A career in the military is more than just a job, it's a way of life, a brotherhood and a family. But what happens if that's cut short unexpectedly? In this guest blog, Andrew Stevens talks about his personal experience of leaving the RAF and how he spent 10 years battling a condition he didn't know he had…
In 2007 my career in the RAF was unexpectedly cut short and I struggled with my transition back into civilian life.
I joined the Royal Air Force when I was 18 years old, serving for seven years as a painter and finisher on Tornados based out of RAF Lossiemouth. I loved my job in the military, you're part of a tight community and a brotherhood.
You're told how to dress, what to eat, what to drink, where to live and everything is decided for you. I was made redundant in 2007 and that's when things changed for me.
Despite being successful in finding a civilian job, I became anxious and depressed and quite quickly things spiralled out of control. I began to worry about everything, my finances, my family, about my new job, my home.
Eventually that worry turned into compulsion.
It started with small things like washing my hands. I would wash them twice to make sure they were clean and that I wouldn't get ill.
But things escalated and before I knew it I was washing my hands four or five times and was still not happy. I would make the bed and if it didn't look exactly how I wanted it, I would start it all over again.
I began to avoid certain parts of the house and then eventually stopped going out too. I would spend hours at a time in the shower, trying to get clean.
I wouldn't touch my food, I would pace around the house checking I had locked everything.
When I got home, I wouldn't go near my children. I know it sounds crazy, but I couldn't risk touching them. This went on for 10 years.
And it was at that point my wife intervened and booked me a doctor's appointment. Quite early on they diagnosed me with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I finally admitted I needed help and got in touch with the RAF Benevolent Fund, not really knowing if they would be able to help. What really sticks with me is the speed in which the Fund stepped in and offered support.
I questioned whether there was any point in me being here, I was ready to end things.
But the Fund's early and reactive support meant I didn't have to ask myself these questions for very long and slowly the darkness lifted. The Listening, Counselling and Wellbeing service they provided saved my life.
Today I have turned that experience into a force for good by working with the charity Skillforce, presenting the Prince William Award in schools. I help children with self-belief, self-control and team building, helping them to build resilience.
As we mark Mental Health Awareness Week, my hope is that conditions like mine will become 'normalised' in the same way we see physical disabilities, making it easier for people to seek help.