Watching Nature Helping with PTSD
ON Wednesday 17 June 2020, I watched a thunderstorm pass over the floodplain. The air was heavy and as I jotted notes down in my nature journal, I knew that my father was dying in hospital. It was as if the stormy landscape was echoing my feelings.
From my window I watched as the skies darkened and a sudden, huge, brightly lit bolt of lightning hit the floodplain in front of me. I felt as though the rainstorm was washing through me and the intensity was profound.
PTSD is overwhelming at the best of times but with added stresses, the anxiety easily tips into flashbacks and dissociation. That week, as my father was dying and I was unable to visit because of restrictions to hospital visits, I tried unknowingly to walk through walls.
But watching the changing landscape anchored me amid my own emotional storm. I became one with the river valley landscape, losing myself to the storm’s intensity. Flashbacks and seizures intensified as I grappled with grief.
In all of this, I returned to watch life carry on. The birdsong in the garden seemed more intense. The garden trees swayed violently, enveloping me in their calming greenness. Thunder raged as it moved down the river valley over the mountains and, visiting the nearby lakeside one evening, I recalled the words of Dylan Thomas — ‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light’.
Days after the storm passed over, my father died.
Here is my diary entry on the thunderstorm and returning wildlife that helped me deal with the intensity of my PTSD, anxiety and grief:
‘A few raindrops plop on the earth. The sheep begin to bleat. And here it is. An almighty clap of thunder. Sheets of rain falling so fast that the drops splash back up into the air and the water rises on the surface of the road. I begin to wonder if the water will come in! I attempt to take a photograph from the window, but before I can focus the camera lens I reel back in as a great bolt of lightning spectacularly hits the floodplain in front of me. The storm is overhead and the sound of thunder roars over the hammering of rain. It passes overhead. I hear the thunder clap a second after the next lightning bolt. Then it lengthens to five second intervals, as it makes its way across the valley and mountains. Everything stops, still. Silence.
Flies dance again high in the damp air. Nothing else moves, not a bird, not a leaf. The lights go out and the telephone line goes down. A new pond has formed around the ditch on the floodplain. A lone crow sits large on a post and preens. A few sheep bleat and move on out from under the trees. The birds begin to sing again in the fading light. The air is warm, but fresher. A pigeon coos. Puffs of cloud rise around the mountains. Water drips from the trees, pattering down among the foliage. The grass hangs flat and the earth is saturated. A female blackbird sits on the garden fence with her feathers puffed up, flicking her tail. A female mallard is first in to investigate the new pond and the crow flies to the top of the willow tree to survey the scene.’