I Wish I Was A Unicorn

Always be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn, then ALWAYS be a unicorn!

But I wasn’t hurt…

on December 31, 2015

One year and one day ago was the last blog I wrote. It was a cathartic description, although very much censored, of my experience of witnessing the Glasgow Bin Lorry Crash.
When I wrote it I felt better for getting the story out. If you had asked me back then if i was okay, I would have truthfully told you, yes, I’m still feeling shocked, but I’m okay. I really had no idea of the psychological damage done by then and should probably have asked the police for counselling. The reason I didn’t ask is the same reason I haven’t spoken to anyone about it throughout the year, and that reason was that I was not hurt. How could I lift a phone and ask for advice when there were people killed, people bereaved and people physically injured.

I was unscathed.

I was a bystander.

I was one of the lucky ones.

I went home that night.

I sat at a table with my family three days later.

My gifts were not still sitting under the tree on boxing day.

I was spared by the simple decision of my husband to cross the road when we did.

I was not hurt.

Every time a news report came on TV about it I reminded myself how lucky I was. When the photographs of the six victims were published, I felt heartbroken for their families, but also a guilty relief that I wasn’t looking at my husbands photograph or that my family were not looking at mines.
As we sat at our Christmas dinner table 3 days after the accident I took some family photos. My dads bruised face from a separate accident showed his pain, our puffy tired faces from crying and lack of sleep showed on ours, and so did a determination that we would make sure we enjoyed Christmas. We reminded ourselves minute by minute that we were the fortunate ones with our family around us and forced any iota of self pity out of our minds. We created a little scene in that room of the happy family and didn’t acknowledge any negative feeling at all.
A few days later I was standing at a bus stop in a town about 20 miles from Glasgow when a bin lorry turned the corner and accelerated past me. Without thinking I leapt into a doorway and felt a surge of adrenaline. Only once the lorry passed out of my sight did I realise I was holding my breath. “Don’t be daft”, I told myself, ” Why are you getting upset? What are the chances of that happening again?”
“Well, what were the chances of it happening in the first place, but it still happened!” And so the loop of lopsided logic in my mind answered this question with doubt, fear, panic and anxiety from then on. I convinced myself that this was temporary, that as time went on I’d feel better.
I didn’t.
I went through the full year in complete denial.
It was only later in the year when I received private counselling through a charity for something completely unrelated that I became aware of the monster my own subconscious had evolved into.
Only to her, a neutral person, someone who wouldn’t judge, someone who had heard it all before and someone who could make any sense of my chaotic mind, did I tell about the narrative in my mind.
Only to her did I confess that I am living with the constant fear that everything can go wrong in a split second at any point in my life. Only she heard about the overwhelming panic I felt whilst driving on holiday in April which has appeared regularly since then with the feeling that no matter how careful a driver I am, other drivers are dangerous. Only she seemed to make sense of the moods and intense anger I felt in situations at work, with family etc which coincided with the Fatal Accident Inquiry exposing the driver of the lorry as a liar, very culpable in the accident, but protected by the law from prosecution. Only my counsellor heard that I had an anxiety attack when I got my winter coat out of the wardrobe in late Autumn as it meant Christmas was approaching. I told her about the intense guilt I felt at having counselling at all, how I felt like a phony because I only saw the accident, I was not hurt. I explained that the closer it was getting to Christmas, the more panic I was feeling. I shared with her the thoughts of disaster which attack my mind constantly, that I feared an accident or sudden illness would hit one of my loved ones over Christmas. I told her about the intense nightmares I’d had waking me in tears. I told her I never wanted to go to Queen Street again, that I cannot even look at photographs of the Duke’s statue and that footage of the big wheel and ice rink in the square make me feel physically sick. Just before Christmas she told me she had reviewed her notes on me with her manager and they had both agreed that I should consider a short course of CBT with them to treat PTSD. It felt absurd to hear that, it still does to think of it. That’s what soldiers in war zones get, that’s what victims of serious assaults feel. Not me, I wasn’t hurt. I felt embarrassed at the suggestion.
On the anniversary of the accident I travelled to Glasgow alone after work as my husband couldn’t get time off. I felt it would be a positive thing to do. To remember the victims and spend some spiritual time on it amongst others who were affected and understood. I didn’t want to ask anybody to accompany me as I didn’t think anyone else could understand. Whilst travelling in i received a message from my hubby to contact a mutual friend, Tom. He was attending with his friend Janey and they didn’t want me to go on my own. Just after the accident last year, Tom had felt so moved by the accident, he released a recording of “Mother Glasgow” to raise cash for a victims fund. I felt reassured knowing that he’d be with me. The ceremony was very formal, but also poignant. It focussed on the healing of “Body, mind and soul” and acknowledged the injuries physically, psychologically and emotionally. It recognised the meaningless of it all and the fact that it could have been prevented. Afterwards we were all invited to attend a buffet in a different building. I didn’t fancy that at all, but I also didn’t want to go home in the frame of mind I was in. I was relieved when Janey suggested we go for a cuppa nearby.
Janey is a gifted comedienne (amongst other things) and managed to lift our spirits for a wee while, but once we moved onto the subject of the accident I reached a moment of epiphany. She described how she had come across the immediate aftermath of the accident and had helped victims and police. She described to a tee the surreality of the day, the disbelief and feeling of powerlessness. How she helped police, paramedics and even helped direct traffic and put up police tape. When Janey described it she began stuttering and was clearly still in shock a whole year later. She spoke about how it had affected her head and I felt so much empathy and even relief that it wasn’t just me who felt that way. I felt so much compassion for her and wanted to tell her she was as much a victim as those physically hurt. Then it dawned on me that if I felt this compassion for her, why was I judging myself so harshly for feeling the trauma from it. My eyes filled with tears and Janey got me a clean tissue from her bag and I apologised. It was the biggest revelation is had about myself all year. I am grateful to Tom and Janey for that day as it let me look at myself with a new perspective – I had saw Janey’s hurt and saw my own in it too.

I was hurt.

Not physically, nothing you can see, but like a faulty hard drive or a dodgy processor, my head hasn’t handled what I saw and its affecting everything else I’ve tried to do since then.
Accepting that has helped a lot. It hasn’t stopped the anxiety or anything else (so far) – it didn’t stop me taking down every card and decoration in our house on Christmas Eve and cry into my husbands shoulder because I was so worried something bad was going to happen at Christmas.
It didn’t stop me worrying intensely until Boxing day that something horrible might happen at any moment, but it did help me understand why I felt that way. It has also helped me to decide to try the CBT.
I have had this blog sitting in my ‘drafts’ folder since Sunday as I’ve been worrying about the stigma attached to the anxiety and psychological issues I’ve admitted in it. There must be another 30-40 people out there that witnessed what we did at such close range. There must be others out there who feel the same and wonder if they are going mad? There are people out their who believe they weren’t hurt and think they should feel fortunate for that. It’s for those people I’ve decided to publish this. Maybe they will see themselves in a different light too. I welcome them to contact me if they feel it would help.
I’m still here, I was fortunate, but I WAS hurt.

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