I have a lot of mental health problems, but PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is possibly the scariest. Not too long ago, it was thought that PTSD was something exclusive to soldiers that have seen war. In more recent times, that thinking has changed. We now know that any traumatic event can trigger PTSD. In my case, it was a culmination of rape and 7 years of abuse. It can be the result of a huge range of circumstances, such as a car accident, loosing a loved one, being burgled etc.
What makes PTSD so bad? One of the main symptoms of PTSD is having flashbacks. For most people, the memory of past events is enough to bring a huge emotional reaction. Flashbacks are different in that they are not like normal memories. They take you right back to the event/s like it where happening all over again. And you have no control over them. Sometimes a smell or a sound might trigger an attack, often nothing seems to be the trigger. For me, I am worst at night. There has even been an occasion where I was screaming so loudly in my sleep a neighbour phoned the police thinking I was being murdered.
Because of this, you have no chance to move on. There is no opportunity to try and forget, and the pain doesn’t fade given time, as each flash back is like it happening all over again, leaving the memory raw and exposed. Imagine you were injured badly enough that you had an exposed nerve. In ‘normal’ people, the wound would eventually scab and heal, and whilst the wound site will never look perfect again, you are able to function normally. With PTSD, the nerve remains exposed, and you can try and protecting with dressings and bandages, but there are times when you accidentally knock it causing extreme pain.
Another part of PTSD is anxiety. It is a worry deep in the pit of your stomach that the same things are going to happen again. For me, I do not cope at all with crowds. And when I say crowds, I can mean as few as 4 people if there is a lot going on. This makes trips to the shops almost unbearable. I do most of my shopping on-line so I can avoid crowds, but there are times (such as the doctors surgery) where crowds are unavoidable. Thankfully I am on medication that helps with anxiety, and when it is a familiar setting I am usually ok. I still need support when going to new places though, and unfortunately for my dad, he is often the one stuck with driving me to appointments.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for PTSD. There is no tablet that will erase the symptoms. There are therapies that have high success rates such as Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, both aimed at re-teaching how to think differently and giving tools to cope with everyday situations.
But even going to therapy is not a quick fix. I have been in intensive therapy sessions at the Priory, I have been through extensive counselling, psychotherapy, CBT, DBT, mindfulness and even hospitalisations, and I still suffer with flashbacks, and I have yet to learn how to cope properly with life. The important thing for me is to not give up. I know these therapies work for a lot of people, so I refuse to let the set backs dictate my life. And I hope if you or a loved one are going through the same thing, you wont give up either.
PTSD should never be taken lightly, nor should you try to rationalise the ‘side effects’ of the disorder. If your or a loved one is going through this, be prepared to accept this is something that you cannot fix, and the sufferer needs professional help. As hard as it is to accept, there can be life after PTSD.
I will let you know when I get there, and I will share my ups and downs. Not for sympathy or because I want attention, but because I know how hard things can be, and how easy it can be to give up. The end result of me repeatedly giving up is cirrhosis of the liver… a side effect of around a decade of self harm. And of course, when I do succeed (and I WILL succeed) I hope it gives hope to the rest of you out there.