Lou and Colin, Leeds city centre

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How long have you been together?
Colin: We’ve been together for 14 years and Lou has been my full-time carer for the last ten years because I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I have a chronic leg ulcer.

‘I got my knees, elbows and wrists broken for speaking out’

How did the PTSD come about?
C: It came from my time in Northern Ireland. A bomb went off on the Shankill Road in 1993 and I helped to pull women and children from the chip shop where it happened. After, I went on the news and said that the tit for tat killings were pointless because it was only civilians that were getting hurt. I got my knees, elbows and wrists broken for speaking out.

Lou: And he was given 24 hours to get out of the country.

How does the PTSD affect you?
C: I was stood outside a shop one afternoon. Lou had gone in to pay for something and when she came out I wasn’t around. She went looking for me for 45 minutes and found me
sat on a bench. And I didn’t have a clue where I’d been or who I’d spoken to.

L: That was your first flashback and disassociation, which is all part of his post-traumatic stress.

Why do you sell Big Issue North?
C: I was selling it about 20 years ago, and I wanted to start again because it builds your confidence up. I wanted to get out in crowds of people because that’s what I was frightened of.

L: If it was this time last year he would never have got here, because he would never been able to talk to anyone. I used to stand near his pitch just make sure he was OK.

C: I’ve been selling for five months or so now.

L: He’s doing really well. And now that he has got some confidence back I sell the magazine as well, but nearby so I can keep an eye on him.

C: It’s teamwork.

How did you both meet?
C: I was a drug dealer. When I first met her, she wasn’t on heroin and I used to say to the lad she was with at the time: “Don’t you get her on it.” And then she turned up one day and she wanted to buy drugs for herself. We didn’t see one another for about six months after that because I wouldn’t serve any of them. Then out of the blue she called me. And we met up and we’ve been together ever since.

L: I was married with two kids but that ended badly and we got divorced. I met this guy who got me on the heroin. I didn’t really know about drugs and stuff. I have curvature of the spine and this guy said it was like a pain killer. It was Colin who told me what it was. We’re both off drugs now and getting treatment.

C: I stopped dealing when I got caught and put on a drug treatment order. After I stopped using heroin, that’s when the PTSD started because I think it had been blocking out what had happened.

What are your hopes for the future?
C: Somewhere permanent to live – we’re staying at a mate’s at the moment. Then marriage somewhere down the line.

Do you celebrate Valentine’s day?
L: No, we never have done.

C: We know we love each other and that’s it. No cards or any amount of flowers can prove that.

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