In-between the cracks.

In 2009 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), the cause of this was a result of deployment as a Combat Medical Technician during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, now no matter your political opinion or your stance of war. It was my choice to join the British Army, it was my life path.

This resulted in the PTSD I have today. I am not unable to change the path I took, but I am able to stand proud and say I served in the best military in the world.

Joining the army made me who I am today, it gave me many skills it also gave me the ability to be resilient, stand up for what is right and the foundations of the dedicated professional I am today.

But it’s the 21st century, I PTSD had a significant impact on my mental health, this always leads to a fear that I would fall between the cracks.  I thought I had become one of those, I was saved by a series of events that led me to reach out for help in 2009. I was referred to Combat Stress.

This referral was the biggest eye opener that I have ever had, it was much bigger than the day I got off the train for my basic training, even bigger than when I realised that it was time to be an adult.

I began to learn after my PTSD diagnoses that I had developed a lack of fear, this was not  me being brave, it was my mind trying to manage every day life at high intensity. Over a number of years that I realised that decisions I made and the risks I took were beyond crazy.

I have seen more dead bodies in various states than I would ever want anyone to see from the smallest baby to the most indescribable.  I have stood in harms way on many occasions to protect others, I on occasions was injured as a result. All of these were what I thought to be conscious choices however in hindsight some were more dangerous.

Reflecting on these and many other decisions, it was clear that the infamous four words so readily banded around Post Traumatic Stress Disorder were having a huge impact on even some of the most basic aspects on my life, even going to the shops was unexplainably difficult. I was looking for the escape route, I was conscious of ever single person. I would go in for a pint of milk and leave with about fifty quid’s worth of stuff.

This was far from the level person I thought I was, I had allowed myself to walk a path of self-destruction.

After my diagnoses in 2009 I closed down, I pushed people away and lost touch with a lot of people around me and in essence had fallen between the cracks through my own choice. It was one that I would come to regret. In 2010 after my PTSD diagnosis I took myself to the brink. To this day I can see the moment that I was going to end my life, make it all better and make the demons go away, the reason I can see it is because I was going to take my life and had taken every step except the final one.

It was in this moment, this realisation that I was no use to anybody dead, I certainly was not going to be any good to my then two year old daughter, I wouldn’t see her grow up into the amazing person she has become and the destruction of those around me by my act.

I realise now that life is worth living and it can be the smallest of things that can change the path, I want YOU to realise that life is worth living. The cracks are exactly that, they are never deep they are just part of the life we lead. You, Me, everybody has them, step over them and if you find yourself in one, do not get angry, don’t lose focus make it your drive to a positive change.

There are a lot more positives in the world, you just need to look beyond the negative rubbish that is spouted by the few. Because it is those who shout the loudest that get noticed. It is the quiet ones that are missed.

I am not saying you need to shout I am saying you need to reach out, there are different solutions for different people mine is my assistance dog Ziggy

Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Email jo@samaritans.org

Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day
Visit the webchat page

Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm to 10pm
Text 07860 039967
Email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill

Combat Stress

Helpline: 0800 138 1619

There are many more support services out there but remember this is not a quick fix

Veterans Homeless crisis or media storm?

There is without doubt a homeless crisis in the UK. Over many years it has been attributed to lack of affordable housing, lack of access to social housing and lack of government support.

Throughout the UK homelessness has been approached from different angles, some of which has hit the headlines in various news media including  the following;

At least 13,000 hero soldiers left HOMELESS after leaving the military – and almost all have PTSD

The Mirror/ Sunday People

 

More than 60,000 veterans are homeless, in prison or suffering with mental health

The Daily Post (wales)

 

Do these facts and figures ring true? Simply put no, I am firmly of the opinion that these figures are banded around, to insight political arguments or debates, it is apparent that these can lead to progress however, it also is clear that lots of time is spent talking about it rather than resolving it.

What is worrying is that Veterans are being used as political pawns, there are a huge number of service leavers that leave and contribute to society but also, they provide support for fellow veterans.

Companies like Combat Pest Control Recruit veterans. Why? Because most service personnel can turn their hand to anything and not only that they are reliable they are dependable.  More and more is being done to recognise that veterans have transferable skills.

The Armed Forces covenant is in place, a number of companies have signed up to this covenant and this has encouraged business to openly recruit from the veteran’s community.

This doesn’t solve the homeless crisis, no, but it does show that it is possible to achieve beyond the military.

