Service Dog Ollie Has Transformed My Life

It took me a long time to realise and accept that I had PTSD. I joined the army in 1985, when I was 18, and served for eight years.

I gradually realised I was gay and finally told my training officer. His immediate reaction was to put me in prison, as being gay in the army was illegal until 2000. I was there for four days and then transferred to a psychiatric hospital for six weeks.

I think I had always felt different, but I didn’t realise I was gay until I was well into my 20s.

The psychiatrist I dealt with couldn’t have been kinder and he said that people mature at different times, so I didn’t realise I was gay when I joined the army.

But I’d signed a declaration stating I wasn’t homosexual and according to the law I’d done so dishonestly, so I was sent to Colchester Military Corrective Centre – prison – for four months of solitary. I slept alone, I ate alone and I was told my services were no longer required and dismissed without notice or pension.

I had no self-esteem or confidence, and did a few fleeting jobs.

Adam Gerrard / Daily Mirror

Then a friend suggested psychiatric nursing, and I knew I had found the right job for me. I had suffered mental illness too so I could identify with patients and offer help.

In 2006 I did an access course and I completed my nursing degree in 2009. But I continued to suffer very badly from night terrors and in 2018 I had a breakdown.

I was referred to TILS, the veterans’ mental health service, and was diagnosed with PTSD.

I saw a fantastic therapist and had EMDR, a very effective type of therapy.

Then in January this year [2021] I was invited on to the Service Dogs programme and met Ollie.

Service Dogs UK trains and provides assistance dogs – carefully chosen from rescues – to support members of the Armed Forces, Emergency Services, and Coastguard and RNLI who have PTSD.

A couple of training sessions and a few overnight stays later, and Ollie came home with me. He has transformed my life.

I’m now back at work in the hospital, accompanied by Ollie.

We have learned so much about each other. I’m now sleeping again because he’s beside me and when I start developing a sweat he wakes me before it becomes a night terror.

If we’re in the supermarket and I feel shaky, all I have to do is say “exit” and he’ll get me to the wall and outside, avoiding crowds. If I have my head in my hands he’ll slide under my arms to get to me.

He’s changed my life.

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