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Like Alex, Paul also served his country, serving 18 years with the Household Cavalry Regiment and completing five frontline tours, including four in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
In this episode of the Wild Cards Podcast, we hear firsthand how veterans like Paul often struggle after leaving the Armed Forces and how, after losing several comrades to suicide, Paul ultimately went on to found Head Up to help veterans like himself access the mental health support they so desperately need.
“I spent over three and a half years of my life on the front line, but that’s what I wanted to do, that’s why I joined, and that’s probably what kept me in. And then as you progress and as you go through the ranks, I was a colour Seargent, which is what you call Staff Corporal but Colour sergeant for everyone else; as I was a colour Sergeant, I was doing really well, I was looking to be promoted to Sergeant Major, and I’d done all the courses I was very well respected, and it’s a great industry to be in when you know what you’re doing, you’ve got respect around people, and there’s always something to achieve and something more to do in the armed forces….”
But life in the army wasn’t always easy, and joining the military at 16 years old began to have consequences.
“I was getting a lot more closed off from the real world, so I wasn’t going out and experiencing the nightlife, events, festivals, or the things that people in their early 20s usually do.”
After several terrifying tours and two life-altering ambushes that left many of his team dead, unsurprisingly, Paul began to experience severe signs of paranoia that culminated in him losing his wife and being arrested for assault.
“I was married at the time, and she ended up leaving me because of how bad my paranoia was; she couldn’t be around me. And I ended up jumping on an Asian man who had a bag on his back, and I convinced myself that it had a bomb in it. So I jumped on him, and I shouted that he had a bomb and held his hands to the ground, thinking that I was saving everyone. Everyone ran away, and the bomb squad came in and cornered off the area. They checked his bag while I was on top of him, holding his hands down, and then they put me in handcuffs and took me away.”
At this point, Paul realized that things needed to change, but the pull of the military still drew him back, and he was deployed for another nine months.
Like many others in the military, Paul found himself in a difficult situation - the army was the cause of his paranoia and his PTSD. Yet, it was also his only support network, making it very difficult to recover.
After losing many of his friends to suicide, Paul finally realized he needed to do something different to avoid becoming the next casualty in his friendship group, which led to a three-month break away from the military environment, during which Paul did all he could to help himself.
“Within a few weeks, I felt better than I’d ever felt during my entire adult career… and then I went on to help some other friends that were struggling, and they started inviting their friends and their friends, and by the time I finished my three months I had 30 people.”
When his three-month sabbatical ended, Paul had every intention of re-joining the army, but little did he know that his life and the world, in general, were about to take a drastic turn, resulting in a new adventure and, ultimately, the founding of his charity, Head Up.
To learn more about Paul’s journey from an 18-year veteran to the founder of a mental health charity, be sure to tune in to episode 5 of The Wild Cards Podcast.
Head Up's mission is to combat the rising number of suicides in the military community by providing support that prevents their issues from becoming life-threatening.
They plan to achieve this by creating a unique, all-encompassing countryside retreat that removes existing barriers to accessing mental health support. The retreat will offer personalized, seven-day residential courses to current and retired members of the Army, RAF, Navy, and Royal Marines with the goal of catching those who may fall through the cracks of the UK’s current mental health services.
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