Stabbed in the stomach, beaten and left for dead by attackers on New Year’s Eve 1998, 48-year-old Francis Lawler has struggled with anxiety and fear of the dark ever since.
I’m originally from County Durham where I grew up in foster care with my twin brother Patrick. I moved to Cambridge when I was 18, and it was there I was attacked as I walked back from the pub in the early hours of 1999. It led to major surgery and a long stay in hospital – I was very lucky to survive.
I’ve recovered well on the physical side and today I work as a support worker in a day centre caring for people with learning disabilities. But the attack left me scarred mentally. For 18 years I’ve been scared of walking in the dark and being in quiet places on my own. It meant I wouldn’t go out much in winter, and if I did, it was always in company. I was overweight, fearful and down.
I started my #walk1000miles challenge on January the 1st 2017 after seeing the magazine because I was determined to finally face these anxieties head on. I knew it really would be a challenge not only because I’d have to balance working life, children and also supporting a disabled wife at home, but I’d have to walk on my own in the dusk and the dark.
At first my family wondered what on Earth I was thinking. But as time went by they got used to me saying “I’m off out for a walk” – and I found I was getting happier and more determined every time I came back. It was just so satisfying making progress. By the end everyone was willing me to succeed – it felt like a team effort and we felt stronger and more loving.
Pretty soon I was walking distances I never thought I would ever do, and seeing places I never would have seen. I was losing weight, seeing beautiful things, nature and animals, and I was meeting fellow walkers too – in the real world and in the wonderful #walk1000miles Facebook group. Every day it pushed me to get out of the house and even when I could feel my fears rising, overcoming them made me more and more positive.
I reached my thousand in November a fitter, lighter, happier, calmer, more fearless person – more grateful for what I have in life.
I walk in the dark often now. I love walking alongside the river and through wild woods with lots of flowers. I love seeing new places and listening to the birds – or my favourite albums. My next walking goal is to walk the Peddars Way and the Norfolk coastal path of 97 miles in
2018 – and to complete the #walk1000 miles challenge again. I’m looking to better myself in life now the challenge has made me realise there are big things to work towards which I can accomplish.
Staying strong in body and mind can help you deal with so much. The challenge has helped me develop both. I’ve been tired at times. I’ve felt scared at times. But to push on through and get to the other side feeling stronger is just an incredible feeling.