Dave joined the Navy when he was 17. His first deployment was on HMS Illustrious.
“The lead cook on Illustrious suggested I start writing to his sister, Mairi. As soon as we started exchanging letters, I just knew we had something special. Over time, our letters and our connection became more intense.”
Dave and Mairi wrote to each other for nine months during Dave’s deployment on HMS Illustrious. In December 1986, Dave returned home and was able to meet Mairi for the first time in January 1987.
“It really was love at first sight. Two days later, I proposed.”
Dave and Mairi married in late 1987. Shortly after, Dave trained to be a submariner and was deployed on HMS Sceptre.
“Things were going well until there was a serious incident on board. It had an enormous effect on me – I started getting panic attacks at the thought of being underwater. I wasn’t me anymore.
“I didn’t want to leave the Navy so I transferred to HMS Penzance, thinking a change might make things better. But every time I slept I had nightmares and I had vivid flashbacks of what happened.
“Eventually I made the difficult decision to leave the Navy; I couldn’t carry on like I was. But after leaving I felt angry and frustrated, because in my mind I’d failed. I also felt incomplete – leaving the Navy was like losing a family, a part of myself.”
Dave worked as a head chef for eight years before joining the police in 2009.
“I thought I was keeping everything well-hidden because I could hold down a job. I still had nightmares and flashbacks, but I convinced myself they were normal. I was a very angry, irritable person and I’m so grateful to Mairi for sticking by me, as I wouldn’t have wanted to live with who I was then.”
Eventually pressures at work took their toll on Dave’s mental health.
“I spent four months lying on the couch, not able to do anything. I isolated myself from everyone and I became agoraphobic. I was caught in a cycle of guilt and shame, telling myself I had no right to feel the way I did because I hadn’t seen action or lost a limb.”
Mairi made Dave visit his GP, who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and referred him to Combat Stress.
In early 2018, Dave completed the six-week PTSD Intensive Treatment Programme at Hollybush House.
“It wasn’t until I spoke to the clinical staff at Combat Stress that I realised how broken I was. Mairi had seen a difference in me from the day of the incident. But she stuck by me, regardless.
“Talking about what I’d been through for the first time felt like a giant weight had been lifted. I realised that what I’d been feeling wasn’t my fault.
“Combat Stress put me back together. I now feel proud of the life I’ve had and I can look forward to the life I have with Mairi and the family we’ve created together.
Dave now volunteers for Combat Stress, helping to run local Peer Support groups for veterans.
“I’ve got to know a great bunch of lads through the Peer Support groups and I’m so happy I can give something back.
“I’d like to say: Mairi, thank you for sticking by me. I’ll always love you, you know I always have and I always will.”