A personal account of transitioning into civilian life, Ash Winter, MHM Employment Advisor and former soldier, The Queen’s Royal Hussars.

I served for 14 years with The Queen's Royal Hussars, deploying to hostile locations in various roles with many different responsibilities, and during the time I was a part of the army it was something I loved and enjoyed (for the most part). However, when I was told my time was up it was a huge shock. I wasn't planning on leaving and would have loved nothing more than to have continued, however we must deal with what life throws at us and for me this was the next step.

Nearly six years on from transitioning out of the military I still feel very much part of the community, a proud veteran who has learned a lot not only from time served but time following, but it hasn't been straight forward. During the restructure of my last military role, I learned my time was coming to an end. I knew that my medical history and condition (keratoconus and lasting damage from a tropical disease), I wouldn't have been able to extend in any other roles. It was quite apparent that I needed to find my next opportunity, something I convinced myself that would be exciting and quite simple. How wrong I was.

I attended a resettlement course, training courses, employer engagement events, careers fairs and plenty of interviews before deciding on a role. It was a position that I thought would be brilliant, but after a couple of months and struggling along I had a breakdown. I was unable to do the job, felt ashamed, believed I was letting my family down and a failure which caused me to struggle mentally. I had one thought in my mind - to go home, and I would have done anything to do it. I was sat at a roadside trying to think of ways to do it, ultimately causing another career change following a lot of support from my family and friends. The new role was just a short-term contract, but I really wasn't suited to the high pressured, target driven environment. I hit rock bottom, and contemplating life itself I sat on a 3rd floor window ledge with tears streaming down my face with no idea what was next, what had gone wrong or why me! I still wonder how that happened as I have everything I could want in life, but it hit me hard.

I am forever grateful to some remarkable individuals during this time that aided me to get the help I desperately needed. They guided me to access Talking Therapies, NHS services for my mental and physical health, and Armed Forces charities offering various support programs such as sporting events, expeditions, peer support, employment services, and art therapy. This journey has come full circle, as I now use my lived experiences to work in the sector. I'm proud of this achievement, which keeps me motivated to support others who are in the same position I was in less than a year ago. Working in the third sector within an Armed Forces environment was key to my recovery and ultimate career transition into my role now as a Mental Health Employment Advisor for Mental Health Matters within NHS Talking Therapies.

I'm often asked how I manage working in this environment and live with my experiences. I believe that my lived experience allows me to relate to both military and civilian individuals. Being able to provide real reflections on time, experiences, and understanding is invaluable. Knowing how much it means to have someone simply listen makes a significant difference.

Lots of people transition from the military with great ease, some can't wait to leave, others like me would rather have stayed. For me it was a struggle but having a good support network really does help. Armed Forces Day is a chance for all of us to thank our Armed Forces past and present, a celebration of some remarkable individuals and to showcase the community.

Written by Ashley Winter, MHM Mental Health Employment Advisor.