Meet Simon & Rob
RAF officer Simon* was recently medically discharged following 16 years of service. He has found the transition to civilian life difficult but, with the support of SSAFA mentor Rob Eeles (pictured), Simon is overcoming the challenges and gradually finding his feet.
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"I feel ashamed of how difficult I found the transition", says Simon. "Being discharged with mental health conditions arising from service, and having lost the only job I thought I’d ever have, I didn’t feel I had the ability to get and maintain another job. I felt paralysed by fear about my future, and was unable to do things I needed to do to transition."
Simon found out about the SSAFA mentoring service after hearing a presentation at Tedworth House. He has since found the support he has received from SSAFA mentor Rob Eeles vital.
"At times, Rob’s help has been the only thing which has kept me going," he says. "Knowing that someone actually values what I did for the country enough to give up their own time to meet up and help me every week makes the situation, and what it has cost me, easier to bear.
"The SSAFA mentoring programme helps you when you most need it, in the months after you leave the military family."
Simon and Rob meet once a week at a coffee shop and Rob has been able to support Simon in finding employment and managing relationships as well as helping him to come to terms with the mental health conditions that caused his medical discharge.
"Rob has helped with literally everything, from being a cheerful friendly face, to helping me interpret situations with friends, colleagues, family and partners," Simon explains. "Quite often Rob will say something at one of our sessions and I will find that guides what I do during the week, at home or at work, for the better. He has helped me to take things one step at a time and ultimately get to the much better place I’m in now."
Having a sounding board outside his immediate circle of friends and family has also proved to be important to Simon. "I think, like a lot of people who join the military, my family aren't that supportive, and I have few friends after moving around so much. I ended up settling in a completely new area, so there were times when he was the only person I would speak to in a week."
The difference the mentoring relationship has made to Simon is significant. In the six months Rob and Simon have been working together, Simon has made huge strides and is now working full-time, something he wouldn’t have thought possible before.
"When I first met Rob and Stephen, the regional SSAFA mentoring coordinator, I could barely speak or concentrate due to the panic attacks and anxiety I was experiencing. Now I work 40 hours a week, and have been in a relationship with a new partner for most of that time. I constantly feel under threat as if something bad might happen, and Rob helps me to interpret this, and to behave more rationally. Just discussing all the things I’m worried about, and getting them out into the open, makes them easier to cope with. Really, I can’t thank Rob enough."
Rob had previously made the difficult transition from military to civilian life himself and this shared service background proved crucial to building a successful mentoring relationship. "Rob just gets it. He understands what’s important. As a veteran himself, he’s been in difficult situations in both his military and civilian careers, so he knows what he’s talking about. He also understands the issues veterans face in ‘civvy street’. Talking with Rob I get the same sense of camaraderie that I used to appreciate in the military. It’s like we speak the same language."
* Name has been changed