darkest period lasted two or three years.
“You just think ‘I would be better off killing myself’ but then you talk yourself out of it, thinking about your children and grandchildren. So you start thinking like that and about your friends and then you think – this isn’t a solution.”
Nowadays watching old clips of the Troubles on television can be a trigger, as well as reading books about the Troubles.
“You still have the odd nightmare. You waken up and your wife is in the next room. She says – ‘have you been reading one of those books again or watching the news?’
“Obviously I don’t like the way things went, with terrorists getting a free ride out of jail, both the IRA and loyalists. And then the on-the-run letters for the IRA and the arrest of English soldiers such as Dennis Hutchings, who is now in his 70s.
“They seem to be chasing the Army and the police whereas the terrorists did 90% of the killings, as everybody knows.”
His members say walking past specific areas which they have had history with can trigger PTSD.
“Regular soldiers from Great Britain were maybe under more pressure because they were away from home and had nobody to talk to, whereas the UDR and RUC could go home and talk to their family.”
Unlike soldiers from Great Britain, the UDR and RUC never got respite from the threat as they remained in the midst of it when soldiers from Great Britain could go home, he said.
He had counselling with Fermanagh victims group, the Eli Centre, which he had been talking to about a roll of honour for soldiers who died during the Troubles.
“My wife said ‘you need to do this’, so we used to travel down once a week.”
Gradually, as he improved it become once a month. He then transferred to similar counselling in Portadown once a month, for two years.
“You can feel something being lifted off you. I did that for two years.”
Occasionally he may still have a bad nightmare or his aggression may still come out.
“But the counselling techniques made a huge difference. It was like a cloud being lifted off your head.”
He would say he is now 90% better. His counsellor says his work on the roll of honour is good for his mental health. “It is keeping you focused on doing something positive,” he says.