Wallsend resident and Afghanistan War veteran Rachel Kerrigan says she has come full circle.
Nine years ago a fellow veteran told her to get help for her deteriorating mental state. Now, the former RAAF engineering officer is guiding returned servicepeople on their journey to health.
"In 2010 I was diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder and chronic depressive disorder," Ms Kerrigan said.
"I wasn't sleeping, I was having nightmares. At one point I was sleeping under the kitchen table ... It just seemed like the safest place to be.
"I thought it was just stress from work but really my mental health had gradually declined from when I left the military and went into a civilian career."
After Ms Kerrigan made an attempt on her life, she was put in touch with mental health services and hospitalised.
"I went into a bit of a hole after that. I couldn't leave the house, couldn't talk to anyone. I was on 30 different pills to control my mood, my anger, my nightmares," she said.
"In 2013 I had a stress-induced stroke. I could no longer use the left-hand side of my body as a result."
Her body, however, was her greatest tool for recovery.
"The family I made through sport encouraged me to get out and get social," she said.
"Sport has given me the tools to manage the anxiety, depression and strengthen and build my coordination after I had the stroke."
"Through sport I am now competing in able-body powerlifting, and national wheelchair basketball."
Ms Kerrigan said training for the 2016 Invictus Games "really proved" what she was capable of. She now works as a veteran engagement specialist for Veteran Sport Australia and is studying to become an exercise physiologist.
She also volunteers as a power-lifting coach for other veterans.
"I really enjoy getting out there and bringing other veterans through that journey to health and well-being, as well as family and mateship, and all those things you miss outside the military.
"PTSD never goes away. I still deal with it every day. It doesn't have to define who you are.
"It actually forced me to decide what was important in life and what's not."
She credits her 15-year-old daughter for giving her strength throughout her recovery.
"I wouldn't be where I am without her amazing support," she said.
Ms Kerrigan is an ambassador for the Returned Services League's 2019 ANZAC Appeal, which raises funds for veteran services, including Veteran Sport Australia.
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