The eyes of a Wolf always see straight into your soul ...

...You can't hide the truth from them


Please visit the main site - www.wolf-photography.com


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Mental Vs Physical ... the constant internal battle in the Dojo ...

I remember becoming aware of a fact with regards to disability a few years ago:

I was working in the CAB Service as a Tribunal Representative and my caseload was diverse; I was working on physical and mental health related cases and something became apparent:

If you have a mental health problem, there's a good chance that you will develop some kind of physical health problem if the condition keeps you isolated and stops you being as active as you used to be.

If you have a physical health problem and are restricted from your normal level of mobility or are afflicted with chronic pain, there's a chance that you may develop some kind of mental health problem.

Those of you that work in related areas should be able to confirm the above if you listen to the people that live with these issues.

At the time I knew that something was wrong with me stress wise but I was still managing to work and ignore it because I was losing myself in my work and doing a lot of training at the Newquay Shotokan Karate Club.  I'd manage to forget those messages from the back of my mind that kept saying. 'You're like that' or 'You get like that when you think about serving in Northern Ireland' and focussed on doing the job.

I started getting ready for my Shodan grading in 1994, training with Sensei Ed Stark.  I'd moved to Bristol to support my soon to be born Son, when I was involved in a serious car accident.  I'd been hit by a stolen car that was speeding at 50MPH  - I was stationary over the other side of a hump backed bridge ... and I can still hear the collision and ... the glass tinkling to the ground and the groan of metal on metal.  My son was a baby at the time (now a 6ft 2 inch 16 year old midget) ... I remember thinking sometime later - 'Child seats are brilliant and they work!'  The medical team looking after me say I was lucky to survive as there were no head rests in the car - A Ford Escort Mk2.  They also said that my fitness through Karate had saved me.

Sensei Ed Stark
The accident broke that last chain of defence against my internal battle against Stress because I couldn't train at the Dojo anymore owing to physical pain.  I tried ... I went back and it felt like every punch was tearing the tissue around the injury sites around my back, neck and shoulder.  I had to stop.  I tried to return to Shotokan Karate a couple of times again and kept trying to train periodically ... but I couldn't maintain anything consistent because of the physical injuries.  Ed was very supportive and realistic about the situation.  Five months after the road accident I started having more flashbacks and nightmares around my time in Northern Ireland ... this lead to a formal diagnosis of service related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I started training regularly again  a couple of years ago.  It still hurts and affects my mobility for a couple of days after a training session.  Disability with Veterans can be a complicated issue.  For myself there's a constant tug-of-war as the body will keep going until it can't do anymore.  The last Karate event that I helped at caused a lack of mobility and raised pain levels that lasted for four days.  If you saw me walking down the street, you probably wouldn't suspect there was anything wrong with me, unless you have experience of observing certain mobility problems.  My pain specialist advised me to stop Karate but I need a mental victory over myself and over that road accident.

After moving back to the Midlands, I was lucky to find a teacher that understands these issues:  Sensei Dudley Wheatcroft at Satori Shotokan Karate Club. Dudley encourages me and knows when to push me.  He knows I give a 110% every session, as I've always done in any dojo.  Unfortunately some of the moves are getting harder and my body can't do them now ... luckily they're not a part of the grading syllabus. Certain combinations of moves and stance cause a lot of pain and the body feels 'wobbly' and I get spasms of fresh pain ... and yet it's beneficial in my fight against PTSD.  Another problem is the short term memory loss.  There have been a few changes in Kata and the body sometimes fights the mind because 'muscle memory' wants to take the body in a certain direction and the mind wants the body to do something different which sometimes leads to a 'lock out' and the body doesn't move.

Sensei Dudley Wheatcroft with the late Sensei Enoeda

I went for my grading for Shodan three months ago but made the mistake of driving up to Kendall from Nottingham which is a four hour drive.  It was also a busy grading and our section didn't start until 4:30pm.  By then my body had locked up with pain and a lot of moves were difficult.  I passed the Kihon (basics) and Kumite (sparring).  I have to retake the Kata element of the grading though.

(left) Sensei Andy Sherry, me and (right) Sensei Frank Brenan at Chesterfield

I'll be trying again soon ... on the 23rd September 2012.  I just have to pass the Kata element.  If I pass the grading exam, I can start learning more on a different level.

