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I lost my memory and suffered from debilitating PTSD after my riding accident

I am a South African, living in the USA with my amazing active duty military husband. I am a photographer, vintage inspired seamstress, jewelry merchandiser, capsule wardrobe fan, and traditional witch. Not a Wiccan.  I love animals,  wi...

My riding accident left me with scars, but the PTSD ruined my life

Here is what I remember: It was a dark, gloomy, very windy morning just a few days before my 28th birthday and I took Jimmy for a ride. Jimmy was a very large horse –17 hands high– so I tried to remain mounted as much as possible as it was difficult to get back on. As we rode, we came across a large hole near the gate we had to go through. A tarp was flapping and I thought that Jimmy might be scared. I decided to get off his back. I led him across the road and then tried to find a place to get back onto my monster horse, who had started prancing because of my out-of-the-ordinary actions. I eventually found a road marker at the side of the road in the sand. I pulled Jimmy closer to me, put my right foot on the marker's top, and slid my left foot into the stirrup.

More: I starved myself into a full blown mental illness

And that was the last thing I remember from that day. I vaguely remember a flash of trying to find my teeth in the sand and the lady who found me said I wouldn't leave with her until I did. That's all I remember.

I was at the hospital for four days. The first three, I do not recall at all. I finally managed to get up and walk to the bathroom on my own and I stood in front of the mirror, in the dark, sobbing. I saw my face, and even just in that half-light from the monitors in the room behind me, I could see that the damage was very bad. I was so angry, but I didn't know why or how to deal with it.

For days, as my family visited me, I felt like I was surrounded by strangers. The full gamut of neurological tests done by the doctors were a few simple questions, and some tests done on my eyes. They felt I was perfectly fine to go home, even though I could barely remember my own name or speak more than a few words. For the next month my mother came by my apartment every day to help look after me. I can only recall little bits and pieces that have started coming back to me ten years later.

When I went back to work at a high-level IT job that I had been good at, I very quickly discovered I could not handle even the slightest stress. I couldn't go to meetings because I felt claustrophobic. I would have panic attacks and feel like I was going to pass out, or die. If someone came up to my desk, even just to say hello, I would start shaking, sweating and squirming. If they didn't leave me within a few moments, I would have to jump up and go "get fresh air" leaving them wondering what they said to upset me. I tried so hard to get back into the rhythms of my work day, but to no avail. I quit my job.

More: My husband helps me roll through life's changes

From there, I moved home. I encountered people I had known growing up and would have no idea who they were. A lot of them chose instead to be offended by my curt and seemingly aloof mannerisms, and considered me rude and unfriendly. I knew that I knew them, but I didn't know them. It was very hard and I would often cry myself into fitful sleep after a day of trying to deal with people.

My riding accident left me with scars, but the PTSD ruined my life
Image: Jamie-Lee Stafford

My visible injuries healed very quickly. I had only a few faint scars on my face and some more dramatic ones elsewhere. The visible injuries helped people I came into contact with understand what I had been through. Once they were gone, there was no real sign of my trauma. What they couldn't see was the mental side. The PTSD after the accident that gave me debilitating panic attacks, agoraphobia, depression, short-term memory loss, difficulty remembering simple tasks (driving my car, making food, brushing my teeth, tying my shoelaces) and long-term amnesia. My entire youth and early twenties were wiped from my mental slate.

While this was all devastating, it also made me make some life-changing choices and many things actually changed for the better. On quitting my IT job, I took up my dream job as an equestrian event photographer. I became very well known, respected, and I began my own business. While I wasn't making a lot of money, I was doing what I loved and I was utterly content with it. My life slowed down a great deal. I walked my dogs daily, I house sat for people who loved their animals as much as I did. It was perfect for me – time outside, time with animals and no people. It helped to heal me.

My cousin became an Alexander Technique therapist and I became her first client. The first few sessions I cried like a child and I was in physical pain, but after that I got stronger and stronger. My panic attacks diminished. My depression went away completely. I was finally utterly serene and happy.

Now, almost 12 years later, I am still healing mentally, but I can tell you it does get easier. I had to keep pushing myself, keep making new neural pathways and learn how to do things a different way, but it made me stronger. There will always be side effects. When I get stressed I still have days where I forget things, lose things, drop things, bump into things, put milk in the oven and pots in the fridge, forget wordsBut mostly what I learned is that you are never alone, even when you feel like you are.

More: My husband has been deployed three out of the five years of our marriage

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