A FORMER policeman who credits wildlife photography with his ongoing recovery from PTSD has encouraged others to pick up their cameras to help them cope with post lockdown anxiety.

Mental health advocate Paul Williams, who recently appeared on BBC4's The Great British Photography Challenge, developed PTSD while working as policeman, when he was forced to defend himself and others in a sword attack.

The incident occurred in 2010 while Paul, now 61, was a serving officer with Dorset Police. When confronted by a woman wearing a long black coat, who suddenly brandished a Samurai sword and started threatening people, Paul managed to evacuate people and then disabled the woman with pepper spray.

Paul received a commendation for his bravery but began to suffer in the wake of the attack, initially enduring a panic attack before having a breakdown which led to three suicide attempts.

It’s been a long road to recovery but Paul, who now lives near Presteigne, pinpoints picking up his camera and capturing stunning images of wildlife as the turning point.

South Wales Argus: Paul Williams

“Some people are understandably nervous about coming out of lockdown. I for one have found many aspects of limited social contact have helped my PTSD, but we as a society, sooner rather than later have to reintegrate into our communities and return to our families and workspaces.

“There are many people during this last 18 months who have involuntarily become isolated, neglected and forgotten about. Reintegration is a process, a destination with a convoluted journey that resonates with much of my journey towards recovery from PTSD.

“For me it was photography that helped me regain some of that lost confidence and ameliorated feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of having to interact once again with the human race.”

With general tips and points about equipment, fieldcraft and techniques, Paul released ‘Wildlife Photography: Saving My Life One Frame at a Time’ in 2019 as part of his recovery process. The book has over 200 colour images which aligns photography with creative suggestions around mindfulness, wellbeing and holism to create a blueprint for all, especially for anyone experiencing poor mental or physical health, who want to express themselves creatively in the natural world.

South Wales Argus: Paul Williams

“Most of us own mobile phones that take images – I often use mine when I don't want to carry all of my kit but still want something to capture the world around me,” added Paul, who retired on medical grounds in 2012 and has since moved to Powys.

“Maybe a way to help us all deal with the isolation and eventual reassimilation back into mainstream life would be to use our phones or cameras to express our emotions.

“Whether those emotions are joy at being reunited with people we love or sadness and a sense of loss many people will continue to experience as others reunite, photography has the power to create a lingua franca we can all understand and appreciate.

“So. Step outside. Take pictures, especially of nature. The benefits of being outdoors are unequivocally positive, they'll lift your mood, help structure your day, get you fitter and promote a more holistic view of life than staying indoors ever will.

“Photography gives those who don't want to talk or feel they haven't got a voice a way to speak a universal language the rest of us can decipher and empathise with – so get photographing.”

Wildlife Photography: Saving My Life One Frame at a Time is available now.