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Larry — finding my blue space

In service for 21 years

I already had a professional career before I joined the Army in November 1994, so it was later in my life when I joined the Army. I had three generations of Army in my family and I decided that joining later on was just a different approach for me. Sometimes you can just flick the coin on your future and at the time that is what I decided to do, and I was then in Service for 21 years.

A beautiful sunny day, with a man standing and looking out from a high vantage point, out to sea.Before I discharged, I spoke to my family and advised them that I was virtually retiring because I couldn't work anymore. I was 59 years old at the time I discharged, so at the start I was at a bit of a loss. For the first year of civilian life I thought I was just on leave and not really out. I had great difficulty adjusting to not getting up in the morning for work and having so much time on my hands.

Being found unsuitable for work

I felt a sense of loss and uncertainty. However I did realise that continuing to serve in my current capacity would be detrimental to myself and the service, and that my time to get out had come. The break from Defence enabled me to sort out my health without the daily stressors of work. I was also able to spend some much needed time with my family.

I was found unsuitable for work to start off with, so my plan was not to re-engage with civilian employment. Therefore I had to become a house person if you like, with a big focus of my plan looking at options in order to keep fit. Initially that did not work and I spent a lot of my time sitting around consuming alcohol.

At the time my medical conditions required me to take certain medications. Things hadn't worked out as I planned and I guess I found alcohol was a simple solution. It helped deal with my boredom and also not having a career anymore in Defence.

It can be very confusing getting back into the civilian world. I probably had a bit of advantage though, having already been there before I joined. It is a lot harder for the younger folks, as all they know is the military. As I was unable to work all I focused on was my transition with my family. It was a difficult time.

Starting the claims process early

A few years leading up to my discharge, I had already started the process with DVA. I had been through the claims process and sought permanent impairment from DVA. I was trying to get all those claims completed before I discharged. It seemed to me to be the best way to go, to get all those things done before I left. I knew that getting all my DVA requirements completed prior to leaving would likely make things easier. I would recommend doing that for anyone who is looking to discharge.

The goal to improve my lifestyle

I was offered the opportunity to undertake rehabilitation to improve my physical and mental wellbeing. In my case the rehabilitation plan was not intended for a return to work and the benefits gained were simply to improve my lifestyle.

After discharge, I found I put on so much weight, due to living a sedentary lifestyle combined with alcohol and a poor diet. So I decided to take up the challenge and even though I wasn't transitioning into employment post rehab, I still saw it as a great opportunity to get myself back in shape physically. It also helped me with my sleep and a bunch of other things that I needed to address.

The main focus for me though was to get fit. I wanted to do fun runs with my wife. That was the goal that I set and I found it very, very helpful. My Service Providers in Occupational Rehab were also really supportive. The Exercise Physiologist I had from the University of Queensland was also excellent. She was able to look after me in the gym. It was fantastic. So I had no issues at all with the service I received during my rehab plan.

10km Fun Run—the benefits of shared activities

I had done fun runs and things in the past and always enjoyed fitness, so my goal was also to enjoy fitness again. I had simply fallen into a period where I hadn't been maintaining my fitness. Motivation was a big problem. So that was the challenge, getting motivated to get fit again.

I think because when I was in the military doing PT three or four times a week I didn't find it too difficult to get back into a fitness routine. What I really needed was someone to give me a kick in the pants and be under a structured program to get me to do it.

I liked having that structure and in conjunction with my provider, we structured a program that was suitable for me and my injuries. We came to an agreement on what the program should look like and whether it was achievable in the long run.

The rehab plan I did gave me a bit more incentive and opportunity to get my fitness back and do those fun runs. At the end of my plan I ended up doing a 10km fun run with my wife. I then went on to do 5km, 8km and another 10km run, so I got my fitness going again. My wife and I used to do half marathons together, so getting my fitness back again was excellent.

Motivated by my own goals

Setting my own goals helped with my motivation, another goal was to lose weight. I put on more muscle weight with my gym program. This made me bulk up rather than lose the kilos that I wanted to, but I was losing fat which was ok and therefore the program I had really worked well with my fitness. While I didn't achieve the weight loss goal, I did achieve three times the strength standard I had, so that was a really good outcome.

Just getting in the mindset to go down to the gym regularly was half the battle for me. However, the fact that I could see my own progress was very motivating along the way, both physically and psychologically.

I think it is important for anyone doing a rehab plan not to be disappointed if they don't achieve all their goals. Always trying to better yourself by doing the program is a great step forward. Have a go, because you have nothing to lose.

My family support

My family were my biggest support first and foremost. Absolutely. They have had to put up with a lot of crap along the way, but they have been very supportive. From when I left the Army they helped me a lot with getting back to looking after myself, which I've been able to do.

My medical conditions initially had a significant impact on my relationship with my family. This has improved over time to a point now they have a good understanding of my issues and are very supportive. There are still times however when my medical issues place a burden on my family which bothers me more than them.

Being near the water helps me

I needed to find myself a retirement situation where both my wife and I could be happy. I felt it was important for my health to be near the water. I find the "blue space" is relaxing. I can highly recommend being near the water or being able to look at the water and walk along the beach. I find it assists with my physical wellbeing, with my blood pressure and my heart rate and my mental health.

I did a whole bunch of stuff on mindfulness in my rehabilitation plan. It's a great adjunct, but there is a lot you can do yourself to get the best out of your environment.

At this point I feel quite comfortable with my conditions. I've got them under control. I am still maintaining my fitness and, as we speak, I am currently on the Heart Healthy Program. For me, I seem to need that supervised health program to keep me motivated. When I say I have my conditions under control it doesn't mean I don't still have problems. However, I feel I'm in a position to better manage them in the environment I've created and with my support systems in place.

Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS), is a national mental health service that provides 24-hour, free, and confidential counselling, group programs, and suicide prevention training for current and ex-serving ADF members, and their family. To get support, or to find out more, call 1800 011 046 or visit Open Arms.

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