Nick Goldsmith on combat, PTSD and the healing power of nature
April 29, 2023. Series 7. Episode 63
Having completed six tours in the most hostile of environments, including four in Afghanistan, former Royal Marine Commando Nick Goldsmith was a broken man.
Diagnosed with complex PTSD, Nick was paralysed with paranoia, shame, and as he describes it, survivor’s guilt. All a result of horrific experiences that saw him lose close friends in battle and become submerged in the other horrors of war. Once back in the UK Nick was initially lost in the military health system, eventually receiving the intensive psychiatric support he needed.
But it was a very different type of therapy that accelerated Nick’s recovery and led to him supporting so many others who had been traumatised from serving in the armed forces and the emergency services.
Nick and his wife Louise established Hidden Valley Bushcraft, where he teaches others to rebuild through a visceral connection with nature. Now, in his new book Rewild Your Mind, Nick shares his dramatic story and the practical techniques that helped him master the outdoors, and in doing so, master his past.
Nick’s Crisis Comforts:
1. Change your environment. If you’re feeling stressed, go for that walk. No one ever went for a walk and came back feeling worse!
2. Listen… pick out the subtle things going on around you. Ideally, put a piece of music on. Music is a window to the soul and it has such an ability to evoke wonderful memories and feelings.
3. Food … evokes good memories. Make your favourite stuff you had on holiday in Greece, lamb kleftiko or whatever it is…
Nick’s website: https://www.nickgoldsmith.co.uk/
Buy Nick’s book: https://amzn.to/3oKPUbw
Hidden Valley Bushcraft: https://www.hiddenvalleybushcraft.co.uk/
Woodland Warrior programme – https://www.woodlandwarriorprogramme.org/
Stream/Buy ‘Allies’ by Some Velvet Morning: https://ampl.ink/qp6bm
Some Velvet Morning Website: www.somevelvetmorning.co.uk
Your Daily Practice: Sleep by Myndstream: https://open.spotify.com/track/5OX9XgJufFz9g63o2Dv2i5?si=b2f9397c92084682
Host – Andy Coulson
CWC production team: Louise Difford, Ed Isaacs and Jane Sankey
With special thanks to Global
Full episode transcript:
Andy Coulson: Our guest today is former Royal Marine Commando Nick Goldsmith.
Having completed six tours in the most hostile of environments, including four in Afghanistan, Nick was, in his own words, a broken man. He endured some truly appalling experiences on the battlefield, including the deaths of close colleagues and friends. “I carried seven coffins in six months,” he says, heartbreakingly.
Those events perhaps not surprisingly had a devastating impact on Nick’s mental health that manifested in a drink problem and fights at home as well as abroad, all of this leading to what amounted to really a paranoid breakdown, Nick at one point unable to differentiate reality from paranoid fantasy.
Diagnosed with complex PTSD, Nick was eventually able to get the expert treatment he so badly needed, to help him come to terms with that paranoia, shame, and as he describes it, survivor’s guilt.
But it was a very different type of therapy that accelerated Nick’s recovery, but also led to him supporting so many others from the armed forces and also the emergency services. It was in buying a piece of land near his home in the West Country that Nick rediscovered his passion for the outdoors.
Former Marine Commandos don’t tend to study the ethnobotanical uses for trees, plants and flowers, or make YouTube videos about the joys of forest bathing, but Nick now spends his time doing just that. Rewilded and reenergised, Nick and his wife Louise established Hidden Valley Bushcraft, where he teaches others to connect with nature through forest skills. They have also established the Woodland Warrior programme in which Nick takes military veterans and others into the woods for a healing weekend of outdoor activities and frank conversations around the campfire.
In his brilliant new book Rewild Your Mind, Nick shares his story and the techniques that enhance our relationship with the natural world, and that by mastering the outdoors we can master ourselves.
Nick Goldsmith, a very warm welcome sir, to Crisis What Crisis. How are you?
Nick Goldsmith: Well thank you for having me, for a start, and yes, I’m pretty good thanks.
Andy Coulson: How did the Marines emerge as a career choice for you?
Nick Goldsmith: Deadly honest, I thought I was set for a career as a professional rugby player, that was kind of my- I guess my lineage at the time was looking that way. I was playing county rugby and was going to- and I managed to get into Sussex Downs College as it was, Lewes beforehand, and I was just there to play rugby, I’m not even going to try and sugar-coat that I was there to take other studies.
