Plymouth Army veteran bravely shares battle with PTSD and her journey to recovery

Clare's passing out day
-Credit: (Image: PR supplied)

A Plymouth Army veteran has spoken frankly about how military trauma destroyed her life for decades. Clare was able to receive specialist mental health treatment from the charity Combat Stress and has overcome her struggles to open her own business.

Clare, who served for 10 years including in Northern Ireland, had unknowingly been battling mental health issues for 20 years before things finally unraveled.

It all came to a head shortly after her son turned three, as she explains: “My mum came over and asked [my son]: ‘Where’s Mummy?’. He replied: ‘Crying, Grandma’.”


Clare was soon after diagnosed with PTSD by Combat Stress, something that ultimately transformed her and her family’s lives. Now, she appears with other veterans in a new charity film - available to watch on YouTube here - from Combat Stress, the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health.

She told filmmakers: “The black dog is a battle that will never be won - but it can be controlled.”

Clare joined the Army in 1997 aged 18 and during her 10 years' service she was posted all over the world, including Cyprus, Kenya, Jordan, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland. She was at the permanent joint headquarters in London when 9/11 happened.

She said: "It felt like everywhere I went something happened, so there wasn’t one single incident that triggered my PTSD. I left the Army in November 2007 and spent five years working for private security companies where I was surrounded by ex-military personnel, so it still felt like I was in the Army.

"I moved back to the UK, had my son, and a while later got my first job in the civilian world, which is when things started to go wrong. I didn’t have a clue about civilian people - I couldn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. I started to experience mental health problems and found life confusing at that point.

"I couldn’t understand what was going on, why I was feeling like that when as far as I knew, I had no reason to. The thought of talking to someone about it was too much and I was terrified someone would take my son away."

When Clare's son told his grandma that 'Mummy' was 'crying', things came to a head, Clare explains.

"My mum asked what was going on and that was it; the floodgates opened, and it all went from there. I don’t remember too much about that time as I was really poorly, and I have large gaps in my memory.

"I have very little memory of my son’s toddler years, which I hate. I had unknowingly been battling depression for over 20 years. It wasn’t until I became a mother and couldn’t do the things I used to do to escape, like travelling, that things started to unravel, and I had to ask for help.

"Making that admission was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I received a bit of help through the NHS but when that stopped, I called Combat Stress’ Helpline in 2016."

Having the strength to admit to the issues meant Clare was given specialist help.

She said: "I was diagnosed with PTSD and because I was a working single mum, Combat Stress tailored my treatment to two separate residential weeks at the southern hub, Tyrwhitt House, rather than expecting me to do the full programme in one go. When I was at Tyrwhitt House, I and other veterans were shown a film about depression called The Black Dog.

"Every single one of us cried, because it made us all realise we were ill, but it was ok to be ill. I credit that video with saving my life because until then I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me."

Clare during service
Clare during service -Credit:PR supplied

Clare said she was able to find solace in creativity, and has continued to practice as she has recovered.

“Part of my treatment was exploring the therapeutic benefit of art. I was sceptical at first and I’d disliked art at school, but I got really engrossed in it. It was phenomenal and I spent every spare minute thinking what can I make?

“After my treatment finished, I started creating decorative bottles with lights inside and putting regimental badges on them. People were saying I should sell them, so I contacted the Ministry of Defence for permission to use the badges thinking that they wouldn’t give me the license to use them.

"But they did, and I set up a website selling the bottles and people started buying them. It’s gone from there and I’m now about to open my first physical shop!

“When it came to naming the business, I really wanted to incorporate the black dog into it. The business is to do with arts and crafts, so I came up with The Crafty Black Dog.

"The ‘crafty’ relates to arts and crafts, but also because the black dog can be so crafty and just appear – you’re fine one moment then he’s there again. Combat Stress’ treatment has made a huge difference to my life and my family.

"I brought back my art folder from Tyrwhitt House and was able to show my family what I’d done. It helped them understand and it opened a gateway for me to talk to my mum about it all.

"She knows what to look out for now and is really good at spotting signs and saying ‘have you taken your tablets? Are you ok?’.

“I’d like to say thank you to Combat Stress for helping me. I never served on the front line, or lost limbs so I didn’t think I deserved their help. They made me realise that it doesn’t matter and gave me the tools to learn how to control my mental health to the best of my ability.

"Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days and the black dog is a battle that will never be won - but it can be controlled.”