Being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been a difficult process to accept. I felt like a fraud, like my trauma wasn’t as significant as others with the disorder and as such not worthy of the diagnosis, and afraid of what that diagnosis meant for me. Thankfully after referring myself to psychology services, I was treated quickly using a therapy called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and over the last few months have made significant process. I am now in the stage where I provide myself with graded exposure to things that trigger me and a process called reclaiming your life where I build my inner belief and confidence in my abilities. Part of this stage is learning to accept the diagnosis and sharing aspects through my blog is part of that. However, leading up to this point has been extremely challenging to deal with myself but also for those closest to me. So today, I thought I would share some information about what it feels like to have PTSD for me and some resources that I found useful to help me or those near me to cope.
At my worst, PTSD left me with very little idea of who I was or where I had gone. I would get angry for no clear reasons. Cry a lot. Not want to be near anyone or touched by anyone. I wanted to be alone, but at the same time I didn’t. Everywhere I turned I felt like something bad was going to happen; drive past a lorry it will crash in to us, drive over a bridge we are gunna be blown off, constant barrage of negative thoughts about catastrophic things happening. Every night I would be up till the early hours unable to sleep, constantly thinking and worrying about all manners of things. IT WAS EXHAUSTING. And it just got worse and worse. But I couldn’t talk about what was happening. I couldn’t talk about the situation that had happened. The moment my brain started to think about it, my body would have an extreme physical reaction; my chest would tighten, my heart would start thumping, my throat would constrict, I would feel physically sick, feel like I couldn’t breath. And all I could try to do was to push those memories down, trying to supress them. But the consequence of that was this constant feeling on edge. I couldn’t eat for feeling sick all the time. The only thing that made me calm a smidgen was to go for a run. So I ran. and I ran. Now at the time I’m not sure if running was a helpful coping strategy or more an enactment of my desire to run away from life. Either way it got me through the darkest times.
But how do you live with someone like that? How do you communicate with someone?
Its hard. I know that. I know I was difficult to live with, but it was definitely not intentional and each day I tried my best. I do believe that PTSD is a really difficult thing to understand when you haven’t experienced it, and also potentially when the cause is maybe something that people may struggle to understand how that could be traumatic, that can make it more challenging. Lets just take a look at that for a moment, a veteran for example after conflict and horrendous things that may have seen we can understand and empathise with how someone may struggle with those memories after. But why would a hospital admission where you were ultimately discharged safely be so traumatic. Well for my experience there was a couple key aspects;
1. I thought I was going to die. Not gunna lie, I was really sick by the time I arrived at hospital with neutropenic sepsis. I now know having worked through the memories that the A+E department responded correctly and quickly but prior to therapy my brain was locked on this perception that I would die.
2. I was torn away from my son. Sounds dramatic but I held so much guilt about the fact that I wasn’t there for my son and that feelings that I abandoned him and caused him distress. Again now having worked through it I know that I was just doing the best I could at the time. I wrote a poem around that time called I told a lie today, which shines alight onto some of the negative emotions about myself this caused.
3. I believed it was my fault. I felt like I should have done something different, reacted earlier, not left it so late, which led to significant negative emotions about myself. But again now having processed the memories I realise that I was doing the best I can;
Because everyone is different; different lives, different beliefs, different perspectives. Its not possible to state what type of events or experiences specifically will cause trauma to someone and this is something everyone can be mindful of. I’m pretty sure that if the nurses and doctors would look at my case, they would consider it a run of the mill neutropenic sepsis admission. But for me it has been most significant trauma event to date.
And here is the biggest piece of advice I can offer in supporting someone with PTSD or who is struggling with memories of something that happened:
Don’t be judgemental, don’t undermine their experience and listen when they are ready to talk.
I found this really useful guide by helpguide around helping someone with PTSD that resonated the most with me about what I wanted my other half to know so that he could understand and help me better. Here is a link; Helping someone with PTSD I wont reiterate word for word here what they say, but would encourage anyone living with someone with PTSD, or who is struggling with memories to take a read.
The process of learning to manage the PTSD was a difficult one, and personally therapy has been the only thing that has enabled me to begin to regain a sense of my former self. Managing a flashback itself is something that was beneficial, and I think I was fortunate to experience my first significant one in my counsellors office where she guided me on how to ground myself back into the current. So for me in the throws of a flashback, focusing on my breathing and grounding techniques were helpful to bring me back down, and running provided me with an opportunity to stop my brain from thinking. The charity mind offers some useful self help techniques at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/self-care-for-ptsd/#collapse15b1e which discusses these and other things that may be useful.
I hope by sharing my experience of PTSD and some of the resources that helped me and my family through the difficult times that it will offer support and help to someone else like me going through similar experience. As I move onto the next stage of my recovery, rebuilding my life and my self belief, my therapist asked me to identify my inner animal, one that symbolises to me strength. I picked the lioness; strong, powerful but nuturing. So as i move through and navigate the next stages, this is all part of my journey to empower my own inner lioness xx