Bottom line is, I hadn’t made the grade and so I had to find another journey. So obviously now I’m sort of 16, 17, 18, a little bit lost. So I quite quickly decided I was going to have to come up with another plan, spoke to a cousin of mine who had just left Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, and literally at the point he was leaving was probably the perfect point for me to be sat down in front of him. And I had just blown up a knee, as well. I’d just blown up a knee playing rugby, so I was injured, I was probably in a little bit of a slump, and my mum took me along to speak to cousin James, who is a second cousin.
And yes, the long and short of it was I walked in and the first thing I saw was two blacked-out Chinook helicopters with a bunch of guys all in black along the front with green berets and sub-machine guns, and the 17, 18-year-old me just went, “I want that. I want that.”
Andy Coulson: So you get there, and you’re into the infamous Marine selection process and training process at Lympstone.
Nick Goldsmith: That’s right.
Andy Coulson: You talk about it briefly in the book, but the sense is that it was obviously something to endure but clearly you also enjoyed it. You kind of found like you- you’d found your tribe and you’d found your place.
Nick Goldsmith: I think exactly that. And to this day I still talk on a weekly basis to some of those chaps who went through that sort of eight, nine-month gruelling process, that longest training in the Western hemisphere to, you know, to become an elite forces soldier.
I needed that strong structure to- and it came at the right time for me. You know, to suddenly go to A4 folding your clothes, what I mean by that is folding your t-shirts to within the exact parameters of an A4 sheet of paper, and if it’s not good enough that t-shirt is going out the window and you’re going to go down and get yourself covered in mud up to your neck in seawater, and then come back again, and then- you know.
And all this kind of character-building stuff, a lot of psychological stuff really that they do down there, as well as the relentless physical. But at the end of the day that is for a reason, and that’s because the job you’re being sent to do, to put it mildly, is not a tickling competition. You know, you’re not there to make friends, necessarily.
So you have to be- the end product has to be of that standard. And you know, at the end of the day our British forces are forged from something like over a thousand years’ worth of warfare, so it’s a pretty streamlined system.
Andy Coulson: Yes, especially at the time that you were going in, right? I mean, it was an acute time for our armed forces and for the Royal Marines. You did four tours of Afghanistan, Nick, and spent time in Sangin in Helmand Province, truly the sharp end of that conflict for very long periods.
You write, as I say, briefly but very viscerally about that time of your life. You talk in the book about the esprit de corps with your comrades that you just alluded to. But also about the acceptance that you had as a group, that each patrol could be your last. And you describe how in combat you would keep that last round for yourself in case you were captured. It’s terrifying stuff.
Just tell me a little bit more about your memories of that time, in that sort of general sense.
Nick Goldsmith: I think if you- to try and really help paint this to the listener or the viewer, you’re going out of the door on a job, on a patrol, your task is to try and maintain presence in the area, provide security so that the locals can set up schools and all the things that they want to go and do. And to a degree, deny the enemy the ground to move around and keep setting these IEDs and these booby traps and all the rest of it.
It’s quite a multi-faceted thing. From the man on ground’s point of view, which is, this is the world you’re dealing with. Let alone the world of politics and the bigger picture and all that other stuff, at that level at 2008, aged 21 years of age, your sole job is to essentially get out there.
The environmental factor is the real difficult part of the puzzle there, because the kit equipment at the time, the nature of the weather out there, 50 degrees by day. Think of the hottest weather you’ve ever been on-
Andy Coulson: Yes, hellish.
Nick Goldsmith: And stick another 10 degrees on it, and then you’re trapped inside a Kevlar helmet between two plates. You know, it was known as the osprey diet at the time. Osprey were the company charged with building the body armour for the British military at that time in the conflict, so the osprey diet. You could go out there 16 stone, built like a, you know, and you could come home at 12 stone wet through in a matter of months because you’re just- the body will just ditch anything that’s non-essential, including muscle. You’ll only keep on whatever is required to do that job, because it’s that demanding.
So that robustness that the training is designed to bring about is there for a reason, and as such it all comes into play. So when you’re out there doing that stuff, you think back to all that nasty stuff you endured in basic training and you go, “That’s why they were getting us to do that.”
Andy Coulson: The shift to the, you know, the fear of it Nick, was immediate right? I mean, you’re plunged straight in. There’s no transition is there, really, once you get your green beret you’re off.
Nick Goldsmith: We were one of the few forces, and we still are one of the few forces where you can pass basic training, which is let’s face it- I think people have an idea of basic training as sort of six weeks of learning how to use a rifle and walk in the right direction and stuff.
We have eight- or nine-months’ comprehensive package where you are jumping in and out of helos by day, by night, you are learning how to- methods of entry, you are learning how to close quarter battle, how to operate all sorts of radios, different types of weapon systems, vehicles.
