Fighting back from the brink - Harry's Positive Futures journey
Carnage and the devastation surrounded 18-year old infantryman Harry Marshall. When the smoke and dust cleared Harry was faced with two men lying dead and almost half a dozen more severely injured. He had survived a deadly explosion involving three anti-tank mines. Even though he was incredibly close to the blast Harry managed to walk away physically unscathed. But then he had to deal with the casualties alone for over an hour before help arrived.
While Harry may have escaped physical injuries from the explosion in Bosnia that killed his comrade and a local man, the mental injuries from such a traumatic experience eventually caught up with him.
Now with the help of Venture Trust’s Positive Futures programme – funded by the Forces in Mind Trust – Harry is fighting another battle to reclaim his shattered life. The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), is a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund.
The three phase programme provides specialist support to ex-service men and women struggling with the transition to civilian life.
“It must have traumatised me more than I noticed,” Harry says 20 years later.
In 2003 Harry was medically discharged from the armed forces. He left after having attempted suicide and bouts of uncontrolled depression. He was put on 6 months leave and then Harry was on “Civvy Street”. “Back then there wasn’t really any ongoing support for ex-servicemen,” Harry says.
Life on Civvy Street appeared to be going well for Harry. He used his previous skills as a plumber to run his own construction company and he got married.
But the Black Dog was lurking.
“In the beginning of 2012, I found myself having nightmares, crying inappropriately. I was feeling sick and horrible,” Harry recalls.
Life began to spiral out of control.
“I separated from my wife, I lost my family, the company closed down and I was in a very dark place with depression. I moved off the grid. I went to live in the woods. I feared everything going wrong in front of the people I loved.” Harry made the woods his home for 9 months. “I was alone and suicidal,” he says.
Eventually Harry found the courage to “make a call” for help. When he contacted military charity Combat Stress, it was the start of a long journey from out of the wilderness and back into society.
“I managed to get housing. A roof over my head.”
It was also the first time since that tragic day back in Bosnia many years ago that Harry was finally diagnosed with severe Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“There was a reason for my anxiety and depression. And it was caused by loss and guilt from all those years before,” Harry says.
Harry undertook 13 weeks of residential therapy for trauma. He also began volunteering with charities. “I felt like I was making progress but I also felt like I was in a safe zone. I needed to get out of the safe zone. I focussed on getting back into the community.”
This is where Harry was referred to Venture Trust and the Positive Futures programme.
“I met Clare, my outreach worker, and she has been by my side all the time. I was continuing to struggle and go through hard times but she was there and we would meet up once a week.”
The initial support and work with Venture Trust prepared Harry for his wilderness journey. It set and established his goals and ambitions. “My goal was to see if I could live back in the community with my condition.”
The five-day journey in the Scottish wilderness provided the time and space for Harry to develop new skills, gain confidence and face his fears.
“The staff were spot on. They were very understanding, non-judgemental and gave me hope. There were one-on-one sessions and the peer support was good,” he says.
Fear and anxiety had been part of Harry’s everyday life and initially the activities on the wilderness journey evoked those same feelings. “The week was broken up with activities that I would never do. The adrenaline would have been similar to anxiety so I avoided them. But with Venture Trust I could stay calm, my fear levels went down and my confidence went up. I felt safe to participate and understood I could enjoy the activities.”
Harry also thrived on the long marches or ‘tabs’ with the fully loaded kit. “I loved the walking with the kit. Others thought I was crazy but I felt feelings I had not had for a long time.”
The group of veterans on the wilderness journey came from very different military backgrounds and had different personalities, Harry explains. But at the end of the journey they were a band of brothers. “At the start it felt like we were all a bit judgemental but at the end were close with a firm bond. The end of the journey was an emotional place to be.”
Harry’s journey with Venture Trust is continuing with further one-to-one support during Phase three. It’s still a hard road but by engaging in the Positive Futures programme Harry is now armed with the skills needed in the fight to claim back his life.
He has also engaged with other organisations helping ex-servicemen and women including Driven to Extremes.
“The three phase programme is helping my recovery. My confidence levels have risen and I am building my life back up. I understand that the mental issues I have come with the job of being in the military. I need to be the one to fix it. But without the support of Venture Trust and other organisations, I would have suffered in silence."