In my opinion the mental and physical discipline of the dojo, combined with memory work entailed in learning new techniques, combinations and Kata can help you to cope with a mental health condition.  Why not log onto the Karate Union of Great Britain's website and find a dojo (training hall) near you.

Villayat 'Wolf' Sunkmanitu

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Another Brick in the Wall ...

Working on a project can solidify your defenses because your attention is being diverted from your day-to-day struggle with your disability or difficulties.  The important thing is to monitor yourself closely and ensure that you don't over stretch yourself in terms of your energy and health.

We never know what path we're going to find ourselves on in the future.  I remember writing something to the effect that 'I'm just tucking in my elbows and knees in and flowing with the rapids'.  I had been retired on ill health in 2006 and had disappeared to photograph Polar Bears in Canada and as I watched two males sparring on the frozen tundra, I remembered how I felt ... ALIVE!

Society has expectatitons of us to be people that always plan our careers and strive for excellence ... and I agree with being motivated ... but sometimes we need to be still within ourselves and let ourselves go with the flow.  We can make our own plans and live our lives a certain way but the Universe seems to have a way of bringing us to where it wants us to be.

I was having accupuncture for my physical pain earlier today and I always meditate on such matters during the silence of the treatment.  I looked at how I enjoyed photography as a youth; my photos of friends and family were always good!  There were very few photos of me smiling though ... the fake smiles hid the reality of a difficult childhood.

I remember enjoying photography in my off duty hours while I served in the Royal Air Force.  I remember stopping my photography after a little time in Northern Ireland as my emotions were confined to a box and buried deeper than Blackbeard's cod piece ... and I remember the days when the flame reignited my passion for the art in Cornwall.  I suppose it was inevitable when you look at the beauty of the land and the Ocean down there.

Photography became my secondary occupation while I worked for the NHS in Cornwall but now it's a part of the project that keeps me active, involved and sane.

Then came the poetry: an outlet for emotions, good and bad.  Written in a simple way by a simple soul to be accessible for anyone without pomp or me disappearing up my own @rse over it.  I still remember how vulnerable I felt over the release of the first book 'Words of a Wolf - Poetry of a Veteran'.  I was so stressed out  because I'd opened up my soul and out it under a microscope.  Why?  Pure anger.  I was so angered at the way that Social Services and the NHS in Nottingham had treated me when I moved into the area after leaving Cornwall.  The anger was balanced out with some romantic poetry, as well as some memories of my service in RAF - but guess what the main reason was for writing the book?  To raise awareness of how a Veteran that has PTSD feels about life, about his treatment at the hands of the system and the injustice of it all ... and in raising awareness there lies the hope that maybe Joe Bloggs coming back from Afghanistan or some other conflict won't be treated as badly as me.

My second book 'The Way of the Wolf  - Poetry of a Veteran' continues the story and touches on the racism experienced while serving in the RAF Police and then the Metropolitan Police.  It also explores lighter and happier moments ... but I don't feel as vulnerable as I did after releasing the first title.

One point I'd like to make here though is this:  While we focus on people coming back from current conflicts, there are still many Veterans from WW2 onwards that still haven't received any help from the system ... that face their internal battles every day ... alone.

While working in the Citizen's Advice Bureaux Service for ten years I delivered training over a range of subjects.  I took this skill forward to the NHS.  I am now working on delivering workshops to raise awareness of PTSD and to demostrate certain coping mechanisms.

The project I now work on is simple and has three aims:

  • To demonstrate the use of creative therapies as a coping mechanism for PTSD.
  • To educate disabled artists about their Intellectual Property rights.
  • To raise awareness of the condition, PTSD, so that people can recognise the symptoms and see appropriate help.
So here I am, pulling it all together ... all my expereinces, all of my skills and managing my disabilities achieve my objectives.

I designed new business cards and postcards last week and they arrived by courier today.   The project feels like it has begun now.

You can read about the forthcoming exhibition by clicking here.

I fund my work through selling my books and photographic art.  If you'd like to help me ... buy something from www.wolf-photography.com and please submit reviews and testimonails.  They all help.

Have a lovely Wednesday eveing.


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