John ‘Jocky’ left in the army in 1990 and quickly took up a job as a bus driver in Edinburgh, where he worked for 13 years. Repeated attacks on the buses coupled with a difficult divorce in 1994 sparked crippling panic attacks and PTSD, which Jocky continues to cope with today. The attacks became so frequent that in 2003 that he was forced to leave the buses and take up jobs elsewhere, but none of these really worked out either.
In 2012 Jocky took early retirement. In the same year he joined a lifestyle management course specifically tailored for veterans at Thistle. ‘It was scary, but good,’ says Jocky. ‘I was doing things at 100mph – I still had that military mindset that everything needed to be done straight away. I started to slow down to the civvy way of doing things, I learned to pace myself.’
When the first, free 10 week veterans’ lifestyle course was complete Jocky signed up for another. ‘There was so much to learn and I didn’t take everything in on the first course,’ he explains. After the second course Jocky left Thistle and with the confidence he had gained, started joining new groups. ‘But everywhere I was going seemed to fall apart or lose its funding and stop,’ he says, ‘I felt like a nobody. The only place that’s kept going and given me consistency is Thistle.’
Last year Jocky received a newsletter from Thistle which had some information about a new course for veterans, led by a veteran and a Thistle trained peer supporter called Keith McKenzie. ‘I was in a bad place and thought “I should try this” so I came back,’ says Jocky. ‘The course was tough, but I stuck with it and I’m glad I did – it helped me with relaxation and got me back into a good place again.’
Jocky is now one of the founding members of ‘The Thistle Shed’ a new project modelled on Men in Sheds, designed for isolated veterans. The group are currently working on a sculpture designed by Archie Ramsay, a resident on the Thistle estate nearby. Jocky met Archie at a social event at Thistle and agreed to help out with sanding and varnishing the sculpture for Archie, who has limited mobility, and gave him the support he needed to complete the work.
Jocky has also been pursuing old interests that have gave up when the PTSD was at its worst, including piping. ‘I love piping,’ he says, ‘it gives you the chance to clear your head and just be creative.’ Jocky is performing in a Vigil at Edinburgh Castle at the end of June and he is also playing the pipes at the opening of Thistle’s new Centre of Wellbeing. ‘I used to think I was fat and useless, with nothing to do,’ says Jocky, ‘but now I know loads of people, I do loads of things and people see the real me. I give Thistle a lot of credit for this.’ Lots of other people have noticed the difference too: ‘I’ve been doing more exercise and monitor my diet and have already lost a stone,’ he explains, ‘my friends keep asking me how I’ve done it!’ His wife Donna has also seen a change, ‘she thinks it’s brilliant’ says Jocky, adding with a laugh, ‘I’m never in!’