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“I felt as if my world had collapsed. To have my service cut short was devastating. Once I was out, I felt completely cut off; there was no support there.”

Kev Gray was discharged from the army in 1995, suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) triggered by experiences in Northern Ireland and the first Gulf War. What started as nightmares became a mental health condition that affected every aspect of his life; PTSD left Kev repeatedly reliving traumatic events and feeling unable to face everyday situations.

“I’d often wake feeling I’d just gone through a major traumatic event and it could take anything from two hours to two weeks to feel OK again. There were times when I wanted to hide from the world with the curtains shut.”

It was a broken leg that triggered Kev’s medical discharge process, but PTSD already had him firmly in its grip. Kev was offered psychotherapy sessions whilst he received treatment on his leg, but as soon as he transitioned out, these stopped.

“I felt as if my world had collapsed. To have my service cut short was devastating.

“Once I was out, I felt completely cut off; there was no support there. I went to my GP who had no idea how to treat me.”

The next 17 years saw Kev battle to receive the right treatment. His GP initially diagnosed him as suffering from anxiety and depression, and he was recommended a string of medications which failed to have an effect. Eventually, Kev was put in touch with a clinic that specialised in PTSD in veterans, which he started attending, but within a year it closed down. For a while, he gained access to a respite facility run by another charity but was discharged from their care in a shakeup over treatment plans. Again, Kev was sent back out into the community with no support.

Kev sits in his workshop

Disillusioned but determined to raise awareness so that others didn’t have to struggle in the same way, Kev became involved with a number of charities.

“I’d started to recognise my symptoms in other people so I started trying to raise awareness of PTSD and mental health issues amongst the veterans. I did that for a number of years until one day somebody suggested I try and get some support for myself. That’s when I made contact with Help for Heroes.

“I’d had a misconception that the charity didn’t help veterans from my era, but how wrong I was. Once I’d made contact, my life started to change for the better.”

From the moment he walked into our Phoenix House recovery centre, Kev felt a sense of belonging that has played a huge part in his recovery journey. He joined our Band of Brothers fellowship and enrolled on courses which have helped him manage his PTSD and build his self-esteem. One course, in particular, has given Kev a new direction in life.

“When I was first shown the recovery centre and the different courses available, I saw a group making this little ornamental rocking horse and I thought it was brilliant. As luck would have it, my keyworker said they were looking for students to start a new woodworking course.”

That was four years ago, and now Kev is a member of the Guild of Rocking Horse Makers and has made eight full-sized models, a hobby which he is looking to turn into his own business. He also has plans to teach other veterans to make rocking horses so the skill can help them in the way it’s helped him find a new purpose.

“It’s a great thing that I’ve found. It keeps me busy and it means a lot to have someone appreciate my work; whether it’s a parent appreciating a piece of furniture or a child appreciating a favourite toy. My work makes me feel like I am somebody again. I’m achieving, and that’s something I hadn’t felt in a long time.”

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