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Taking Back Control of My Life: A Positive Futures Journey

Ian is working full-time, he recently got engaged and is happy and healthy.

But life was not always this way for the ex-serviceman.

Less than a year ago, Ian was “trapped” in his spartan flat. Anxiety and fear had shut him away from society. He was unemployed, not part of his community, he was living an unhealthy lifestyle and he spent a lot of time alone at home.

Ian’s struggles with PTSD, anxiety and depression were debilitating and were not allowing him to “take part in civilian life”.

He described himself as: “Depressed, lethargic, low and apprehensive about everything.”

Ian’s poor mental health and poor decision making eventually led to him becoming caught up in the criminal justice system and being convicted. It also led him to Venture Trust.

As a result of his conviction, Ian was supported by a social worker from the Criminal Justice Social Work Services in Perth. His subsequent referral to Venture Trust and the Positive Futures programme allowed him to start the fight to change his future. Initially it proved to be a tough and sustained battle for both Ian and his Venture Trust outreach worker Clare.

Positive Futures - funded by the Forces in Mind Trust – is specifically for ex-service personnel struggling with the transition to civilian life. Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), is a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund.

During the first few appointments with his outreach worker, Ian really struggled to leave his flat due to his anxiety. It may have only been a short walk to the meeting point, but mentally it was like climbing a mountain for Ian. Gradually Ian grew more confident and was comfortable enough to meet Clare on a regular basis, further from home and in busier places.

All of Venture Trust's programmes consist of three phases. Phase 1 involved Ian committing to regular meetings with Clare who supported him to set clear and measureable goals to work towards in the build-up to Phase 2 – the wilderness journey. The goals Ian set were “to have the knowledge that I am not the only person feeling this way”, in terms of his anxiety. He also felt he needed “a big time confidence boost” and full time employment was another goal he set his sights on for future.

The intensive five-day wilderness journey in the highlands uses outdoor activity and experiential learning techniques, allowing participants to make positive changes in negotiating barriers, gaining control of their life circumstances, and working towards achieving personal goals. These could be re-deploying skills learnt within the military; living independently; rebuilding broken relationships; moving towards jobs, training or volunteering; and generally working towards living a healthy, safe and stable life.

Anxiety and fear had been such a constant presence in Ian’s life and even a few days before going on his wilderness journey, they shadowed him once more. The thought of travelling on public transport on his own and meeting new people filled him with dread. However, support from Clare and Ian’s criminal justice worker helped him overcome his trepidation. It was also arranged for a fellow veteran attending the same course to join Ian on the train journey to Stirling for the start of the journey.

Ian described his feelings ahead of the course and after the first few days:

“I was really scared. No other word for it apart from petrified. I wasn’t sure I was going to go but I pushed myself to do this. I don’t like letting people down. Meeting the other veteran in Perth I was a bit apprehensive and cautious. I was nervous about getting the train and meeting new people at the other end. Nothing could ease the nerves. I didn’t know whether I wanted to stay. As the day went on I started to settle. I realised we were all the same with different problems in the same boat.”

The wilderness journey is the catalyst for change for many participants and for Ian it truly was.

“In the middle of Loch Katrine when in a canoe, the waves were coming in and the wind was in our face. We were going in all different directions instead of the way we were meant to be going. All we did was laugh. This is when I realised I was settled in to the group. I was quite head strong after this and determined to stay.”

Ian found the experience life-changing. “The way in which they teach is incredible. Not sitting in a classroom is such a great way to learn. The support from all the staff was fantastic,” he said.

“It’s not a boxed in area with distractions. You are out in the fresh air, challenging yourself, allowing everything to sink in. Having people to listen and there not being a time limit during the one-to-one sessions is very different to previous appointments where there is usually a time limit. Getting feedback, made me feel good. Somebody listening and asking me questions.”

While out in the wilderness, each participant is supported to design an 'action plan' for their future, ensuring they can continue on their personal journey when they return to their community.

Ian wasted no time starting his action plan. It began with things many people take for granted. Things Ian struggled to do before. Like take his dogs for a walk and go to the supermarket. He put to use the process of 'plan, do, and review’. This ensured the steps he was taking were positive and “not to beat himself” up if something did not go to plan. He was able to re-deploy skills that he had rediscovered and better review situations that once caused anxiety and stress. Soon Ian was a “different person”. “I feel good about myself, and I have not felt like this in a long time,” he said.

Clare could not believe the difference in Ian in the weeks after he returned from the wilderness journey.

“In almost five years as an outreach worker, I can honestly say that the change in Ian was the biggest I have ever witnessed. He was like a different person. He was 'on top of the clouds'. He looked happy, he was smiling, and said he is feeling ‘absolutely awesome’”.

Soon after his return, Ian proposed to his girlfriend. He successfully applied for a full time job that he loves, and is happy and healthy.

“I feel outgoing, happy in myself, confident, enthusiastic. I have faith in myself again. I don’t put myself down about things I cannot change. I feel good about myself and that’s the first time I have felt like that in four years.”

For more information about the Positive Futures programme visit our website.

Veterans involved in the Scottish community justice system can also take part in our Living Wild programme. Armed Forces Covenant is funding places especially for veterans.

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