Having spoken to several homeless individuals across London, I gained the understanding that some of these people are there through choice. Others for circumstances beyond there control. The reasons varied from losing their job to family break up to drink and drugs.

The cross section consisted of eight people three female five males, one stated he was a veteran. This was an unchecked claim. I did not pry I just spoke to them, about the reasons they were homeless. Some of the problems were the lack of social housing, the lack of support. The veteran stated that because of his nomadic lifestyle he didn’t stay in one place for more than a week.

Some other factors included drink and drug abuse meant that they couldn’t get mental health support as they needed to address the abuse first!

Another issue raised was that they wanted to work however as they didn’t have an address they struggled to secure work, they also were not able to draw benefits because of the lack of address.

What did this show, well this showed that there was a significant gap in communication, because if you wish to claim you can use the following as addresses;

  • hostel you’re staying in
  • friend or family member
  • day centre if you’re sleeping on the streets
  • local jobcentre

A number of homeless people across the UK need support, it is now winter, it is wet, the weather forecasters rumour that we will be set for a big freeze.

Homelessness has been around for centuries, this is due to society. It is now more and more prevalent in cities and towns across the UK.

I don’t have a resolution, but I want it to be clear that a larger proportion of veterans leave and succeed, the ones that don’t need that extra support and guidance.  It is time to change in a number of areas, these changes are happening and progressive. Lots of people donate to charities and as not for profit you expect them to spend the money to provide services.

This isn’t always possible, and people regularly take them to task however this is a charity wide issue. As a charity grows it needs to run like a business and needs to employee and pay appropriately to remain effective, and to provide the right support.

There is a crisis it is not just veterans and there are no clear states on the divide that exists but if you need to employee someone employee a veteran. Even if they don’t have the skills you want, they will be dedicated enough to gain them.

Don’t just walk past a homeless person speak to them, you don’t have to give them money, but you can buy them a hot drink or some food. It’s the time of year to be nice to one and other. How do I know this? Because it is a day in the year you don’t have to be kind once.

 

Work Life Balance

Work Life Balance

For years people have spoken and used the term ‘work life balance’. What does this mean?
It is described as the balance between that an individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life, including social life, family life and leisure. This list is not exhaustive.

In the UK a full time employee is entitled to 28 days paid leave per year. This differs for part time workers. There is no doubt that the nature of life means that the balance is work, work and life.
As a base 2018 there are 252 working days. Leaving 113 days that are not earmarked as work days. This means that the importance of understanding how to manage your own work life balance and not rely on others, you are the master of your own fate.

This is a fast paced world, you will realise that the most of your time is spent at work so why on earth do we spend forever looking for the work life balance when we should be focusing on a life balance!
Its time to change, I can’t tell you how to do it, there is unsurmountable amount of people out there who claim to be able to change your life. You are the only person that can change this yes YOU!

Lets change this talk of work life balance and focus on enjoying life, happiness breeds happiness much as negativity breeds negativity. I am not saying spend your life working I am saying spend your life enjoying your days, they are finite.
Life can be rough at times there is no doubt but you should never give up. We arrive in this world screaming naked and helpless, you can make the path to death your own crucially never give up.

Finally if you need help to feel good then seek it, if you feel good share it we are in this together. Make life good not just a balance.

Bang .. The guns fell silent

Its that time of year the UK (and others) remember, the eleventh hour of the eleventh month on the eleventh day.

Putting this into context 16 Million people died, 37 Million people injured, both civilian and military

Not there yet the current population of London is 8.7 Million. 7 million people were left permanently disabled as a result of conflict.

100 years ago the guns fell silent, the Armistice was signed in Paris 11/11/1918, this was to be the end of the war to end all wars. Tragically we know that wasn’t the case and wars continue to rage around the world.
Looking at various reports in the media relating to the choice to wear the poppy, including what colour red white purple. I have seen some interesting arguments have been put, there have also been people you have chosen to hijack Remembrance Day.
Freedom doesn’t mean that you can abuse someone because the choose not to wear the poppy, some people pay their respects in other ways, some have contractual reasons but pay their respects. Others feel that the act of remembrance glorifies war, its the joy of freedom.

No matter what you choose, no matter what your view many people gave their lives to ensure you have the freedom of choice. I will be wearing my medals and my poppy on 11/11/2018 and showing my 9 year old the importance of what it means to remember.
For those who wish to hijack this time, look around you and realise.

