A Royal Navy veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of a traumatic leg injury whilst on duty has found solace through gardening at a Help for Heroes Recovery Centre.
Mark Penhallurick, 51, of Basingstoke, left the Royal Navy in 1988 after suffering a leg injury whilst on duty two years earlier. The injury led to bulging discs on his spine, osteochondritis in his left knee and a torn hip cartilage. Between 1988 and 2013, Mark, who was an Able Seaman, had a total of ten operations on his leg. Unfortunately there was a problem during an operation in 2013 to realign his leg: “The screw for the metal plate hit my perineal nerve which has never recovered and I now have drop foot and have to wear a leg brace.”
Shortly after this, Mark left his role as Prison Officer as Reading Prison was closing.
In 2014, Mark was diagnosed with PTSD after suffering a breakdown resulting from the aftermath of his leg injury. Speaking of the incident he says: “I’d always had bad nightmares but never thought anything of it. After returning from a family holiday I went to bed because I was so tired and the next thing I remember is my daughter, who was seven at the time, crying and hugging me and I didn’t know why. It turns out I had been downstairs and smashed the house up, and for three days after I didn’t leave my bedroom. I don’t remember a lot about those three days.”
He sought help and visited his local GP and was referred to counselling sessions, which were scheduled to last for two months but Mark ended up speaking to his psychiatrist for seven months: “That’s when I was diagnosed with PTSD. It had laid dormant for 28/29 years because I’d gone from the Navy to the Prison Service and I was constantly active and when I left, I wasn’t active and lost my routine, and it all started building up and it hit me. It came out of nowhere.”
Mark speaks about how it changed his family life citing himself as “one of the lucky ones” as his family have been so supportive through the adjustment. He admits he was a “nightmare to live with” and at one point thought that they would be better off if he left the family home.
Mark found the transition from military life to civilian life difficult and joined a veterans club to socialise and meet like-minded people. This is where he became first aware of the work Help for Heroes (H4H) do and found out more about Tedworth House Recovery Centre. He says: “I joined other navy veterans on a visit to Tedworth House where I finally felt amongst my own. Even just having a cup of tea and having a wander of the grounds, you have the comradeship and support from people who have experienced similar things themselves.”
After his visit to the House, Mark applied to become a Help for Heroes Band of Brothers member and saw an upcoming gardening course in a newsletter he was sent. At first he was reluctant but soon changed his mind: “I had never been interested in gardening, and avoided it at home, but I had nothing to lose – I would be outside in fresh air, which I had in the Navy, there would be other people in the same situation. I thought I’d go along and see what it was all about.”
Mark enrolled on the City and Guilds NVQ Level 2 Horticulture course and attends Tedworth House once a week to work through the course with other wounded, injured and sick serving personnel and veterans: “Civilian life and military life is so different, even within the Prison Service I stuck with ex-forces. It makes me so much more relaxed to be around people that have been through the same things as me.”
He has worked closely with Lucy Thorpe, the Horticultural Therapist at Tedworth House and speaks highly of the experience: “Lucy has made me feel so relaxed, everyone on the course gelled within an hour of meeting. It’s been a great team experience. If someone is not feeling their best we pick them up and move forward. Sometimes the greenhouse goes quiet because we are all concentrating on planting seeds then someone will crack a joke and we’ll all be rolling around laughing.
“Lucy’s enthusiasm and teaching has rubbed off on all of us. I don’t know how she puts up with us lot!”
Alongside being a great social activity, the benefits of this course for Mark are endless: “I know on a Tuesday night I’ll get a good night’s sleep, I might wake up on Wednesday with aching muscles but it’s worth it and even if I’m having a bad day, it’s only a few days until I’m back outside and I have something to look forward to.”
Mark won’t have to worry about it coming to an end when the course is completed because the interest has been so great the gardening club will continue. “I’m glad I won’t lose that, and as the seasons change I’ll learn even more. I’d recommend it to anyone, there are raised flowerbeds for wheelchair users, even with an injury it hasn’t limited me – it’s made me realise I can do it.”
Giles Woodhouse, Head of Recovery South, said: “It is great to hear about the progress Mark has made whilst visiting Tedworth House and enrolling on the gardening course. Gardening is just one of many wellbeing activities we offer at our Recovery Centres for the wounded, injured and sick dealing with physical and psychological challenges. I am pleased to see Mark is inspired by horticulture and determined to live a full life beyond injury.”