One of the youngest soldiers to serve in the Gulf War aged 17, John Owens suffered two strokes while serving. The first, in his 20s, he thought at the time was just a headache. But when he was hospitalised more than a decade later the truth became apparent. John had suffered a second stroke, aged just 38, with the scarring caused by the first clear to see on an MRI scan.
Physically John recovered well, but the damage done to his mental health - as he struggled to come to terms with his brain injury - wasn’t as easy to fix. Eventually he was medically discharged, suffering with depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“I didn’t really speak about my recovery, I just got on with what I thought was normal. I left the hospital on crutches and for the next few months concentrated on my physical recovery. It wasn’t until I learned about Help for Heroes that I was able to take my first steps toward becoming the person I am today.
“The biggest step I ever had to take was to be truthful to myself and say I needed help with my recovery.”
John attended sessions led by our Hidden Wounds team at our Tedworth House recovery centre and slowly began to make sense of the way he was feeling. With the right support, and with encouragement to pursue a love of running, he slowly rebuilt his confidence and his life.
In 2016 John signed up for two challenges – the Great Scottish Run and Scottish Half Marathon. And at this point he did something he’d never have thought possible before – he talked openly and publicly about his mental health battles for the first time. Using social media, John encouraged people to sponsor him to run.
“I went public, letting everyone know who I am, what I’ve been through and most importantly the help I’ve received. I’ve gone from not having the confidence to speak about what I’ve been through, to being able to talk about it on social media. I have a new outlook and am evolving who I am.”
There have been ups and downs in his recovery journey. In October 2016, John’s best friend took his own life. By putting into practice all he had learnt about himself and what helps him stay positive, John again turned to running to help him through the pain, winning a place the following year to run in the London Marathon.
“Someone once suggested to me that life is like a 400-metre hurdle race. You just keep going and you tick each hurdle off. There will always be light at the end of the tunnel and there is always something you can focus on. Find that thing and never give up on it.”