We Will Remember Them

ONLY THE DEAD HAVE SEEN THE END OF WARadobe_post_20181107_073854

We need to ensure we remember those whose gave their lives, support those who are brave enough to continue to lay down their lives and their minds for the stability and safety of the UK.

Lest We Forget.
20181109_190912

Veterans Suicide

All Around Ziggy

Is there a cure……?

Suicide is not a new thing, it is far too common in society. While serving in the British Army I looked upon people who committed suicide as people who wasted their lives. I thought that they were weak and inconsiderate. I mean after all the effect that their ‘selfish’ act had on friends family and so on.

I was highly trained, first and foremost I was a soldier, second to this I was a Combat Medical Technician. My job was to save lives so I was always aghast when people took their own life!

“Oh how life changes”

These thoughts were quickly reconsidered when a friend took his life; while out on a live fire training he joked about keeping one round (bullet) for himself! Not one eyelid was batted after all, at the close of each range exercise you declare you have not retained any…

View original post 1,008 more words

Mental Health The New Trend

Will mental health become a fad?

Some reported statistics for you to start of with;

  • 16 million people in the UK have mental health conditions,
  • Three in four mental illnesses start in childhood,
  • Six in Ten people say poor mental health impacts their concentration at work,
  • 70 million work days are lost each year due to poor mental health,
  • £105 Billion is ‘lost’ each year to the UK economy because of poor mental health.

The more and more I hear mental health is being openly spoken about yet I fear that there is still an attitude towards mental health that is turning it into a tick box exercise. Or even worse “it will not happen to me.”

When it comes to dealing with mental health not only is it difficult to admit that you are vulnerable, but when you do people don’t know how to respond to someone admitting their vulnerability.


How can this be changed?

Off the back of attending a conference run by Give an Hour, it clearly indicated by its title that there was a need to change direction. I have no doubt that there is a lot to do in the UK to make this change. One key point is that ‘it will not happen to me.’ Hopefully, this will be the case. It does however depend on how you value your mental health.

Returning to the statistics there are 16 Million people in the UK suffer from mental health, that is from a population of approximately 66 million. Yes that is where the one in four people come from, it is probably better to say that 66 million people suffer from mental health.

Stress

Everyone has a degree of mental health. This is the first fact. This can be minor or otherwise, it will however, still be difficult to talk about stress as mental health condition. I urge you to look at the last time you were stressed and now consider how difficult the simple tasks became, as a result of the stress.

Get your head up from the books take a break

The cost of mental health to the economy, each year is around £105 Billion. In the year 2017/18 the NHS plan to spend £11.9 billion. The value of your own mental health is key no matter how many facts or figures your throw in the air you can not put value on your own health.

This leads me onto mental health becoming a fad; it’s a massive concern that the impact on the workplace has led to the perception of a new trend to be part of. Lots of employers are acknowledging mental health as having an impact. It is clear that nobody actually knows how to deal with it. Why? Simply mental health there is no one solution there is no one size fits all.

Imagine this. You walk into work having just had your leg traumatically amputated by a bus on the way in. You say. “Good Morning” to those you see, After the shock of what they have seen your colleagues, ask “are you okay?” you respond. “yes.” Its clear you are not okay but they ask.

Now imagine you walk in you feel rubbish getting out of bed was a task, you have had a sleepless night of flashbacks, you force yourself to go to work. Putting on your face, you turn up to work wishing that there was a bus to have hit you. You say.“good morning”, you get the reciprocated response “Morning.” Your world is falling down around you the pressure on your chest. Your mind is in overdrive yet nobody asks “how are you?”

What am I getting at? One aspect is ITS OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY. I find it hard to emphasise the fact that you are not alone no matter how much you feel you are. The reason people don’t ask if you are okay, is not because they don’t care its because they can’t see what is wrong.

Mental health is not a new fad or trend it is finally becoming recognised for the debilitating life changer that it is.

Keep the conversation going. It is not because people don’t care its because they cant see and use a tweet from Karla Stevenson which is video relating to veterans, this quote works for all

“Stick your hand up if you haven’t stuck your hand up do it today.”

Its not a bank robbery its a fact, the help is out there and not just from professionals friends, family and helplines, search Google I wont signpost on this as they expire.

R+Z

Global Mental Health Summit 2018

Will this help change direction?

Week 41 of 2018 I would say almost the week that the world sat up and took a step together in the right direction.

In the UK the Prime Minister announced the first ‘Suicide Prevention Minister’. The scary bit in England 4500 people take their lives each year. The other numbers I am not putting here because that number itself is unreal.

