Some months after my illness came to a head I had the opportunity to go to Nottingham on two consecutive weekends. This was to photograph an international hockey competition. There was absolutely no obligation for me to go. But in the couple of weeks before I had seemed to pick up a bit so it seemed a reasonable thing to do. As much a test as anything else. It involved an overnight stay on both weekends. With hindsight it was, perhaps, ambitious as I had difficulty even leaving the house on many occasions during my illness. Also I had often felt horribly isolated at many times when those closest to me were out of the house or away, even though I wasn’t really interacting when they were there.
The night before I packed and felt somewhat nervous whilst doing so. As usual I went to bed to try to sleep and failing to do so crashed on the sofa with the TV. At this point I still felt quite nervous but tolerably so. Getting up to leave before dawn the following morning my anxiety had increased quite a lot and at this point I thought about not going. But I left.
Very quickly during the journey my anxiety increased dramatically. I had to stop a couple of times to deal with panic attacks and with every passing mile it got worse. It was more than anxiety. It was very real fear, coupled with a feeling of hopelessness and of being lost. I have tried to explain it to people since and the best I can come up with is feeling very much like a small child who has lost their parent and has no idea how to find them. It was an overwhelming sensation.
Eventually I stopped at services on the motorway and phoned my other half. I think I called her three times in all along with a number of texts. She was, as ever, totally magnificent. Amongst other things the main gist of what she said was this “If you want to come home it doesn’t really matter. I am here for you. But I really think you should at least try to carry on. And however much it feels the opposite, remember nothing awful is actually going to happen to you”. And so I carried on. And stayed overnight. It wasn’t easy and the anxiety remained with panic attacks frequently not far away. But I managed to partly down to two factors. The supportive conversations with my other half. And because a member of the support staff from one of the overseas teams was someone I knew from before. She had been a friend of one of my flat mates and many years before had crashed at our place for a times before finding flats nearby. We became very good friends. Her team was staying the same hotel as I was which meant, that despite the fact she was busy with her team, we were able to meet up for a drink and a chat in the evening and then again for a quick coffee the following morning. And of course I saw her around at the competition venue. As is the way with old, good friendships it was like picking up on a conversation. Although I don’t think she realises how much of a support she was to me at that time.
And so I got through the weekend. The journey home was easier. But I was emotionally exhausted by the time I got home. And this still left the fact that I was supposed to go back the following weekend. Although, again, I didn’t have to. I spoke to various people who were responsible for my therapy at this time and the consensus was I should try. I think what swung it was the fact that I have quite a bloody-minded streak, in that I don’t like to admit defeat. I don’t view this as necessarily a positive trait as it can lead you into difficulty but it is there. So, I went again. And it was pretty much the same. In fact this time I had a massive flashback at the venue. But, again, I stayed and got home in one piece!
So, why a watershed of sorts? Well, my recovery didn’t start immediately. In fact, in many ways, the PTSD symptoms became worse for a time. But a seed was planted. A seed that would take a little while yet to germinate. It was a slow realisation that I could beat this thing; whatever this thing actually was. I could stand up to it and knock it down or face it down. There was also the realisation that it would not be easy, that at times it would be painful and frightening. But also the realisation that however uncomfortable that was I could and would come out the other side. I think it affected my attitude and approach to some of the therapy. But most of all it gave me a hope that I could get better. A hope that had disappeared before.