The Unknown is advertised as “an unrelenting series of mental and physical challenges [that will] test your willpower more than you had thought possible”. It’s held over 36 hours and up until two weeks before the event participants don’t even know where it’s going to be held.
Previous years have seen monumental sign-ups finish their journey before the 36th hour, totally spent, freezing cold and mentally drained. So why in God’s good name would I want to sign up for this event? I’m teeny tiny, I nearly get hypothermic getting out of bed in the mornings and I have PTSD. So why, why oh why oh why would I want to do this?
Well, it’s quite simple really: before you read that penultimate sentence many of you probably didn’t know I had PTSD, most of you had no clue at all before The Unknown and even now none of you knows exactly why.
A big reason people weren’t sure how long I’d last at The Unknown is because of how I am as a person; I’m excitable, I’m bubbly, I’m a kid in a small adult’s body that wears kid’s clothes, I’m loud, I’m relentlessly hopeful and I want to touch every single animal I see (it actually became a goal of mine that I touch a cow on The Unknown weekend…staff wouldn’t let me). And I suspect it came as quite a big surprise to a lot of people when the silence of the torture barn was made loud by me sobbing through flashbacks.
I struggle on a day-to-day basis with my head; I have horrific dreams, I have the self-esteem of a cow shit and I am scared of pretty much everything. I remember things I want to forget and I remember them so clearly that it’s as though it’s happening all over again. But you wouldn’t know that.
And THAT is why I did The Unknown.
Because I wanted to show people what you can be on a day-to-day basis when you find your people and you don’t let your past or your label define who you are. I wanted to show people that you can be bubbly and excited about things, I wanted to show people that despite the fact that things suck massive hairy balls sometimes, you can find wonder in the world in the same way a child can. But more importantly, I wanted to show people that you can be brave.
Every single day I get scared of one thing or another and I tend to have a real blip* about once a fortnight – if I’m lucky once a month. But most of the time it’s illogical, I’ll be triggered by the time of the month or sometimes literally nothing at all and because of this I can talk myself round before it really escalates into anything major or – if it’s a bad dream – they’re rarely so bad that I can’t think “it’s okay you plonker, you’ve been here before and you got through it”! To put it into perspective…on a day-to-day basis when I get scared, at best it’s like having arachnophobia but only seeing a money spider and at worst - on the odd occasion – it’s like seeing an obese money spider. In other words, a decade on and I have a pretty good handle on my daily head.
HOWEVER…The Unknown is not day-to-day life (at least I hope it isn’t) and so I knew that I was going to have to be super duper brave. I knew that if ever there was going to be a trigger for my delightfully bruised brain, The Unknown was going to be it and the safety catch wouldn’t be on! If we’re going back to the spider analogy, The Unknown was always going to be like having arachnophobia and coming face to face with Aragog from Harry Potter.
Before I say anything else let me highlight something very very important: I hate being scared. My body tenses up, I struggle to breathe, sometimes I vomit, I always cry and I look like an utter plonk…but I LOVE being brave. And so that is why knowing that The Unknown was going to be the scariest thing I’ve been through since the scariest things I went through; I had to sign up to be a 2017 number!
And boy oh boy was it scary. I was so close to vomiting while I had my sandbag over my head and pooping my pants that the fact that I didn’t is now one of my proudest achievements to date! I have never ever struggled – sober – in the way that I struggled in that torture barn; I saw things, I smelt things and I felt things that weren’t there and spent the entire time looking like I was having some sort of fit as I tried to whack the senses away, without taking my hands out of the clasped position behind my back (there was no way I was letting my thumbs un-interlock!).
But I did it.
I didn’t make it to the end of the 36 but that’s just because pop tarts aren’t actually that nutritionally good for you.
I made it 29 hours.
I made it through the horrific flashbacks and I made it through the searing pain of being mentally and physically put through hell.
I was brave and I did it.
Because I was surrounded by my people. I was surrounded by people who pushed me, pulled me and supported me through my journey of being brave.
But most importantly, I did it because I could!
I did this to show myself and others that no matter how scary life can be; you can always be braver! I didn’t sign up to The Unknown to prove anyone wrong (although it was jolly nice to have done that), I signed up to beat some demons and to show other people that they can too. As Ruth Gordon said; “courage is like a muscle, it gets strengthened by use.” So get out there…push yourself to the limit….get scared so you can be brave because you are so much more than your past and you are way-way more than any label!