Today's blog post is not an outfit post, a review or anything particularly light. Todays post is simply about my car accident and my experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I've touched on this a little bit in my Mid-Year Round Up post already so I apologise for any repetition. Its one year on, to the day, since I was hit by a car and I feel like I need to write this post. Partly because I've never seen anything like this on any of the blogs I read but also for me. Writing this post is a little bit like closing a door on that part of my life. That year of my life, the worst year I've ever had. So yes, this post is pretty negative, but hopefully, as I'm the other end of it all, it should be at least slightly up beat. Ill try my best.
Summer 2012 I was volunteering with a charity who we're doing a John o'Groats to Lands End challenge. Its a little weird but basically this amazing Ben Hammond was/has danced all the way down the country, stopping off at schools and talking to the children about Burma and about raising money for what you believe in. Ben Hammond was and still is a good friend. Ive not seen Ben since 10th October 2012 for a number of reasons, not being in the south is a major one to begin with. By the night of the accident, 3rd October 2012, me and Ben had been living in a motor home together for 7 weeks. It wasn't just us, there were up to 5 others all helping out but me and Ben were the only ones who were a constant part of the team. I was the film maker. I was making films each day, documenting Ben's journey. The good, the bad, the extremely painful parts. It was the best and worst time of life. Working 16 hour days, 7 days a week. I was exhausted, we all were, but it was absolutely amazing doing something you love everyday with the added bonus of helping to raise £40,000 for Dance Britain.
12th October 2012. by this point me and Ben we're pretty close and on the night of the accident it was just Ben dancing, me cycling behind him. It was about 8pm when we left Wells for our last 3 mile stretch of the day to make it to Glastonbury in time. We tried not to dance in the dark but we had a schedule to keep up to get Ben to Land's End on the 10th October. We were chatting away about going kitchen shopping. By this point only we could really understand our conversations anymore. I think it's best I don't go into too much detail, you will just think I'm insane/an idiot. Bear in mind how tired I was and also after doing some rough estimating and math, I'd cycled around 500 miles down the country by this point.
We were on the A39 when I remember a car approaching us and then over taking. It was dark and I remember thinking "Its better when theres a car behind us, theres more light" before another light appeared. I opened my mouth to say this Ben but it never came out. I woke up on the road unable to move. Ben was holding my hand, telling me everything was going to be okay but there was blood everywhere. There was a paramedic cutting my clothes off me and then strapping me to a board. Ben told me he thought we had been hit. He then turned around and I realised that the blood wasn't mine, it was Ben's. I could almost see his skull. The car had hit me on the bike, pushing the bike over Ben and cutting his head. He must of woken up before me but its hard to tell exactly what happened because I was knocked unconscious having flown through the air several feet, and Ben has no real memory of the accident at all. For him, he just woke up in hospital, of which I am slightly jealous.
I was put into the first ambulance, as they thought I had shattered my pelvis and my ankle. Both had fluid on them but I couldn't feel much pain. I was pumped full of drugs and Alice high is a very funny thing! The motor home found us as they were strapping me on to the board and one of the girls asked me if I was okay. I replied with "I feel like spongebob square pants" because of the head blocks. Alice on drugs is funny. Also I shouted at them to pick up my shoes. Always thinking about fashion I guess.
In the hospital I remember waiting a life time to get our spines cleared to have the blocks off. If you've never had them then you won't know how painful they are. The board on the back sticks into your head. Thankfully one of the nurses kept coming to put his hand under my head so it wasn't as painful, but I had the blocks on until about 5am. Ben was cleared first, about an hour before but thankfully we had no bones broken or internal injuries. This is the point where people say "oh you're so lucky". To them I say, If I was lucky then I wouldn't of been hit by a drunk driver and left in the road to die. Bit dramatic, maybe, but thats how I felt. Thats how ill always feel.
I could go on and on about all the details; The woman flat lining in the bed next to me 4 times in so many hours, about Ben screaming in agony and his mother, coming to me and me having to comfort her, but well, that all speaks for itself. Also, peeing into a bed pan while strapped to a board is not fun. Thats all I'm going to say.
I was discharged from the hospital the next day. I rang my family, they all reacted okay. I wont go into details about my fathers reaction because it was disgusting, but other than that the rest of my family were worried but not too panicked. I was then in the motor home in the hospital car park (because of the head injury Ben still wasn't discharged and in fact at one point had a one minute memory, on a constant loop for almost 5 hours.) while everyone was discussing the next plan of action. I got up, without saying a word and just walked to the other end of the car park. I'd been hit by a car. It suddenly hit me, no pun intended. I guess for the first week I was kind of in shock. I cried once in that car park but I didn't get emotional again for a few months. I just felt tired. Like the 7 weeks previous had been doubled. Also you know that phrase "I feel like I've hit by a bus"? Well I wasn't hit by a bus but trust me, you have no real point of reference until you're hit by a car at 50mph. Everything hurt. All I wanted to do was sleep. So I slept, I slept a lot that week while we decided what to do about everything. Me, Ben, the motor home. I also went for lots of nice lunches, meals out and I adored spending so much time with Ben's family, who I love. We were also on the BBC regional news a couple of times, mostly about Ben and the charity set back of course, but still I'm still mentioned and in the video footage looking like death. I was a local celebrity..ish. If you google "Dance Britain Hit & Run" theres a whole load of articles, some saying my name and some saying "unnamed cyclist" from when I hadn't told my family yet.
