"I have always loved being outside in nature and as a kid I would spend hours exploring the fields and woods near my home. It also meant that as a serving Royal Engineer I enjoyed learning and developing skills for surviving and living out in the field. Nature became something very different for me though after tours of Iraq, which ultimately led to me developing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). After this, being outside in nature became my escape, my safe place and although I didn’t necessarily know it at the time, part of my therapy.
PTSD for me can be an emotional roller coaster ride, which means in any given minute, hour or day I can experience a whole range of emotions, from happiness, to fear, anxiety, guilt, anger, sadness and despair to name but a few. Often there is no particular reason why I should be experiencing or feeling these emotions and they can come from no where.
My diagnosis sadly meant I was medically discharged from the army and a job which I loved. This in some ways made it harder, and I found that being in an urban environment without my comrades or a weapon made me feel naked, vulnerable and alone. At this point I started to seek out quiet places in the wild, where there was no one and I would often prefer the company of animals over people. My PTSD also made my senses hypervigilant and I would often find busy urban environments overwhelming. I found nature helped to level this out; there are lots of smells, sights and sounds but I know what everything is, there are no surprises, it’s a space that helps me to clear my head, find a sense of calm and peace.
The sights I saw and my many encounters with wildlife, lead to a desire to try and capture some of the moments so I could share my experiences with others. I started to have an interest in photography and eventually joined a photography group which had some surprising mutual benefits. I not only received encouragement to develop a skill but also had the opportunity to share my knowledge of wildlife and local beauty spots with others. I found that photography also gave me something to focus on and another reason to get out in the wild and nature, I find capturing a great shot is really rewarding!
No matter how much time I spend out in the wild, in creation, it never ceases to take my breathe away and leave me awestruck. I can’t put into words how emotive it is or how much it has helped me over the years and continues to do so."
What goals do have you in the future or are you currently working towards?
"I try to get out in the wild and walk as often as I can but sometimes the desire isn’t enough to motivate me or overcome the anxiety of stepping out the door, even though I know how much better I will feel once I am out in nature. To make sure I keep motivated and don’t stagnate, my partner and I have set ourselves the goal of watching and photographing a sunrise and sunset for every season this year. Not only is there something quite spectacular about witnessing dawn breaking and the beginning of a new day, or the amazing colour of the sky at sunset, but it’s the experiences that come with it and the positive memories that are created.
We are also picking out places within an hours drive that are new, to go and explore and making sure we block out time in the diary to do it. It’s all too easy for life and other commitments to get in the way, but it is so important to put yourself and your wellbeing at the top of the list sometimes, to do the things you enjoy, which will help with your mental health, physical health or whatever challenge it is you are facing. "
What advice would you give someone facing a similar situation?
"Accepting that you are struggling and have a problem can sometimes be difficult, so don’t be hard on yourself, be honest with yourself and those around you. Don’t bottle it up or suffer in silence, reach out and talk to someone. There is often a fear of speaking out because of the perceived stigma that is attached to mental illness, particularly PTSD but this is often due to a misunderstanding of conditions and the way they are portrayed in films and the media. Fortunately, this is changing and there is much more awareness of mental health issues and a desire to better educate people. Whatever you are battling with, you are not alone, there will be others out there from all walks of life who will have experienced similar and can understand what you are going through. Don’t label yourself, remember whatever your issue, it is only one experience of many that forms you, your condition is not who you are.
Finally do or find something you enjoy and have a passion for, find something that makes you smile. Don’t be scared to try new things, I didn’t know how therapeutic and how enjoyable I would find photography and bush craft until I tried. Both of these have lead me to discover other passions, such as wood carving, which I would never have considered before. We are all different so do what works for you and trust me, it is easier than you think."