You are getting on and off of ships and boats at night time. Arguably the most dangerous job the Commandos do is when you are pulling up alongside on a small RIB or MIB and you are trying to climb one of those caving ladders up the side of a moving ship. Now, weigh laden with body armour and full weight, and ammunition and scales and a radio etc, you slip off that caving ladder and you are gone into the murky black darkness. It’s as simple as that.
Andy Coulson: Yes.
Nick Goldsmith: So again, it’s all for a reason.
Andy Coulson: So how – that adjustment, being thrown from the training straight onto the front line in the most, as I say, the sharp end of this war. You adjusted? In the first period you were able to adjust to that quite successfully, were you?
Nick Goldsmith: They did about everything as they could, I would say, they really prepared us, and then comes the real deal, right? So then you collect your weapon from the armoury, you get all the gear on for real. You fly out to Camp Bastion, you spend a week there getting a package which is designed to acclimatise you and is designed to bring you up to speed with the latest tactics.
Nick Goldsmith: What I learned was, the game changes every two weeks on average. Every 14 days the enemy, whoever that is, wherever you are in the world, will switch things up because they’re watching what you’re doing, and go, “Right, they’re doing this so we’ll now do this.” And the only way you learn that they’ve changed that up, sadly, is through someone going through a doorway and nearly getting their head taken off, or whatever happens. And then you go, “Oh God, they’ve started doing this.”
So it’s a constant game of cat and mouse, it’s a really tricky thing to deal with. But in terms of the fear and what you’re talking about there, that real fear really came to light on my first day on patrol where we ran- we ran into three- we were ambushed three times, one of which was probably the biggest one I think I had the entire tour but it just happened to be on my first day.
We saw a whole bunch of women and children fleeing an area we were moving into and so we all lined up on the edge of a ditch. The order was given to fix bayonets so everybody fixed their bayonets, and you know, I think that- when you’re doing it in training, that’s one thing, right? Because then you’re going to be in a sort of position filled with sandbags with paint or whatever.
And suddenly it’s going through your mind, and you’re just hearing those words through the radio, and you’re just hearing the sound of the clink, clink, clink, clink, clink of all these bayonets going on, and it really starts to hit home. And you’re on the edge of a maize field, corn, a 12-foot screen of corn. 50-degree heat, as I said, and you’re carrying this incredible weight, and you’re really beginning to kind, “Phwoar wow, this is an acclimatisation patrol.” And you’re carrying absolutely full weight, full scales, and really ready for a scrap if it comes your way.
And it did. It did. It wasn’t quite what we expected though. We were all lined out in a field, every single chap is- rather than in a straight line, every chap is facing the other way. So it’s called a herringbone formation, so we’re all taking …waiting for some orders to come through the radio. About 40 metres away is a small edge of a compound, mud wall, about 4 foot thick. Well, it’s the exact dimensions of a wheelbarrow, because that’s how they make it, and it’s made up of wattle and daub, it’s that stuff that British houses were made out of in the 1500s. So it’s very thick, it absorbs the energy of bullets and things like that, it creates brilliant cover. In terms of their houses it keep them warm and keeps them cold and kind of temperature control is all there.
And there were a bunch of lads hiding behind that. Enemy fighters. We didn’t know that. So I’m actually facing the wrong way, and when the first burst came over the wall it was so close and so loud, I jumped out of my skin and looked to the sergeant to my left, who was busy lighting a cigarette, as if to say, you know- still hand on my weapon but like, “What’s going on?” You know, looking around, thinking that one of the lads just had a nightmare and leant on his trigger and somehow let off a burst. I thought it was an accident.
But the chap I was looking at, that sergeant, that was his fourth or fifth fighting tour. So he spat the cigarette out, shouted, “Contact,” turned around. I turned around, laid on the floor, and then off it went. And there were nine enemy fighters with fully automatic Kalashnikov variants with the big bag of bullets underneath, the PKM. All I could see was a set of tripod legs over the end of a wall, so there’s nothing to even really return fire onto very well. You would be lucky if somebody pops up behind for a second just to see where you’re laid out, and they’re just emptying from behind the wall.
At 40 metres we’re talking- that is effectively point-blank. So nine automatic weapons being emptied at you at 40 metres while you’re lying in a field with nothing to hide behind but a blade of grass, the cut corn stalks, is pretty terrifying stuff. And I remark at the time, I can’t remember if I put this in the book but I’ve spoken about it before. Even the medic, our medic, and generally if the medic’s firing something is going wrong, because you always want to keep the medic just one tactical step behind in case-
Andy Coulson: Right yes, in case he’s needed.