I am not sure what the introduction of this new minister will do to these figures, but the key is to deal with the cause. This is finally an acknowledgement from UK government that there is a need to address this subject.

This appointment was ready to mark World Mental Health Day. So naturally and obviously its accepted that poor mental health leads to suicide.

This leads me on to the Global Mental Health Summit 2018. This was the second summit arranged by the charities; Change Direction and Give an Hour. The focus of this was ‘Mental Health Culture Change’

Now you are reading this and haven’t heard of these charities that is no surprise both are based in the United States. So, what are they doing here? Well simply put they are working on changing direction and the conversation on mental health. To change the culture surrounding mental health.

20181011_111610

Panel including Generals from the UK and Ukranie

This summit had some of the greatest minds in the world. Who were passionate about mental health. The subject areas were diverse, they ranged through Policy, Fashion, Veterans, LGBTQ and Faith. Speakers travelled from all over the world to pass their knowledge.

Three key points that I hope reading will make you think and start a conversation.

  • There are no words for mental health in South Asia, therefore it makes a difficult starting point for the conversation.
  • Until 2013 legislation in the UK still discriminated against Members of Parliament, Jurors and Company Directors.
  • Everyone has Mental Health it should not be binary i.e. with or without, it is.

Thinking about the brain without the mind is brainless, thinking about the mind without the brain is mindless.

I will do more blogs from this but for now enjoy and share. I also urge you to comment on this post and read other blogs

Veterans Badge

R+Z

Veterans Suicide

Is there a cure……?

Suicide is not a new thing, it is far too common in society. While serving in the British Army I looked upon people who committed suicide as people who wasted their lives. I thought that they were weak and inconsiderate. I mean after all the effect that their ‘selfish’ act had on friends family and so on.

I was highly trained, first and foremost I was a soldier, second to this I was a Combat Medical Technician. My job was to save lives so I was always aghast when people took their own life!

“Oh how life changes”

These thoughts were quickly reconsidered when a friend took his life; while out on a live fire training he joked about keeping one round (bullet) for himself! Not one eyelid was batted after all, at the close of each range exercise you declare you have not retained any munitions. The following day while out training on a weighted march with kit and weapons, the group stopped for a water break. This was his last, he loaded his rifle, turned it on himself and took his life.

The key to the above was that he took his life. He did not commit suicide, killing yourself has not been illegal since 1961. Therefore you can not ‘commit’ suicide. This marked a change in my opinion, why, because before this I was wrong.

“There is nothing wrong with admitting you are wrong as long as you recognise and change.”

Changing the world never happens, changing yourself does so this is where you need to start. Over several years there has been focus on mental health in both military and civilian life. Recently it has been identified that there are no specific records kept by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) relating to Veterans suicide. The stock response is that the coroner holds these records. Well… that would be the case if they identified the person who has taken their life as a veteran, so in short there are not suitable records to draw from.

If we are frank, the United Kingdom has a part to play in supporting the Armed Forces, every year on the 11th November we remember Armistice Day. Everyone (almost) comes together, buys a poppy and shows their support for our Armed Forces. What happens next, well the funds raised are gratefully received and benefit those who are in need.
America is by no way perfect, they do however actively recognise their veterans, this includes simple gratitude like free entry to theme parks and respecting them for what they have done. This point seems laboured however its the little things that matter.
In the UK there are a large number of charities set up to help serving and ex-service personnel, these charities support issues including;

Mental Health
Employment Support
Housing Support
Recovery and providing lifelines.

It’s obvious the support is out there in the United Kingdom although a lot needs to be done. The public gives millions each year to support ‘our troops’. There are lots of amazing people doing crazy things to raise money. There is also a lot of corporate input including the offer of employment programs to help service leavers and financial donations.

This should surely be enough but to date 43 veterans have taken their lives this year, with a majority of these having struggled with the mental health condition Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is not the only mental health condition that has causative effect.

A number of people doing amazing things and inspiring people, some of these include;

Brian Wood MC https://www.brianwoodmc.co.uk/
Karla Stevenson of https://www.civvyfutures.org/
Tony Hodson of http://www.hodson-associates.co.uk/
Iain Henderson trustee https://www.veteranscharity.org.uk/
Michael Coates of https://declassifiedpodcast.com/

One of the key messages is that “its okay not to be okay”, this message isn’t just about smashing the stigma of mental health, it’s about self identifying that things are getting tough. This doesn’t mean going online and self diagnosing yourself as having a mental health condition.

