After serving for 20 years in the British Army, Darren was medically discharged, and his world fell apart overnight.
Not knowing how to apply for a flat or claim benefits he was entitled to. In pain. Out of work. Suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. Isolated.
Darren’s troubles seemed endless and overwhelming. At times he felt his only option was to take his own life.
“When I was first out of the Army, the only support I had was from my Mum. She did everything for me. If it wasn’t for my Mum, I’d have ended up another homeless veteran. I don’t think I’d be alive now.
“Everything was so difficult. There was all this paperwork that I hadn’t done before. I just had no idea what to do.
“It's sad, many other veterans have felt that way and they're not here because they didn’t have the support. I was lucky.”
Thanks to his Mum and then Help for Heroes, Darren has found his place in the world again. He now has a community that provides support, employment and friendship. But it could have all been so different.
‘ALL OF A SUDDEN, I WAS ON MY OWN’
“Leaving the Army, my mental health was in a very, very bad way. I felt like I'd let myself and my family down.
“I couldn't work because of the injuries and the pain. I had compartment syndrome in both legs. I was operated on, but unfortunately the operations didn’t work and due to the way I was walking differently, my lower spine started to wear away.
“The Army sets people up for work when they leave. But people who get medically discharged don’t get that opportunity. As a disabled person, there was no transition from military to civilian life.
“PTSD had set in a while before without me realising. It wasn’t until I was medically discharged that it came to the fore. I had a failed marriage, I had so many emotions going on in my head. Things started cropping up from my childhood, I was sexually abused. I went through therapy for years in the military. Nothing worked. It got to the point where I had a complete nervous breakdown when I left the Army. And then I was just lost.
“In the military, you have the routine and all these people looking out for you every day. Leaving that, all of a sudden I was on my own.
“I realised there was something very wrong with the way I was feeling. I needed to get help.”
‘I FELT LIKE I MATTERED AGAIN’
“I was getting support from an organisation called the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse, or CARA. They told me that Help for Heroes supported veterans having mental health difficulties.
“It wasn't until I got counselling from Rose in Hidden Wounds that I realised I'd not been right for a long time. With the relationship we built up, it was so easy to trust Rose. She made me feel that I was actually a person who mattered again. I was being listened to. Without that, I probably wouldn't have carried on. Rose is a wonderful lady. She literally put me back together.
“Asking for help was the bravest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the best decision I’ve ever made.”
“I got into powerlifting through Help for Heroes. They organised competitions called Winter Games. A mate who I met through that said ‘give powerlifting a try’. I loved the way I felt after training.
“I’ve competed a lot and I finished second in the British championships. Even though I am disabled, I lift against people without disabilities. That’s something I’m incredibly proud of and I think goes to show what you can achieve when you put your mind to it.
“I didn't realise how important exercise can be for your mental health. After leaving the Army I put on weight. But I’ve since lost six stone.
“Leaving the military is like leaving a family. Finding the gym where I work and train, and have all these friends, has been like finding another family. It’s great having this place where I want to be, and all these people I want to be around.
“When I first left the Army, I felt very isolated. It's so much easier to stay indoors, to stay in your safe place.
“It’s hard to get yourself out there again, to meet new people and try new things. But it’s so worth taking yourself out of your comfort zone. For me, it’s been life changing.”
FINDING HIS VOICE AGAIN
“On one of the sports camps, one of the evening activities was karaoke. After being pushed into it, quite literally, I sang a song on stage. I was then asked by two people ‘have you ever thought about joining the Help for Heroes choir?’
“So I went along, which was a massive effort. But I was welcomed in.
“Through the choir, I’ve met some of the best people in my life. They're so genuine. The people who run the choir are very special.
“The choir has worked miracles for my confidence and self-esteem. Singing is a great healer. I wasn’t a fantastic singer and I think they were a little bit patient. But meeting these amazing people, other veterans, and singing with them was just an incredibly uplifting feeling.
“Possibly my biggest sense of achievement and one of the most beautiful moments in my life was singing in a concert in Salisbury Cathedral. We sounded wonderful and the crowd was great.
“After we performed, I sat down and burst into tears. Someone said ‘are you ok?’. I said ‘Yes, I think this is the happiest I have ever been.’ It was magical.”
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NOW AND THEN IS NIGHT AND DAY’
“Without my Mum, I wouldn’t be here. She got me to a place where I could ask for help.
“Before I started with Help for Heroes I was in a really bad way. There were times when it got too much and I thought the only way out of it all was suicide.
“Now I've got everything in my life that I want and need. Mentally, I've never been as strong. The difference between now and then is night and day.
“I've got family and friends, and another family in the gym. I couldn't be happier.
“The only reason I've got to this stage is because one day I was brave and I asked for help.”
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