"It's not age that has caught up with me… It's memories, and nightmares, and flashbacks, and stupid things like bangs and fireworks… and remembering how I was. You get churned up inside, because you know what you were, and what you should be able to do, and you can't do it anymore. There are blank voids in my head, things it's maybe best not to remember, and then those memories are here as if it was last night, this morning, today, five minutes ago. Right now."
Thirty years ago, ex-Private Michael Iddon (Iddy) was a combat medic aboard the Sir Galahad when it was bombed during the Falklands War. Forty-eight soldiers were killed in the attack, with countless others suffering horrific burns and injuries. Iddy, as a young 18-year-old medic, was one of the last to leave the ship as he treated the soldiers - and almost drowned when he did eventually make it to a life craft - before spending the rest of the war treating some of the worst injuries the military had experienced since World War Two.
Today he wants his story to act as a warning to anyone suffering any of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to seek help - now. Symptoms include anxiety, flashbacks, hyper-alertness, depression, recklessness, guilt, denial, uniqueness, physical problems such as twitches, tics, shakes, crying for no reason, disturbed sleep patterns, irritability, isolation from yourself or others, anger for no reason, drunkenness and substance abuse.
"Don't mess about, or think it's soft or that's the way it is after combat. If you cut yourself, you would put a plaster on it. You'd get a medic to stitch it if it were deep enough. If you'd been shot, you'd be screaming for a medic. So why the hell aren't you screaming for a medic when you can't think straight because your head is thinking of other stuff? Go it alone and if you are lucky you will survive it. If you're not, you'll end up on a park bench drunk and dead. I don't want that for you lads, and I don't want you to go through what I am going through now."
"I don't want to be like that..."
At 48, Iddy is divorcing a woman he loves because his PTSD means he can't cope with marriage - or rather what he feels isn't a whole marriage because his symptoms crush his libido and emotions. He hasn't dared have children of his own, and won't risk his wife sleeping too close to him in case he thrashes out in his sleep and gives her a black eye.
He stays inside his house when kids 'play' knock and run, or shout outside his house. Not because he is afraid for himself, but because of what he might do if he catches one of them.
"I've been at parties and somebody has said the wrong thing and I've dropped them and nearly strangled them, asking him daft questions like 'What did you say?', and he can't answer because he is going blue, while with the other hand I'm pummelling the living daylights out of his head.
"You don't want to be like that. I don't want to be like that. And the young lads now don't want to be like that. They want to live a normal life. They want to be with their families. Me, I'm glad I haven’t got any kids. It took me 40 years to even think about getting married and at nearly 49 I'm getting divorced because I can't cope. My advice to any of the lads coming back now is: It's an injury. It's like being shot in the leg. Get it treated."
Iddy first started showing signs of PTSD when he returned to the UK, having just turned 19. After a short commitment to a psychiatric ward, he returned home, where he dug a split trench in his parents' back garden because he felt safer outside where he could see everything coming. His mum says he was nearly permanently drunk. For Iddy, the drinking was his only escape, isolating him further.
"Your military training teaches you to put your emotions to one side so you can do your job, or you wouldn't be able to do it, but if PTSD takes over, those emotions stay locked away and you end up feeling nothing for people. Or yourself. You can't live with yourself. You don't care about yourself, your family, about anything. You've have had enough. You do not want to live."
Find help and find a balance
Iddy admits he has attempted suicide, and has been saved by the strangest of interventions of someone banging on the fast-food restaurant toilet door because they had a more urgent call of nature. "I remember being sat on the loo and thinking nobody knew me in this restaurant so it wouldn't be a friend having to find me and be upset, when this guy started banging on the door. That's what stopped me. Imagine that!"
Yet other more pertinent memories escape Iddy. "Nothing stays in there now. Unless I have contact with people on a regular basis, I won’t know who you are. There is stuff in there that is probably better left forgotten. There are just voids – black spots in my memory that I daresay will always be there. The psychiatrists say they will come and go. Sometimes they will come when you are asleep but you’ll not remember in the morning.
"What you will end up knowing though is more about your illness than a physiatrist ever will. And it's up to you to find help and find a balance.
"You'll know what makes you twitch. You might say I don't do drugs but I do a lot of beer, or that bottle of vodka every night that helps me sleep.
"My advice is to get it treated, because if you don't, you're screwed."