Your first port of call is speaking out to friends, family or health professionals. One thing you need to know is “this is a road to recovery” it’s not a quick fix. If you talk about it then you start the road to recovery.

With the modern roads in the UK you will find lots of ruts and rubbish, you will sometimes hit a roundabout where you won’t know which way to turn; there are signposts out there. Sometimes you will turn down an unmade road, unmade doesn’t mean the path hasn’t been trodden it just means that it can be a bit dustier. No matter which way you turn, what road you take or even if it’s the wrong one it’s important that you stop and ask for directions.

The above may be a daft analogy but it’s as clear and simple as it needs to be. Veterans and service personnel are taking their lives and its frightening. I would say more so because every one of those who pledge allegiance to the Sovereign are in essence willing to die for their country.

None of them want to and taking their own life is not doing this, it is dying because the country failed them. Its time to change this. I decided to write this and not go into the facts and figures. It is clear that the world, the government need to be doing something. The issue is they are not doing as much as they could. Facts and figures will not redress the balance. It is too late for so many but its down to us, we can change the future.

Lots of people are putting the government to task if you look there are many petitions, sign these but please don’t think that is it I’ve done my bit, I’ve ticked the box. There are 2.5 million veterans in the UK as of 2016, this was down 60,000 from 2015. The most recent statistics will be published in 2019!

Ultimately there is no cure, for years people have taken their own lives so the responsibility lies on us to give them the support, the signposts, the sense of purpose.
I write this in the knowledge that I have hit rock bottom and considered suicide, but I came through. Why? Because I looked up from the rocks and realised there was always a hand to help me up, find yours talk.

I urge you to look at the links above and if you need help or support please use the helplines provided by Combat Stress.
The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Veterans and their families can call 0800 138 1619.
Serving personnel and their families can call 0800 323 4444.
You can also text on 07537 404719 and email helpline@combatstress.org.uk Standard charges may apply for texts, please check with your provider

marketing office working business

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

R+Z

The Sky’s the limit

Or is it……?

Its a crisp autumn morning, the bright yellow light in the clear blue sky is glowing and glinting off of every shard of glass. Unlike Alex Guandino my destination was known. Heathrow Airport was my next stop.

A380 cockpit is pretty high up !

First challenge was to leave the ever faithful assistance dog Ziggy behind, why ? The first consideration was he going to be alone? That was easily answered, the second was what contingencies could I put in place to deal with my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I have developed many coping strategies over the years to manage in situations like this so I reverted to these.
Enough babble, I was attending the British Airways (BA) Flight Simulator organised through Help For Heroes. 40 Veterans from every service were present and given this amazing opportunity to fly in a flight simulator.

This was not sitting in front of a computer screen with your joystick this was a multimillion pound system that mirrored everything in the cockpit of the variants of aircraft used by BA. It wasn’t only this I also had the opportunity to see the amazing Heathrow Fire Service in action (training), amongst the other equipment used to keep the airport working.

Heathrow Fire Service equipment display

This sounds fun throw into the mix PTSD and a heart rate average of 100bpm it turns something enjoyable into a draining but awesome experience. Not taking away from the amazing staff of BA and the Heathrow Fire Service along with the staff of Help For Heroes, it was the company of like minded Veterans and Service Personnel who were experiencing similar experiences.
Now entering the £10 Million simulator pod set up to replicate a Boeing 747, a fully immersive experience with realistic principles of flight just without the wings! Sitting in this pod gave me focus as I strapped into the harness I focused on the ‘outside’ world and the equipment in the cockpit . Clearance was given throttle up flaps adjusted and brakes released. Pulling up the nose of the plane leaving the runway, I was now in flight heading up to 3000 feet retracting the gears. I felt the amazing sense of relief the anxiety and hypervigilance drained from my PTSD bug and began to feed the new bug of flight. Not for a long time had I felt so ‘normal’ in a frankly abnormal situation.

Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine

Heathrow Fire Service Training

After landing and taking off a number of times, the experience came to a close. The day ended and the drive home. What an amazing experience one I am grateful for its showed me that I could do things I had lost the confidence to do.

Flight Simulator Pod

It showed me that I could do things outside of my comfort zone but by working hard talking to people and being open and honest that I have PTSD and that its horrendous at times I can and I will continue to work through this and offer the peer support to others to help them.

As a final note this one day took two days out of me it wasn’t easier this was one day (6 hours it wiped me out for two, I am by far match fit but I am heading in the right direction.

