Army veteran overcomes mental health struggle to take on ultramarathon
- Credit: Peter Brooker
A British Army veteran and father-of-four who experienced mental health problems while serving his country is to run an ultramarathon for the charity that supported him.
Peter Brooker - who is originally from Hitchin and now lives in Meldreth - signed up to the forces when he was 16 after leaving Hitchin Boys' School.
Peter served with Her Majesty's Royal Corps of Signals - finishing as a staff sergeant in 2004. He then served with the Territorial Army until 2016.
While on duty in Northern Ireland, Peter began experiencing symptoms of mental illness.
The now-57-year-old said: "The symptoms were very similar to depression - there was anger and frustration, I was ruminating on past events and trauma, and there was a bit of paranoia as well.
"In 2018 the symptoms were back again. I had a lack of mojo, I was withdrawing, but I didn't notice it at the time. I wasn't aware of how bad I was feeling until my family pointed it out. They said I was withdrawn and quick to get angry. I had no interest in doing anything.
"My work as a personal trainer suffered, I teach yoga and pilates. There was malaise and I wasn't committing myself to my business. It was impacting every area of my life.
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"By 2019, it had got worse and I started looking for help. The charity Combat Stress was mentioned to me - they run a helpline a bit like Samaritans, but geared towards ex servicemen and women.
"My family were very supportive and saw I needed help. I spoke to some of my ex-military friends as well and they were supportive.
"When I got in touch with Combat Stress, it was a relief. It was the anticipation of getting to the root cause of problems and finding ways of coping that pushed me forward.
"They invited me for a two-week stay at their residential centre in Leatherhead, where I learnt Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and they carried out further assessments. Luckily my problems were addressed there and then and I didn't need the further therapy.
"It is something you work at. I do live a fit lifestyle - I don't smoke, drink or use recreational drugs, yet I still felt the way I did. I needed that time and that headspace to retrain myself and deal with what was going on.
"I was critical of myself for feeling how I did. I didn't think this would happen to me. I didn't analyse how I was feeling because that becomes part of it, that lack of self-worth and self-esteem makes you not see things clearly and keeps you in the cycle."
Peter's last posting as a soldier was to Bassingbourn, then he moved to Meldreth. He said telling his clients at his business in the village, Powerhouse Pilates Studio, about his treatment was difficult - but he wanted to be honest.
He said "I explained to my clients and class members why I was going to be away for two weeks and they were very understanding. I was dreading telling them and in the back of my mind I thought of saying I was going on holiday or something."
To show his appreciation for Combat Stress, and raise awareness of the cause, Peter is taking on Race to Remember, which coincides with Remembrance weekend.
Poignantly, It's exactly two years on from getting his residential treatment - in 2019 he attended the Melbourn remembrance service before going to the treatment centre.
The race is a 47-mile ultramarathon, starting in Aldershot Garrison and finishing at HMS Victory in Portsmouth on November 13.
Wife Helen will be at the start line to cheer him on and will be a checkpoints en route. He also has support from his grown-up children, Thomas, Rachel, Rebecca and Holly - and his granddaughter Rowan, who is almost two years old.
Peter said: "I am nervous and apprehensive about the race - I have only given myself about 12 weeks to get ready, and most people give themselves six months. It's going to be a challenge.
"I have already raised about £800 - I didn't have a target, if I raised a couple of quid I would've been happy. But now it's at £800, it would be nice to get over the £1,000 mark."
"The race will be tough, but I don't want to let down the people who have donated or the charity - thinking of them will get me through."
To anyone who may be struggling, Peter's advice from his own experience is: "There is support out there, please go and look for it. Don't be afraid to ask for help."
To donate go to https://events.combatstress.org.uk/fundraisers/peterbrooker