I remember the first time I went there. I'd been on the books with 'Combat Stress' (CS), an organisation that looks after the mental welfare of british forces veterans, for a few years but I'd actively resisted going to one of their homes. 2006 was a very difficult year. I'd been in civvy street for about 19 years at this stage and had been working as an IT engineer and a union rep in the NHS since 2001. We'd been going through a process called 'Agenda for Change' and I'd been working under a huge amount of stress caused by the bullying and harrassment I was getting at the hands of some managers at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust.
My first visit
I remember the first time that I drove to Tyrwhitt House. As the day of admission for treatment got closer I got more anxious. The mental scars to do with Northern Ireland were opening up more and surpressed memories were coming to the fore. When I got their gated drive way I stopped and talked to the person on reception over the intercom about what was going to happen as I was very anxious now and didn't want to go in. It was like the gates of my memories connected with my military service had been unlocked and everything else melted into the background, bubbling away beneath it. The person calmly talked me in and I went through the induction process.
The staff there are very gentle and caring but I didn't even register that on the first visit. All of the thoughts and memories were circling around me like a tornado and I felt like they were trying to rip me apart. I started surpressing the memories harder than before. Closing myself down more. I felt myself reverting to an animal state. I was either in my room or outside most of the time for the first couple of days. One of the staff, Tony, came and talked to me and I couldn't hack sitting in a room and talking so he let me find somewhere I could sit comfortably. There used to be an old tree near the buildings and it had a gentle, nurturing energy about it. I went and curled up in the natural contours of its trunk and sat there while I started to open up.
I met my keyworker, Jan, the next day. It took her a couple of days to get through to me. It was as if I'd surpressed my memories and feelings even deeper than before. She gently peeled away the layers and allowed me to bring the memories out at my pace. Allowing me to see myself and examine the components of this condition and how it affects me.
Once you've served there seems to be an automatic camaraderie between yourself and any veteran, irrespective of which arm of the forces your served with or which arena. There's an unspoken bond that's understood. It's so easy to to be with veterans and that's another thing that this visit gave me: acceptance. We all knew eachother and why we were there. The lads/lasses all look out for eachother.
I nearly walked out early and went home on my first visit but I'm glad I stayed the week. The saddest thing to see is one of your comrades leave early. To those of you that have left early, never to return, we remember you and hope that you'll feel you can come back some time...when it's right for you. You already took the hardest step by coming into the house in the first place. Those first steps were the ones that I found the hardest. I know that there's one place I can be now where I'm understood and not regarded as a 'weirdo'. I can den up there for a week and lick my wounds before facing the world again.
My second visit in 2009 felt easier and I had a good laugh with some of the lads too (there weren't any lasses at the place this time). It was a good balance as I was working hard on myself and needed that easy space to be in where we continually, but gently, took the piss out of eachother.