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PTSD & Me

Wednesday, 15 March 2017
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I'm Amanda, I'm 22, and since the 13th of March 2014, I have been a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by being physically assaulted.

This is a post I've wanted to write for a while, but not known how. I didn't want to go into a story of 'he said, she said', nor did I want to glorify the person who did this to me and give them the satisfaction of knowing they have left a very deep scar on my mental health and emotional well-being. I was not ready to talk about this matter, full stop.

I could sit and tell you the whole messy and absurd story, but it still makes me feel undiluted disgust to think about and as I said, this isn't about glorifying this person, and this isn't about me asking for pity because I am the victim. I am the victim, I am a victim, and that doesn't make me any less of a person, or any weaker than anybody else who played a part in this story - and that's something I found hard to grasp for a very long time.

This post is about the symptoms, and this post is about the aftermath: what signs to look out for; what to expect from being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder; how to look after yourself after the event; and what to do if you know someone going through it. Please bear in mind that this is my experience with PTSD, after being assaulted by a man with a weapon, and as such a lot of thoughts, feelings and the things I feel I needed may not apply to everyone and anyone, but I hope that this may serve as some use to somebody out there who needs help or is trying to help a loved one - please remember that you're not alone, and that speaking to a professional is one of the most helpful things you could ever do for yourself and for those around you.

I'm going to try and sort this into a cohesive order, but bear with me - I have a lot to say.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is something that I feel is very overlooked in the discussion of mental health. Whilst I encourage any and all conversation that seeks to end the stigmas associated with mental illnesses, I wish that I was more open with my own experiences in PTSD specifically as it's one that I don't feel is covered as often as other illnesses - that said, it's no easy feat to be open about any mental health issue. 

PTSD is commonly associated with soldiers returning from war, but can result from any traumatic event such as a car crash, natural disaster, or, like me, an assault. The main issue that arises from PTSD is reliving the event over and over again. I did not go and seek professional help for the first six months or so after I was attacked, and thought that the nightmares and fear I felt were common - and yes, yes they absolutely are, but I didn't take this as a sign that I needed help and instead saw it as something that would just pass on its own, which it probably wouldn't have. When the nightmares; the fear of leaving my house; of going near where it happened; of seeing this person began to interfere with work and my day-to-day life, my work place and parents knew it was time for me to seek professional help.

THINGS TO EXPECT

There are many, many symptoms of PTSD, and I'm sure you'll be able to tell yourself that when these things start interfering with everyday life that you desperately need help if you haven't already gotten it. I highly encourage going to seek help and a diagnosis after the event as soon as possible, but if, like me, you hate the idea of not being able to fix a situation yourself, then I fully understand that this is easier said than done.

Below I've listed many common symptoms. Even if you suffer just a few of these issues, you may still have PTSD and it's worth asking a professional.
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Hyper-arousal (heightened anxiety and often feeling on edge - constantly on the look out for threats, wary, and often startled)
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • Sleeping problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Emotional numbing
  • Irritability
  • Physical sensations - examples include: sweaty palms or racing heart when thinking about or remembering the event, or smells and sounds that were occurring when the event happened
These symptoms can also lead you to depression or anxiety as a by-product of your PTSD. I still continue to suffer from anxiety as a result of my PTSD. Please remember that some symptoms can remain for a long time. Whilst I wouldn't say no to further counselling in general - not specifically for PTSD - and I know that I'm not fixed, I'm in a much better place than I was even a year ago, but I still badly feel fear; suffer hyperarousal when I'm out on my own; I cry and shake upon seeing this person that attacked me even if they don't see me. 

Please do not blame yourself or wonder if you could have done things differently, either, as this is such an unhealthy mindset to have. I'm sure a professional will tell you that you just have to accept the event, and accept how things have turned out. You cannot change the past.