As an extra bonus I met the inspirational Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden, who has done many amazing things in his life and supports our troops he also has a autobiography out called:

‘ What does this button do’

Richard and Bruce Dickinson

Thanks for not being bored, no matter what you think the sky is not the limit look beyond the limit and work towards it. You can do it I can do it.

R+ Z

RUN, HIDE,TELL

Is Rt Honourable Tobias Elwood MP right?

After the tragic events in Westminster where a loner took it upon himself to take the lives of innocent people going about their normal day.

The Government and the Police advice is to follow three simple steps

RUN
HIDE
TELL

The sole purpose of this advice is to afford protection to you the public. Today during the inquest and quoted in various media sources Mr Ellwood saying

“But I find myself countering the advice somewhat because as we saw in the Manchester attack, London Bridge and Westminster as well the message gets through that no terrorist is going to win”

Mr Ellwood during this attack ‘Stepped Up’. He did this with the deep and terrible knowledge that with terrorism there is always a threat of a secondary attack. Doing what he could to save the life of PC Palmer he did not hesitate he refused to leave and refused to give up.

The current UK threat is such that we pretty much live in a society where a terror attack is ‘highly likely’ these are sad times but it has become the norm. Do the words of Mr Ellwood undermine the advice? In short NO.

I have very little doubt in my mind that although in a ideal world when fighting terror we would all stand up and show them that they will not win.

Tragically this is not practical, during a terror attack you will experience a number of natural instincts these are;

FIGHT
FLIGHT
FREEZE

Until you are in this situation where your life is in danger or a significant event has occurred you wont know which of these it will be. I know what mine is and this comes as a result of significant hostile training and the ability through exposure to assess the dangers. This is however subject to change as this is the purest and oldest of human instincts and key to survival.

If a car is being driven at you, should you stand in the way? NO

If someone is armed with a weapon and you are unarmed untrained should you intervene? NO

If someone is going to blow themselves up….? the answer is NO

The locations of recent terror attacks have been in locations where the emergency service response has been minutes. It is there job to put their lives before yours yes that is their job, they then will have contingencies in place to manage the incident and protect and preserve life.

Now I have the utmost respect for Mr Elwood he reached the rank of Captain in the Royal Green Jackets, to get to this level you dont just turn up at the recruitment office and say

“ I want to be a Captain”

You have to work hard, train hard and learn fast. These skills are drilled into you so that in any given moment you are steadfast in adversity. When I joined The British Army the saying was;

“Be The Best”

I have no doubt I was and I am, as I am sure Mr Ellwood will be, with the standard caveat we are humans we make mistakes and we learn.

Although I have digressed slightly the facts remain I do not believe Mr Ellwood’s words should be interpreted in the direct literal sense. He does not expect you to stand in front of a terrorist and put your life at risk. If he does then this will be one of the mistakes he will learn from, to that end you should follow the advice above from Government.

RUN, HIDE,TELL

Finally I wish to thank the Emergency Services, Mr Ellwood and the other members of the public in the numerous attacks that have happened over the years for doing your bit

Choice or Pain?

dog on a train

What would you prefer?

Its accepted that some people like pain and some don’t, I know where I sit on this subject. The main thing that has led me to this blog and that is seeing the amount of dogs being pulled around and having pain used as a training tool.

Imagine this; you are walking down the street with your best friend, they are walking behind you, chatting away then all of a sudden grab the collar of your shirt an choke you. Why because they have decided to change direction and cross the road!

Now with that in mind switch it around you are walking your beloved best friend this time its a dog. You are walking along , decide to stop and change direction without warning you tug the lead. Now what has happened there is your crushed your beloved pets windpipe!
So looking at these two examples the source of the problem lies in the breakdown in communication, how do you resolve this?
The facts are you give your dog the choice, your bond will be significantly better. The list of does and don’ts that I use with Ziggy are here;

Do
Use a Harness

Use treats (Choice)
Reward your dog for the right behaviours.

Don’t
Don’t use a collar to check your dog, (pain)
Don’t chastise your dog because you think they got it wrong.

The techniques I use with Ziggy as a PTSD Assistance Dog is choice and reward. When walking and I want to change direction I simply communicate with him with simple clear commands. I use “This Way”. What this does is drawers his attention to me. Then the direction we want/ intend to go.

We started at a young age and using methods provided by Kirsten Dillion, to reward and give Ziggy the choice. Every time we walk and want to change direction I say “this way” and he follows, this is because when we trained we imprinted those words with a positive reward i.e. a treat.

