As part of our Meet the Machines series, our fun yet formidable racer Dom Searle opens up about her battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD is not something I have talked about openly, but I have unfortunately had few of my colleagues take their own lives in recent times. This has brought issues back to the forefront of my mind and forced me to confront them.

4 years ago I was hit by a 4x4 vehicle while riding my bicycle. I left a rather large dent in the lady’s vehicle, and landed on the opposite side of the carriageway, narrowly missing being hit by 2 HGVs. Luckily for me, an off duty paramedic had been driving behind and saw the entire incident. The lady appeared to have stopped, but then pulled out directly in front of me, giving me no chance to avoid the collision. What followed was not only an ambulance ride to hospital dosed up to the eyeballs on morphine and nursing some pretty awesome bruises, cuts and swellings, but a further 18 months of what can only be described as self destruction.

I couldn’t deal with the crash - I thought I could, and I thought I had, but I hadn’t. I couldn’t sleep, having recurring nightmares about the crash. I had awful mood swings, and though I went back to work after a few weeks, once the visible injuries had subsided, I was nowhere near back to ‘me’. I was haunted by the fact that I had ‘nipped out for a quick hour’ on the bike without saying goodbye to my two boys who were only six and three at the time. And by being seconds away from losing my life because of a lady who couldn’t wait a few seconds to check that the road was clear.

I struggled through work for the next two months, regularly turning up for my twelve-hour shifts as a custody sergeant on thirty minutes of sleep, and pretending everything was okay. From the outside it looked like it was - there was no obvious physical evidence of what had happened, although two fingers wouldn’t and still don’t go completely straight. But it wasn’t until I collapsed at work through exhaustion that it became apparent that I was not recovered. I took a week off and rested, I even tried sleeping tablets, but nothing worked, and I went back to work, but collapsed again - still fighting my internal battle over why I wasn’t dealing with the accident.

For crying out loud, I’d been a police officer for fourteen years, attended multiple road traffic collisions, seen people dying and had no lasting issues. Of course, police black humour helps with this, but I just could not get over my own experience. I felt like a failure, and very alone in my thoughts. There were some very dark points where I just couldn’t see anything positive about my life at all, which must have been very hard for my family to see.

I ended up having nearly 6 months off with counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and a new treatment called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), which seemed to work. Then I finally started to achieve closure on the nightmare that I felt that I was living in. My counsellor encouraged me to take up something that I could enjoy with the boys as a family, so I Googled activities, and on a whim, entered Badass Mucker, which close to home and only a few weeks away. It looked like fun.

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Race day was exhilarating. It was amazing to just feel free, to throw myself over obstacles like a big kid. Of course, I was in all the wrong gear- slipping and sliding in my normal gym trainers, but I blooming loved it, and I felt free of my demons, even just for that hour.

I couldn’t wait to do another race, and as I raced, the weight started to lift off my shoulders, and I started to smile again, I started to sleep better, and I started to feel like myself again. I was doing something outside in the fresh air, and I loved it! OCR is one of the most all-encompassing sports I could ever imagine doing. I may have started at the tender age of 39 but this is something I want to be doing when I’m 79, although any electrocution obstacles might need a second thought by that point!

I even compete as a Mudstacle Machine now. I race my hardest, and I may go into my own little mental zone, but I love it, and it helps me like nothing else has before. Some of the best races I have done in the 2 years that I have been running OCR have resulted in me running through coloured smoke grenades and diving in and out of an obstacle that left me covered head to toe in fluorescent feathers, and giggling like a 5 year old.

I can honestly say that OCR has been my lifeline, and at the end of the race day, I want to recount the race to my boys, and have them think, “Wow, that sounded really fun!” I want them to be inspired to do the race themselves, rather than sit and wonder why mummy is so sad, tucked away in the bedroom.

Life is what you make it, and I want to make it, above all else, fun.

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