PTSD & Me
Back in September 2015, i was diagnosed with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). It’s now May 2016 and i’m only just starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
At first the diagnosis was a welcome one. I was desperate for some understanding of what was happening to me, why i was feeling the way i was and how i could look to stop it as my usual methods of self care were falling short. It had been a whole year since surviving a traumatic event and while at the time it was perplexing, i later realised the milestone was pivotal in my diagnosis of PTSD. I had spent the last year reeling from what had happened, dealing with the after effects of trauma, attending specialist counselling and therapy sessions – all the while knowing this was totally natural, circumstantial – the hurt made sense. We all know the phrase ‘time’s a healer.’ But what if that’s not the case? What if it seems to be suddenly getting way worse but in a totally different way to what you’re used to?
The core of PTSD is ambiguous. It can strike anytime, it affects everyone differently and kicking it’s ass is entirely related to the individual, the specific trauma and if you can manage to pick it apart from the rest of your brain chemistry enough to target and destroy.
Often traumatic situations leave us unable to share how we feel or we feel powerless, drowning in self doubt and constantly battling extreme feelings of guilt, confusion and disassociation. This is often how PTSD creeps in un-noticed and wedges itself deep into your psyche.
Many people share stories about PTSD as if it’s a separate evil to the original trauma or catalyst, it’s its own beast. That’s why talking about it and sharing your story is key – we all experience different trauma, we all deal with that differently but there are a lot of shared experiences of PTSD which mean the stronger we can be in recognising it, the better we’ll eventually be at overcoming it or at least learning to live with it in a much more controlled and healthy way.
For me (and many others) the year anniversary of a traumatic event acted as my catalyst. I started obsessively fixating on what i was doing / what i was like exactly a year to each day. What i had lost, the fact i was struggling and would never be happy or stable or the distance between who i was and who i am now. In a manic episode i withdrew from social media, anticipating the throwback function which would highlight where i was, who i was with, what i looked like and all the micro-information attached to the trauma itself and the surrounding days. I couldn’t focus on anything else. I was having multiple night terrors every night. I wanted to sleep alone / i couldn’t possibly sleep alone – i didn’t feel safe in my bed / the only place i felt safe was my bed. Everything was erratic and made zero sense. I would jump from extremes even in what seemed like the most non dramatic circumstances. I was aggressive, confrontational, super emotional, hypervigilant, nonchalant where i’d usually be passionate, ignorant where i’d usually be patient and supportive and worst of all – everything reminded me of what happened.
I simply could not shake this feeling of pure dread, of hatred of fear and despair. One day at work things had escalated so much i put my head on my desk and stared at my shoes for around 15 minutes (i’m told) before i stumbled up suddenly and rushed to my colleague for help. It’s difficult for me to embody that feeling and share it adequately as it almost felt ‘out of body.’ I couldn’t tie my shoes, my colleague had to do it for me and i could barely speak. I was slurring and just needed to get outside of the building and go home. Truthfully what i wanted to do is get out of my own head. I wanted to scratch all my skin off, i wanted to rip all the claustrophobic skin off my skull so it could breathe and i wanted everything to go quiet and dark so i could gather my real thoughts and dig past all the horrible black mass sitting on the surface pushing my personality further and further away.
I link that particular episode to what could be described as the ‘fallout’ from distraction. I had buried my head so much in distraction that i literally lost it. I was working a 40hr/week job and pushed myself to achieve crazy targets that i myself put in place, i took on several more roles that one person couldn’t possibly manage just to ensure i was never without thought or focus. I would maniacally clean, obsess over what ‘needed to be done’ and would feel physically panicked – tension headaches, tight chest and out of breath whenever i tried to relax and talk myself down.
I was irritated by everyone and everything.
Eventually the stress manifested into the huge brain fuzz i just described and i ended up taking a week off work. I didn’t try or want to. Every day i tried to get out of bed to get dressed and go to work but my body physically wouldn’t let me. My body came to the rescue and held my brain to ransom. I had to lay there and deal with the darkness in my brain. I had to sit and absorb it all rather than push it away for a second longer.
It was awful and i literally feel sick trying to even put myself back there in order to describe it for this post.
I needed a bandage for my wound. I needed cotton wool to soften the blow. For your mental health, this is SSRIs.
