[A] Naval veteran has praised his Cumbrian partner and the charity Help for Heroes for enabling him to look to the future with optimism.
In 2011, Gary Pettit’s life had unravelled so much that he attempted suicide. Now, he is planning his wedding to his fiancé Megan Fearnley, has a full-time job at an outdoor clothing shop in Ambleside and runs his own photography business!
He and Megan, who live in Staveley, are so grateful for the support received not just from Help for Heroes but also from fellow military veterans in the region, that they want to encourage others in their situation to seek help from the Charity.
“I am so passionate about Help for Heroes and want others to benefit like we have, to know that they are not alone. We have all been there and done it – put your hand out and we will help you,” said Gary.
Megan feels the same. Having attended a number of social events organised by the Charity, she has developed her own support network of other carers which has helped her enormously.
“When you are at home, you think you are on your own but you aren’t. Finding Help for Heroes has been amazing for both of us,” said the 26-year-old.
“We have got to know lots of people and, through them, found out about other support groups and clubs, plus, keeping in touch with each other through social media is so helpful.”
Megan met Gary, a former marine engineer with the Royal Navy, two years ago and they got on so well from the start that he soon left his native Co Durham to live with her in Cumbria. Since then, his life has changed so much that he can barely believe it.
Back in 2015, he had reached rock bottom. As damage to his left knee, caused during a game of rugby on board his ship, become increasingly painful and debilitating, Gary’s mental health deteriorated rapidly. He and his wife separated and he sank into a deep depression causing him to push away anyone who tried to help and to isolate himself from society. Only after spending two weeks in bed did he drag himself to the doctor.
“I would open my eyes and think ‘what’s the point’ and either go back to sleep or hit the bottle. I eventually realised that I had reached such a low point that I needed to cry on someone’s shoulder,” Gary bravely reveals.
“I had no ambitions, no plans because I didn’t want to be here.”
He didn’t know it at the time but he was suffering from PTSD, related to time spent ashore in Bosnia. Once it was diagnosed, he was able to receive the right support and move forward with his life. Help for Heroes’ North West co-ordinator, Kevin Hartley, picked up on Gary’s keen interest in photography and helped him apply for funding and grants to enable him to buy equipment. He also recommended that he attend a Future for Heroes course, held at Brathay Hall on the edge of Lake Windermere.
Which is where he met Megan and his life changed completely!
“It’s phenomenal how my life has turned around! If you had told me two years ago that I would be where I am now, I’d have laughed and walked away,” said Gary, 44.
“I am a lot stronger now. I am engaged, have a job, am about to have a knee replacement which should really help my mobility, and live in a beautiful area. If I have a bad day, I just need to look at the lake and I instantly feel better!”
Although Gary is much improved, such is the nature of his injury and illness that he does need support from Megan. This, she willingly gives, in between working with children with physical and mental disabilities, both at a school and in their homes.
In the beginning, she coped alone, learning about the nature of PTSD as she went along. All this changed when Gary introduced her to the Help for Heroes fellowship group for carers of Service personnel who are wounded, injured or sick.
The Charity organises gatherings and activities to bring them together and make them feel less isolated. The first event Gary and Megan attended together was afternoon tea in Windermere. Since then, they have also been go karting and on a Health and Wellbeing day held at the Nuffield gym in Preston.
The value of the fellowship for Megan especially really hit home when she attended a respite weekend for carers at Help for Heroes northern Recovery Centre – Phoenix House in Catterick.
She was one of a dozen women who enjoyed being pampered and entertained while having a complete break from looking after their loved ones.
“It was my first time at Phoenix House and I was quite nervous but it felt so warm and welcoming when I worked through the door that I soon relaxed,” said Megan
“It was a great opportunity to have some down time and make friends. Just talking to people who go through the same things as you is so helpful so as we have kept in touch with each other ever since!
“I didn’t realise that Help for Heroes supported families and carers too, and if I didn’t know then I guess there must be lots of others out there who don’t. I would encourage them to get in touch with the Charity because it really does make a difference.”