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"With time, you rebuild your life. But you never forget."

Duncan Lowman was witnessed one terrorist attack and narrowly escaped another. He shares his mental health journey and talks about his experiences of living with PTSD.

I was caught up in the 2002 bombings in Bali. I was on holiday with three friends, and we were in the bar next to the one that had blown up. It was pretty horrendous. 202 people were killed.  Back then, there wasn't much in the way of mental health awareness. I had counselling, but I wouldn't say it was treatment. Seemingly innocent situations could cause me severe distress. Seeing white vans, loud noises or crowded spaces would induce panic attacks. With time you rebuild your life, but you never forget. It was different back then. A lot has changed in that time. 

I also witnessed the London Bridge attacks in June 2017. I had been at a gig in Wembley. After the show, my friend and I were heading to Borough Market, but the queues out of the venue slowed us down. This saved us from being in the wrong place when the attacks happened, but we were very close.

For three months after the London Bridge attacks, I changed completely: I had migraines, I couldn't sleep, and when I did, I had nightmares. My head was full, and I was hypervigilant to danger. I couldn't go to events and had to cancel them last minute. One day, my wife went to work, and she came home to me, rocking from anxiety. She insisted I went to the GP. I told her what had happened to me, and she diagnosed me with PTSD. I had never received that diagnosis before.  

I started a treatment called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), a relatively new form of psychotherapy designed to help people heal from PTSD. I had to revisit the traumatic events in my mind and then come back to the present. I went to regular sessions for 18 months. It was quite interesting, but it was tough. Quite brutal, to be honest. Survivor's guilt was a strong feeling I needed to deal with; the belief that 'I could have done more'. Forgotten memories came back like pieces in a jigsaw. For example, I thought I had lost my friend at some point. 

The treatment helped to some degree, but I still have to do a lot of work to look after my mental health. I am on medication, and I take part in activities to help my wellbeing, such as a variety of breathing exercises. I read, and I practice versions of mindfulness. However, I do find it a bit faddy. I also run. That's a massive one. 

As a male in a financial world, you worry about the stigma of talking about mental health. You become concerned about being stereotyped. In reality, people are often far from the stereotype of how you think they would perceive you; it's quite the opposite. When another London Bridge attack happened in 2019, my colleagues noticed that I went in on myself, so they asked me if I wanted to go home. I told them I didn't want to as my route home was through London Bridge. They did everything they could to help me, including speaking to my manager. I was grateful for how supportive they were. When people talk about mental health, it makes them more human. This inspired me to share my story with work and to talk publicly about mental health.

I think mental health research is essential. When we can get to the 'why', and have a better understanding of how to support people, treatment will be ten times more helpful. Research can help us all, including those with seemingly no worries in the world. That's why I'm an advocate for MQ.  

People often say that they do not want their experience to define them. I think it's the opposite –it is ok to not be ok – and the more we share, the easier it will get.  

Last updated: 15 June 2020


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