THE AFTERMATH

Taking the time to look after you in the aftermath is one of the most important things you could possibly do for yourself, and something I'm ashamed to say I didn't do for the first six months or after the assault. I went back to work after three months thinking I was fine, it was just a thing that happened and I wasn't afraid to talk about it, so it must mean that I'm OK, right? Wrong, very wrong. I was very up front to my colleagues about what had happened (they knew the person that had attacked me as he had been a former colleague there) but I did not confront myself with what had happened. I questioned often why it had played out the way it had - I didn't wonder if I should have done things differently, but I wondered why his friends had let things unfold as they had, knowing full and well what he was capable of. I, on the other hand, was blind to his true nature, too wrapped up in my self, the potential lover I had in one of these said friends, and wrapped up in my own self-loathing and unhappiness. Even now I wonder how his friends could possibly still stick by his side. To attack another human, and out of jealousy of all things, is an appalling act in my eyes, and something that should be punished with much more than a slap on the wrist and a 'don't do it again' warning. My counsellor told me I will probably never know the hows and whys - and that's just how it is. And she's right. I will never know - never. I hate it, but I won't understand these things and I have to accept this as it is.

Looking after yourself is much easier said than done. If you have a lot of bills to pay, especially things like rent or mortgage, you can't just forget about work, and it's no easy feat trying to get a counsellor to see you, either. Please don't let these things discourage you, however. If you let it fester, I promise you, whether you've been diagnosed or not, your illness will catch up with you, and it will implode. 

The first, crucial step is to get yourself a good doctor. One who will listen, be sympathetic, and get you what you need. I went to the doctors during the first week following the assault to get a sick line for work, and the man that I saw told me to get some rest and a good sleep for a week and then said I should be good after that. I told him I was beaten, told him I was bruised, and that was his response. I suppose what he probably thought but didn't say was that I should consider myself lucky I wasn't bleeding from the incident, and in some ways, I was lucky - someone who was present at the time took knives off of this person who attacked me. My mother was furious when I came out of the doctor's office and told her this, and got me another appointment the following week with a female doctor who I still see to this day. She immediately gave me a sick line for a month and told me to check in with her every four weeks, and then asked if I was looking for counselling, to which I said no because I didn't want to go at the time, and certainly didn't think I needed it.

Secondly, if symptoms persist, like the ones I listed above or those listed on the NHS website, then please don't delay in getting diagnosed. It took me several long, ugly melt-downs in work before my manager sat me down and told me I needed help. I was diagnosed over the phone by a counselling service my work provided, although it was not them that I ultimately saw as they deemed their course too short-term for my longer-term issues. I took my diagnosis back to my doctor and she managed to speed up the process for me - I wasn't put on a long waiting list, but managed to get time with a counsellor just up the road from me, whom I saw for three months on a weekly basis. 

Not only is getting a diagnosis important, but so is counselling itself. If you're offered the opportunity by your doctor or work place, please do take it. You may think you don't need it, but it will do you a lot of good. Just having someone unbiased to talk to does wonders, and they'll help you to unravel your feelings and thoughts. They'll also guide you through understanding your symptoms and what you can do to counteract them. I honestly hated going at first - I was completely on the defensive. These people were just outsiders, and they wouldn't understand what it was like. They wouldn't understand how I worked, what I'd been through. They wouldn't understand the absurdity of the situation and would probably secretly think I'd somehow deserved it (even though anyone with half a brain could see I didn't). I actually sort of enjoyed going in a way once I was settled - I was treated by a lovely girl who was doing her doctorate and who'd counselled PTSD victims before, and she was happy to ask me about things like tattoos and music to ease me into sessions, and she also was very supportive and appalled by everything that had happened. She was 100% on my side and reassured me that I'd done absolutely nothing wrong, and that yes, I was the victim, but that wasn't a bad word. 

And on that note, do not downplay your real feelings. Counselling is only any good if you're going to be completely honest with your counsellor. Trust me, you'll feel the weight lifted once you open up. 