Nick Goldsmith: He’d done seven of his eight magazines in this initial contact, and I’d done- I was looking, flicking through a little diary where I’d been keeping notes and things like that, I’d done something like nearly 400 in that sort of time period that this thing was happening.
And these 105 artillery shells, the big brass shells that people use down by their wood burners, well, I’ve got one, were being fired. These shells were being fired from our boys, and 29 Commando Artillery Support were bringing these rounds in right in front of us, at danger close at one point to soften that target, so that we could then either decide to push through it or work round it or whatever we needed to do.
Utterly terrifying, hearing artillery shells tearing the sky in half from six kilometres away and coming down right in front of you.
Andy Coulson: So that’s your first patrol. Did your-
Nick Goldsmith: This is first patrol, this is first contact, and there was another two by the time I got back to the fog that day, right? So there’s a lot going on.
Andy Coulson: This is day one, this is day one on the job.
Nick Goldsmith: This is week one, day one, welcome to Sangin. This is what you’re going to have a lot more of. And then after being separate- my section being broken off from the other two, so there’s only ten blokes in a section, we had to run, get up and run once the fire had died down and the RPGs had stopped flying in from further in-depth positions, and all the other chaos.
And we had to do an amphibious extraction up to our chest in water, up through the canal path and back up into sort of a friendly call-sign base where eight Royal Marines were mentoring thirty Afghan National Army guys, who were trying to provide us with covering fire over the top. The enemy were still having a crack here and there, wherever they could get in an angle down to the river there. So rounds were splashing in the water and it was all pretty chaotic.
And when we got back, during that initial contact I’d watched my Corporal take one through the shoulder. He was a very brave man because he realised that that signal that needed to get sent back to the base to let them know what was going on, so that we could get that artillery to come over, well to get that message out, when you’re lying flat with the antenna laying linear to the floor, it’s not going to happen. So he very bravely got up on a knee in the middle of this wall of lead from both sides, and was pinged straight through the shoulder, and just carried on like he was buying a pint of milk, very bravely, and got the message out there.
So those sort of acts, daily, is kind of really what I feel epitomises us as British Commandos.
Andy Coulson: You’re not- an understatement. Nick, you also write about the civilian horrors that you witnessed. You know, children gassed by enemy fighters for going to school at that period in Afghanistan’s history. Parents who would pretend they were victims of conflict so as to get the compensation from the military, you write about that.
Nick Goldsmith: What they would do is they would- basically, you could see that the medics were picking this out, that there were burn marks, powder marks from where the muzzle of the barrel of the Kalashnikov or whatever it is they were using. And they were generally sort of shooting them through the thigh or through the buttock or through the arm, and then bringing them in to our forward operating base, because we had created a pattern of dishing out compensation at the time to a tune of a couple of hundred dollars for people who had been caught in the crossfire.
So of course they, you know, out of desperation they’d found a way around that.
And there’s nothing to say that it was necessarily the parents, because being a parent I can’t ever imagine having to do something like that. But it might well have been an enemy fighter or someone who has then tasked that person with taking that child into our compound to then describe what does the inside of the compound look like? Where do they keep the vehicles, is on this side or this side?
You know. And so- life is cheap out there. We found a bloated body up against the grate of the river that was coming through that we were using to wash between patrols. There was no greater feeling than getting all your kit- getting all that equipment off and just getting into the river up to your neck, in that cooling water. They quite quickly denied us that when one of the patrols was sent and found the presence of the body in the river there. So again, couldn’t use the river then.
It’s chaos. Absolute chaos.
Andy Coulson: Yes, that is the right word.
We’ll be right back after this.
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You also describe a shocking moment Nick, when you’re sent in to, I think I’ve got this right, throw a hand grenade into a building that you believe is occupied by enemy soldiers. And by chance, you’re not wearing your ear defenders that day and you hear-
Nick Goldsmith: I think, yes. So the way I’d written that was I wasn’t wearing them that day. My ear defenders didn’t arrive while I was on that tour. We all had these things- we had this gunk pressed into our ears back in the UK so we would have these cutting-edge ear defenders for the tour, and they didn’t arrive until sort of-
Andy Coulson: They didn’t arrive, yes.
Nick Goldsmith: Five months, until like the very last month of the tour.
