VIA – Veterans in Action

How other people can help you?

Some people think it can be helpful to let those around you know about your mental health problems, whether they are family, friends or colleagues at work. This may help people know what things can help you, especially during times of crisis.

It is not easy to be open with people about these issues. It may help to discuss this with your doctors or mental health team to decide if this is the right approach for you. Speak to those you served with as in most cases veterans talking to veterans can help you overcome the initial barriers to seeking help.

Social media has a large part to play these days in how we can connect with others we served with or organisations that may be able to help.

Veterans In Action’s first aim is to connect with veterans who may need our help and to encourage them, when ready, to attend the VIA ALIVE Centre.

Get involved in a Veterans In Action expedition, please read testimony………..

Keith Tucker served in the 17th/21st Lancers and after several incidents that happened in Northern Ireland in 1974 he has been suffering for 40 years and has only recently been diagnosed with PTSD. Keith approached his GP and Combat Stress and it was there he came into contact with Veterans In Action………….

Below is a statement I made about myself and my life and how I felt up until December 2014 where I first looked for help for how I was feeling from a series of incidents I was involved in during a tour of Northern Ireland in 1975 with my Regiment the 17th/21st Lancers.

Statement:

It has taken me 35 years to take the first scary steps to hopefully find in a way to redress the demons that have shaped my life and moving to a world I no longer hurt the ones I love, for no obvious reason, a world where I can feel equal to those around me and feel part of a family that loves me, despite my many attempts to drive them a way.

In the years since I left the army I have turned to drink, taken extreme risks in the need to feel that I was a man and not a coward. I have controlled and ruled people in my life in the hope of feeling good enough. It never has, so I tried harder, scared of losing everyone, but even more scared they would see behind my exterior to the man I didn’t want to be. A mixed up man, denying there was anything good about me, determined to convince others that I was bad, because that was how I see myself. I have spent and wasted years running away from myself.

I have seen things in the army that haunt me and obliterate the good memories of possibly the best time of my life. I cannot move on from the horrors that define me, even now a sight, a smell has the powers to take me back to the memories that I just don’t know how to handle. These ‘flashbacks’ have been my constant since leaving the army.

Despite the army being a huge part of my life, something I wanted from being a small boy, I can’t move on from the thoughts and memories of the 4 months in the 1970’s that mapped my future. |Distorted memories that I feel I failed as a man.

I have avoided contact with my old Regiment, believing that I should have been ashamed of how I dealt with what happened to me. Having made contact with my old Regiment only a week ago I wish I had done so earlier, as I have support from men I knew from my serving days as well as those I didn’t come into contact with. The one place I feel understood.

I don’t understand why even writing this frightens me so much, bringing to life all the feelings and fears I fight on a daily basis. I have spent years reliving memories in my head because I thought that would help me deal with them, but all it means is that I can’t move on, I can’t get rid of the very pictures that still haunt me.

I’m scared of bringing the demons back to the front of my mind, as if I have any choice, they are overwhelming me again. I put myself in danger again, danger that will once more feel judged by others and come up wanting again. Danger that I will judge myself harder than anyone else ever could, danger I will never feel complete.

I know I can’t keep living like this, something has to change and that is just too big to imagine.

Maybe I can’t resolve anything and my emotions will live on, raw and exposed, causing havoc in my life and of those I love, that can’t continue to happen. It is not safe for anyone!

I did my job in the army and I never let anyone down, so now I just have to get things straight in my head and leave the demons where I belong, in my past.
Then and only then can I have an emotionally safe future?

After writing this statement I decided it was time to do something about how I was feeling and how it was affecting those around me.

I attended a 17th/21st Regimental Reunion where I spoke with a fellow Lancer who gave me a card for the charity Combat Stress. On returning from the reunion I made the first call to Combat Stress asking for help and was sent a form to fill in and had a visit from Phil Shuttleworth from the charity. This was my first step forward!

I was invited to attend the Combat Stress Outreach at Tedworth House in Tidworth and on the first meeting attended I just sat there and never said anything. I attended the next meeting a month later and listened to Billy MacLeod talk about Veterans In Action (VIA) and the walk they would be doing around the coastline of Britain called Walk 4 PTSD.

After the talk by Billy MacLeod the floor was opened up to any questions about the walk and how it would help and I made my first comment at the meeting which was, “I am not sure I want to lose PTSD as I don’t know who I would be without it”, to which Billy MacLeod replied, “You will be who you are”, which made me question whether there is life without PTSD?

Through my GP I was referred to a councillor called David who suggested I started a programme of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and I started my first sessions at the end of March and also attended the VIA ALIVE Centre periodically to ask questions about the walk and also how I was feeling and I decided I was going to participate for 3 weeks in total.

In April I attended Combat Stress Outreach where once again I spoke with Billy MacLeod and other members of VIA and continued with CBT with my councillor and gradually felt the burden was being lifted.

I started a social media Facebook Group to initially raise funds for sponsorship for the walk but found that the group was also very supportive of what I was going through.