I got to my mums on October 10th 2012. After giving up trying to continue so soon we decided to drive the motor home back up to Crewe. Thankfully my mum lives not too far away so she could come and pick me up and then I spent the weekend at hers. I even tried going to gym and cycled a comfortable 10 miles but really I had no idea how damaged my body was and how this would probably never happen again. I went back home to my dads on the monday. This post isn't really about the physical aspect and maybe ill talk about that at some point in another post but mentally I thought I was okay. Sadly I was wrong.
It's normal to have a response to trauma. Its our defence mechanism. If theres been danger, we naturally go on high alert for a a period of time after, say a month or two, maybe 3 or 4 at most and each day you feel less and less anxious, alert, scared. With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that feeling doesn't go away. The trauma, albeit it a crash, war, a natural disaster, the list goes on, has done more permanent damage. You no longer feel safe doing everyday things and rather than this feeling decreasing it gets worst. I didn't have every single symptom ever, and there are hundreds of websites which can give you text book descriptions. This is just my experience.
Sleep. Over October and November the nights started drawing in, something which I am not looking forward to this year either, as I stopped being able to sleep in the dark. I could sleep in the day okay but in the night I would prefer to sit up, watch tv and avoid closing my eyes. It took me hours to get to sleep, normally getting to sleep around 5/6am so minimise the amount of time I was sleeping in the dark. I was afraid to go to sleep. Theres nothing like being afraid of your own mind and what it will do to you. By the end of November I was having nightmares every night. They were a combination of random night mares and flash backs of particular parts of the accident. I would wake from the nightmare and not remember where I was, thinking I was on the side of the road again I would then panic. It would then take me several hours to get to sleep again, if at all. Thankfully in the day, when I did wake up from a nightmare, I knew where I was because it was day light. There were also some other anxiety issues to do with sleep but I will probably get to those when I write something about my anxiety disorder.
By December I wasn't sleeping. I was taking a nap between 8 and 10am so I had some daylight time and could spend time with my family. I started avoiding going out at night, or out at all if i could and I was pretty much always with a family member. I don't remember a time where I went into town on my own until at least April, although Im sure my family could tell me of a few one off times I might of had to, but certainly not by choice. I stopped talking to people, partly because I didn't know what to say to them when they complained about trivial things or that they had a headache/something minor. My whole body hurt by this point so it annoyed me when people complained about silly things. Part of it was because they started to fall away and loose interest. Nothing like being in a car crash to find out who your real friends are I guess? I stopped eating unless I had to (again I'll talk about my ED and other issues in another post) because I was with my family and I started to see myself withdrawing. Im not going to exaggerate, I wasn't a hermit but I wasn't myself.
Anxiety. I do have an anxiety disorder, which I will go through at another time, but this was different. I'd never felt unsafe in a car before. Every single time I was in a car my chest would feel tight. My whole body would go tense. I would get flashbacks of the car lights behind me. The ambulance sounds. The same with cycling. Its probably a given that even now I find cycling a struggle and now I have my car, I haven't cycled. In fact I hadn't cycled for 3 months. The flash backs aren't the same now but for the first 6 months it was impossible to even think about getting on a bike without feeling exactly like I was back there, amongst it all. With post traumatic stress, its not that you remember these events, Ill remember them forever, its how they make you feel. I felt like I was back on the side of the road. I felt that same fear, something that no human being should ever have to experience. The feeling of thinking you're going to die and accepting it.
I should of died. This is a phrase I used to say on a regular basis and it's true. When the police came to take my statement and collect my clothes for the court case, they told me very clearly that if I hadn't of worn my helmet I would of died. The helmet was smashed in, completely. If i hadn't of worn it, that would of been my skull. Its morbid but its the truth. I know see it in a more positive way but for 9 months I saw that because I should of died maybe I didn't deserve to live. I never did anything to hurt myself at all, but that feeling of thinking not that you don't want to be here, but that you don't belong in this world anymore, its a very difficult one to shake off. I kept feeling like it was going to be a final destination moment where I would just be killed suddenly. Death would catch me up. I shouldn't be here.
This post is already impossibly long so I'm going to hopefully get to the nice positive part. Recovery. January 2013 I decided that I wanted to sleep. I went to my GP, who referred me to the mental health service and I was given Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. CBT is a bit like when you go to the GP and they tell you take paracetamol before they can give you anything else. Im not going to go into the failings of the NHS because frankly, this is a success story and I own my therapist my life but we'll get to that. I had CBT for two months. In the final month we did several Impact of Events questionnaires. These are a measure of how an event has impacted your life. They're are different scores, thresholds etc. but I was very clearly, pretty near the top too, of the PTSD category. With PTSD you need to have the symptoms for 4-6 months before you can be diagnosed. As I said before, its normal to have these reactions, its not normal for them to carry on. So I was then referred to a trauma therapist. Sally is a wonderful woman. We spend a few weeks talking through what had happened, my home life, other past experiences and then finally the treatment options and also create whats known as a "safe place". Your safe place is a place you feel calm, happy and more importantly, only you've been there. At first I thought of my childhood home but that can be clouded with negative memories of family so instead picked a spot not far from uni where I had spent lots of time alone. The i had to pick a therapy. Either more CBT, but of a different type, and Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing or EMDR as thats such a mouthful. I chose EMDR.
