“When the pandemic hit I felt chaotic and scared. Some days I’d stay inside and I wouldn’t even get washed or dressed. I know it was hurting my wife to see me like that.”
So many of the veterans we support were already facing their own personal battles before the coronavirus pandemic started. And for those who were already struggling with their mental health, this year’s difficult circumstances mean they now need our help more than ever.
Former Army Private Simon Nicholson suffers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Before the lockdown, he had visited our Catterick recovery centre and was learning to manage his symptoms. But as the lockdown took hold, his mental health took a downward turn.
“Before the pandemic, I was suffering with sleep problems and anxiety,” explains Simon. “I was starting to cope, but when the pandemic hit I felt like I had gone back to the start. I felt chaotic and scared.”
Simon’s panic attacks, which he’d suffered with since having a breakdown five years ago, got worse. Some, he says, were triggered by watching people panic buying in supermarkets.
“I would sit in my car too scared to get out and my daughter would have to go in instead. Some days I’d stay inside the house and I wouldn’t even get washed or dressed. I know it was hurting my wife to see me like that.”
On top of his mental health struggles, Simon was also having to manage pain in his back, after a planned procedure to ease the agony caused by two slipped discs was cancelled.
Simon told us that, at first, he “didn’t feel worthy” of asking for help during the lockdown. But we’re glad he did, and with our recovery centres closed we immediately looked for another way we could help, knowing that being able to keep on top of his PTSD symptoms was vital both for him and for his family.
He told us that photography always helped to relax and distract him whenever he felt anxious or low, and that he’d often head out on walks and take pictures of wildlife using his mobile phone. And so our Grants team, which offers financial support to veterans to ease the distress caused by an injury or illness, quickly organised funding for a proper camera for Simon. And it’s had a big impact already on his wellbeing.
“The camera gave me a reason to be outdoors which has helped my mental health hugely. Without it, I’d have stayed locked inside and my anxiety levels would be through the roof.
“At the start of the pandemic, I wanted to keep away from everybody and my anxiety started to peak. But gradually I’d take my camera and I’d go outside while the streets were quieter and there were no cars and no queues. I’d take my dog with me too and the whole thing was a breath of fresh air for me, literally.
“Help for Heroes really has helped me get through this pandemic and I know that is possible because of the public’s support. I am so grateful.
Now, Simon wants to give something back to help other veterans. “Looking at where I am now and where I was five years ago, I want to give them hope,” he says.
“It took me a while to ask for help. But I’m so glad I did.”
Our veterans need us now more than ever. Join us and find out the many ways in which you can give support today such as fundraising and donating. #StrongerTogether.