Afghanistan veteran Jason Wheeler turned his life around with SSAFA's support

Meet Jason

Afghanistan veteran suffering from PTSD turned his life around, with SSAFA's support

Jason Wheeler

Jason Wheeler, 45, served 15 years in the Army. He was medically discharged in 2013 suffering from PTSD and depression and became increasingly isolated, shunning contact with the outside world and hoarding rubbish in his flat.

Eventually, he made several attempts to take his own life.

"Everyone has a different reason for joining the Army, but mine was to go out and help people," says Jason, whose career in the Forces began in 1997. After winning the award for Best Recruit in basic training, Jason became a Corporal in the Queen’s Royal Hussars and went on to serve two tours of Kosovo, two of Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He also won the Brigadier's Commendation for his work training Iraqi soldiers.

"The Army makes you feel like you have a family," explains Jason. "You are always with other people going through the same thing, so you bond; you go to the darkest of places together but also the best. I remember volunteering one Christmas Eve in Kosovo when we were peacekeeping to go and give out blankets and soft toys. I thought I’d rather do that than sit around camp."

However, following a gruelling tour of Afghanistan in 2011 in which his good friend died, Jason was put on sick leave and sent back home to Liverpool. "There were eight of us in this small tent together for seven and a half months," he recalls.

"You laugh together, you work together, you moan together. Then the day you are flying out is the day your mate gets shot and killed."

At home, Jason was visited by a welfare officer every two to three weeks and assessed by an Army psychiatrist, but once he was discharged in September 2013 that support network was no longer available. "Because I was living at home when I took my first overdose, the Army said they were happy to leave me in the hands of the NHS," he recalls.

"Two of the guys from my unit were coming up to see me in their own time. I took two overdoses in the first year and another in 2013. It was a downward spiral and I just stopped caring for myself. I was living on the couch, I wasn’t showering. I lived 24 hours a day in the same little space.

“I didn’t feel guilty about the overdoses. I felt guilty for being alive."

Surprisingly, it was a burglary that helped Jason come to terms with the way he was living and start to turn things around. "I came home and found the some guy had broken in. I called the police and they came and did their thing and then left - but what they also did was get in touch with SSAFA.

"I got a call from someone at SSAFA asking if they could come and see me. Strangely, the idea of having a burglar did not faze me but the thought of someone coming in and seeing all that mess did. It wasn’t fit for a dog, let alone a human being. But I think that whole process needed to happen."

“My life is improving every day. What was it that turned it around for me? It was Bill – and SSAFA."

Jason Wheeler

SSAFA caseworker Bill Hunt visited Jason at home and sat and listened to Jason’s story. Bill recalls: "When Jason finished talking, I said 'you grab a bag and I‘ll grab a bag and we’ll get started', and we both got going.

"We needed to get Jason to understand that he had to come out of the dark place he was in. With Jason’s permission, I spoke to his GP and we agreed a plan of action."

SSAFA secured the funding to clear, decorate and furnish the flat. "Bill managed to get me a scaffold, SSAFA supplied the paint and I did all the painting," says Jason proudly. "I think, psychologically, I needed to be the one to change it.

“When I walk through my door now, instead of being greeted by flies and whatever, now it makes me smile. It feels like a home now.

"I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of how I used to live. It’s important to be honest about it. Someone out there will need to know that if they are hoarding rubbish and bottles of urine, it’s not just them.

"It's only through time that I have realised I’m not the only one."

Jason has since spent two Christmases in psychiatric hospital but is throwing himself into creating art, which helps. He explains: “When depression kicks in it’s really controlling and demanding. From being a really good soldier in the army and being able to think on my feet I now find things difficult that just wouldn’t have been before.

“My artwork has kept me focused. When I got admitted after my first breakdown I was in a psychiatric hospital for two months. The occupational therapists asked me if I wanted to do some painting. I was very negative for a couple of days but they persisted with me and so I gave it a go.

"Because of all the bad things I've seen and heard, I thought I would do something based on the word love.

"I painted a piece of wood white and then stencilled ‘love’ in red and that was where it started.”

On the suggestion of his welfare officer, Jason entered his art into the Army Templar Award for soldiers who use art as therapy for mental health problems. About two months later he got a call saying he had won the award.

After that I started to create social media pages based around the art called Love ArtGlobal and they are all doing really well. Now I know it affects other people so I’m going to keep going.

“When I first had my breakdown my friends just disappeared. At the time I was angry but now I think they just didn’t know how to deal with that situation. When I first got to know Bill, I was swerving people - but Bill just stuck in there.

“My life is improving every day. It has been a good year. My relationship with my daughter is much better and I have a more positive outlook.

"What was it that turned it around for me? It was Bill – and SSAFA."

Jason has gone on to win the Merseyside Recovery Award 2015 in recognition of his artwork and outdoor installations while in recovery.

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