Andy Coulson: I remember well the stories about equipment failures, yes. So on this day you’d not got your ear defenders, and in a way thank God, because that allowed you-
Nick Goldsmith: Absolutely. I was sidling up to the edge of a door, we’d already- basically the premise behind that day was we’d gone out on patrol, we’d been taken on, and we were following up the enemy. They’d gone into what looked like- can only be one-way, you know, there’s no possible way they could have been out of there, we’re going to go follow them up. So we’re just clearing room after room after room methodically, and carefully obviously, having to use the metal detectors to cover all of the walls, around the doorframes.
You have to be so careful, because the commonplace thing back then was to have what was called a come-on, where they would fire a couple of rounds at you and then disappear. You’d go running in there to go take them on, and then kaboom. You know, that would be the end of you.
So you have to- you can’t- you have to have a very calm, cool, calculated head about you, you can’t become emotionally distracted by that sort of thing. It’s utter concentration. So you’re working your way though, working your way through.
We get to this last room and we’re thinking, “Well, they’ve got to be in here.” So I’m getting ready to pull the grenade and to go and do this room, and I remember hearing a cough. It was a cough, definitely- I felt that it was a female cough. And a shuffling of feet. Thinking, “There’s more than one person in here,” and all the rest of it. And for whatever reason, I just decided that I was going to go and clear that myself. So I was the first guy to be in anyways, I was like, “Right, I’m not going to throw the grenade, I’m just going to go in with the- with [inaudible 0:28:46] up on hold, and swing from the door as best I can, clear from the door and then in.”
And I – there was just this piercing scream of all of these terrified women and children, and it really took me by- you know, I was a bit shocked. They were crying and they were absolutely terrified. Because you can imagine being stuck in a room and hearing all this banging and shouting and, you know, going all the way up to your door, what do you do about it?
As to where the enemy fighters were, to this day I don’t know where they disappeared-
Andy Coulson: No, but that moment, in that moment you could be- I imagine an enormous sense of relief, but actually what an amazing demonstration of your- of the power of your instincts and bravery, Nick. There’s no other way of- there is no other word, because by not chucking a grenade you took a risk, you took a decision that was dangerous to yourself. And that is, you know, it’s an astonishing tribute to you.
Nick, you lost a lot of friends, some of them shot and killed alongside you, I know. Seven funerals in six months you describe in the book, many more I think that you’ve attended and that you attended in the months that followed. You say you can’t listen to Mariah Carey’s Hero without getting flashbacks. If your son Finley is using red paint your wife has to- you know, when he’s sitting at home playing, your wife has to pre-warn you.
The damage done to you, Nick, was obviously, you know, very significant. I want to ask, I want to talk about the PTSD, the very complex PTSD that you’ve fought your way through.
At what point are you becoming aware of the impact that this is having on you? Because it’s manifesting in other ways. You write about, you know, the drinking, getting into rows at nightclubs, at one point you describe how you ran home from a nightclub, 28 miles through fields, away from whatever had happened in the club.
At what point Nick, with all these layers, do you begin to realise this is- “I’m damaged with this. I’ve got to address this”?
Nick Goldsmith: It’s when you are going to a house party, coming back from leave from somewhere, and you can remember to sort of like 7, 8, 9 o’clock, then nothing. Then you wake up in the morning with this anxiety stomach-churning feeling, and your phone at the time which is very primitive, I had like a 33-10 or such then, buzz buzz, messages going, “Are you okay? Oh my God, are you okay?” Your mates are going, “Where are you? Where are you?” And you’re thinking, “Actually, where am I?” You don’t even know where you are. It’s all pretty scary.
And then you have to write emails to apologise to people and say sorry to your friendship groups and things like that.
It’s a cycle, right? So it takes a little while for the penny to start dropping that you are upsetting and alienating- you’re upsetting the people, you’re alienating yourself from your friendship group, and suddenly people don’t want to go out with you. You’re like, “Come on, let’s go for a few beers,” “No, you’re alright mate.” “What’s up with you? What’s up with so and so?” You ring so and so, “Oh, I don’t know, don’t know.” Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, apart from someone like Chris, best mate, who was like, “You’re a nightmare.”
Andy Coulson: What did you do, Nick? Once you’d begun to realise, once you’d begun to kind of be- you were confronted and begun to kind of accept what was happening?
Nick Goldsmith: I had a tour coming up, and I spoke to a psych nurse and then I didn’t want it to go any further. Because I was having these nightmares these awful nightmares. And I deployed another couple of times. My feet really didn’t touch the floor. In kind of my defence, my feet did not touch the floor with the level of- the speed of the deployments thereafter.
