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Soldier's battle against post traumatic stress disorder
Mark Taylor remembers the moment he fell into a pit of despair.
Overwhelmed by post traumatic stress disorder, suffocated by loneliness, he decided he had no choice but to take his own life.
He swallowed handfuls of pills to try to end his suffering.
He survived and began a continuing battle with the condition which changed his life.
Post traumatic stress is called the hidden wound. There are no visible signs, but the effects are no less devastating than a physical injury.
Mark joined the Army in 1989 when he was 20. He was sent straight out to serve on the first of six tours of duty in Northern Ireland over the next six years.
He said: “When you join the Army, it is a vocation, a lifestyle.
“My first posting to Nothern Ireland was during the Troubles.
“You knew every step you took could be your last. It was an extremely highly-charged environment.
“I did not realise it at the time, but there was enormous pressure.
It was part and parcel of the job and you lived with it, but that is where the PTSD started.”
Mark worked in signals and communications and was aware he was a key target to the enemy.
He said: “There is a huge amount of responsibility, you are at the hub of operations. If you don’t relay information, lives can be lost.”
During his career, Mark also served in Kosovo, Cyprus and Iraq. It was after serving in Iraq in 2004, that he finally fell apart.
He was part of the multinational centre of Civil-Military Co-operation activities. His unit of 60 soldiers became isolated and over 23 days faced an estimated 500 militia who launched 86 assaults on the compound.
Their base was targeted by 595 mortar rounds in 230 different attacks, including direct hits with 57 rocket-propelled grenades.
Mark recalled: “We had to ration food and water and were continually on the go in 55C heat.
We lost one guy and others were injured.”
He returned home to Germany in September 2004, to his wife, Nuala, and his children Niamh, four, and Erin, two.
“I was a changed man. I had been a family man, loving and caring. I became angry, sheer red anger was triggered by anything.
“I remember Erin knocking a drink over. I remember picking her up and losing my temper.
“I am ashamed of how I was. It has left an indelible mark on me.
“I never hit my children, but to make them frigthened of me, that is terrible.
“Nuala said to me either I got help or she would get it for me.
“In those days, PTSD did not receive the kind of help it does now. In those days it was a case of ‘You are a senior non-commissioned officer, man up and get on with it’.
“I was given medication for a month. I went back and said to the doctor I needed more medication.
He gave me diazepam, that night I went home and took them all with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
“I could not face life any more.
I could not be the father I wanted to be, the husband, the soldier.
“I was in despair, the deepest pit I have ever been in. I could not see a way out of it.”
Mark was found by his wife and was sent to the psychiatric unit at Wegburg where he spent the next three months.
A decade on since Mark was diagnosed with PTSD, he still has good days and bad. He still struggles with PTSD, but at least now he understands it.
He says: “Life is like a pint glass. It fills up with experiences until it overflows and that is when the trouble starts.”
Mark fought to bring his life back together. He took promotions, challenging himself to prove his worth, but life was a series of peaks and troughs.
He got a job as a regimental signal warrant officer, but added: “I quickly realised it was a mistake.
This time I walked. I said ‘I can’t do this any more’.”
But it was too late for his marriage.
In September 2012, Nuala asked for a divorce. Mark was saddened by their break up, but he understood.
“At work I was a soldier, but at home, I was a PTSD sufferer. The anger was still there. Nuala had been my rock and I wanted to hang on, but she’d had enough.”
Mark was discharged from the Army in December.
Today, he has a new girlfriend and his relationship with his children is mending. He has techniques to help him deal with his condition.
Mark is an ambassador for Help for Heroes and supports the Heroes Garden Project.
He said of Chavasse VC House: “They are a family and there is compassion. When you have PTSD, there are times when you need to walk off, go to a place where there is solitude, a place to be on your own, where you can cry if you need to.
“The garden will provide this.
It will be a place for reflection, it will be calm and quiet.”
As an injured soldier, he is a member of the Band of Brothers.
He said: “It is a brotherhood of people who understand. It doesn’t matter if you are an amputee, blind, have PTSD, there is an understanding, there is support.”
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