David Swift joined the Army on his 17th birthday and served for almost six years, leaving in 1998. He lives with his partner and seven-year-old daughter but says it took him ten years to settle into civilian life.
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“I came out of the Army because I wanted a family, and I didn’t think the Army was the place to have one. I had seen so many break-ups. I went away with a little red book, telling future employers what I was capable of doing. The attitude was: ‘You’ve done your bit. You’ve said you wanted to leave. Off you go’. And that was it.
When I came out it was a massive shock to the system. In my teenage years everything revolved around the Army. They taught me to be independent, smart and presentable; how to get my kit ready; and how to live in a field, but when you come out and everyday life hits you in the face, it’s a bit different. I did not even know how to put a card in the electricity meter. I stood there like a fool trying to put a 50p piece in because it was like that before I went into the Army. You spend six years living with 600-800 lads and all of a sudden you’re living on your own. When my relationship broke down, I gave up my house so the children could stay there and was told I wasn’t entitled to any support.
I was living on the streets. I slept in a local park for about six months. I’m not alone; five of us ended up homeless. You go from being this soldier everyone respects to being the lowest of
the low. People judge you. They think you’re a druggie. You just want to be respected like when you were serving. You need to learn how to adjust to civilian life. The second you feel worthless everything spirals out of control very quickly. In the space of a year I went from being a healthy young man in a great regiment to someone sitting in a park wondering what the point of my life was.
You need help, but your pride is too important to you. You do everything in your power not to ask for help. It’s not within you to back down. Your training’s taught you not to. You need to meet other ex-soldiers who tell you it’s ok to ask for help.
Sometimes you think your family would be better off without you. You could quite happily end it all. You feel worthless. I’ve lost friends who have committed suicide after leaving the Army. They never went for help. It could have been any of us. It’s just I got the help I needed. I wish they’d gone to SSAFA. There are times when your family can’t help. When you’re away in Bosnia or Afghanistan, there’s a lot of things you don’t tell your family because you don’t want to worry them.
A doctor diagnosed PTSD. But the first counsellor ended up crying and I had to end the session. I refused anti-depressants. I’m stronger than that. I could not settle down. I could not hold down a job. I got extremely bored very quickly. You are expecting a high standard of person to work with. In the Army everyone does the job to the very best of their ability every day. At the supermarket where I worked, they tried to teach me how to use a Stanley knife. It was a safety knife! In the Army I learned how to shoot someone from 1000 yards. There’s no excitement in your life. It’s mundane.
I wish I had never left. It’s way easier being a soldier than being a civvy. It took me 10-11 years to settle. Now when I feel low I set myself a charity challenge instead of going on holiday. I’ve climbed Snowdon and Ben Nevis. This year I’m walking Hadrian’s Wall, raising money for the family of an eight-year old girl who passed away. If it wasn’t for SSAFA, I wouldn’t be here. I’d have done away with myself. Instead, I’ve got my partner, a little girl and my job. Anyone leaving the forces should be given a SSAFA leaflet straight away.
They get you up and running and make you feel you can do things. You don’t feel like you’re a burden”.