Mental illness is defined as “any of various disorders in which a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to themselves, or other people.”
Outdoors Wellness With Libby James PTSD
Strong words, hard to admit to oneself, but Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD from now on,) comes under the heading of a mental illness. So when a Psychologist diagnosed me with PTSD I expected to feel different; broken, weird – but no, I was just me – not a very happy me, not coping wonderfully, but most definitely me and I was a bit relieved to have a name for the way I was feeling.
So how did I get PTSD then, did I visit a war-torn country; was I in the armed forces? No, I had made the mistake of walking through a field of cattle, I foolishly felt the words “National Trail” offered safety to those who walked it and believed that cattle only attacked those who don’t understand how to behave around them. How wrong was I?
I won’t bore you with the story of my attack and injuries, suffice to say that I nearly died, I spent 10 days in hospital and recovery was a long painful process. If you wish you can read the story of my attack here:
My physical injuries were hard to cope with, but I understood that healing process and was determined to recover from those injuries. My mental state was less easy to deal with, before the attack I had joined a walking group, a science group and an art group, lost some weight, canoed The Severn, got myself fit, actually started to jog, I loved the excitement of travel and camping and walking and really relished life.
PTSD and Me
After the attack I felt acutely aware of how vulnerable I was, how vulnerable everyone was and this vulnerability would reduce me to tears, watching the news was too upsetting and only served to underline how fragile life was.
The sight of cattle in a field as we drove past would get my heart beating quickly and I would anxiously scan each field we went past thinking “another place I can’t walk”. I couldn’t bear to watch anyone else walk near cattle in case they were attacked, watching Countryfile was a nightmare!
I seemed to be a beacon that people had to come and relate their cattle scare tales to, I know they were trying to be sympathetic saying “we understand how scary it must have been, as this happened to us….” But what I heard (or choose to hear) was “if you had behaved just like us you wouldn’t have been attacked and you would have got away just as we did..”
I was angry, at myself for letting the attack happen, at the people in power who encourage us to walk to get fit, but don’t do anything to protect us, angry at general injustice, just angry! (Poor husband!) My facial injuries had completely dulled my sense of smell and the loss of the scent of cut grass and roses was an acute pain. Night times were full of horrors, not sleeping, waking with brain churning away. I went to my art group and everyone gathered around anxious to hear how I was and offering sympathy – I was instantly back in that moment in the field, surrounded by cattle, heart pumping! I avoided crowds for that reason, life was no longer to be savoured
So what did I do? My family were/are really understanding and supportive but I felt guilty loading more onto them. I talked to friends who were brilliant at visiting; but I was not entirely truthful about how bad I was feeling. I went to a councillor for some cognitive behaviour therapy – but it’s one thing knowing what you should do and quite another thing doing it! I kept a diary and scribbled my woes along its pages, I tried to focus on positive things too – a “what happened today that was nice” list. All these things helped a bit, chipping away at the horrors.
I started to walk, not pavement walks with the worries of traffic zooming past, but proper footpath walks, we are lucky enough to live in an area well supplied with cow free paths, accessible from our house. Initially I walked with my husband, then I grew stronger and more confident and could manage the small walks around us on my own. Solitary walking allows for quiet enjoyment of the countryside and a chance to see things you can miss if you walk along while chatting. Walking on my own started to give me back my confidence and my enjoyment of nature; it is hard to feel depressed when faced by a robin sat on a branch looking at you quizzically, or being shouted at by a wren with a megaphone of a call. More layers of damage were chipped off.
We planned some walks with friends, initially completely avoiding cattle and these were good – but I was angry I had to change my life to avoid cows, how dare they remove my ability to walk on footpaths across farms! About 24 months past the attack I decided to plan a short walk through fields with friends, I thought there may be cattle in one of the fields, but I had a good map of the area and had alternative paths to use if necessary, I felt as if I was in control. Yes there were cattle and horses in the fields, but they were either sat down totally bored with our presence or walked away from us, so I could walk though those fields – result!
Using my rules I rejoined our walking group, they are all nervous of cattle now and very supportive of me, but I also carry a map so I can go my own way if necessary. Yes solitary walking is enjoyable, however if I am down then sometimes lone walking reinforces a feeling of “separateness”.
Walking in a group of friends I find really uplifting. The pace, walking two or three abreast, sharing the mud, or sunshine, or autumn colours or…. just sharing, allows for unthreatening, non-confrontational chatter. I can speak without feeling I have to keep a brave face on things, others can add their problems, almost nothing is solved, but the sharing of worries can reduce them to a manageable size and the achievement I feel at the completion of a long walk is brilliant.
So how is my PTSD now? It is mainly under control, my sense of smell has mainly recovered, my injuries have mostly recovered, I am almost as fit as I was before the attack. These almosts and mainlys sometimes get me down, I sometimes feel guilty still feeling a bit low as people have to cope with problems that dwarf mine. Walking allows me to be me again – and that is a good thing, indeed the song “walking back to happiness” is very appropriate for me.
Want to chat
I belong to a group of cattle wary walkers who want people and organisations to take the risk of cattle attacks seriously and aim to achieve greater safety for walkers. We are collecting information, research, statistics and personal stories, all in one place, to be used as a resource by walkers, by the media, and by anybody else interested in improving safety in our countryside, come and visit us, spread the word.
You can find out more about Libby James at Killer Cows
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