WHEN I sit down to enjoy a coffee with Navy veteran and recent Invictus medalist Paul Guest, he picks a table where his back can be against a wall.

He admits he cannot handle open spaces.

It fuels and triggers his post traumatic stress disorder, which has plagued his life for the past 30 years.

Paul, 53, toured Northern Ireland and the Gulf as a mine warfare specialist.

He was seriously injured on duty in 1987, suffering trauma to his neck and spine which have resulted in partial deafness, a visibility impairment and incontinence, meaning Paul requires 24-hour care.

As we talk I quickly notice he is friendly, charming and easy-going, his physical injuries do not bring him down.

But beneath the surface, he is waging a constant battle.

People may not see it, but Paul is suffering every day.

The impressive array of tattoos decorating almost every part of his body are not just for show, they serve a very practical purpose.

He said: “I literally hide behind them.

“People look at me and I see them look down their nose all the time.

“They think ‘he’s a tattooed biker who lost the use of his legs in a motorbike accident.’

“They don’t know the truth, they just assume and judge.

“Everyone sees my wheelchair and says ‘That’s his disability’ - they don’t see the PTSD.

“How many people have actually taken up arms and charged against someone, picked up their friends in body bags or put people in graves.

“This is the real disability. PTSD is probably the worst thing I have ever suffered.

“I don’t sleep, I have night terrors, still even now.

“On average I get between two and two hours 45 minutes sleep per night. I get flashbacks.”

Paul’s life very nearly ended in tragedy, but he credits the quick help of military charity Help for Heroes and his first foray into the Invictus Games as “catalysts” on his road to recovery.

When he was discharged in 1998, he didn’t receive any support - he even had to sort out acquiring his own wheelchair.

He suffered in silence for years.

Last year, his wife Michelle returned home from the shops to find he had taken an overdose.

It was this episode that caused Michelle to contact Help for Heroes and get the help he sorely needed.

He found a warm welcome at Chavasse VC House, in Colchester, a recovery centre for wounded servicemen and women.

“Chavasse House is a lifeline,” he said.

“As soon as you go through the door you feel not only wanted, but respected and comforted straight away.

“I have never seen a grumpy face in there.

“Nobody cares why you are there, as long as you are a veteran you have the right to be there.

“Before the Games, I was in a dark place.

“I locked myself away and even tried to take my own life.

“Michelle was at the end of her tether.

“Getting into the games was the catalyst - Help for Heroes pulled me back.”

Paul was part of a 90-strong team that competed for team UK at the recent Invictus Games, in Toronto.

He was delighted to be selected for the 12-strong wheelchair basketball team, bringing home a bronze medal.

He described the support as overwhelming and admitted he enjoyed a bit of banter with Prince Harry, who founded the Games.

“I called him ‘ginger’ and he tipped me out my chair,” he laughs.

“He has a great sense of humour, a genuine bloke.

“We annoyed his press team I think because he spotted us and pushed through to talk to us.

“They kept saying there wasn’t enough time and tried to move him along.

“I found the experience absolutely amazing.

“Thanks must go to the support we had out there - we were definitely the best-supported country, our fans were amazing.

“The team were either wearing red or blue shirts and often it was just a sea of blue or red.”

Paul is extremely physically fit, doing the school run in his wheelchair every morning, then continuing to push for 18 miles from Kirby-le-Soken to Clacton and back.

But mentally, he knows he will never fully recover.

Staggered at the hardship Paul has gone through over the past 30 years, I ask if he feels any regret at the path he has chosen.

“This is where people just don’t understand veterans,” he said.

“My oath to Queen and country has no time limit.

“If I could go back knowing it would still end up like this, I would do it all again.

“People do not understand comradeship.

“Comradeship isn’t friendship.”

He points to a man sitting adjacent to us.

“I do not have to know that man, but if he is a serviceman I have got his back, totally and unconditionally,” he said.

“That is comradeship.”

Paul lives in Kirby-le-Soken with his wife of 16 years Michelle, 39, and their children Oliver, 14, twins Jessica and Carmen, 13, Kenneth, eight, and Freddie, five.

He is hoping to compete at next year's Games in not just the wheelchair basketball, but the rugby, powerlifting and hand cycling too.

“I started training the day after I got back,” he said.

“I was on the flight back when I got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to go cycling, the next day I was on my hand bicycle.”

Help for Heroes has worked in partnership with the Ministry of Defence and The Royal British Legion to support the UK Team for the 2017 Invictus Games.

Help for Heroes led the work to train, select and develop the 90 -strong team.

Through the Games, many found hope and purpose they had once lost but found again.