Understand that you are the victim. It doesn't matter about circumstances, and please don't fret about what you should have done differently, or what you could have said 'instead'. You can't change what's happened, all you can do is accept it, cope with it, and learn to move on. If it takes you a year or five, there is no set time as far as I'm concerned. When I first started going to counselling, I made it clear that I was not comfortable being the victim. I didn't want to sound like him - manipulative and constantly asking for pity - and I would always describe him as he is - large, overweight, 6ft - and my counsellor asked me why. She told me I did not have to justify my fear or justify why I became a victim of PTSD, because what had happened - regardless of who I was or what he looked like or weighed - was wrong. I did not choose to have PTSD or have this assault happen to me. Regardless of everything, there was one bottom line: I had every right to react and feel the way I did.

If you can, take time off work because it's far, far too stressful to be there and cope with mental illnesses. Always remember to ask for help when you need it. Always encourage self-care - treat yourself well, and tell yourself that you are wonderful and you didn't deserve what happened. Nobody does. Do little things for yourself that you'll be glad of later: avoid things like alcohol (I get very abusive of alcohol when I'm in a low place); try to get at least eight hours of sleep; eat well but remember that there's nothing wrong with a bit of chocolate when you feel like it; practice breathing exercises; get yourself out of the house when you can, even if it's just for a walk around the block so that you get some fresh air. Please also remember to take advantage of your support system. It's very hard not to fold in on yourself and hibernate, pretending the outside world doesn't exist. I have done this often, especially as I'm someone who enjoys lots of time alone on a good day, but continuing to see friends and being up front with family that you're not OK is better in the long run. Friends and family can help you get on with life, giving you a routine that'll help you settle back into 'normalcy'. They may not understand, but they'll want you to get better and I'm sure will be happy to offer support where they can, even if it's just chumming you to do the weekly shop so you're not out alone. It's very hard to do any kind of recovery without support, so bear in mind that it's OK to lean on people when you need to. You are never alone either. Doctors, counsellors, friends, family - they are all systems of support. Even your work place should be, although I don't have great faith in how work places cope with staff who suffer mental health issues, and if all else fails, there are people you can phone. Mind, Samaritans and SupportLine are just a few of the UK helplines out there - and you can find more here. A quick Google search will give you dozens of helplines.

Remember, you may never understand it, and that's OK. I will never understand how this person could possibly still have friends after assaulting someone, and after harassing and verbally abusing them for weeks, but it's out of my control. I will never know and focusing on this doesn't do me any good. I know I'm labouring this point a lot, but it's something that I couldn't get out of my head for years. Even now I don't understand it - I just try not to dwell on it. The biggest punch in the gut for me was having the man, who I referred to in this post and this post, as the one who couldn't make up his mind, not be there when I needed him, and blatantly choosing his 'pal' over me, regardless of what his pal had done to me. It sounds pathetic to my ears to say, but it's true, it hurt - more than I expected. Again, it doesn't do to dwell on these things, and I could at least take this to my counselling sessions too and get help with it.

Perhaps one of the most important things you could do for yourself as far as PTSD - or any mental illness - is concerned, is to take all the time you need. It is so, so important that you don't rush back to 'normalcy'. I encourage taking baby steps to get there, and I think it's worth getting your friends and family to help you into a routine if you can, but it's not easy to return to 'normal' life. It took me eighteen months before things started to feel 'normal', and even then, my PTSD and anxiety gave me a lot of trouble just last year with employment. As a result of these illneses, though, I did feel that I grew closer to friends and family as I depended on them more than before, as I spent most of my most depressed days isolating myself. I also met Jack in 2015, which is probably when things started to feel better - I let go of he who couldn't make up his mind and was looking at returning to work as I'd finished counselling - so yes, many things were on the 'up' for me. But even things as mundane as my sleep pattern were a lot harder to return to 'normal'.

