I was involved in an accident on a college trip to South Africa with a group of students. The bus we were travelling in came off the road and turned over. A lot of us were severely injured and three of the students were killed. Even though I was hurt, I couldn’t help but feel responsible. And I felt awful to have survived when others didn’t.
I initially went to my doctor because of the flashbacks. I wasn’t sleeping; I was very anxious and depressed. I lost my confidence. I had some facial scarring that I was really self-conscious about. I felt everyone was looking at me, saying ‘She’s the one involved in that coach crash’. My GP said I had PTSD and needed to see a psychologist. But there was a long wait list, so she suggested going to the Haven while I waited, and the counselling was working so well that I stayed there. It’s a voluntary organisation; you give a donation, as much as you can afford.
I used to say to Mary, my counsellor, that I felt like a fish out of water. I was flopping all over the place, not able to function normally and not knowing what to do. I thought I was the sort of person who didn’t need therapy. That is one of the most important things Mary made me realise – that how I was feeling was normal, and that I was safe now, and I could talk to her.
I felt almost embarrassed that I needed help still. It was almost a year down the line and I still couldn’t deal with things and let it go and that wasn’t like me. I was angry and I don’t do anger. I’m a laid back person. I’d just go, ‘It’s happened, just get over it’. I’d never felt anger like this before, true anger, not even when I was a kid. It was physical as well as emotional. It was a rage, an inward rage. I couldn’t tell anyone about it. I was angry with my dad, with the bus driver, with the police. I was angry with myself – why couldn’t I do anything to help the others after the accident? I understand now that I was injured but I still can’t help feeling I failed.
Mary picked it up quite early on. She said make an anger list of all the people you are angry at, and she saw I had scrawled really hard on the paper. I think it was the loss of control and not being able to understand what had happened.
I felt my dad wasn’t there for me. That wasn’t helping me get over things. I thought we were close but obviously it wasn’t as strong as I thought. He would phone and ask how I was but he was just going through the motions; he wasn’t really interested. I needed more from him. I needed him to be here. Things had changed since my mother passed away. He’s more involved with his new partner now. My sister says he isn’t there for her either but she’s got the same mindset – ‘Don’t dwell on it.’
In therapy we talked and used some role-play and a lot of visual stuff. When I couldn’t explain how I was feeling, we used sandplay. We created a timeline, which helped me process what happened and put me back in control. We practised grounding techniques so there was something I could do if I had a nightmare or flashbacks. We did a lot of writing work – writing letters to people about why I was angry, but not posting them. While we were on the trip I had kept a journal every day but I’d put it in a drawer and hadn’t shown it to anyone. I couldn’t face reading about the good times we’d had when it had ended so awfully. Mary encouraged me to share the journal with her. Then I was able to read it myself and, after we’d talked more, to share it with others.
I saw Mary weekly for 12 months and then towards the end it was every two weeks and then every four weeks. I definitely feel more in control of my life, more confident, now. I’ve gone back to work. I’ve been able to accept what happened with the accident, and how things are with my dad. I have good days and bad days but the good days are more than the bad.
I don’t feel 100 per cent ready to move on because the official investigation into the accident is still ongoing. I need to know what happened. I think the authorities blame the driver – that’s difficult for me. We had got to know him; we had a bit of a relationship with him. Do I forgive him? Do I blame him for the rest of my life? So I might go back to the Haven to talk about that.
I had God on my angry list too but we didn’t discuss that in counselling. When I am ready, I will seek help with that. I’m like that; once I’ve made up my mind, I do it.
Names have been changed to protect identities.
The Haven is a therapy and counselling service based in Leicestershire working with clients from any ethnic background and of any faith or none. It is a registered charity supported by contributions and donations and all its professional therapists give their time freely.