'Don't give up' - Veteran on how photography sparked PTSD fightback

Man in his 50s wearing glasses

Dave Fincham from Briston turned his back on corporate life following a breakdown - Credit: Dave Fincham

A veteran whose PTSD drove him to the edge after leaving the military is hoping to become an inspiration for others after his passion for photography saved his life.

Dave Fincham from Briston turned his back on corporate life following a break down as the mental health issues from his time in the forces boiled over. As well as photography, he turned to poetry to help him through his recovery.

The 55-year-old, initially wanted to join the Royal Marines, but ended up joining the Royal Engineers as a route to becoming a 59 Commando, a unit attached to the Marines.

He was then deployed to Northern Ireland during the Troubles as section commander of bomb disposal.

After this he fulfilled his ambition to be a 59 Commando and later joined the Special Forces in the 1990s, witnessing first-hand scenes of ethnic cleansing. 

A women standing alone on the beach in Cromer as the sun shines on the water

The image of a woman on the east beach in Cromer is called Lady of the shore - Credit: Dave Fincham

He left the armed forces in 1992 and joined a manufacturing company. He moved into sales, climbing the ladder over 20 years, before getting his dream job as a CEO. 

In 2018 after four months in the role, his past traumas surfaced. 

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“I melted and broke down, I was taken into hospital and was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD),” he said. 

“As a way of coping with my CPTSD I would retreat to a safe place and with my background, it was finding somewhere dark to sleep. I was going walkabouts sleeping in barns and self-medicating with drink. 

“I had suicidal thoughts and knew I had to combat that so I reached out for support."

A narrow lane with cobbled street

Dave Fincham has taken images across Norfolk, including this picture of Jetty Street in Cromer. - Credit: Dave Fincham

He was offered help from St Andrews Care in Northampton who partnered with Outside The Wire, part of The Matthews Project in Norfolk,  a charity supporting veterans along with vulnerable adults and young people with reducing drug and/or alcohol misuse. 

He then started cognitive behavioural therapy which he said allowed him to “slow down and think about my actions.” 

“If it wasn't for my partner Allie, St Andrews or the Matthew Project I wouldn't be here,” he said. 

In 2020, he carried on his walking but used it as a chance of expression. 

“Rather than going walkabouts I took my camera and started taking photos to try and capture my emotional journey.

Image of Cromer pier

A picture of Cromer Pier entitled 'Take A Seat'. - Credit: Dave Fincham

“During this, I was posting my photos and poetry, that I was using to express how I felt, into Facebook groups in Cromer, Fakenham, and Sheringham.

“After the first lockdown, a shop in Cromer said they loved my pictures and read my story online. They were my first to buy my photos and they have become strong friends. 

“They supported me and gave me the motive to go out and take more photos.”

The popularity of his work has grown over the lockdown, to the point where he is now selling prints, calendars and canvases of his shots from across the region. 

But he gets more joy out of sparking conversations on Facebook, as people share their memories on Norfolk spots. 

Seagulls take flight over the sea

He calls this image Wingman in which two seagulls fly over the sea in Sherringham. The photo was taken and produced as a moment after Dave Fincham's success and being signed off, released from treatment - Credit: Dave Fincham

“There are those that expect a photo a day and sharing images for the people who can't get out is so important as they are stuck at home either by themselves or, hopefully, with a loved one,” Mr Fincham said.  

“Walking around Sheringham or other places, local people ask if I am Dave Fincham and if I take the photos. 

"People are reading what I'm doing and there is a point for me doing it now. 

“In the short space of a year, I have really learnt there is still a value to my life.” 

 He now says he is incredibly proud to be a survivor of his mental health issues. 

Sunrise over a tree

The picture of a sunset in Hunworth was entitled the going down of the sun - Credit: Dave Fincham

“This time last year I couldn’t write my name down, and now I am happy to talk about my dilemma,” he said. 

“If you feel rock bottom, don't give up, reach out to someone.

“I am proud to wear the badge, it has been a horrendous journey, but, the more you talk the better you feel.”

  • If you need help or support, please contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s First Response helpline on 0808 196 3494 both 24/7. 
  • Alternatively download the Stay Alive app, which is backed by Suffolk User Forum, if you are having thoughts of suicide or if you are concerned about someone else.