Military Veteran – Kev’s Lightbulb moment

May 13, 2021

My Journey from the Deepest Depth of Darkness to Where I am today…

It all started back in 2016 in my last job as a building support assistant. We as a team were made to feel absolutely worthless and incapable of making decisions despite us having a wealth of life experience, Yet, they were still content with calling us out anytime day or night to fix breakdowns. However, we did not have the authority to seek specialist support and none of the management would answer their phones. I continued to try and beat these feelings to no avail and went sick. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety and put on medication. This was not helping on its own and  I was advised to seek Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, (CBT). This continued on a weekly basis for 14 weeks in which we kept going over old ground which was making my depression worse to the effect at times I just wanted to end it. Thankfully the preventative fix was my Wife, it would not have been fair on her. As my darkness and hopelessness got worse by the day, my GP put me on stronger medication which subdued the feelings and thoughts for a while as I tried to find an alternative coping mechanism.

In 2017 my job coach suggested (not forced) that I go along to a chat about a company named Active Plus and the Who Dares Works project which helps people get back into employment, training or education through a structured course delivered by ex- military veterans who themselves have and continue to have challenges. I listened to the team about what they do and thought and thought, well I have nothing to lose so let’s give it a go. Each week we were tasked with activities to help build trust and confidence in oneself. These activities can be related to situations in everyday life and can be the foundation blocks to enable you to go forward in life by looking at it from a different perspective. What was encouraging was that the whole thing was non- judgmental, non- patronising and every participant has a life skill to bring to the table no matter what your life history.

The instructors use their military background skills to coax this out of the participants thus giving one a sense of achievement and belief in the fact you CAN do it. On week 6 for some reason I had a lightbulb moment and thought I know which direction I wanted to go. So, with the help of the delivery team and the 17 other partners in the project and my Mentor, I set about plotting a course to steer. In my 24 years in the Royal Navy I had spent quite a number of years as an instructor. My philosophy is Training is a loan, someone trained me to progress in my Naval career, therefore, if I could then pass on that knowledge and help someone else it made me feel good about myself, which for the last few years has been non-existent and lacking. Feeling good about myself and helping others was my road to a better life and I could possibly see light at the end of the Tunnel. I completed another 5 day structured course with Who Dares Serves with the Fire and Rescue Service who continue to develop what you have achieved previously (trust, confidence and communication) On completion of this I contacted the delivery team of the previous course with a view to going down the voluntary pathway to help and develop me to instruct on the courses.  I then completed the Who Dares Trains course which made me feel even better about myself and the belief in me from the team was instrumental in me being in a much better place. As I was being coached by the team to deliver activities, I could see a difference in how well participants were progressing each week which in turn increased my wellbeing and sense of achievement.

I would like to add that once the initial course is completed it is NOT goodbye. Participants have a wealth of continued specialist backup and support who are always there to support your journey. I continued to volunteer because it was having a positive effect on my mental Health and well- being. I have also managed to achieve 7 NVQ’s in Dignity and Safeguarding, Mental Health Awareness in adults as well as young people and children, suicide awareness. Before all this my depression and anxiety would fall through the floor without warning, whereas now it is starting to improve. I was offered a position as a part time instructor with Active Plus Communities which has similarities with the course I did but for the older members of the community who may be lonely and isolated. I was able to miniaturise the activities which enabled the more senior members of the community to participate fully despite their mobility issues. Again, with the support of instructors their belief in my ability has given me a whole new outlook on life. When the Communities project came to an end my part time instructional role transferred to delivering 6 week courses with the Who Dares Works team. This role has given me the honoured privilege to be able to help others take on a journey of their own, the results of which truly lift you into the world of positivity.

One of the aspects of engagement with participants is emphasising how voluntary work increases social contact and can reduce isolation. It also builds on what they have learnt from the initial course by improving their confidence. In my case I volunteer with the National Coastwatch Association using my previous skills in Naval Search and Rescue aviation as a watchkeeper giving eyes along the coast which is an important asset to the Maritime Coastguard Agency, so much so that we have now been declared as key workers.

As you know the last year has been very challenging with the pandemic of Coronavirus(Covid-19) but, through our past military experiences we were able to adapt to different methods of engagement with participants delivering online sessions via Zoom, reducing potential loneliness and isolation during the various lockdowns. This required the Team to upskill their I T Skills to fulfil this task. In the true Active Plus  spirit of adapt and overcome, we continue to help ourselves through helping others. A phrase I will carry with me  forever.

My journey continues to get better day by day as well as my mental wellbeing.


Kev Matthews

Who Dares Works Instructor