When he didn’t do this we just stopped no tugging no dragging just no reward no movement, each time he heard “this way” and followed he was rewarded. Slowly I began removing and randomizing the reward this then trained him to decide what to do. This was then his choice no pain, he followed this option because there was a chance of a reward but crucially no pain.

So when it comes to you make the choice if you like pain but when it comes to your dog or any animal in fact give them the choice, yes influence it with training but never use pain. Ultimately this choice induces trust this is an essential part of the relationship. Ziggy is not a tool he is a partner a best friend and to do this trust is crucial and he must make the choice to participate and helping me is choice.

Much love

R+ Z

Suicide

DON’T DO IT, YOU ARE WANTED, YOU ARE NEEDED IN THIS WORLD!
I let myself get to the point of suicide and I stepped back, I sought help if you are struggling seek help. If you are struggling, seek help. If you are in a position to offer help, ask “are you ok? But be prepared to follow it up with an ear and true support.  Don’t just say, I am here for you.

Talk to someone.

Stay safe.seed of cerbera odollam tree on ground in park Here are some further support contacts Samaritans – for everyone Call 116 123 Email jo@samaritans.org Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – for men Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5pm to midnight every day Visit the webchat page Papyrus – for people under 35 Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 9am to 10pm, weekends and bank holidays 2pm to 10pm Text 07860 039967 Email pat@papyrus-uk.org Childline – for children and young people under 19 Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill

2020! Now I wasn’t expecting that.

This was a new decade, it was the time to start a new year without the resolutions, but with new goals. Well that lasted didn’t it! Within the first month I was told to leave two separate restaurants because of my assistance dog! The first I was resilient and pointed out that they were in the wrong, I got my food and left. The second of the same chain I was kicked out and didn’t given get my food, so thank you McDonalds!

What would the rest of the year have in store? I wasn’t going to allow big corporates dish out discrimination because of the presence of an assistance dog. Then the first reports of this first a new-fangled cold. No need to worry it won’t be anything significant, we could still speak, shake hands and hug!

imageAnd then:

Two people off sick with COVID related symptoms, nothing to worry about but when you are done for the day, we will deep clean and let you know when you can return. Now that’s easier said than done as lighting the litmus paper of panic and unknown. After a quick ‘deep clean’ I returned to the office for a week before the national lockdown was instigated. We were to stay home, save lives protect and clap for the NHS. The death toll was mounting and progressively becoming a concern that vulnerable loved ones were now at risk.

The lockdown was not all that bad, the unnecessary panic buying was ridiculous. Now here is where my life got difficult, no in-fact this is when life started to get bloody hard. With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). I found heading to the shops a challenge at times, throw into the mix a bunch of aggressive idiots arguing over paracetamol or the number of toilet rolls they had stacked in their trolley. This idiotic behaviour made my life difficult, increasing my hyper-vigilance and social anxiety to levels i had not felt for a long time.

My PTSD assistance dog Ziggy was working overtime. My first shop resulted in me leaving without anything I needed, partly as a result of panic buyers and partly because of the urge to leave.

The second attempt I arrived at the store, parked up and got my mind focused. This focus was far from enough as I couldn’t face the lengthy queue outside before I was then sat back in the car trying to level my focus. PTSD has its moments and at times it is almost debilitating, I drove home and made a cuppa, realising that I had no milk, no fresh food. Saved by a store providing what i would describe as an emergency box. This provided me with the essentials that I needed; it also gave me the chance to make a proper cuppa with milk!

As the weeks and months plodded through, I began with a solid focus, I was keeping fit with Joe Wicks in the morning, I was setting up a routine to ensure that I would stay positive and driven. I needed to continue the working and achieving results. This was not a time to just sit in my pants and plod along.

I will not bore you with the ins and outs of what its like day to day with my PTSD, my assistance dog and working from home. The short version is that it didn’t take long to be up washed, fed and working in my pants!

Now you have that image firmly in your mind, the government swings its stance to return to work. This is simple for most and the concerns that arise form this are generally have the workplace ut the appropriate measures in place, is it safe to travel on public transport and are the facemasks providing the adequate protection.

These are not my concerns, mine are simple how will I cope with the commute, historically this has mentally drained me to the point of being physically sick. Was this going to happen again? Add into the mix the anxiety at the thought of tackling the commute. I now have to ensure that Ziggy was up to the high standard expected of him.

The simple thought of returning to the office sparks anxiety. So how have I been working around this? Is this a problem for me or is this a problem for Human Resources?

