It has gone 2am on Day 7 of my #22kill #22pushupchallenge and I’m taking the day off, for yesterday presented me with a new PTSD challenge and I need to restock.
My bicycle accident and brush with death was just over seven and half years ago and it was just over five years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD and then went on to see a counsellor. Since then I’ve been ticking along mostly just fine,
but there are still times it reminds me that it is not far away. The occasional flash back or occasional bought of chronic fear of dying. One of those times happened to be what is now yesterday. I had to take the ferry from Albania to Corfu and whilst in port the car ferry was listing from side to side very badly. The drawbridge was hitting the concrete port and bouncing to waist height of a tall male. Some children were joking that we were all going to die and thankfully the father had the sense to reassure them that we weren’t. We all got talking as we stood there watching the sight of the boat rocking from side to side. Then one of the stern lines snapped free – ripping the metal hook out of the ground. Having sailed a lot in the past, I knew then that the journey we were about to embark on was going to be a roller coaster. This was a thick heavy duty stern line, I even wondered if the journey would go ahead and if my low cost airline would permit a change to my flight due to not being able to get there.
I was also very glad that I wasn’t one of the people who had to drive their car onto the boat – wondering if their insurance would cover them for any damage caused as the drawbridge would lift up half the vehicle.
The crew very carefully helped each individual on, one by one was their instruction – we had a person each side of us to get us to the stairwell and then make our way up to the seating deck. I explained to the children that it was going to be a bumpy journey as we were protected in port, and it could be a fun ride.
What I hadn’t banked on was that our course meant we had to sail directly into the wind and the boat was flung from side to side, we were soaked by heavy spray time and time again as we plummeted down to the starboard side we’d roll on a wave and plung to the Port side. We had all been in good spirits, making noises like you do at a fireworks display. Then it got serious, we landed square between two waves, the boat stalled and a woman became hysterical. Truly hysterical, screaming in Greek for life jackets, she was grasping onto her daughter who was crying and it seemed in a matter of moments that everything changed. People were retching, crying and screaming. The crew looked panicked and didn’t know what to do, the crew were arguing with the woman and the boat was now carrying on at full speed and we took on another wave. People were demanding life jackets and the crew looked bewildered and offended. They started to bring the odd one, or two life jackets.
Whilst confident that we would make the short journey to Corfu I had started to think – when I sailed I always wore a life jacket, even with calm seas. You never knew what could happen, you could slip, you may end up in the water and will want the buoyancy. I had been holding on for dear life as the boat lurched from side to side and a bit like when you’re on the pirate boat ride and you lose your seating – this had been the journey so far. So practically it made sense that we should be wearing life jackets.
I asked for life jackets for the two young boys and their father in front of me. He was a mans man and yet now, I saw a softer side, he sat strong, holding them both tenderly one into each side and he wasn’t letting go. I asked again and again. Then I demanded jackets for the 11 of us at the front of the boat. As I passed the life jackets forward I could hear the panic in his voice – please help me I’ve no idea how these work. The woman next to me and I helped put the life jackets on the children.
I got a life jacket on myself and then put the life jacket on the Dad. This was all done as I braced myself forward and the woman next to me held onto my waist band and then the banding of my life jacket. The boat still ploughing through the waves. A man tried to walk down the stairs announcing that he has a boat and he needed to check that the crew felt they had things under control for he wasn’t so sure. A couple clambered up from the inside, the woman had cut the side of leg as she had been flung down below deck. The crew were screaming at her to get away from the starboard side of the boat (this was the side that was plummeting into the waves) and she very easily could have gone over the side.
Children were crying, people were in true panic. I was calm. The woman next to me was calm – we had been talking in the port and she had cottoned on to me as she was uncertain of the journey and couldn’t swim.
We checked that we were both Ok and I said I felt I was a bit sea sick and needed to just breathe for a bit. She then said she was worried for her sons, aged 23 and 17 she’s all they have.