And so on that last tour we had a horrendous incident. Some chaps I was embedded with at this point, there was only about 40 of us up a tiny mountainside in this location, they go out and do a job. I’m in a more of a logistical role at this point, in a kind of direct support role but not actually going and doing the jobs. And the chap who says to me, “Happy with tonight, how it’s all going, we’re going to head out, see at 03 in the morning,” or whenever it was they were coming back off task, he never returned. He died. And another couple of lads got very badly injured.
And it affected all of us. It affected all of us. And I think at that point it really hit home hard. I was sharing a room with an American who was part of the intelligence community at the time. He was watching the whole thing happen on a big screen in the operations room, and he came back into our room and broke down in tears. He wasn’t allowed to say what was happening, but we were all going to find out at some point anyway, right? So he told us, and I just remember like the shock.
And I remember around that time seeing doc in this little location. And the doctor had organised that psych nurse to come out, and it was the first chance I’d had from the other side, okay? Forcing me to sit down and have a conversation with a psych nurse. I was identified, along with a couple of others, as struggling somewhat, and so it then turned into, “I’m going to let you finish the tour but you have to promise me that you will come and see me before you go on leave.” I said, “Okay, absolutely.” I think this was nothing more at this point than a sort of pinkie-promise type thing, but if I say I’m going to do something, I’ll do something. Right?
So I got back, handed my weapon into the armoury, and I spent the night on the base, on the floor in front of our lockers, just in my sleeping bag. A rather uncomfortable night in our little restroom where I knew how to get the key, get into the building. So I spent the night on the floor there. At that time of the night you’re talking- only had sort of five hours to lie on the floor and then I was up first thing to go to the med centre, to go and have a chat with her.
Had a chat with her, she asked me all of about three questions and I completely folded. Crying mess, just breaking down. She’s like, “Okay right, go on leave.” I was owed an incredible amount of leave because I’d been on the bounce for so long, so I took this leave.
And then during that time a case conference had taken place between this particular unit and the Naval Recovery Service Centre, know at the time as Hasler Company. They said, “Yes, we’ll take him on.” They were like, “Cool.” It wasn’t followed up. There was a bureaucratic error that took place. So eight months into this, I’m on leave.
Andy Coulson: And you were lost in the system.
Nick Goldsmith: Absolutely lost in the system. Still getting paid every month, but no one’s ringing me, no one’s chasing me, no one’s asking me to come to the base. Nobody is asking me to do anything.
So I got to my very lowest moment in the sort of December. But fortunately I had this little piece of woodland and a place to be and something to do, and so I had an out of- I wouldn’t say purpose. What I now say is I wake up with purpose on purpose, or on purpose with purpose, okay? I have a little job and I know what I’m going to go and do, and I’ll go and achieve that.
But at the time I knew nothing more than go down the woods, make a fire, sit round the fire, admittedly maybe take a bottle of rum, and yes, just sit there. And take an axe and a spade or whatever and clear the paths, and start to make something of this little patch of woodland that we’d bought.
Andy Coulson: Just explain quickly then, because the system does re-engage with you, having through this error lost you for a while. They then do re-engage with you and that’s-
Nick Goldsmith: I reached out to them.
Andy Coulson: You reached out to them did you?
Nick Goldsmith: On the flip of a coin. If she answers, great. If she doesn’t, I don’t think- we need to discuss what the likelihood was after that.
Andy Coulson: Wow.
Nick Goldsmith: So I then went down to the base for one week, or a day or two, looked at my room, great, know where I’m coming to. Sent me away again. 2015, after Christmas leave I come down and I begin my recovery journey. And I start off in the Naval Recovery Service Centre and I stayed there until ’18, where I was then discharged. During that time I went through all the hoop-jumping of- everything that they were asking of me I did to the best of my ability.
So that included doing the EMDR, the Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing, the CBT, trauma-focussed stuff.
Andy Coulson: Yes, yes.
Nick Goldsmith: And I then went and found an external practitioner to help me with something called NLP, with residual stuff I was struggling with.
All completely scaffold and supported by the fact that when I wasn’t there I was in the woods. Okay?
Andy Coulson: Sorry let me understand- that’s a three-year process that you went through?
Nick Goldsmith: That was a three, well, nearly four-year process, yes. A three-year process, yes. So I was there for a long time.
Andy Coulson: [And when you weren’t engaged in that, as you say, scaffolded system of therapy, any other time you had, straight back to Louise, straight back to the woods.
Nick Goldsmith: I was in that woodland, I was shifting tonnes of woodchip, creating pathways, reading literature on woodland management. I just remember just- these kind of 1960, 1970 Forestry Commission bulletins about how- because the theory is, if you can understand what the thinking was when people were laying out the woodlands as you see today, and the landscape is formed by large- of that thinking, then you can understand what you’re looking at, you know, far better.
