“Photo model? Me? Well, no. But I really liked it. “Besides, it was good for me to dare to do something so exciting. Ton de Haan (48) quickly found out who he wanted to be photographed with when the request came from the organisation of the Invictus Games. Of course his partner Chantal. And then Sjaan, a more than good friend. Finally, of course, Loes. “Loes is a real photo model.” Loes is Ton’s dachshund.
By Edward Swier
Ton lives in Breda. Which is good news in itself, as there were days that Ton had no roof over his head. In the meantime, however, he is doing a lot better. Participating in the Invictus Games helps him with that. Thanks to playing sports, he has just that little bit more energy that is often lacking. But especially the support of Chantal, Sjaan and Loes have helped him forward. “That they are now in the spotlight for a while, I think, is more than justified.
Ton sometimes finds it difficult to talk about the past. Things are getting better and better. But for him, some things are just too difficult. “Sometimes it gets too close. Or there’s no feeling at all when I talk about it. A lot of things I don’t tell because I don’t want others to get upset.”
Ton joined the Army in 1993, as one of the last conscripts. To the question whether he wanted to be sent out in due course, he had answered rather light-heartedly: ‘well, yes, go ahead’. The mission that followed quickly after his turnout was immediately fierce. In Bosnia he took care of the daily transport of flour, among other things. Initially a nice, quiet job. But soon he had to deal with less pleasant circumstances. His convoy was shot at, he was detained at roadblocks for a long time and the warring parties left no possibility unused to slow down or endanger the convoy. I also saw some very poignant, impressive things back then. But I didn’t get anything out of it.”
How different it was in 1995. As an infantryman with Dutchbat 3 he witnessed the fall of the Srebrenica enclave in former Yugoslavia. “During my work at the observation post I was captured and detained. This situation was very frightening. Because I was detained for a long period of time, I did not see the taking away of the refugees with my own eyes. Although my situation was distressing, I was lucky.” No matter how fierce the whole situation, Ton wasn’t completely lost at first. He seemed to have given all the events a place.
Towards the end of the last century, however, Ton’s situation deteriorated rapidly. He got a jaw clamp in 1998, as a result of an inflamed molar. “I had to rush to the hospital. Later I understood that I would have been dead if I had been brought in a quarter of an hour later”. Hospitalization hit hard. “I was abroad with my unit, the rest went back to the Netherlands. I was left alone in a German hospital, and heard nothing more from the Ministry of Defence. I felt tremendously abandoned.” It turned out to be the trigger. “It started bubbling inside. That escalated in 2000. That’s when I reached out for help.
When Ton also got physical complaints and his knee hindered him a lot, he fell into a depression in 2009. “Sjaan and Elly took care of me then. They played the game World of Warcraft just like me, we met at a barbecue. “They literally took me under their arms, put me on the couch with them and helped. The two women stimulated Ton to seek help and so he came into contact with the Stichting Maatschappelijke Opvang Breda, which helped him slowly but surely to get back on his feet financially. Moreover, through SMO he found a roof over his head again.
Initially he mainly stayed inside, he lacked the energy to do anything. When Elly became seriously ill, she asked Ton to take care of Loes. “She said to Sjaan: Ton needs that dog more than you do. At least Ton will get out, have some routine. Dachshund Loes, no matter how small, turned out to be a service dog. “Even a rescue dog,” says Ton. Even after Elly’s death, contact with Sjaan remained close. “I’m a friend and son at the same time, Sjaan has become a kind of mother to me. Yeah, she’s a friend and mother figure.”
Sjaan still regularly visits Ton and Chantal. Chantal is Ton’s former downstairs neighbour. “We got to know each other when I was in debt restructuring. I liked her for a long time, but it took a long time for the spark to hit her too. We did eat together regularly, went shopping together and went to a pop choir. But I had baggage, shall we say. Laying a lot in bed or on the couch, it was hard to get moving. It’s not easy to explain what physically stopped me now. If you have PTSD, there’s a lot of misunderstanding, because it’s not visible.
Chantal and Ton grew together and now Chantal understands her Ton through and through. “After all the misery, I have a very sweet, caring woman standing next to me. In the time that we have a relationship now, I’ve really moved forward”.
Ton works 12 hours a week in home care, the other hours he rests. “I still have to make sure I divide my strength better, I sometimes put too much energy in it and once I’m back home I’m completely demolished. It’s also easier for him to pick up the phone these days when he has to make arrangements. And participates in something as exciting as a photo series for the Invictus Games. “Though that was quite a step.
Thanks to the Invictus Games, Ton’s battery is starting to charge a little better. Five years ago I was still laying in bed 23 hours a day, last year I was able to sleep for 12 consecutive hours. But now I get a lot more exercise. It’s an exaggeration to say that I do a lot, but it’s getting better and better. At the Invictus Games in 2021 I will participate in wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. I was supposed to participate in the 1500 meters, but that has not been possible for 2020. My energy level really wasn’t there yet. Maybe in 2021, who knows. But I’m already very happy with this. Not only physically, but also psychologically. I can already cope with a lot more than before, I’m less likely to be out of action. “That’s a nice feeling.”
Portraits: Ed O’Mahoney