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Tuesday 03 November 2015

Occupational Therapy helping our Heroes

Posted by: Help For Heroes | Categories: General

Roy Taylor, 57 from Gosport, Hampshire, joined the Navy submarine service in 1974, just six months after leaving school. He said, “I wanted a bit of an adventure and the only adventure you got in those days was from the Services.” He applied to join the Army, RAF and Navy, telling his father he’d accept whoever wrote back to him first. In the end all three sent him offer letters, but the Navy wrote first so true to his word, he joined them. As Roy put it: “If the post had been different I could have been a soldier.”

Roy served for 15 years and saw several postings during his time in the Navy but spent much of it in a submarine off the coast of Russia during the height of the Cold War. He said he experienced “pretty hairy things” during that time, including a live escape training exercise from a submarine that saw him stuck 400ft under water in pitch black with a failing oxygen supply.

Before Roy left the Navy he sought help for the effects his Service had had on him – “I knew things weren’t right and I needed help”. He had started having nightmares, couldn’t sleep and wouldn’t trust anyone. Yet his concerns were dismissed by a Navy medic. “I never forgot what was told to me, ‘Go away, get a grip and have a few beers,’” said Roy.

He felt unable to ask for help again having been so bluntly denied it and over the next couple of decades his problems increased as he tried to cope with his symptoms by himself. He said: “At that time I would have been looked upon as weak if anyone had found out I had mental health problems, so I had to hide it.”

Once Roy left the army he was in and out of work, unable to hold a job down. By the early 1990s he met Sharon, the woman who was to eventually become his wife. It was with her support that he sought help for his health problems, eventually being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 27 years after first seeking help.

Unfortunately it took a massive heart attack which left Roy in hospital for three months to force him to finally get the help he needed. These days, only 25 per cent of his heart is functioning. He said: “PTSD contributed to my cardiac problems, I wasn’t looking after myself properly, smoking 60 cigarettes a day and drinking lots of strong coffee.”

Now he could no longer work, his other symptoms such as moodiness, introversion and anger worsened. He said there were days when he just wouldn’t speak to his wife and occasionally he’d go out and recklessly spend money as that would make him feel better.Things slowly started to change once he was referred to Combat Stress. He saw a psychiatrist and received counselling and he was one of the first ex-servicemen to take part in its six-week residential programme. He started to feel better but within a year his progress halted and he went backwards. Although he was asking for help, it wasn’t being provided as urgently as he needed it. It got to the point where his wife was hiding his car keys on some days as, “she thought I was too angry to drive and I’d have an accident because I was too angry to concentrate”.

Eventually Roy heard he might be eligible for some respite support through Help for Heroes and in September 2014 he had his first two week stay at Tedworth House Recovery Centre. He said:

“Tedworth house is just magical, there is no way else to describe it. You walk through the door and you say straight away, ‘I am in a safe place, I can get my head round it here’. It’s a place to think and reflect. I started feeling better there and I came away feeling a lot more positive.”

He feels that he has got as far as he will now with psychiatrists but Help for Heroes has offered him another form of support that lets him look to the future. He said: “The support offered by H4H keeps me going forward and its great mixing with like-minded people of all ages. While there I had the wonderful nickname of ‘Granddad’ but I didn’t mind in the least. It is just having someone to talk to there and the whole team can help put some things into perspective.”

Roy was one of the first ex-servicemen to work with Tedworth House’s Occupational Therapist Rosie Curtis. Rosie, 26, has worked at the House for over a year now and uses her skills to help people find practical ways to help overcome some of the limitations that their physical or mental injuries have placed on them. She has opened a sensory room at Tedworth which is full of equipment such as bubble tubes and vibrating chairs that help to stimulate the five senses – touch, sight, smell, sound and taste.

Roy was the first person to experience the sensory room and Rosie used work she had done with Roy prior to using the room to help him learn how to improve his sleeping patterns. Roy said: “Rosie is absolutely wonderful. I was the first to use her new sensory room and within twenty minutes of being in the room I was out of it and that is totally rare for me. She devised a new sleep and relaxation routine with me and I am still using it now.”

From getting one or two hours broken sleep a night – “I was sleeping with one eye open” - Roy is now managing to sleep through for five hours most nights. Before when he woke up he’d have to turn every light on in the house and check every window and door making it very hard for his family to cope with his sleeplessness too. Now he can manage to stay in bed even if he does wake at 3 or 4am.

He also praises the effect a weighted blanket has had on him, something introduced by Rosie. People experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, paranoia, or trauma have reported relief from the use of weighted blankets in particular. “When I’m feeling stressed or worried, the weighted blanket is a haven for me. I feel at ease and it gives me an extra sense of security so I feel able to relax again.”

The change for him through OT sessions has been very significant. He no longer feels permanently exhausted, nor does he act irrational. Being able to sleep better has helped his moodiness and introversion and he is more sociable. He says: “If my body is rested, I am more willing to talk to people and the world is a happier place.

 “PTSD doesn’t just affect the sufferer, it affects the whole family. I am so lucky my wife and son have stayed by me as some of my mates have lost their homes and their families to PTSD. Things are building, Help for Heroes has given me a boost, something to look forward to. The charity is just marvellous.”