So you kind of have to go back to look at that, even if it’s right or wrong now, and go, “Okay, that’s what they were thinking, so that’s why when I look at this I’ve got a mixture of conifer and der der der der der. That’s what that’s doing there,” because it’s not native. And you can really kind of build your-
And then forward of that, all the way through to the latest science of how a tree does whatever it does. So that was really important to me.
Andy Coulson: So obviously a very gradual process, three to four years as you say. Can you in you mind though Nick, identify the moment where you felt, “Okay. I’ve-” it’s not as simple as, “I’ve worked this out,” obviously, it’s far, far more complex than that.
Nick Goldsmith: Yes.
Andy Coulson: But do you remember a moment? I’m guessing that it’s in the woods, when you felt some peace for the first time?
Nick Goldsmith: Pivotal. Yes, well I think any time I was sat down there around that camp fire, I was essentially recreating my childhood experiences, so I’d gone to a safe space. It just so happens that that’s made all the more powerful for the fact that that’s been a safe space for us as humans for 300,000 years, right? So it’s kind of, I think it’s a- that’s why the knowledge that I have tried to share with people, regardless of whether you’re living in a 20-storey tower block, you know, through the book, in London, or whether you’re someone who gets into the outdoors all the time, or perhaps you’re a farmer, it helps you to look at the outdoors in a different way.
There’s so much for us to do in terms of learning to forage, learning to navigate, learning to- we all just use our phones now. “Siri, how do I- how do I get from A to B?” Just Google it, Maps, Google Maps. But actually you know, there can be quite a lot of fun taken from reading the landscape around you, from the way that trees are formed or to the way that certain buildings have been bleached by the sun on one side and not on the other. You know, whatever, there are ways to read it, right?
And it’s all just like- a bit like the code. I’m giving my age away now, The Matrix.
Andy Coulson: Yes.
Nick Goldsmith: It’s a big green code, and in there there is food, medicine, all sorts of stuff that we can be using and interacting with. And you never know, every one of these subjects, these sort of subject matter, has a spin-off and can involve a hobby. So you could end up crafting stuff out of wood, making inks and dyes, spinning yarns and making materials, basket weaving.
I mean, we used to- I’ve been talking about this recently. We used to- we use the phrase, “He’s a basket case,” as a bit of a throw-away derogatory term for someone, but of course coming back from World War 1 and World War 2 heavily disfigured, we saw and recognised the power of small, fiddly tasks.
So a lot of people sit in their basement and paint Warhammer, these little figurines. Those all-encompassing small, fiddly tasks, that one singular task of weaving-
Andy Coulson: Can be very yes, can be very, very helpful.
Nick Goldsmith: Hugely, hugely. And we know that. So we call people-
Andy Coulson: It’s interesting that you chose a route that has a strong element of survival and endurance. You know, you didn’t choose knitting, or painting Warhammer figures. You need that, you need that challenge element still?
Nick Goldsmith: I absolutely do. You know, you have to remember that somewhere in there that chimp, that monkey still needs a banana every now and again. So hence every single winter I set myself a winter challenge where I do sort of four to six days living just under a canvas sheet, a tarpaulin, raising money for various causes.
So this year I did the South Downs Way with another Marine who I joined up with and he got injured, so we did four horrendous days along the South coast with 70 mile an hour winds and soaked through to our skin, and yes, it was a real test of the skill set. And I think doing that sort of thing, is it dangerous? Well, it probably does have a danger element to it, but then also that’s kind of part of the box-ticking there. There is an element of you that needs that adventure. But it’s just the right side of safe, you know? Being here in the UK.
Andy Coulson: Yes. I suppose the obvious question, does putting yourself into that kind of environment, does it increase the- I’m going to use the word risk, you might say actually it’s all part of the process and is a net positive for you. But presumably putting yourself in those environments is going to open up new- is going to open up memories that- of doing exactly those things when your life was in danger, right?
Nick Goldsmith: No, not really for me. I mean, it’s- I think the thing to be able to navigate and to be able to tell yourself, for instance when you’re forest bathing or- the reason I love camping in the rain, any time that stuff was happening, let’s say with the enemy abroad, you don’t get taken on in the rain. They didn’t want to come and play in the rain. So I’m not going to get bumped. I’m not in the armed forces, I’m not carrying a weapon, I don’t have to adhere to anything. I’m just camp- I’m enjoying the benefits of the outdoors.
The field is no longer the field, looking for in-depth enemy firing positions and observation points, and nooks and crannies for me to protect myself from cover from fire or cover from view from being seen to be fired upon.
