I am a former soldier and in 2012 I was discharged from my previous job on medical grounds. The initial diagnosis for my medical condition was depression and anxiety. Following a lot of medication and sessions of counselling I was reassessed and diagnosed as suffering from PTSD.
At this time I was in a very dark place. Having so many things to deal with in my own head whilst having my sense of purpose taken away from me. All of these things manifested in a very negative way. I detached from all social situations, I found I could no longer cope with being in groups of people, on public transport, or even in a shop.
A Soldier’s Story
I found it very difficult to concentrate on anything. I had a love of books and reading but found I could no longer enjoy this.
As I withdrew farther into myself my behaviour became more unpredictable. I was unable to engage with my own children, or partner and this very nearly resulted in my losing my family. Several times during my lowest point I contemplated ending it all as I lost all coping methods that had previously worked for me.
I had my medication changed several times in an effort to enable me to find a way to cope. I was also trying to engage with a mental health nurse, but found it very difficult to be in a room. Following a severe flashback during a counselling session it was almost impossible for me to engage inside.
We attempted several sessions outside and I found this more comforting and was able to progress. It was recommended by my mental health practitioner that perhaps I needed to find an activity based in an outdoor environment as I was able to relax more.
A former soldier with links to St Loyes passed some information to me about an organisation called Running Deer, that offered a rural skills course and a introduction to bushcraft instruction program. All of this was run in a woodland on the edge of Dartmoor, one of my favourite places in the country.
These programs were offered to transitioning and former forces personnel. Catering for small groups and involving activities such as woodland management, green wood working, stone walling, and hedge laying to name a few. These were new activities which I had not had the opportunity to become involved with before.
It took a lot for me to make the call, but I am glad I did. On the first day I was very apprehensive. I was unsure what to really expect. After a few minutes it was like old times. I was with other former squaddies who had gone through the mill themselves and so we all had that understanding.
The course lasted for 8 weeks, and was a fantastic experience. I was with blokes I could talk to and was finally able to rediscover myself. Through a combination of being outside, and some back breaking hard work I began to feel human again. I was able to get my teeth in to tasks once more and with the support of the others on the course and the fantastic patient staff I found my concentration levels improving. This was proved by my making of a rocking chair during the green woodworking program.
I managed to find a positive focus point and could finally begin to put things into perspective. My fuse became much longer and I was able to wind down. My family relationships became better and I was able to spend quality time with my children and enjoy doing so. As time went on I was able to gain two first aid qualifications a chainsaw and a chipper qualification. I began to think about the 4 week mentoring program that Running Deer offered working with young people at risk of exclusion. At the end of my 8 week course I was asked if I would like to stay on. I jumped into the mentoring program, and had the opportunity to pass on some of my experience to the young people.
I started the Running Deer program on 1st September 2014. Completed the 8 week rural skills course followed by the 4 week mentoring program. I then volunteered a further month and a half.
Six months on from starting at Running Deer, I am now a much better father to my children. I am able to play and laugh with them and do all the things a dad should be able to do. I have a stronger relationship with my partner, and she can see me happy again. I really believe that making that call kept me and my family together. I gave me back my purpose. I am a million miles from the man I was when diagnosed with PTSD.
I am just one individual, and my story is a fragment of the situations that former service personnel find themselves in every day. I would like more people to be able to get from this what I have, which is why I now work for Running Deer. I have the chance to offer the same help and support which I received to others who need it.