Following a season of BBC programmes on the issues surrounding mental health, and particularly how sport or exercise can benefit our psychological well-being, we feel privileged that two of the ex-servicemen, Steve and Ryan, participating in a Help for Heroes expedition to the Lake District have shared their story with us.
One in four people in the UK experience mental health problems each year, and yet it can still carry a stigma and cause the sufferer to feel isolated and alone. As courageous individuals start to open up about how mental health issues have affected them, and how they have found the road to recovery, hopefully more people will be encouraged to seek that all-important help that can combat this often hidden and silent illness.
This is Steve’s experience …
I joined the Army straight from school when I was sixteen and did my twelve months basic training at the Guards Depot, Pirbright, Surrey, now ATC Pirbright.
The training was a bit of a shock to the system as you have to grow up quickly, knuckle down and switch on, but I enjoyed it once I got used to the routine. After passing out I went to Catterick Garrison for six months training to become a tank driver. My first posting was to BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) in Detmold Germany where I was posted for two years.
Back to the UK, I did some conversion training to CVR(T), CVR(W) Scorpion, Scimitar, Fox & Ferret tanks – about a third of the size of the main army tanks, but capable of doing 70 mph. We did quite a few tours to different theatres. Belize, Cyprus, NI & Norway.
I left the Regular Army in 1987 and and within six months had joined up again, this time with the TA, Royal Signals. My job entailed being the first in and last out, and as a Powerman, I had to ensure all of the lines were in for the Radio Relay team to get the comms up and running. I eventually finished my contract and got out in 1994, having served 13 years.
I thought I was going mad
That’s when I started displaying behaviour that was out of character – getting involved with the police and turning to drink. I thought I was going mad. A friend told me I had PTSD, I had no idea what it was, but I followed it up and had a week long assessment at Combat Stress in Shropshire, which confirmed the diagnosis, with complications. That same year I had two strokes, which have left me with a left-sided weakness. All this caused me to become depressed, which led to further trouble and even a 6 month stretch in a high security prison. When I came out I knew I needed to seek help, not just for me, but for my family.
Getting back on Track
Military Veterans, based in Manchester, really helped me get my life back together. With a little more stability in my life, Help for Heroes put me in touch with the North East Military Vehicle Club which was organising a Help for Heroes week away in the Lake District at Low Wood Watersports Centre and climbing the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine.
We spent two days at Low Wood Watersports Centre, a fantastic experience! The staff were brilliant and nothing was too much trouble. They calmed our nervousness and anxiety and got us doing water-skiing, Flyboarding, motorboating and canoeing.
Alongside that the NEMVC were taking us up and down Lake Windermere in WWII amphibious vehicles and a modern day vehicle – a Stalwart. Altogether a fantastic experience.
David and Doris Forster and the other members of NEMVC never once asked us about our trauma or what caused our injuries. They just accepted us as we were. They have become life-long friends, and David and Doris are just like everybody’s Mum & Dad.
A Bright New Future
Before this trip I wouldn’t leave my home, sometimes I wouldn’t even answer the door or open the mail because my anxiety was so bad. When Help for Heroes asked if I would like to go on this trip I was really apprehensive. I’m so glad I accepted the invitation because it turned out to be the best thing I have ever done! It has really helped to bring me out of my shell and start to engage with people and I can actually laugh now without feeling guilty. I can’t wait to return to Low Wood Bay with Help for Heroes and North East Military Vehicle Club in May 2017.
I am so grateful to all the help I have received – Help for Heroes, David and Doris and the NEMVC, the team at Watersports and Honister Slate Mine. I’ve been back to college and done a City & Guilds in Photography and later this year I will be attending a Self-Employment course, funded by Help for Heroes, which will allow me to start my own photography business.
Low Wood Bay Watersports
We are open seven days a week from 1st April to 31st October and we have an extensive range of watersports in a fabulous location. Our experienced team to help you to get out on the lake to have some fun and discover your potential. Contact us on 015394 39441 for more information.