Gemima Stevenson, 32, is a mother of two who served in the Royal Engineers for nearly 11 years before leaving in 2012. Two years later, her husband was killed in a motorcycle crash while serving.
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“I left the Army after becoming pregnant. I was based in Germany while my husband was in the UK. They didn’t want to post me back here and my next tour after maternity leave was due to be in Afghanistan. I think it is harder for women, I felt there wasn’t a lot of understanding.
In 2014, my husband passed away. I was caring for my dad, who was living with us at the time, but later that year he died from cancer. When I left the Army, I had a lot of people around me, but it was when they both died that loneliness really hit. You realise that when you were in the Army you were never alone so it was the first time I’d experienced it.
The doctors gave me anti-depressants, the anxiety was so bad that I would have a panic attack, but then I started road cycling. I found I could let go of everything going around my head, the endorphins kicked in. It made me a better parent. You can’t just shut yourself in a room and not go outside, what good does that do? I honestly believe the doctors should have just prescribed me exercise. I came off the anti-depressants and got better.
You have to be positive and adaptable when you leave the Army. I started a crafting business, ‘life casting’ babies’ hands and we won an award, but that business closed and there was a time when I struggled to get a job.
I am an electrician by trade, but I was over-qualified on paper but had no practical experience of household electrics because in the Army I had worked on generators. It was difficult. I went to the job centre but they weren’t much help at all.
I started working on my house and ended up repairing it myself. I did the roof and most of the electrics myself, and Army friends helped with plumbing and painting. I used my savings to do it up, managed to get a buy-to-let mortgage and ended up renting it out. The experience gave me the confidence to take on electrical jobs for friends. Then, in 2017, I took over a small building firm. I have learned to apply my electrical skills and I’m now employing a member of staff. Self- employment has been the best solution for me.”