This was it. My mind went into anxiety – suddenly I could see things playing out, we’d take on water – our legs would soon no longer be able to hold onto our bags rammed between them, there would be people overboard. I can swim, I will be ok, the lady next to me can’t swim. I was looking at the obstacles my body would hit if I would go overboard – the metal cable holding the chimney and flag poles in place, the railings. Yes a good idea to have the life jacket for by the time i hit the water I won’t be conscious and I’d have broken limbs, I may have wrenched an arm off and may even have decapitated myself on that cable. I looked for safer places to sit and realised that to move was to put myself in more and very real danger. I knew my mind was starting to play games. I felt my eyes well up as I still don’t want to be put in deaths path again, I still have so much in my life to fulfil, I still have so much to give, I told myself to breathe. I told the children and their father to breathe, for the youngest had gone very quiet. We all took some deep breathes in and some good deep and fun lion roar breathes out to release some of our tension, the Dad saying firmly out loud, come on boys, this is a good idea – he needed reassurance too and we all held hands. The woman next to me, holding the youngest boy, the Dad, the older boy and then me. Huddled in two rows of seats facing forward!
50 minutes of chaos kind of goes quite quickly and the captain turned the boat and were no longer heading straight into the weather or the open sea, but we’re now in a protected channel. The crew started to demand the life jackets back and I refused. I was keeping mine on until we were in port. The quiet child threw up and started to feel better, he was sea sick and scarred. His brother had stopped joking about how we were all going to die. Which was good because I had run out of ways of politely saying that really wasn’t a nice thing to be saying and that he needed to consider other people’s and his brother’s feelings.
Myself and the lady went for a glass of water each and then made our way to the airport together. We talked of what a lesson we had just had. She’s a psychologist and it’s the first time she’s seen people in a true state of panic so she could analyse it. We both recognised that no one had boarded that boat and asked for a life jacket, none of the crew had demonstrated how to put the life vests on and more so the crew were acting as if it were an insult that we would want them.
I boarded my flight and sat – my first time to myself. I started to feel physically sick. I checked I had a life jacket under my seat! We took off and we had bad turbulence for about 6-8 minutes. That might not sound like long, but it was bad turbulence – I fly a lot and flying doesn’t bother me. But it was tonight. I was sat in the last row, I had been moved at my request away from the drunk who talked to himself and really stank. I was at the back of the plane – my head did its thing again… It’s the tail of the plane that goes first isn’t it? But isn’t their more chance of surviving if you’re in the back? I checked for my life jacket under my seat. I took more deep breathes. Ok Lorraine, let’s just assess this… No one else is panicking, no one.
The first officer came on the overhead speaker, no doubt you’ll have all felt that back then and we are due some worse turbulence later on in the flight.
That was not helping.
I visualised a crashing plane, seriously how many people survive plan crashes?
I told myself Lorraine, you’re just extra sensitive right now, it was quite a challenge earlier and you’ve been talking quite a bit about PTSD this week so you’re very aware of things. Come on, you’re going to be ok. Breathe. The tears welled up. I really didn’t want to die, I want the people I love to know I love them, I needed a hug. I needed to be told everything was going to be ok. I considered letting the attendant know that I was feeling quite anxious. But I opened my eyes, looked at everyone else. Everyone was calm, I drew from their calm energy, it reassured me. I breathed.
The sick feeling still with me, there was only one thing for it, I comfort ate – ordering a hot bacon roll and tomato sauce, Kit Kat and to bring some equilibrium to it – a coconut water and peppermint tea.
I welled up a few more times during the flight, scrolling through my photos of the people I love hoping they are safe and sound in their worlds as the odd bit of salty water escaped down my cheek, so grateful for my life and the people in it and so determined to not be totally knocked by the day.
I realised this was a classic example of how while in the main part I have a handle on my PTSD there are still times where it reminds me it is still there. Love these little reminders – these little check ins of the importance of living and loving life – I just wish it wasn’t so graphic with the gory visual detail.
I was so grateful for touchdown, then my feet on the ground and now I am so grateful to be home, back home, in my bed. It’s late, I’m tired, I’m emotional. I’m very much alive and will be when I wake from my slumber in the morning, ultimately I am grateful.
Lots of love and sweet dreams