Lynsey at the Opening Ceremony for the Department of Defence Warrior Games in Florida

“I was worthy again” finding my feet through sport

Lynsey was medically discharged after 10 years of service in the Royal Air Force, and after a period of poor mental health, rejoined as an MOD civilian. Sport helps her manage her chronic illness.

Lynsey was the Vice-Captain for Team UK at the Department for Defence Warrior Games in Florida last year, competing in archery, swimming and shooting. She was also selected for the Invictus Games as Archery Captain. Read her story in her own words:

In 2001, at the age of 17, I joined the Royal Air Force and loved every minute of the kudos, sense of pride and excitement that went with my service. I travelled the world and experienced incredible things, but I was most proud of my time spent during the latter part of my career heavily involved in the repatriation team, for which I was honoured for outstanding contribution to service.

I developed problems with debilitating pains in my lower back and legs and was eventually diagnosed with bilateral anterior compartment syndrome and lumbar spine disease, which were both attributable to service. Not only did this have a negative effect on my mental health, but also a detrimental effect on my Military career, which ultimately ended in being medically discharged after 10 years of service.

It wasn’t an easy transition to civilian life — in fact, I felt like a burden, as though everything I had done was wasted and slowly my feeling of worth slipped away.

After a very lengthy spell of illness, I was diagnosed with Secondary Fibromyalgia, which is a pain amplification syndrome attributable to (and as well as) the compartment syndrome, lumbar spine disease and problems with my mental health. It took some time to come to terms with the fact that I might have a continuous battle with trying to manage my symptoms and still be able to contribute to society, which although sounds a little dramatic, was a real worry, especially when at times I was unable to even lift my head off the pillow!

I was successful in ‘re-joining’ the Ministry of Defence as a civil servant, which afforded me a way of life akin to that of my military career, albeit sadly without the travel. In a somewhat naïve way, I always felt very aware of having a chronic illness and as though someone would find out, meaning I’d lose my job again, but this simply wasn’t the case.

My team supported me and they were willing to help — this was a turning point for me and I felt empowered; I was worthy again and I did deserve to be there.

At first, I was unaware of just how much support there is for both civil servants and military personnel with chronic illnesses and disabilities in Defence. I became involved in Sports Recovery through the charity Help for Heroes and was heavily involved in adaptive sports, believing that anyone can do anything, because everything can be adapted, which is what led me to learn of networks like Air Diversity and Inclusion, the Chronic Illness and Disability in Defence (CANDiD) network and the Forces Additional Needs & Disability Forum (FANDF). It’s only once I became aware of these support organisations that I had a true understanding of just how many people, both serving and civilian, struggle day-to-day with their health, which can spill over into their work life.

I believe that these networks are valuable for people to discuss their diagnosis, additional needs, worries and concerns in a safe place and also find the right avenues to follow via signposting or someone in the know — they open up such huge opportunity for people to meet likeminded individuals (not ranks or grades), to be heard, to be understood and most importantly, to not be judged. It drives a passion to want to help others and a thirst for learning more about what can be done to change policy and challenge preconceptions across Defence.

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