When Graham Rogers from Torpoint was signposted to Help for Heroes by a friend two years ago, he was a different man. His first meetings with charity key worker Larry took place in his car outside the Plymouth Recovery Centre. His veteran wife Sue went in alone.
Graham’s car was his safe haven where he could escape his agoraphobia. Now, Graham sees the Recovery Centre as one of his safe places.
The 56-year-old left the forces in 1987 after 11 years in the Royal Marines Band Service; a job which he loved. It was memories of his secondary role which he believes have since caused his mental health problems. “In the Marines you couldn’t just be in the Band Service,” said Graham, “you had to do another job.”
After leaving the Marines, Graham built up a colourful CV. He spent a few years travelling Europe as an HGV driver, then moved into the role of Entertainments Manager at a holiday park in Wales. After making a decision to gain further qualifications, he completed an access to teaching course, two degrees in music and arts management, and finally qualified as a teacher with a postgraduate certificate in education in 1997.
Graham taught music in Plymouth secondary schools for 12 years. But during this time, problems started to surface. In 2001 he suffered his first mental breakdown, and his career ended abruptly six years ago when he had another breakdown. This time he was voluntarily sectioned after he was found by police as a missing person.
“I managed to get back on my feet with lots of medication and support from Trevillis House in Liskeard. I gradually improved but I was still a danger to myself and have had two more breakdowns since. All three were suicide attempts.
“Getting in touch with the Recovery Centre was a last chance for me. There wasn’t much more in my life. When you come to ending it all your wife and kids aren’t enough. It had a huge impact on my family’s lives too. I’d been shut up in my bedroom for nine months. I had a total fear of going out, who would be there and how I would deal with it. You put on what I call ‘the face’. I was a complete wreck, spiralling downhill, but I’d say I was fine.
“My wife Sue got me to the Centre; she’s been a rock. She could have walked away and would have been totally justified. I wasn’t the guy she married. She encouraged me to start doing things and with the support of her and Help for Heroes I’m getting out.”
For the first time in seven years Graham, who receives psychological wellbeing support from Help for Heroes, played an instrument in public in December, accompanying the Recovery Centre’s singing group on keyboard at the Christmas get together. That encouraged him to apply for a place on a week-long residential music therapy course at Tedworth House, another of the charity’s centres in Wiltshire, where he performed with a band on keyboard and vocals.
Another lifelong hobby which his illness put a stop to; photography; has also been back on the cards. Graham took part in a landscape photography course on Dartmoor set up by Help for Heroes with local photographers Adrian Oakes and Lee Humphreys, which helped him develop his interest with Sue’s support.
“Sue bought me a new camera so that I had no excuse; she’d spent a lot of money on it so I had to use it. I was getting back to something I’d lost, that the illness curtailed. It’s given me a lifeline. I now go out with some of the other guys from the Centre. I didn’t know if I’d learn anything on the course but it changed the way I view things. It acts as a distraction; a way of shutting the rest of the world off.”
Graham is still fighting his demons, but the support network around him and the tools given to him by Help for Heroes to aid his recovery are so important. The charity does not offer a quick fix; it gives support for life, as and when it is needed.
“Without Help for Heroes I’d probably still be at home, with Sue trying to get me out of the house, not being able to talk about what’s going on, teetering on the edge. The last time I had a bad period I ended up on the railway tracks in Plymouth. I had it all worked out. I felt like I had nothing left. I can see myself still being like that.
“The Recovery Centre has become very important to me. It’s part of my repair plan, to repair what’s gone wrong. Just talking to people and realising you’re not alone is the biggest thing for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same guy again, but I have a plan and I hope there’s some way to get back to the person I was.”