The Canary Wharf banker and the many wars

By Rob Virtue on January 24, 2013 11:29 AM |

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Sitting at his desk in a Canary Wharf bank is a business analyst in emotional turmoil, on the verge of falling apart and isolated from everyone around him.

He has chronic post traumatic stress disorder. Because just a few weeks previously, Jake Wood was in Afghanistan, engaged in chaotic warfare and almost blown to pieces.

He then watched colleagues die in front of him as his platoon came under relentless fire from the Taliban.

But it wasn't until he was thrown back to the working world - because as a reservist that is what happens - the veteran of three tours realised his life had change forever and he could no longer manage his work at the bank.

"It was very apparent that after that last tour in Afghanistan I was incapable of doing my job again," said Jake, who left the bank in 2008. "My mind wasn't able to handle any type of pressure and it couldn't memorise or even process any of the complex, new information being thrown at it.

"Within a few days I saw an army psychiatrist. It's been a long road. I haven't been able to shift the worst symptoms such as the night terrors but if I hadn't had that help then I really don't think I'd be here today."

It was his departure from the Wharf bank, which he joined in 2000, that led Jake to write a book on his traumatic experiences of war and his struggle in readjusting.

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Published this week, Among You gives a startling insight into the life of a reservist with the TA switching from the intense scenes on the frontline to the relatively mundane life of commuting and desk work - punctuated by a doomed love affair and work nights out at the Cat and Canary and Bar38.

Coming from a military family. Jake grew up shouldering the weight of expectation of living up to what he calls "those great hero figures in my mind".

But his desire to have a civilian life too led to his decision to join the TAs and ultimately end up in tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reservists undergo intensive training for years, poised for the moment they will leave their civilian life and join the conflict. Once there, they do the same jobs as the regular army, often in the frontline.

"With the TA I could have my cake and eat it," he said. "I had a civilian career with a civilian wage and at weekends I could do all the sexy bits of the army without the fairly dreary admin the army does in between.

"Before Iraq I was very happy with that existence."

After the first trip to the Middle-Eastern country Jake became unsettled with the relative meaningless of the working environment and was eager to head out again.

It became even harder after returning from his second Iraq tour and so he decided to volunteer for the even more dangerous conflict in Afghanistan - despite friends and colleagues telling him three tours were too many.

It was on his return in 2008 that he soon realised the devastation he had witnessed in Afghanistan had a lasting detrimental affect on him.

After leaving his job at the Wharf he tried other roles including British Military Fitness training, and also enrolled in a university psychology course, but found - as a result of the PTSD - the harder he tried to focus the more impossible it became.

He quit the course and instead put all his energy into the book.

"This is where I think writing is my savior," he said. "Working the times that suit you with no-one breathing down your neck. I can write about what comes into my head.

"I always had an ambition to write a book and I actually began making notes 10 years ago.

"As the PTSD set in, the book turned into a naïve hope I could process the past. But it also gave me the opportunity to explain what PTSD is, how it can affect someone and the experience of a TA soldier which is overlooked by many."

TA reservists are set to double to 30,000 under Government plans and, with that in mind, Jake wants the book to highlight the lack of support - both from the public and the forces - towards those who come back from a tour of duty to their everyday lives.

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"PTSD can range from problems such as readjusting to a different way of living, all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum," said Jake, now 39.

"Research shows in the TA, PTSD is remarkably higher than other forces. They think it's down to the fish-out-of-water scenario where, while regular soldiers would go into barracks following a tour, the reservists, after a couple of weeks' leave, would go back to work and see people who have no idea what they've been through.

"It's not those people's fault but it can make you feel extremely isolated.

"What would really help, especially in reserve forces, is for people to try to understand how difficult it can be and support him or her through that. If you're in the frontline one minute and then find yourself alone at your desk it can mess with your head.

"We're not after gratitude and respect, just recognition and support when we need it."

2 Comments

Geoff Robjent said:

Fantatic article - very insightful, I think people tend to overlook just how much toll these kind of experiences can have on the mind.

Humdinger said:

Jake is a not alone. Other big fit men have broken down in tears just at the kindness shown by a stranger at a tube barrier. The brain is a wondrous organ but oh so fragile.

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