Victor Harbor’s Stephanie Altus has released her book My Faded Uniform as part of her journey to rebuild herself and assist others who suffer mental illness, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in particular.
Stephanie, who has worked in an emergency service for 25 years, was struck down by PTSD for the second time 3 years ago. She realised she needed to make some changes in her life if she was to learn to manage the PTSD, and commenced a 12-month journey which will see her walk the gruelling Camino Trail from France to Spain in October.
She’ll do the walk alone over 43 days, covering a solid 800 kilometres from the French Alps across the north of Spain to Santiago , with the aim of not only healing herself, but to also raise funds for the Blackdog Institute which aims to create a mentally healthier world.
Stephanie had wanted to raise funds to specifically support PTSD sufferers, but at this point it appears no such specialised charity exists, so it’s one option she’s considering for the future, working with an organisation that support and research into PTSD.
Her interest in being involved in an emergency service began when living on a remote farm. One of her children had an accident.
“It made me realise how far we were away from help,” she said.
“It led me to learn first aid, to become a volunteer ambulance officer and ultimately to work in emergency services.
“We also had a death in the family and the emergency services were so good, and I knew I wanted to be a person who helped people in their worst moments.”
For Stephanie her two attacks of PTSD were different. One had been triggered by a single incident while the second was akin to the straw that broke the camel’s back, the cumulative effect of being exposed to trauma after trauma just took its toll.
But it was an argument she had with one of her children that made Stephanie realise she no longer wanted to be the person that PTSD created. She had become an angry, intolerant person, and she wanted to get back to being the gentle, caring person she had previously been.
“PTSD had made me an angry person. I had lost that side of myself of kindness and I felt I was better off not being around other people. I knew I needed to walk the Camino alone to tap back into my heartspace to find myself again and making a difference to others going through PTSD was an essential part of reconnecting with who I was .”
She described facing the reality of PTSD as “having big dreams and sometimes they become a nightmares”. But she added that these incidents or illnesses “don’t have to define us”.
Her healing journey has been labelled 1 Big Goal and she has been recording her steps and feelings through a blog on social media with that title.
“I had to set my own 1 Big Goal. It had to be big enough to force me to improve my fitness, my mind and to help others with PTSD. Part of the journey is the book and raising money.”
Although continuing to work in emergency services Stephanie has made several big sacrifices to embark on her journey, including selling her home and engaging the services of a personal trainer.
The Camino trail was chosen by Stephanie as it was one item she had placed on her bucket list after her children had given her three books to help with her recovery – a gratitude journal, a bucket list and a general journal.
“Each day I would write down three things I was grateful for,” she said, adding that this was a very hard exercise for her at the start, as there appeared to be nothing to be grateful for.
“I wrote down the things that I could look forward to on a bucket list.”
“And I recorded my feelings in the other.”
She went back and read these journals to help her make a decision on what her big goal would be. Mostly, she wanted to let others know that they are never alone in their journey and to encourage them to share their own stories to help with the healing.
Each day during her walk on the Camino Trail Stephanie will face 20 kilometres of trudging. Thankfully she won’t need to take along too much in the way of supplies or shelter as the trail is littered with villages, accommodation and cafes, and the Camino offers a more simple way of life. Essentially it is walk, wash, eat, sleep and repeat.
She’s aiming to raise $5000 for the Blackdog Institute from the walk and has an Everyday Hero page set up to take donations. The following is the link to the page – https://teamblackdog.everydayhero.com/au/1-big-goal-for-ptsd.
Stephanie explains that the Camino the trail has three distinct sections which equate to assisting her in her mental journey too.
“The first section is through the Alps. It’s scenic and beautiful, but because it’s steep in parts it breaks you down physically,” she said.
“The second part is across the plains. It’s flat and some people say it’s very boring, so they say it breaks your mind.”
“The third part is where you can reconnect with yourself as you become more connected to the journey and can see the end in sight.”
Stephanie hopes that on her return she may be able to further explore opportunities to help others in a similar situation through sharing her successful journey and giving others inspiration and guidance to achieve their 1 Big Goal.
Copies of My Faded Uniform are available for purchase on Amazon and Booktopia. Stephanie has a limited number herself which she is selling to raise funds to assist with the training of a PTSD patting dog. Copies are also available at Coomunga House for $15 each.