Living with PTSD: Jamie’s story

Story first published in Devon Life, February 2017

The first thing Jamie does when I walk in to his Exmouth base, is ask how I’m doing. This watching out for others attitude, despite enduring his own battle with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), has undoubtedly had a direct impact on the mounting number of veterans’ lives his charity has saved, not just within Devon’s borders, but countrywide.

In 2013, the former commando who spent 18 years as a sniper with deployments to Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Afghanistan, founded Rock 2 Recovery with friend, Jason “Foxy” Fox, from Plymouth, a former member of the Special Boat Service and star of Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dare’s Wins, and former Royal Marines officer Robin Hollington.

The not-for-profit organisation provides timely and bespoke support to veterans and serving Armed Forces personnel suffering with PTS, necessary because such a personal response on the NHS can’t necessarily be surmised.

“Life does this,” Jamie says, gesticulating with his arm to mimic a rollercoaster. “But, you can smooth it out so it’s like this,” he adds, gesticulating again, making his arm more wave like. “We tell our guys it’s about finding your rock, whether it’s musical, creative, or adventurous, and then grabbing on to it so it can help you heal.”

Over the last six months, coinciding with the organisation’s establishment of a drop-in centre in Exmouth, an average of one veteran a day has been getting in touch with Jamie, whose network of therapists stretches from the Westcountry and the Channel Islands to London and Scotland.

The 41-year-old father-of-two, whose own PTS was brought on by a particularly kinetic and intense bout of action during his second tour of Afghanistan in 2006 and nearly drove him to suicide, says the recent increase in referrals is a combination of increased awareness about the charity, but is also a continuation of the fallout from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But finally, he says, there is a willingness for a conversation about “brain injuries”: the Rock2Recovery team has played a massive part in the de-stigmatisation of mental illness, empowering both veterans and their family members to come forward for help.

“We’re smashing the stigma, and we’ve got to keep doing that,” Jamie says. “We had a lot more calls when Foxy admitted on prime time TV that he was battling with PTS.

“The window for PTS can be anytime from the minute after something happens, to a lifetime, so we’re seeing a lot of fresh cases coming forward.”

Jamie explains that the coaching the company delivers is about “separating the emotions from the memories of the past” and people have been “blown away” with the positive impact it’s had.

“When things are bad, it’s like chemicals, a blackness, flooding into your brain, filling it with negativity, which you can easily get sucked into,” Jamie adds. “The desire to recover from mental illness and brain injuries must be greater than the desire to remain in the darkness. You stimulate that vision on your new journey with your rock.

“For me, one of the best rocks has been helping people.”


Rock 2 Recovery Fact File

  • Organisation founders are former Royal Marines Jamie Sanderson from Exmouth, Jason “Foxy” Fox, from Plymouth, and Robin Hollington
  • Work involves signposting veterans and servicemen for help, either using their own resources, or other health professionals, as well as inspiring a self-healing process through personal creativity
  • The company offers bespoke support and has a nationwide support network
  • Its action plan is denoted by the acronym, STAR: stop, talk, act, refocus
  • Since 2016, the organisation receives funding from the Royal Marines Charity and the Royal British Legion
  • The Old Soldier, is an ongoing, incredibly compelling photo diary project being played out on the Rock 2 Recovery Facebook and Twitter pages which is having a profound effect on raising awareness of their work
  • Plymouth MP Jonny Mercer is a patron
  • Jamie was the deserving winner of Radio Exe’s Exeter City Futures Pride of Devon Awards 2016, Military Contribution Award

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