A former Glenrothes man is helping veterans and others suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after going through the “nightmare” himself.
David Cruickshanks (51), a former photographer with the Fife Free Press, has taken on a prominent role in promoting awareness of the condition after suffering the symptoms for years.
And he has been sharing his story with others to encourage them to seek help in the early stages before it becomes more acute.
David, who now runs his own freelance film-making and screen writing business, served in the Royal Navy as a marine engineering mechanic during the Falklands where, at the tender age of 17, he was plunged into a full-scale war for which he was psychologically ill-prepared.
After leaving Glenrothes High School and starting a YTS course David saw an advert looking for recruits for the Navy.
“I thought I would travel the world and have an amazing time,” he said. “My best friend’s dad was in the Navy and I really looked up to him.”
The daily routine was get up, have breakfast, be bombed for eight hours, then have tea.
However the reality didn’t live up to its glamorous image as within the year David found himself 8000 miles from home in the South Atlantic as part of the biggest naval war since the Second World War.
“It was a massive shock to the system for a 17-year-old who just a few years before had been playing with toy soldiers and found himself in the real thing,” he explained.
“I was on stand-by to fight a fire onboard HMS Antelope just half an hour before it was blown up, but luckily the order was counter-manded and, at the time I didn’t give it another thought.
“The daily routine was get up, have breakfast, be bombed for eight hours, then have tea. We just got on and did our job while ships around us were being hit, and it was only many years later that I realised the significance of it.”
His service in the Falklands lasted around six weeks and in the coming years he realised his dream of travelling around the world.
“Nobody spoke about the Falklands and it was as if it didn’t happen,” he said.
After suffering a knee injury, David was discharged from the Navy in 1986, and, ignoring the fact he was suffering from depression, continued with his life.
“During my rehabilitation from the Navy I saw lots of people who were really suffering and I thought there were people a lot worse off than myself, so I just hid it and got on with things,” he said.
He joined the civil service then went to work for the Press as a photographer, which marked a settled period in his life.
“It was the start of a massive recovery for me, although below the surface I was still struggling with my emotions, I was very busy and I went into it whole-heartedly and started feeling a lot better.”
David went on to work for daily newspapers in Glasgow, making a name for himself in some of Scotland’s biggest titles.
“My first sign of PTSD came during a football match I was covering in Glasgow, which I had done for years. I remember the noise of the crowd getting to me and I started feeling really uncomfortable. My heart was pounding and I just though ‘I have to leave now’.
“Afterwards I felt really stupid, but it was the start of a period of behaviour when I felt panicky and irrational in situations where there was no need to be. This was around 1996 – 14 years after my time in the Falklands which matches up with lots of people’s experiences.”
He went on to work as a freelance photographer in London, building a successful career in newspapers and glossy magazines, while still struggling with his emotions.
It took an episode where he had a panic attack and pains down his left arm which left him thinking he was having a heart attack, to make him consult a doctor who diagnosed depression and referred him for cognitive behaviour therapy.
“It was like a huge weight had been lifted from me and gave me the chance to explore why I was behaving the way I did.”
David’s own belief is that his PTSD was not caused by the horrors he went through in the Falklands, but stem from feeling insecure in childhood and an incident of trauma, like those he experienced there, were the catalyst for the feelings to resurface in a more powerful way.
The treatment he received, along with medication, helped him on the road to recovery, and a return trip to the Falklands more than 30 years later also helped him come to terms with what had happened.
“I was used to things being perfect, so when they weren’t I couldn’t cope. My diagnosis allowed me to realise that things can’t always be perfect and that was okay.”
After moving back home, going to college and setting up his own digital media company, he is now using his experience to help others.
He worked with Fife Veterans Association, speaking to others in situations similar to himself, the Royal British Legion Scotland and Fife Cultural Trust on projects to help servicemen and members of the public with mental health and physical problems.
He has also taken part in television and radio shows on the topic and is keen to continue his work.
“If there is anything I can do to help others who find themselves in a situation like I was in and thinking there was no way out, then I’m happy to do it,” he said. “Once diagnosed and with the right help, people can go on to lead full and productive lives.”
For more information contact David on 07710 185011 or visit www.legionscotland.org.uk