EMDR is a therapy that uses eye movements to force the brain to process events. A bit like when someones eyes move while they sleep, thats their brain processing the day and packing it away nicely in their memory. With a trauma, the memory is too big, too painful, so it stays in the front of your mind and doesn't get packed away which is why the flash backs and reminders of the event make you feel like you we're still right there, because emotionally you are. I had the type where I sat with my eyes closed and held electronic devices that made my eyes move for me which sounds very weird but you get over it pretty quickly. Each week, while my eyes were shut, I would talk through the images that had flashed up throughout the week, the nightmares I'd had. Sometimes it would stick to just the accident, other times old memories which I hadn't expected but were some how related. Each session to begin with was extremely emotional, I would basically just weep for an hour and then go to my safe place to calm down before I went home. This slowly got better; as my brain processed the memories they popped up less and over 12 sessions we worked through everything my brain had thrown at me in the past 9 months.
I started to sleep, now waking up more because I was in pain rather than from a nightmare. Nothing is perfect, I still get them a few times a week but the feeling when I do isn't the same. It sounds odd but one day you wake up and you feel like you again. It melts away, like waking up from a bad dream. It doesn't happen over night but it suddenly hits you, you've not had a nightmare that week or you've not had a flash back. It's so smooth that you don't notice it because no one notices not being ill or being happy, they only notice the bad stuff. Eventually we had a few "mopping up" sessions where we processed any remaining little bits and bobs and then worked on relapse prevention. Relapse prevention is basically where you draw up a list of all the original signals that you had PTSD so you can spot them if they occur or increase. If they do you know you need to go back to your GP and get more therapy. And thats it. I was discharged. No more therapy for Alice.
I made the comment before that Sally gave me my life back and it's true. If I hadn't of had her help then I still wouldn't be sleeping, socialising or possibly even driving (which was my own personal therapy, where driving a car myself makes me feel more in control and I don't panic at all. which is nice.). God knows where I would be now if it wasn't for therapy and of course the love and support of my Sister and my Brother in law. They were my support system. Which is no reflection on my mother or my grandparents, they were far away and as supportive as you can be down a telephone or on once a month shopping visits.
But thats it. Thats my experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and hopefully thats the end of it. I do still get the odd anxiety issue, a flash back here and there and I still get nightmares as I've said but it's at a manageable level and I don't feel like I'm back there. I no longer feel the wet tarmac and the grit of the road despite being tucked up in bed, which makes this a success story. I never want to write the relapse edition and I don't think I ever will.
I wasn't going to include this but I've been asked several times on twitter in just 10 minutes. The woman that hit me was caught. Her name is all over the news articles, but its not my place to post it here. She was followed by the car in front who saw the accident (they made sure there were people to help us, thankfully we were outside a pub so lots of people saw and rang the emergency services). They rang the police as they followed her and she was arrested and charged that night. She was three times over the limit and found guilty on three charges on the 19th October 2012. She was given a two and a half year driving ban (although she will need to be accessed when the ban is over because of the severity of the incident), a fine and some community service. She also lost her job, due to needed to drive as part of the role. I go through phases of anger and indifference. Some days I hate what this woman, this girl (she was only 25) has done to me and for leaving us there. Other days I come to terms with the fact that people do stupid things when they're drunk and scared. Her judgement was impaired. Both when she got into her car to drive home and when she left the scene. Not that that makes it any better.
Hope this hasn't been too heavy guys, but it needed to be written. Ill go back to posing in pretty dresses and reviewing lipsticks now ;)
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Update Jan 1st 2014:
I've received a disgusting comment on this post which has shocked me and made me feel the need to address some issues on this post permanently. PTSD is something that can affect anyone, no matter what the trauma. From something relatively minor to something horrific. Who am I, you or anyone to judge or belittle what another person has gone through or to judge. Some people go to war and are fine, some people are in car crashes and are fine, some people get mugged for their wallet and mobile phone and are fine but some arn't. Thats the nature of PTSD. I find it disgusting that anyone would suggest that another would self diagnose and use PTSD for attention. To call someone every name under the sun because you judge them and think you're trauma was so much worse (it's not a competition) is petty and childish. Also 12 sessions of EMDR therapy is smack bang in the middle of the UK average for this type of therapy. My own personal therapy started in January 2013 and ended in July 2013. It was not a quick or simple process. It was drawn out, painful but frankly worth it.
As my mother always said; If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
I have disabled comments on this post. If you would like to talk about PTSD or any of the aspects of this post Im happy to share more of my experiences, advice and support via email.