I am in the fortunate position to have a manger that is empathetic towards my PTSD, it is not only this but accepting and realising that Ziggy through the lockdown and the lack of exposure will naturally have a form of skill fade. Add into the mix that Ziggy is an animal and part of his skill is reading faces, the new facemasks have caused an issue.

I have found that the current situation has caused my hyper-vigilance to go through the roof, before with Ziggy I felt enabled, each day was exciting my PTSD was present but it wasn’t me. I could breeze through the busy London streets with so much more ease with Ziggy.

Now I am super vigilant, but now on a different level, social distance face masks. I can no longer read a face and neither can my dog. It is difficult to explain but this is significant in my ability to read situations and live a normal life has been greatly affected.

I am in a position that I want to return to work and now have that as a target. Stupid huh? I should just get on with it, bite the bullet. Well historically I would have said the same, it is only now I am able to recognise that if I run before I walk then it will lead to failure.

Times have changed and I know that in order to get over this hurdle I need to work at it. To take the steps, I need to return to the office full time need to be developed. If I am forced to return to work and without consideration for my mental health and wellbeing, then it is likely to have a negative impact and push me back for years. I may be wrong but it should be reasonable that when returning to the new normal that consideration should be given to the bigger picture, forcing people to return could be the kick that pushes individual down a path that nobody wants to walk.

So when you are planning a return don’t just jump, don’t be the pusher work together take the positive route for all involved.

 

https://www.gov.uk/check-how-to-return-to-work-safely

You are not allowed in here!

It’s the year 2020, you walk towards the entrance of a well-known clothing chain as you walk around the store, you begin to feel the eyes of staff drawn to you. You continue to walk around then suddenly you hear a voice from behind you, “NO DOGS ALLOWED IN HERE YOU NEED TO LEAVE”.  You stop and explain that the dog is an assistance dog, you are then repeatedly told you need to leave.

This situation happened to me, why? Because I have an assistance dog, most of you reading this will think so what! This is 2020 there are assistance dogs for a wide range of needs. So why do we repeatedly see people being refused into venues?

It’s a curious beast, your dog wears a jacket that identifies that it is a working dog, the staff see this yet still challenge inappropriately. This is not always the case; some staff are polite and are just checking and on occasion they will offer assistance. On other occasions they are shouting and aggressive demanding you leave.

These situations are embarrassing for the service user, it is sometimes difficult as a result of a disability, to just pop to the shops can be a challenge in itself, to then have the extra anxiety of will you or will you not be challenged.

All the above are reasons that contributed to the #NotJustADog campaign, the first call is for business to make changes to their policy and implement training. If you ask any business, they respond stating they welcome or allow assistance dogs into their businesses. This is amazing however because of the lack of education and or training this will always fall down.

I have recently been refused entry to a store I visited daily, why? because a new security staff member was not aware of the law, the policy.

So, if you run a business follow these steps.

  1. Review accessibility policies
  2. Train all staff (including third party service providers)
  3. Stop refusing access.

If you can do these basic steps right, you not only are treating people right but you are protecting your business and its reputation. If you work for a business that is to big to care then you should change the mindset and turn the commercial prowess into a leader of change.

#NotJustADog

In 2016 I was provided with an assistance dog, he was 6 months old and learning to become the most resilient and professional dog that I know and you will know as Ziggy @AssstanceZiggy on social media.

Why do I need Ziggy?

This is always a good question to ask, firstly because I don’t have a visible disability and secondly because since getting Ziggy my disability although ever present is managed.

What is the invisible disability ?

In 2009 I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) , this was as a result of Military deployment to Iraq in 2003. This disability drove me to the point of contemplating suicide. Fortunately I overcame this and it has given me the drive and determination to turn my negative experiences into positive ones.

Not Just A Dog?

#NotJustADog is a campaign started in December 2019, as a result of multiple significant refusals into shops and restaurants, it extended beyond this to 10 separate incidents where I was challenged either inappropriately or accidentally by staff or security.

It became apparent that companies allow assistance dogs into their business however there is a gap in either education and awareness of staff and security.

#NotJustADog will be a multi phase approach to make changes around accessibility and prevent discrimination . Phase one is aimed at a social media campaign to get the conversation started. Around the UK there are a huge number of people and companies who are likely to be exposed to assistance dogs and their service users. By engaging with these businesses we will encourage them to not only look at their policies but to engage with their staff.

Follow the campaign on social media @assistanceziggy