January 28, 2018
"There is more than one way to self-destruct, of course. Some people kill themselves in a single act, others in installments. Their sense of purpose and self-worth evaporates; they stop caring whether they live or die until, eventually, they are beyond reach."
Veteran Steven Wyllie outside the Reid Mcewan activity centre. Picture: John Devlin
Former Army sergeant Calum MacLeod was in an Irish American bar in Germany when he suffered the flashback that forced him to face up to his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With hindsight, he accepts he had been struggling for a long time.
Ever since he had been attacked while serving with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in Northern Ireland in 1992, he had suffered nightmares, which he countered with heavy drinking. Back then, a crowd of youths had cornered him in an alleyway, hit him over the head with a concrete slab and stolen his gun. When he regained consciousness in a hospital in Belfast, he was told one of the youths had pointed the weapon at his head and fired, but the mechanism had jammed, so he survived.
Hearing U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday on the jukebox in Heidelberg more than a decade later triggered a violent outburst. “One of the Yanks had put it on and I just lost it,” says MacLeod. “My best friend was with me. He said: ‘Your eyes just changed; you were hyper-aroused.’ He forced me into a taxi. I was lashing out, trying to escape. The song, the sounds, the crowd: I really thought I was back in the Province.”
MacLeod, from Hamilton, ended up in a psychiatric hospital where a colonel told him he was suffering from one of the worst cases of PTSD he had ever seen. Posted back to the UK and unable to cope with confined spaces, he pioneered a successful scheme to help would-be Army recruits reach the required level of fitness. But, in 2011, after 23 years of service, he decided it was finally time to call it a day.
“I think I am one of the lucky ones and that’s largely because my family got me through. Some of the veterans come out and there’s no-one there for them. In the last 18 months, I have been to seven funerals: all suicides.” Calum MacLeod
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