25 April, 2024

Veteran shares struggle

“It's up to you to change your mindset because nobody is gonna come rescue you”. These are the words of Burpengary veteran Zac Holbrook, who has transformed his struggles and trauma into a mission of helping others.

Zac Holbrook during his time in Afghanistan.
Zac Holbrook during his time in Afghanistan.

Zac served ten years in the army, including seven months in Afghanistan in 2012, having joined just before his 18th birthday in April 2008, following his mother’s passing.

“I honestly wasn’t really going anywhere in life and got in some trouble running with the wrong crowd but after my mum died I had a moment of clarity”, he said.

After being medically discharged due to a back injury, Zac began really struggling, suffering from anxiety, depression and PTSD.

This culminated in a suicide attempt in 2018, which was interrupted by his brother-in-law.

“In the army I had a purpose and structure and mates and once I was discharged that was all lost”, he said.

“When you get discharged you loose your purpose and all good things that came with the service. You end up just sitting at home with nothing to do but think.

“When you’re in that place with a lot of trauma, anxiety and darkness, you don’t want to plague anyone else with that and there is nothing worse than worrying about your toll on others.”

Due to this fear, Zac began isolating himself from his wife, daughter, family and friends, resulting in his brother-in-law coming home to find him about to empty a bottle of pills and stopped him.

Zac ended up spending nine weeks at the Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, where he started reflecting on his decision and called his brother-in-law’s interruption “divine intervention”.

“I started thinking I need to find a new purpose in life and I’ve got to move on from my trauma, not focus on it.

“I had to re-programme my brain to see the happy and good things in life, not only the bad, so I started making an effort to look for the good in my time in the army and my life at the moment.

“Many people had told me this before, but I was never ready to listen and that’s the thing: people can tell you how to fix yourself as much as they want... unless you’re ready and capable to listen, you won’t change.”

With help of a psychologist at the hospital, Zac found his new purposes: helping people and being a dad to his children, which he says is the most important thing.

“To protect, provide for and be present with my kids... the best thing about finding myself was finding the ability to connect with them.”

In regards to helping people, Zac is now an independent support worker, helping young people become individuals and working with older residents to help with their mental health, sometimes doing something as simple as getting them out of the house and away from their thoughts.

“I’ve always been a bit of a rescuer and I really take it to heart when people lose their battles, so I want to help.”

This goal was re-enforced given several of Zac’s army mates have committed suicide over the years, with only three out of seven soldiers he drove with still being alive (himself included).

“I know how hard it is to come home and be hung out to dry, feeling like everything you did is just a waste and that’s a feeling that a lot of guys struggle massively with.

“I enjoyed my time in the army, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

“It’s hard not to feel like I wasted my time, because you sacrifice and give up so much for a job, only for your work to be undone by a ruling or legislation.”

Being able to help people through his NDIS work is a way he has found to fulfil his purpose, without his eff orts being undone.

Zac is now in a great place and looking forward to doing more, having a great connection with his daughter and son, admitting he is a “pushover parent” because he doesn’t want his kids to experience the things he did and that he saw others go through when overseas.

“The more you talk about things the easier it gets and I learned you can’t be hung up on the trauma... you got to find a way to move on.

“Nobody is gonna come and rescue you, you need to change on your own.”


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