Julian joined the Army aged 16 and loved the physical challenges and new friendships. One year into his service he suffered a back injury which he has had three operations for. His struggles with his physical and mental health were so tough, he tried to take his own life. Thanks to his determination, passion for sport, and having Help for Heroes by his side, Julian has turned his life around and is representing his country again, this time in disability sport.
“I was an infantry combat soldier, I had to learn combat techniques, and how to use weapons. I loved being around the lads, training, putting weight on my back and just running for miles."
“I was in Germany at the end of the Cold War when the Berlin Wall was being taken down. We had visitors from East Germany and our platoon put on an armed combat display. My friend and I were doing a martial arts display, he threw me over his shoulder, and I landed with an impact to my spine. I went to hospital, was put on traction and had some physio. I thought I'd recovered, so I re-joined the lads within a week, although initially I wasn’t able to carry out all my duties. I didn’t realise that the impact had affected certain areas inside my body, which would cause problems later.
“For many years I kept collapsing in a lot of pain. I was self-medicating. The impact had damaged my vertebrae.
“It caused nerve damage. I get stabbing pains in my legs, like having hot needles in my toes and calf. I can't walk that far. It affects my sleep and I wake up in pain and cold sweats. And I now use a stick to assist me to walk.
“It was very frustrating, going from an active combat soldier to not being able to do anything. My mind wants to do everything, but my body won’t let me. That battle between my mind and my body would trigger my mental health issues.”
Leaving the Army
“I made the decision to leave the Army, but it was the wrong decision. Because of my injury, the intensive training and selection process I’d been through, and doing operational tours at a young age including in Northern Ireland, my mental health was not in a good place. I was drinking and fighting a lot.
“I didn’t have a penny to my name, and I didn’t know how to claim benefits. I had nowhere to turn, and the bricks were piling up on my shoulders. I thought that the best thing would be to not be here anymore, so I tried to take my own life. Thankfully my Aunt found me, and I woke up in hospital.”
‘A very lonely place to be’
“For years I would hardly speak to anyone. Self-isolation is probably the hardest thing.
“You think you're doing yourself the world of good, where you're keeping everybody away from you, but you're doing more harm than good. It's a very lonely place to be.
“I'm a single parent looking after my two sons, one has special needs. The anger and drinking from my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affected my close family who worried that one day they’d get that dreaded phone call. I felt isolated from them because they didn't know how to support me, or how to deal with me.”
Reaching out for support
“I first got involved with Help for Heroes in 2016. I filled out the request for support form and then had a phone call from a gentleman a couple of weeks later. I was that overwhelmed, I started crying when he said the words ‘we’ll help you’.
“When you transition from soldier to veteran there are all these things you need to do, that you’ve no idea how to do. Claim benefits, get mental health support and physio, go to medical appointments. It was like jumping through hoops. Having a Help for Heroes case manager to help me deal with all those things took the pressure off.”
The need to speak about hidden wounds
“It’s taken for people to take their own lives, for people to be aware that soldiers aren’t invincible, they're human beings, with feelings. We might put on a brave face but it will affect us. It may not affect us when we're serving, but it might affect us, like it did with me, 14 years later. The Hidden Wounds team at Help for Heroes allowed me to speak openly about my feelings and release those emotions. It’s so important to talk to people who understand.
“PTSD ripped my family apart, but through support from Help for Heroes and the Invictus journey, we have been brought back together. My family don’t have to worry about me or my children now.”
"I was laid in hospital in 2017 after my third spinal surgery. I was highly medicated and in a bad way physically and mentally.
“I turned the TV on, and the Invictus Games was on. I saw past people's disabilities and I was interested in what they were achieving, and that sparked something in my mind. I thought ‘if they can do it, why can't I?’
“All I wanted to do was get out of that bed. I wanted to get out of the wheelchair. My first goal was to make the Invictus Games trials, when I achieved that I thought, ‘let's see how far we can go’ and I continued with the training.”
‘When I’m playing my sports, I’m not in pain’
“Joining The Invictus Games through the Help for Heroes sport recovery programme has helped me in a massive way. I've got a lot more confidence. I feel better in myself and I've reduced most of my medication.
“I competed in wheelchair rugby at the Invictus Games, it is an amazing sport. When I am playing, I am free from my disability and I’m not in pain. I'm in a zone and I completely forget about my physical and mental disabilities and the challenges of being a single parent.”
I'm just in the process of doing my level two wheelchair rugby coaching, to bring it to Somerset and make sports more accessible in my area.
Help for Heroes have always taught me, when you move forward, you should always reach back to help others.
Setting an example for his kids
“My children have seen me at rock bottom. They've seen me where I couldn't even look after myself, let alone them. They now see me climbing a mountain. I'm not at the top yet, but I'm halfway there. I want to inspire them; I want to inspire my family and my friends. I want them to think this guy, our brother, our son, our dad was in a very bad place, but there's light at the end of the tunnel with hard work, support and caring people around you, such as charities, who give you that belief.”
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