In the final of our blogs celebrating female RAF trailblazers to mark International Women's Day, Michelle Partington tells us about her RAF career. Michelle, a former RAF paramedic, was the first female paramedic on frontline patrol with the RAF Regiment in Afghanistan – but her service took its toll.
I was nothing special really, just one of the lads doing my job. I did exactly the same as my male colleagues, kept my head down and got on with the job at hand. The media interest around my posting made it more of an issue than it actually was for me. I proved the doubters wrong, if you're capable of doing the job your gender shouldn't matter.
Being a paramedic was my dream career. I left school with few qualifications and initially joined the ranks of the RAF, reaching Sergeant before commissioning as a medical support officer.
As well as being the first female paramedic deployed with the RAF Regiment, I completed various tours of Afghanistan as part of the Medical Emergency Response Team. The MERT is highly specialised, taking emergency lifesaving care to the point or nearest to the point of injury on the front line in Afghanistan.
It was following these tours, that my dream began to become a nightmare. I suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which led to debilitating panic attacks, nightmares, anxiety and depression; and eventually my medical discharge from the RAF after 23 years of service.
The tours in Afghanistan were horrendous, we were dealing with blast injuries to begin with and then by the time I went for my last tour it was mainly gunshot wounds. By this time my mental health had already begun to suffer and I struggled with huge anxiety while I was there due to always being on a heightened state of readiness.
My recovery has been a long road but I'm proof that you can live with PTSD and go on to do meaningful things. I live by my motto 'If you believe in yourself you can become what you want to be with hard work and commitment'. And that's what I've tried to do by turning my bad experiences into something positive for other people.
Since leaving the Service Michelle has become an Invictus Games athlete and sport has been a vital part of her recovery. The RAF Benevolent Fund helped Michelle with the cost of a two-year counselling course to set up her own Foundation for veterans suffering with mental illness. Michelle has also now set up her own business delivering mental health training to businesses and individuals.