Liz McConaghy was the longest serving female crewman on the Royal Air Force Chinook Fleet spanning a 17-year career flying on the aircraft. Her career saw her amass 2 deployments to Iraq and 10 deployments to Helmand Afghanistan in support of Operation Herrick which gave her an insightful and very personal perspective on war. Upon leaving the RAF in 2019 Liz slowly became unravelled after a series of traumatic events that compounded her PTSD. This led to her trying to end her life in Aug 2020. She survived and went into the Veterans Mental Health care system to help her deal with her demons and finally lay the images she had seen on the battlefield to rest. During this time, she began her autobiography ‘Chinook Crew Chick’. Liz’s story offers hope to those who have also found themselves in the darkest of places, who are looking for the tools within themselves to begin to rebuild a pathway to a new life. She is now an ambassador for mental health and specifically PTSD with Veterans. Liz stands as an example that PTSD does not have to be your identity, it can simply be a chapter of your life that can be learned from and most importantly moved on from.
Top Tips on dealing with Mental Health
1. Give your mental health a number.
Its so much easier to say a number e.g. I’m a 3/10 today than it is to say you are struggling. This is great for 2 reasons…. firstly, it gives others an indication if you’re not quite on top of things mentally, without needing to explain why, but it also allows you to keep tabs on your own mental health much better. If I find I’ve been saying anything less than 5 for a few days, I know it’s time to do something about it.
2. Ask twice.
So many times, if we are struggling and someone asks how we are we simply reply with ‘I’m fine’ or ‘living the dream’ as is a favourite. Straight away we then try to get the spotlight of us by shifting the focus of conversation. When I was struggling with my mental health, the odd person who asked twice if I was ‘really ok?’ was enough to break the eggshell and finally I let my emotions and feeling come out.
3. ‘Do what is good for you, not what makes you feel good’.
My PTSD and depression led me to isolate a lot and self-sabotage through the consumption of sugar. I went from being an absolute gym Queen to existing on sugar to lift my mood and barely mustering a walk in the fresh air. This saying changed my life. Now on those days where I begin to fall into that hole, I repeat it to myself and instead of doing something that will bring short term pleasure, such as a sugar hit, I chose something that will bring long term benefits.
4. ‘It’s just a thought’.
When my thoughts take over, they can lead to some very ‘toxic behaviours’…such as self-sabotage as I mentioned above. I’ve now learnt by repeating this sentence over and over to uncouple the thought from a resultant action. This can help with so many negative thoughts, that have the potential to ruin our day, make us nervous, anxious, and paranoid when we don’t need to be. It’s simply our brain playing tricks on us!
If you want to hear more from Liz McConaghy, she will be speaking at our next event The SHE Show South, Tuesday 11th July 2023, DoubleTree by Hilton, MK Dons Stadium, Milton Keynes
Liz McConaghy, Chinook Crew Chick
Liz McConaghy was the longest serving female crewman on the Royal Air Force Chinook Fleet spanning a 17 year career flying on the aircraft.
She was the youngest aircrew to deploy to Iraq aged just 21 and also the only female crewman on the Chinook wing for 4 years. Her career saw her amass 2 deployments to Iraq and 10 deployments to Helmand, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Herrick. Liz spent the majority of this time crewing the flying ambulance or MERT as it was known, witnessing trauma on a daily basis. Liz left the RAF in 2019 following a neck injury that no longer allowed her to fly on her beloved Chinook.
During 2020, Liz’s PTSD finally caught up with her resulting in an attempt to take her own life. She survived and went into the PTSD mental health system to put her demons to bed and re find her purpose in life. She found huge release in writing poems about her time in Helmand and eventually turned her hand to writing an autobiography. Her book ‘Chinook Crew Chick’ was released in Sept 2022 and became a bestseller within three weeks.
There are many parallels that can be drawn across from Liz’s experiences into the corporate world, such as mission creep and normalizing extended working hours until burnout. Liz also wishes to highlight the internal pressures we put on ourselves when we are a ‘minority’ person within a group focused on a common goal- the ‘not wanting to be a burden’ element that can lead to huge mental stress.
Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.