“Taking Off My Armour” By Shelley Bradley-Scholey

The month of July marks my last official day in military service, it has had its ups and downs, and everything in between. It has shaped the person I am now, through positive and less positive experiences. The military has been a significant part of my life, my family’s life and our relationships. It doesn’t need to have been perfect to be a cherished experience.

It has largely been made by the people I have met along the way, friends, colleagues and patients have each contributed to my time in the service.

The experiences I have had have ultimately made me more resilient, stronger than I anticipated I could be and braver than I imagined. At times it has brought an emotional and physical hardship, known only to those who have also served. The personal pride is still a work in progress, telling yourself well done doesn’t necessarily fit in the military culture, the environment tends to encourage you to always strive for more, to do better, work harder and be faster, sometimes it neglects to remind you to take a moment and be proud of what you have just achieved and just be with that.

The armed forces is not without problems or pressures. Personally and professionally I have experienced both, some of which contributed to my leaving the service. Aspects of that made me feel sad about leaving for a while, but change is inevitable and I have found strength in recognising when it is time to take back control and make choices that realign me with my values. I have been privileged to be able to do a job in the military that despite on occasion being in the most austere and ravaged environments has allowed me to help people, to care for them and to make a difference to their lives. For that I will forever be humble.

So it’s time to take of my armour, I have handed back the actual body armour that kept me safe in some dangerous and frankly deadly environments. But its more than just handing back a piece of kit and getting on with civilian life, I realise that I have built another armour around myself, my professional persona has become the person I am in a uniform, my rank, my role, the places I have been and where I have served. It is time to take that off too, to come out of the chrysalis of my military shell and become me again….Just Me!

Attending a recent meeting to promote FortitudePsychological Therapy, I found myself resorting to that military persona because I felt nervous, I dressed the way I knew I ‘should’ ensuring I was in a collar, no denim, formal footwear, I rehearsed my pitch in that formal style I have learnt over the years and I planned how to ensure I was 5 minutes early. All familiar and reliable ways for me to be ‘myself’ and make the right impression in the military environment.

It was time to have a word with myself and take off the armed forces exterior that I no longer require and doesn’t fully represent who I am. It’s time to take away that facade and remove my invisible armour that I realise I was still wearing. It has become so familiar that I barely noticed the weight of it. I say the “weight“ because it is heavy, it is a heavy burden to learn to compartmentalise your emotions, to be stoic in the face of horror and to push your personal wants and needs aside for the greater good.

I recall so clearly the day I walked into Basic training, determined not to sacrifice one iota of my quirky personality, with my pink suitcase, loud opinions and hair dyed all different shades of blonde. I got a shock when I realised I would have to dye my hair back to its original colour, don a frankly ugly looking uniform and learn to keep my mouth shut! It is time to find that version of me and get her back up to speed.

So back to attending the Fortitude meeting; I needed to regroup. I looked at myself in the mirror, and very firmly and clearly said ‘be yourself, you have a business now, you are doing that thing you used to dream of’. With that I chose myself a new outfit, something much more me, ditched my PowerPoint presentation (because let’s be honest we have all had quite enough screen time of late!) donned my converse and went into that meeting authentically and unapologetically myself. Maybe the attendees felt it went well, maybe they didn’t, I guess time will tell but for me it was the first time I was the me of my future and that felt good.

Its time to be in the place I am at now, I won’t forget the experiences that have made me who I am. Those lost, those suffering visible or invisible wounds, those who I have stood alongside and many who will continue to be a part of my life.

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