I’m just interacting with the outdoors as an observer, as part of the woodland. It’s not about me imposing my will upon it and it’s not me versus nature. It’s working with the outdoors in harmony.
Andy Coulson: Yes. Nick, you’ve told this story brilliantly, you’ve answered the questions brilliantly. I thank you for it and I’m sure those listening and watching will want to thank you, too. Also I want to say this, because it’s become a bit unfashionable these days, partly because of the sort of, you know, I suppose the, you know, we’ve got wars running but they’re, you know, they’re not involving as many British troops right now as when you were at work if I can put it that way. But thank you also for your service, you know?
We’ve skimmed along these stories that you’ve told, that’s the nature unfortunately of a limited podcast. But this is years, years of your life that you gave to this, and putting your life on the line every day, so thank you for that.
I also want to finish, if I may, as we do. You are the first guest that I’m going to ask for Crisis Comforts. We used to call them Crisis Cures Nick, but I had a brilliant guest on recently called Julia Samuel, who is a most fantastic psychotherapist and trauma specialist, and she told me that cure is all wrong. There are no cures, this is the point. So I’ve been corrected, and you are the Crisis Comforts debutante.
Nick Goldsmith: Okay
Andy Coulson: So, give us three specific things. Can’t be another person, please.
Nick Goldsmith: Three specific things, right. I would use the- I’m going to go with an acronym, because acronyms are easy to remember.
Andy Coulson: I love an acronym, go on.
Nick Goldsmith: I am going to go with EMF. So Echo, Mike, Foxtrot, EMF. Just because it rolls off the tongue nicely.
E, environment. Change your environment. So if you’re feeling that all-encompassing stress, knotted stomach, sweating, all the kind of stuff, environment. Change your environment and go for that walk. Even if you are living and working in the concrete jungle that is a city, put your coat on, I don’t care if there’s that much of your face showing, get up, go-
Andy Coulson: Get out.
Nick Goldsmith: 15 minutes. Nobody on Earth ever went for a walk and came back feeling worse, okay? So you will feel somewhat better.
EMF. M, what is M? Hang on, have I written this down somewhere? What is M? I should know this. EMF. Music. Music or sound. If you can take the time while you’re out on that walk to stop, close your eyes. And basically what I’m getting you to do is just run through your senses. So listen. Listen to what’s around you. Hopefully you won’t have ear-piercing sirens in your ear, and blue light and stuff going off, worst case scenario. But hopefully you’ll be able to denote and pick out the subtle things that are happening around you.
And in doing that, you’re stepping outside of yourself and your own noise and your own ego and your own hype, your own kind of uncomfortable situation, and start to just take in what’s around you. And what that does is it just- it lends that perspective, which is quite helpful.
Ideally, put a piece of music on. Music is a window to the soul, and it has such an ability to invoke wonderful memories, holiday feelings, good vibes, your favourite gym tune that gets you really up for it. Whatever it is, music is a powerful one.
And then F, Foxtrot, I’d say food. Again, it’s those old factory settings in the back of the brain there, and food coupled with music or sound, sounds, you know, if you like the sound of trickling water or whatever it is, so food. If you can get hold of some decent street food, if you can pack a packed lunch and take it with you on your little walk and it’s your favourite food. Get hold of a cookbook at the end of your day at work and start making up your favourite recipes, your favourite stuff you had in Greece, lamb kleftiko or whatever it is, beef stifado. I’m just thinking, I’m just naming a few of mine.
Find a way to stimulate and hack into that primal system, and get those dopamine and those endorphin hits. Something you can do within a lunch break, okay? Something like that.
So environment, getting in that environment, changing your environment. Could be going to the gym, whatever it is right, change your environment than the one you’re currently sat in feeling horrible. The things that are happening around you and the sounds that are going into your ears, music or sounds, find something that you find soothing. Okay, maybe go sit down by the river, whatever. And then food. Get something on board that is going to just be a complete win for you and your little feel-good hormones.
There you go. EMF.
Andy Coulson: Superb, superb. Thanks so much for your time today, we really appreciate it. And the book, good luck with it sir.
Nick Goldsmith: Thank you for having me on. Cheers.
Andy Coulson: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please do give us a rating and a review, it really helps. And if you hit ‘subscribe’ wherever you download your podcast from you will find loads more useful Crisis conversations. You can follow us on Instagram and TikTok, and you can watch the full episodes on YouTube. Just search for Crisis What Crisis podcast. You can also find full transcripts of this and every episode on our website, crisiswhatcrisis.com
Thanks again for joining us.