At first i felt numb and you know, it felt pretty excellent because rather that than the heavy weight of the abyss dwelling on your eyelids. However, i managed 6 months on Sertraline (Zoloft) and then felt like i was being buried alive. I guess that was my brain’s way of saying GET ME OUT OF HERE – I’M READY! It was a powerful realisation that while the bad had been bandaged up nicely, the bandages had also tied down my happy, creative, passionate, precious side too. I had lost all feeling, all excitement for life. I was a shell. The meds had to go and my body and mind was telling me in the way of a tiny scream in an expansive canyon that this was the right time, i had achieved some kind of journey marker and it was now safe to tackle this mess head on.
One video I found on YouTube by PTSD sufferers featured a girl who said ‘keep focused or die.’ The fear that grips you with PTSD keeps you in a hold cycle. You can’t get better, you don’t get worse. You can’t feel happy, you can’t feel anything. You’re an empty shell. Powerless. Broken. The only thing keeping you from the molten lava below (suicide, self harm, acting out, dangerous behaviours etc) is focusing obsessively on something and aiming to have the achievements that come from it as your way of celebrating you’re still alive, you’re still a real life person and you exist. Rather perfectly, i won the ‘Gets Things Done’ award at my work for that year. I pushed myself to constantly feel like i was achieving. Every night my jaw would ache from gritting my teeth all day. I pushed my fingernails into the beds of my other nails just to feel something until they bled. Sometimes this was subconscious, other times it was deliberate.
Coming off meds was the pits. I was physically more ill than i’d ever been so far in my life from the withdrawal. I took another week off work despite not being able to afford not being paid for a week. I had no choice at all, it was so bad. I felt dizzy even when i was stood still, even when i was laid down. My eyes flickered, my ears played tricked on me. I had brain zaps and sudden incredible headaches that made me convinced i was about to die. My head was about to properly explode. In another video I saw, an older guy explains he started healing when he realised his trauma was not his enemy, but instead his wound. He learned to approach the tension and darkness with kindness and patience other than with the anger and frustration he was feeling. This is another shared feeling i really identify with and it resonates with how i began to heal once the meds wore off. I knew coming off meds would be heinous but i knew it was temporary, i could get through this i’d gotten this far already. I knew somehow instinctively that the mist was clearing and the intensity of the PTSD was fizzling out enough for me to get in there and tackle it before it turned around again. This is where you have to grab your former self, your real self and merge once again, kicking the darkness out the picture as best you can.
I feel like Gwen Stefani nailed it when she said this shit is bananas. Nothing makes sense, you’re floating on a weird cloud and you haven’t truly been able to feel, smell, listen, concentrate or love in an authentic way since what happened. Or more likely, since the PTSD set in. You have to do some wild gaming style work on getting to your core, unlocking the level and gathering your troops for the next big battle. Getting real again.
My recovery has been slow. I’m glad to read that this is normal and i feel reassured. I’m sticking in the power seat here. I won’t let any paranoia or worry sway me. This is again why it’s important to be self reflective, have time alone with your thoughts to best interpret them and be able to be truly open / share or read PTSD stories by others.
YOU GOT THIS
It’s now been 3 months since i came off the meds and i’m slowly feeling human again. I’ve stopped with the distraction tactics as much as i can when i realise i’m doing them. I actively stepped back and requested a new member of staff to come in and specialise in the areas i was desperately clinging to and working on like a true mentalist and now i’m slowing everything down again. It’s hard for those around me, i’m forgetful, i get stressed at the slightest things and people don’t understand it so think i’m being a nightmare or busting their balls. When i catch a glimpse of it i am now healthy enough to be able to stop and clamber it back. I have manic moments / afternoons / days at a time, but less of them. I have super low moments / afternoons / days at a time but less of those too.
I realise putting pressure on myself is stupid. I’m actively talking myself out of jobs, trying to actively chill the f out and not obsess over time flashing before my eyes and wasting my life. Put the YOLO back on the shelf for a sec while i figure what the f my name is and what i’m all about again. I’m getting there. I’m feeling the feels and it feels pretty frickin awesome.
If you are or have ever experienced PTSD and would like to talk about it, please reach out. I’d love to talk to more people and see if we can help eachother. Also, if you’d like to learn more about it for yourself or to help those around you, head to Mind who are incredible. Also consider donating as they’re a charity who require funding to continue to do the amazing work they do.