As the walk came closer I began to feel a bit of stress on whether I could take part or whether I want to take part and any fears I had were put to rest on attending the VIA ALIVE Centre and how relaxed they were about the whole thing. One of my biggest fears was that I was used to not being able to sleep and believed that I could not sleep on the VIA Tour Bus which is used for accommodation on their large walks.

I was told by Billy MacLeod that being together on the bus was all part of the healing process and that was a concern for me but was determined to give it my best shot to get to where I needed to be. As the walk grew closer I was issued clothing and walking equipment that was supplied by the VIA sponsor, Regatta Outdoors and this alone made me feel part of the TEAM.
As support grew on my Facebook Group and from my family I made the conscious decision that I wanted to do the whole walk for 4 months covering 4,000 miles and set myself a target of raising £1721 in memory of those I served with.

As part of VIA walks they undertake many fundraising days in town centres and shopping centres to raise funds to help others and also to raise awareness of those who suffer from the effects of war. Another side to this fundraising is how it makes the individual feel.

I was very unsure of this fundraising aspect and was very nervous about doing it and was told that if I wasn’t comfortable doing it then no pressure would be put on me to take part but I was determined to get everything I could out of the experience so made a decision that I would also take part on this aspect of the walk.
With the support of the VIA Team I have undergone a huge change in how I feel with the fundraising aspect where I initially felt very nervous and self-aware, I have found that it isn’t really about fundraising and more about engaging with the public, something that many who suffer from PTSD find hard to do. I am now very confident in doing this and look forward to taking part which I will continue to do long after the walk has finished.

The walk set off on the 04th of May from Andover High Street where we were seen off by members of the public, friends, former service personnel and dignitaries which I never took in completely as I was very nervous but made me fell not so alone and that our service had meant something.

On that first day I walked with Billy MacLeod’s son, also called Billy who hadn’t served but was involved in all VIA walks, and throughout the walk that day I learned about how they worked and seen from a different perspective and this helped through that first day.

As said previously, I have found it extremely hard to sleep over the years and was incredibly nervous about sleeping on the bus and the first night I slept straight through for 11 hours of unbroken sleep for the first time in years and that has continued throughout apart from one night I had a nightmare.

On that night that I experienced the nightmare I woke up and normally this would have kept me awake right through the night and continued thereafter, this night was different though as Billy MacLeod sat with me and discussed the nightmare and after the discussion I went right back to sleep and have slept without nightmares since then.

I am now two months into the 4 month expedition and have had time to reflect on how I am now feeling. I dictated my above statement which upset me as to how dark my life was before looking for help and how much I have changed in a very short space of time since first seeking help.

It has not been one element that has helped me in isolation but a combination of services including Combat Stress, NHS and of course VIA who helped bring it all together for me and other individuals. The experience of living closely again with other former service personnel and understanding that I am not alone in my suffering and that we can each help one another get through each day by mutual support and laughter which is a main part of the walk. The whole VIA TEAM are supportive on every aspect and this is what gets you through each day and before you know it you are part of this helping others who join the walk and helping them get through each day which in turn has made me feel fantastic.

What I have found is that the walk is just a means to get you out and about mixing with others where before I was isolated, caught up in my own view of the world and my part in it. Now I can look outside this at how I affect others around me and by being more positive in my outlook I affect others in a very different way to how I affected them previously.

The person who wrote the above statement is not the same person I am today and not someone I recognise any more and I believe that with the continued support from other veterans, my Facebook group and the other services that I will continue to use as I will be attending the VIA ALIVE Centre on my return.

I have just had a short break from the walk to go home and visit my family and they noticed how calm I have become and more tolerant and reasonable compared to how I used to be before I started this journey. For the first time I in many, many years I dealt with a situation that in the past would have stressed me and would have ended in an argument and a falling out.

Before I started this walk I didn’t know what I was going to do the next day never mind in any distant future and now I am thinking about the future and making plans on what to do and when to do it and I have stopped living from day to day and look forward to what comes next. I am more tolerant with people and have empathy with others and my relationships with my family have improved dramatically.

Having just joined up with the TEAM once more to complete the last 6 weeks of the walk I do so after being discharged from the NHS therapy (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) with a marked improvement that any sane person would be proud of.

The recommendations I have received from my therapist is to keep working hard and to keep doing what I am doing by moving forward and not dwelling on the past. This whole process has been hard work, as it should be there is no easy answer to moving forward, with the help I have received from the NHS, Combat Stress and particularly Veterans In Action I would not be where I now am.

From my own personal experience and from almost 40 years of suffering there is a way forward for those suffering if they just take that first step forward and do something they have never done before. If I could just say one thing to all those who are suffering from PTSD, don’t let the illness take control of you, do something positive to change your life by YOU taking control of the illness.

This is not the end of my journey but the beginning of my new life with renewed hope for the future with my family and friends.

I thank everyone for the support that has got me to where I am right at this moment, without you, who knows where I would be.

Keith Tucker