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Brazier talks about coping with PTSD and says MMA 'saved his life' following army discharge

Photo by Bellator MMA/Lee Hamilton-Cooper

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The Bellator MMA fighter Terry Brazier spoke this week of the anxiety attacks and depressive episodes he still suffers from as a result of his harrowing experiences serving as a paratrooper in Afghanistan.

Brazier, 33, from Windsor, says that without the army he’d either be dead or in prison, but, after being medically discharged from service with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it was MMA who saved his life and stopped it from spiralling out of control.

His PTSD still flares up from time to time. It did so two weeks ago and he says he wasn’t able to train, or even get off the sofa. However, he is able to manage it with training and says the focus on upcoming Bellator bouts keeps negative thoughts to the back of his mind. This is probably something Brazier will have to live with for the rest of his life, and the present lockdown restrictions do little to ease his anxieties.

But, for now, he’s feeling positive and is keen to let others in the same situation know it is possible to live a hugely successful life when suffering from a form of depression – even though he knows there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to everyone’s issues.

“It’s been very tough,” he says. “Without the army I’d probably be dead or in prison. Then the army almost killed me. Physically I was almost killed when in Afghan and then mentally when I got home.

“MMA has been a saviour for my mental problems. What I have to put my body through physically exhausts me so much, but it also helps with my PTSD. Four weeks before a fight my PTSD seems to get a lot better, but when I don’t have a fight or stuff to think about then PTSD can take over. I’m generally worse in the evenings. I get really bad anxiety attacks which stops me from sleeping and tires me out. It’s mentally draining and from there I get a bit of depression when I can’t be arsed to get out of bed or do anything really.

“I had it happen about two weeks ago. I was literally smashing the training, I felt I was on top of the world. But then I was like ‘this is dragging now’, I didn’t know when I was going to fight again and I started to think about the financial impact. I started worrying and then I got depressed. For a week I couldn’t train, I couldn’t pull myself off the sofa. I felt terrible. But I knew that was going to make me even more depressed so I gave myself a kick up the arse and got myself back into the gym and suddenly started to feel better again.”

His advice to others with similar feelings of anxiety is: “Try to stay fit mentally and physically. What I use to control my PTSD is training hard, and during COVID-19 that’s been hard to do. It’s difficult giving people advice because not everyone’s in the same situation. But as a rule of thumb, with a mental health issue, it’s important just to stay busy and the hormones you get from doing sport is uplifting. It’s like a drug.”

Brazier felt like he counted for little before joining the army. In many ways it’s a career choice that’s saved him but also harmed him. The army gave his life purpose and he had it all planned out, an early retirement on a decent army pension. But then came the 'tough' tours of duty in Afghanistan followed by his sudden removal from the barracks.

“When I was young I never counted for anything,” he says. “I was a little kid on the street, a little shit, a criminal basically. Being in the army I counted for something. I got respect for what I did and people acknowledged me. I loved that. It’s addictive. And when I was medically discharged from the army that got taken away from me. I had nothing to do. Would I go back to being a criminal again? What else did I know what to do, shoot people?

“When I started fighting MMA, people started giving me praise again and I started winning fights, first as an amateur and then as a pro. Before I knew it I was on stage at Wembley Arena, live on television and I was in newspapers and magazines. It gave me the same accountability I had when I was in the army. It’s a difficult feeling to come by and it’s why I’m always striving to be great.”

A paratrooper in Afghanistan, Brazier paints a bleak picture of what it was like to fight for his country in the conflict. But he also enjoyed his role and excelled at it. So much so that he was put forward for SAS selection after his final tour. It was a tremendous honour to be considered one of the best of the best. But, unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately in his case – it never happened.

“Talking about these things doesn’t bother me anymore,” he said. “Basically I was pinned down by a sniper while I was out there. I was laying on my front with my machine gun trying to cover everyone else. The rounds were literally hitting the bag on my back. They were skimming my head. I had three holes through my bag and a hole through my shirt where the shirt had ruffled up.

“On my 23rd birthday we had this huge battle where we were on one side of the road and they were on the other side in a ditch. We were throwing grenades and trying to shoot each other. It was absolute mayhem. I’ve had an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) explode near to me and I’ve trodden over an IED, literally either side of it and it didn’t go off. I’ve been very lucky and I’ve a big believer in when it’s your time, it’s your time.

“We were basically fighting every day none stop for seven to eight months. It was a particularly tough tour. When I came back I was asked to go for SAS selection, but then things just started to go wrong, my family noticed things in me and my sergeants in the army noticed that I wasn’t soldiering the way I used to soldier before Afghan.

"They sent me for a medical check up and after that they didn’t let me go back to the barracks. I haven’t been back to the barracks since. I had my life planned out. I could have retired when I was 42. I had an army house, my life was great but then this happened. All of a sudden my life was flipped on its head and I was back on the streets again.”

His medical discharge from the army proved a crossroads moment for Brazier. It took him away from one thing he loved and excelled at and, inadvertently, brought him to another.

The rest is history. A chance visit to his local gym saw him try out a sport that would change his life. He proved a natural MMA fighter with very little experience and, after showing his worth as an amateur he went on to become a two-division BAMMA champion and got his move into the Bellator promotion.

He has a pro fight record of 11 wins and 3 losses, but is hungry for more and still believes he can beat the very best.

“MMA saved my life,” he says. “I walked into a gym and trained Monday to Friday. I was just a new guy who thought he was tough. But then I fought on the Saturday and I beat two guys who’d been doing it for seven years, just out of heart and pure grit. I was told I had something you can’t teach.

“I’ve literally trained every day since then and I’m hoping to god that I can really show what I can do, and prove my worth to Bellator over the next two years. I do want the title and I believe I’m capable of getting it. I’m now 33 years old, I’m not 23, so I need to show what I’m made of these next two or three years and set up a future for my kids. If I waste this time I’ll never get it back and I’ll regret it for sure.

"There are 18/19 year olds coming through who have grown up with the sport and are a force to be reckoned with. But, fortunately for me I’ve got something that no one else has got. When you’ve been in the situations I’ve been in you think differently. I might get beat but I’ll never give up. I’ve got that grit, determination and mindset and fighters know they’ll have to put me out and really hurt me to stop me.”

Brazier is hopeful he can fight again for the promotion before the end of the year, with Bellator Dublin in October a possibility for his return to the cage. Due to coronavirus no one yet knows for sure when that date will be, however, Brazier says he’ll be ready whenever it rolls around.

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