In 2008 I joined the Royal Marines with the intention to fulfill a 22-year career. Unfortunately after 11 years, I was medically discharged after being diagnosed with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I had a fruitful career, conducting 4 tours of Afghanistan and several sensitive overseas operations. During which I was subject to several near misses and life-threatening incidents. This, along with a number of other contributory factors, resulted in the illness I now have to manage on a daily basis.
I was fortunate to have been transferred into the recovery center at Hasler Coy where I spent the next 4 years undergoing a variety of treatments including CBT and EMDR and in 2018 I was medically discharged from the corps.
It was never my plan to leave the military after 11 years but my diagnosis meant I could no longer carry on in the career I loved. I was unlikely to hold down other employment so having already purchased a small overgrown patch of woodland near Bristol, along with my wife Louise, we decided to set up a Bushcraft Company and Forest School; Hidden Valley Bushcraft so I could teach others the skills I had learned during my rural upbringing and throughout my military career.
Working in the outdoors proved to be a life-changing experience for me. The element of physical and mental challenges found in the natural environment is something that is often lost in those suffering from mental health issues. I am now at the mercy of the seasons and must respect them in order to get the best results out of managing the wood. Spending the night or several nights in a woodland environment throughout the seasons also brings its own personal challenges.
Building a fire takes time and has a methodical process attached to it and of course, nothing is ever straight or level in nature. This stimulates my brain and solving these problems provides me with a sense of satisfaction and an increased level of self-esteem.
The act of lying in a hammock on my lunch break, taking the weight off my feet and with it the worries of the world is hugely beneficial to me. I find carving projects to be a form of mindfulness, ‘busy hands for a quiet mind’. It requires concentration with no stress attached to it.
Sharing my experiences and telling stories around the campfire is what I have found to be an extremely effective form of therapy for me. Storytelling is one of our earliest forms of learning, going as far back as when our ancestors would recall the tales of the hunt. As well as being less confrontational than sitting in a small room facing a stranger directly across from me with a pack of tissues on standby, concentrating on other tasks means I often forget my reservations about expressing my feelings. Likewise, engaging in some kind of manual task big or small whilst talking through my experiences works equally well.
Having recognised the benefits of this, I wanted to help others who had traveled down the same path. The Woodland Warrior Programme was therefore created. This ‘not for profit’ organisation is a programme of therapeutic woodland activities for injured military veterans with the aim to help them relax, learn new skills, build self-reliance and esteem, strengthen social bonding and move forward into the next stage of their lives.