Mark – Royal Marine
Mark had served in the Royal Marines. He is a veteran of Gulf 1 and various other deployments and lives in temporary accommodation. When he first came to Gardening Leave he was a very angry man who did not engage well with civilians and he felt that nobody understood him. Mark is an outdoor man and gets very frustrated being ‘cooped up’ in a city he frequently self-medicated with alcohol to the point of being aggressive and unreasonable to those around him he has not been able to move his life forwards. At Gardening Leave Mark soon found that he is amongst other like-minded people with military experience and he began to feel ‘understood’ which made him start to relax. He enjoys all the many and varied horticultural tasks which the Horticultural Therapist offers for him to get involved in and he has set himself a routine of coming to Gardening Leave regularly. He is now engaging with our volunteers who show him patience, understanding and a friendly ear and he does not jump to conclusions as he did, and is more measured in his thinking about how he is engaging with those around him. Mark is planning to travel to the Midlands to see his father – his first visit for 14 years. He says that Gardening Leave has given him self-confidence, self-respect and ‘a kick up the backside’ to get on with his life.
NB. Mark’s name has been changed.
Sam – Royal Armoured Corps
Sam is a 37 year old veteran who served with the Royal Armoured Corps. Fresh out of training he was deployed in the Falklands, then served subsequent tours in Iraq, and twice in Afghanistan. He was involved in reconnaissance, trained to detect, recce, survey and report on enemy use of mines, and chemical or nuclear weapons. As a result of experiencing such prolonged periods of high stress, Sam has suffered significant PTSD. He is extremely hypervigilant, is unable to remain in crowded or noisy locations (which restricts his ability to travel and to socialise), has very disrupted sleep patterns, and experiences low mood and suicidal ideation. Despite this, Sam remains a decent, sensitive, intelligent and responsible person, who tries to do the best he can with very limited resources.
Because he is unable to travel by public transport, he attends three times weekly by walking 50 minutes there (and back). During the past year he has shown himself to be a committed, reliable and helpful member of the gardening team, despite the turmoil in his private life; he has thrown himself in to a wide range of gardening and construction tasks and, no matter what his mood state, always tries to be kind, respectful and co-operative with all the other members of the team.
Not only has Sam enthused other veterans into trying out to Gardening Leave, but he says himself that coming here has been his sanity, a sanctuary and a lifeline for him. This man, who since leaving the army has lived an extremely isolated, fearful and lonely life, has become increasingly smiley and chatty here in the garden and we have seen him develop in confidence and ability during his time here.
Recent positive changes include his willingness, despite his shyness and reticence, to be interviewed and filmed for a documentary on the difficulties of veterans making the transition to ‘Civvy Street’, a subject he feels strongly about. He also takes home produce we have grown in the garden, which supplements his otherwise limited diet with fresh healthy fruit and vegetables. Recently he asked us if he could choose some plants to take home with him to nurture on his window sill; he said he’d been thinking of asking us for a couple of months, but only recently felt ready and able to do so. In this way Sam is now taking a little bit of Gardening Leave home with him.
NB Name has been changed.