I was recently asked by someone if I could write a little about my experience with PTSD so far so they could gain a better understanding of what the condition is, and how it affects me and by extension the people around me. It’s something I’ve briefly touched on, by saying on a few occasions that I don’t have a good grasp on managing the condition whatsoever as well as mentioning experiencing flashbacks and nightmares. I suppose it is worthwhile to say that it’s still quite a new experience for me, and I maybe don’t have the best way of describing it but I’ll certainly try my best to explain it from my point of view.
I was diagnosed with PTSD at the beginning of February 2017 on the recommendation of my Therapist at the time to my GP due to my behaviour. As far as I’m aware, I was under an initial period of “Watchful Waiting” for around 4 weeks to see whether my behaviour improved or changed before I could get an official diagnosis. I wasn’t very accepting of it at first, with the thought of how could I have PTSD? To me, it was something that ex-service people got from the things they’ve been through. I was still very much in the mindset of I was deserving of what had happened, so why should I be traumatised by it? I think the frame of mind I was in at that time contributed largely to not finding CBT helpful in the slightest.
Something that people ask regularly is how having PTSD affects me; What is it actually like? Honestly – saying that it’s horrible does it no justice. I don’t think there’s words strong enough to describe it. It’s like reliving the event all over again, which is a concept that you can’t really grasp unless you’ve gone through that in the first place. When I’m triggered by something I go into “flashbacks”, which can either be a memory so vivid that it feels like it’s happening again, or I just go through the emotions I had at the time. Either way, it’s a frightening thing to experience. These flashbacks don’t just force me to relive the memory, but there is also an added sensory aspect to it: I feel physical pain, I can smell and hear it all over again and I can feel the sensation of being touched. To have this added onto already seeing it again is very distressing, and very exhausting. This happens both during waking hours, and while I’m asleep and after waking from a nightmare I tend to be very confused as to whether it was just a dream or whether it has happened again. I don’t always relive the full event, sometimes it can just be certain points but not knowing how much detail I’m about to experience is worse somehow. Strangely, I wish it was the full event each time for the sake of consistency if nothing else.
So, all that being said: what causes it? For me, I’m now very easily startled which people in my life have become very mindful of. I don’t have the best concentration, and I’ll often find myself sort of spacing out and daydreaming a lot. Not always thinking about this, but just in general, so if something abruptly brings me back into the present I can sometimes be triggered. I suppose it’s like a shock to the system, and I automatically just go back into that state of mind. It’s a difficult one, and it’s quite tiring to always feel like I need to keep myself present and keep a certain level of defense up when my mind’s automatic tendency is to wander. I’ve also found that unwanted physical contact will bring it on, depending on what type of contact that is. For example, someone accidentally touching me quite lightly can make me feel very panicked and uptight which tends to spur on an emotional and sensory response (reliving fear, pain etc) whereas for instance, if someone were to bump into me or be quite forceful with me (unintentionally or otherwise) it sends me into a full blown meltdown. I will point out as well that this obviously has a knock on effect on the other issues I’m dealing with at present such as OCD and Anxiety/Agoraphobia, and it does mostly seem to be with any male contact for obvious reasons. That in itself is difficult, because it makes me want to avoid human contact altogether which is by no means a healthy way to live. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am moving forward with these other issues which I’m really pleased about but whenever I am triggered by something it feels like a huge step backwards and knocks my confidence a lot.
There’s other things that trigger negative responses from me that tend to be more behavioural. This can be reading/seeing things in the news, and I’ve recently been watching the latest series of Broadchurch as a means of my own behavioural experiment. For the benefit of those outwith the UK, it’s a crime drama that is quite realistically dealing with a rape case. I tend to find myself dealing with a lot of irritability and anger in relation to these things, which I don’t seem to be able to tone down, and unfortunately take this out on those closest to me.
As I’ve previously mentioned, I’d been receiving specialist therapy that was organised through the Police. Initially this was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which I’d already been familiar with from dealing with my other problems, but really didn’t find it any help for this. My treatment was extended and I began EMDR which I was initially very sceptical of this line of treatment due to how it’s carried out but the sessions that I did have I’ve strangely found very helpful. I’m not really sure of just how to explain in what way it’s been helpful, but I certainly felt less of an emotional connection to the event when discussing it. However, as I’m now in the position of looking elsewhere for treatment the intrusive nature of the emotional responses has come back and I feel like I’m back at square one.
I have been in contact with a few individuals who have experience of PTSD, and I’m quite lucky in that one of the people I live with has a family member who has it and they have been very understanding and helpful. I’m trying my best to carry out self-help methods until I have something more concrete in place, but I’m not really doing very well which can be a very deflating feeling. Mindfulness is something that is suggested, but I just don’t seem to have the patience to be able to do that and I end up getting myself worked up and upset. I find it quite a difficult thing to actually describe and talk to friends and family about as I don’t fully understand it myself – I often feel very insular and trapped inside myself about it without having any real means of knowing how to express my thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. It’s quite a lonely thing to not know what’s happening to you from one minute to the next and from one day to the next.
I say it a lot to them, but it never feels enough about how thankful and grateful I am to my friends who are always looking out for me and trying to communicate with me in a way that doesn’t cause me distress. Their gentle and thoughtful approach is so genuinely appreciated that I often feel guilty for the way I am and how I react to things sometimes. There’s nothing I wish for more than to be able to deal with this awful disorder better, and for myself to be better purely for the sake of those in my life. It’s often said that I don’t put my own needs first, and I agree that this is true. I always find comfort in putting others before myself and I don’t think that’s a bad thing if it’s what makes me happy. If I can’t do it for myself, I want to get a better grasp on this for them. It’s the very least I can do all things considered.