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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Images of 7 July: Walking wounded
Michael Henning leaving hospital on 7 July

The first anniversary of the bombings will be the "longest day" of the year, says Aldgate survivor Michael Henning.

Police said the 40-year-old was 6ft from Shehzad Tanweer when the bomber blew himself up on the Circle Line train that morning.

He considers himself extremely lucky to have survived the attack, which left him with multiple glass cuts to his face and head, and with an injured ankle.

Michael Henning, June 2006
Mr Henning suffered a breakdown some months after the attacks

A chance meeting with journalists when leaving the Royal London Hospital later that day put Mr Henning in the media spotlight, and his image appeared all over the newspapers and TV channels.

Although pieces of glass and metal are still embedded under his skin, he has pretty much healed. But the harrowing symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) leave him physically and mentally exhausted much of the time.

The most alarming episodes involve not only exact flashbacks of the events of 7 July, but can cause him to imagine whole new horrific scenarios of explosions, injury and death.

"My memory of the day is like a movie, it is very clear. But it's even more real than that, it's so real it sparks off all the stress responses, it's like I am seeing, feeling and smelling it as if it's happening now.

"But the problem is that I also see other explosions. For example if I'm near glass, in a bar or something, I can see explosions and lots of people injured. When I walked out of Victoria Station the other week, the first thing I did was pick out all the glass buildings and I could see them exploding.

"It's very surreal, it is in slow motion and you can see it coming towards you.

"You have to stop the panic attack by breathing deeply. The good times are when it happens but there is no distress, it's almost becoming my new normal."

They've got used to me in my local pub, I'm often seen in there with my pint and my paper and tears rolling down my face
Michael Henning

This can happen three or four times a day. With treatment from a clinical psychologist, the flashbacks are diminishing and Mr Henning is learning to cope with the other images.

But the psychologist says that in his case, the vivid memories will probably stay with him always.

At his lowest points, suicide has crossed his mind, but thoughts of his "stoic" 14-year-old daughter Rebekah have kept him from taking it further, he says.

"I couldn't do that to her."

'Alienated'

Although the coming anniversary has left him feeling low, in the last six weeks he has begun to feel like he is on the road to recovery.

The road has so far been long and painful. It began, as it so often does, with denial and avoidance. He got back on the Tube as soon as possible and tried to ignore his feelings.

After the failed bomb attacks of 21 July - the drama of which was being played out within earshot of the flat he was staying at - he felt like he was "going over the cliff of despair", he says.

A nervous breakdown followed after he returned full-time to his busy job as a Lloyd's broker in September.

He later moved to working part-time and spends half his time in Sussex and half at his home in Kensington.

Although Mr Henning was getting counselling from a trauma specialist - which he sought through his girlfriend Steph's GP - it wasn't until January that he was diagnosed with PTSD and began treatment.

He was among those walking wounded who were not assigned family liaison officers after 7 July, and to some extent drifted out of the system.

"There was help around but you had to go and get it - that's hard because part of PTSD is that you feel alienated and go into yourself."

He adds: "It was good to be diagnosed, because before that I thought I was going mad or had a brain tumour or something."

Other survivors have also been a vital source of support, says Mr Henning. The horrors they witnessed, which they can find difficult to share with others, have given them a "strong bond", he adds.

"When you hear the screams of the badly injured and dying, it connects to a very deep place within you. Part of it is that you can feel other people's pain, it's like a very heightened sense of empathy."

Snakes and ladders

Mr Henning says he was previously a "classic bloke" who bottled his feelings up.

But all that changed last summer.

"I've cried more in this last year than in my whole life. It seems to release a bit more of the pain each time. They've got used to me in my local pub, I'm often seen in there with my pint and my paper and tears rolling down my face."

While he does feel guilty for taking anything positive from the bombings, Mr Henning says he believes becoming a more emotionally open person will make the second half of this life more fulfilling.

The journey he has taken over the last year is not unlike the game snakes and ladders, he adds.

"Coming up to the anniversary, I've hit a small snake. The 7th will be my longest day, there will be so many emotions flying around.

"But I hope once I get my energy back, I can enjoy what I have learned."

Interview: Paula Dear




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