A lifelong lover of music, Heather Carey joined the Armed Forces as a musician before transferring over to the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps: “Music was always a passion so I joined up and played in concert halls around the world. I then wanted a change and was encouraged by the numerous trades on offer within the Army, so I transferred over and did my mental health nursing degree.”
Things were going well for Heather in her new role, until she was struck down by illnesses that would completely alter her life: “I had several illnesses and viruses including sinusitis and glandular fever. I couldn’t shake it off and my body never recovered. Both physically and cognitively even the most basic tasks became a struggle.
“Eventually I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME). Things have completely changed for me and I’ve had to re-evaluate pretty much all aspects of my life. The hardest part is not knowing every single day what you’re going to wake up like.”
It got to the point where Heather was unable to fulfil her duties as a nurse or look after her children. This resulted in her having to be taken out of work in the Army, which sent her on a downward spiral: “I lost my sense of self and identity. I was failing in work, I was failing as a mother and really struggled with that."
It was Heather’s Personnel Recovery Officer who put her in contact with Help for Heroes. Visiting Tedworth House Recovery Centre for the first time she remembers as a pinnacle moment in her recovery: “As soon as I stepped through the door at Tedworth I felt like things were starting to go in the right direction. Everyone there is so friendly and supportive. I’ve even been able to bring my children to stay a few times and they love the place.”
From losing her sense of worth and feeling unable to achieve anything meaningful, Heather has been able to access the support she needs to get her life back on track. This includes having a support worker and taking part in the Iron Age Roundhouse Project – an area in the grounds of Tedworth House being built entirely by wounded Servicemen and women: “It’s not just the practical support – I’ve met so many wonderful people who take the time to understand and look out for each other. Even though we’ve got bodies or minds that are broken in some way, we’re still the same people. We work together and there’s no judgement. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Heather has been able to manage her illness to the extent she soon hopes to begin part-time employment, which would represent fantastic progress: “I’ve got work lined up with the Wildlife Trust, which I found out about through Help for Heroes. I am also looking into some training courses and setting up a private practice for complementary and talking therapies.”
It’s a tough journey living with this illness. Having your life changed so dramatically makes you realise the good things in life are not about what you do, but who you share them with."