The Ultimate Challenge Helping Raise Awareness for PTSD
It’s been an incredibly tough few years for former Newcastle police officer Dave Maione. Since being discharged from the Police Force in 2015 after 13 years of service, Dave’s mental health has suffered. His struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have seen him battle drug and alcohol addiction, as well as self-harm attempts. But after hitting bottom and ending up in hospital, Dave has begun the long journey towards recovery, determined to make the most of what he calls his “second chance at life”
This journey has not only seen him focus on his own health, but also take on the renowned Kokoda Trail in a bid to raise funds and awareness for other people living with PTSD.
Following in the footsteps of Australian WWII soldiers who famously battled Japanese forces amongst some of Papua New Guinea’s most rugged and isolated terrain in 1942, the gruelling 96km trek offers the ultimate challenge of mental and physical endurance.
For Dave, who made his journey along the trail over 11 days last month, it was a life-changing moment he hopes to use to inspire others struggling with PTSD.
“The last few years since leaving the Force have been extremely difficult, I’ve struggled with finding my identity,” Dave said.
“It’s like everything I knew, everything I stood for and all of my values have been stripped back, I didn’t even know who I was, and that has been the most difficult thing because it has
got in the way of ‘normal’ life, I’ve lost some close friends and relationships because of it.
“[In taking on the Kokoda trail] I wanted to be on my own, in my head to try and make sense of everything I’ve seen, the trauma, the guilt I feel, and the sense of injustice I feel every day. I wanted to push my mind and body both physically and mentally, to process it and gain a different perspective.
“I’ve always had an interest in our war history and a deep respect for our diggers both past and present, the sacrifice they made for us to have what we have today is nothing short of inspirational. “I’ve had the privilege of meeting and spending some time with ex-army and Federal Police while I’ve been in a PTSD clinic in Sydney. These men are doing it tough because they have spent time on the frontline for our country.
“Seeing their struggle gave me some inspiration to take on the challenge, to change something in my life, to achieve a step forward in my own recovery but also to inspire others who are suffering PTSD and depression.
“I wanted to show that with a bit of courage and sacrifice you can recover from this illness, that it doesn’t have to control your life and it doesn’t have to define you as a person.”
With a less than ideal preparation – “I only decided to do the trail during my recent admission into hospital not even three months ago” - Dave set off on the trek on October 1 with Australian Kokoda Tours.
The group also included former Australian rugby union player and star of reality TV show The Bachelor, Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins, who Dave said was “one of the nicest blokes you’d ever want to meet”. “I don’t think any amount of training you do can prepare you for Kokoda; it’s just such a unique place; how they fought a war there is beyond belief,” Dave said.
“The hardest part of the journey for me was day three, it’s the longest maybe not the hardest walk, but I can still remember, it was a few hours before lunch, and it nearly broke me. I was sore, and I mean in every part of my body – I was fatigued physically, but I don’t think you can prepare yourself for the mental fatigue.
"By this stage, my mind had processed so much; I was mentally drained. But as I walked into the village for lunch and saw the local men, women and kids greet us with a smile, and saw the third world conditions they are living in, it was like a wave washed over me and the weight I had been carrying the last few years lifted."
“I was out of my head and able to look back with clarity, I got that moment I had been hoping for – I am sure that it was at this point my life changed.”
The trek was also the catalyst for a fundraising effort, the proceeds of which Dave will donate to not-for-profit organisation Solider On Australia, which offers support to personnel from the Australian Defence Force, as well as other national security agencies including the Federal Police.
“The fundraising kind of took a back seat before the trek but now I am back I really want to get out there and have a good crack at raising some money for Soldier On,” he said.
“They have had a really positive influence in my recovery, they are doing their best to help ex-servicemen and women and have now opened (their support) up to helping first responders like the Police.
“I also want to share my recovery, my achievements of the last few months to inspire other people to speak up, to say its ok not to be ok, and especially say to other men that it’s ok to speak about your feelings, it’s ok to open up and tell someone you’re struggling.
“Raising awareness about PTSD is extremely close to my heart. Way too many people are taking their lives - even one life lost is too many.
“I believe that I’ve been through and come out the other side of my illness for a reason – to raise awareness and help people, inspire others to open up.
“I am still a work in progress and have a long road to go in my recovery, but with a new perspective and a new appreciation I feel that it’s now my destiny to continue to raise awareness and help others.”
Dave's facebook page 'The Mental Health Collective' is in its early stages, and he has now taken on volunteering at Waves of Wellness as a mentor for surf therapy. Donations to Soldier On can be made via Dave’s Go Fund Me page online at www.gofundme.com