Sally – The Story of a Wee Scottish Veteran in 2020

28-year-old Sally* served in the Army for five years, including a tour in Afghanistan. Since leaving the Army, she had struggled with her physical and mental health and had little stability in life. When she finally reached out for help, she found an amazing team of support workers and volunteers working tirelessly together to help her get back on her feet.

I think it’s fair to assume that no one could have predicted the complete and utter chaos we have been experiencing this year; for me, unfortunately a mad and chaotic life is exactly what I was banking on and is why this time last year I had no intentions of being here alive. I was going to have the best year of my life ever, and then I was going to cowardly, yet in a well-planned out manner, end my life and end my pain. People may judge, but they have no idea the physical, psychological and emotional trauma I have survived. Here is how and why I was saved. 

At the end of 2019 I was booked in for some major surgery and staying with a family member to look after me post op. I had been sofa surfing for a year or so at this point, I was better being around people and was less of a “suicide risk” to myself if I ensured I was kept motivated and surrounded with people. This presented its own problems: I had no place to call my own, no real stability and it was having a seriously debilitating effect on my mental health.

Finally, with some help, I made the decision to register as homeless – one of the best decisions I have ever made. Scary, embarrassing, but weirdly empowering to finally starting to take back control of my life. As I had somewhere to stay for the night, I was told I was not likely to be housed anywhere any time soon. But I had made a start at least, it was going to be a waiting game…

The next day I called the Glasgow’s Helping Heroes office for some general advice which is where I met Sally, the first member of my Dream Team – a lovely lady who calmed me, supported me and fought for me.  She would not take no for an answer to me being housed.  This was one day before lockdown was implemented, so everywhere was starting to get a little crazy. 

We took a stroll around to Govan Law Centre where they wrote up a little letter for me to take back to the homeless place. After that, I was offered space in a hostel/hotel, but given my mental state this just wasn’t a route I was willing to take. I had battled some alcohol and drug addiction and did not want not be going back into that kind of environment.

Sally organised for me to stay at a cute little B&B whilst we waited on word of a temporary house. Much to our surprise, the next day I was offered a temporary flat in the south of the city. I was not in a place to refuse this and the house was decent enough at the time, so the ball started rolling.

At this temporary flat, on the first day of official lockdown, I was introduced to member number two of my Dream Team, Janette Rae, a Turning Point Support Worker. She helped me with paperwork, benefits and any financial help I was entitled to. At this stage I had no money left after living off my savings and a small Army pension. The emotional support I was receiving at this stage from both Sally and Janette was unreal and they sorted me out with food parcels and gas/electricity.

They then put me in touch with David Gibson, who runs an organisation called Fares4Free, which helps veterans get to appointments and other places they need to be. He straight away offered their services to me, which was a huge help. 

I spent the first couple of weeks of lockdown self-isolating in this temporary house with great support, however there were some issues with neighbours which meant it was not suitable for me. The Dream Team stepped in again and accommodated me in a hotel, so I did not have to have the stress of living in that house where I did not feel safe and comfortable. 

At this stage I am not sure who was doing what as all of the organisations were working together like a well-oiled machine to secure me a nice, comfortable home where I would feel safe and secure. Soon I was offered another temporary flat, which was a huge relief. The move was daunting but the Dream Team organised for help from a removals company, H J Grant Removals, with owner Hayden volunteering their services at no cost. I felt so lucky and blessed.

David and Hayden did me such a turn and I went from having nothing to having furniture aplenty and other ‘bits and bobs’ in the space of four days. In the new flat my Dream Team brought me food every week and are on hand anytime I need them with whatever issue it is that day. They’ve delivered random care packages, some clothing and all kinds of little things you wouldn’t think make a difference but really do in someone’s life. Most notable is the time and effort they have spent bettering and building me up as a person.  I also got support from Alana at Glasgow’s Coming Home Centre, Jock at Help for Heroes who got me funding for a new cooker, and I’m sure there are many others who have been working in the background. 

I suffer with a variety of different illnesses and issues both physically and mentally, every day really is a struggle. Some days it gets too much and I’m a complete and utter emotional wreck lying on the floor usually writhing in pain running back and forward from the toilet being violently sick. I can medicate but it is a bit of a sore point with me having gotten myself off all medications – at some points I had to take over 80 tablets a day alongside weekly, monthly and bi monthly injections/infusions to survive.

I’ve found the best way to get through the day is to keep my mind and body occupied. When David offered to take me fishing for the day I was so excited at the prospect of being outdoors doing something I enjoy.  We have done this a couple of times now – it has taught me patience – never a bad thing, and who knew that  a simple thing as a day out putting some bait on a rod and hoping for the best could be so therapeutic!  I even found out that David had actually taken one of his days off work to come and take me out for the day – it really has been an immense stress-reliever.

Throughout this whole process, I was very aware of the luck I had come into having this amazing team of people supporting me and helping through it all. They not only helped me logistically but they’ve genuinely had a huge impact of my mental health and general well-being, building my confidence up again and giving me a new passion for life. I plan to give back in any way I can, hopefully by volunteering for these organisations and helping other veterans.

Every day is still a battle, but my Dream Team saved my life and are still behind me. If you are struggling just now do not do it in silence, never fear there is a Dream Team out there waiting to be assembled for you – all you need to do is ask.  Please do it, it is the best thing I have ever done.

*Name has been changed