Even now, whilst my life, three years on, is pretty 'normal', I still have days where I think about it, or wonder those awful questions of 'how and why'. I still cry, shake, feel like vomiting and generally melt down upon seeing this person again (I think partly it's because I'm always alone when it happens). I harbour a lot of fear nowadays, particularly where men are concerned: whether it's my colleagues being too pushy about asking me for drinks, or a stranger is standing too close to me, I begin to feel like folding in on myself and hiding away, thinking just leave me alone. I've never been one for physical contact, but I can't stand it even more now, to the point that it makes me feel sick and my body becomes rigid when anyone outside of a select handful of people does anything, even if it's just a pat on the shoulder, I can't stand it. If I'm out and about myself, particularly at night or when it's dark, I become very anxious and aware of my surroundings, and often find myself looking over my shoulder repeatedly. I flinch when someone makes a sudden movement towards me, something I never really used to do instinctively. I was very bitter and angry for the longest time, and this only lessened after I'd completed counselling.

I don't think I will ever be fixed. Just like depression and anxiety, my PTSD will be lingering for a very long time, if not forever. And just like depression, elements of this sickness also have become a part of me, but I accept that. I can at least say with confidence that while it may never go away, it does get better.

The fact that it's taken me three years before I've been able to talk about it speaks volumes in itself. I know I've mentioned on Twitter the mental illnesses that I suffer, but actually opening up about them, I find that very hard, even with my best friends and Jack. In person, after it happened, my coping mechanism (this is what my counsellor called it) was to be very 'matter of fact' about everything that had happened, but over the internet it's difficult to not feel exposed by speaking out about these things. I also hate the pity that comes hand-in-hand with admitting to being a victim of something. I know it doesn't define me, but at the same time, I wish to accept it as a factual term because I was the victim, that's just how it is, and I don't know why that continues to gives me such a complex. 

IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE WITH PTSD

If you know someone with PTSD, please do not try to push them into talking. Like any mental illness, this can sometimes be more harmful than helpful, and you will just have to accept that they will come to you when they are ready. Let them know you're there by keeping in contact and perhaps ask them if they want to have day spent together - even if it's just a movie marathon on a rainy day, the contact is reassuring, and it's always good to know friends and family aren't giving up. Encourage them to do 'normal' day-to-day activities, but don't pressure them.

Do your research on PTSD - if you're concerned about someone going without diagnosis or even if you just want to seek advice, speak to a doctor and read up as much as you can. Try to be patient with them - there is no quick fix for any mental illness. There are things that may trigger them (sounds, scents, places), and be aware that these will take a long time to overcome. Reassure them that they are not alone and that you are there for them, and please don't leave them to struggle and grapple with their fears and triggers alone. On that note, please also don't tell them what they should or shouldn't do, and how they should or shouldn't handle things, either. Please please please never tell them they "could have it worse". 

I also recommend keeping up your own mood - I know it may take a lot of energy, but when I was going through the worst of PTSD in the aftermath, I didn't want to be around people in grumpy moods, or even people who were feeling as miserable as I was. It's harsh and it may appear a selfish move, but at the time I needed to be surrounded by support and positivity, and I think other PTSD victims would benefit more from this environment than a sad or angry one. As you will experience, your loved one will probably go through a total whirlwind of emotions, and that's to be expected. If you find yourself getting dragged along with it, just accept this, and even if you in any way have some negative emotions about them, remember that you're human and it happens. Don't act on it, preferably, but accept that these things can't be helped. A negative thought doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean you don't care. If they are taking their mood out on you - don't take it personally, they are human also. 

Take care of yourself. Don't forget to look after you too - you may not be suffering the PTSD directly, but it's exhausting looking after somebody else who is going through trauma. Just like those suffering the trauma should, make sure you also get plenty of sleep; regular exercise; and make sure you too have a support system. It's also important to keep your own friends and interests outside of your loved one, and remember it's not your job to take responsibility for this person and we all have limits. Support them, but please don't drive yourself into the ground trying to do so!

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I think I'll call that a wrap on this post. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below. I am by no means an expert on any mental health topic, and can only share my advice that's based on my own personal experiences. If you are concerned for yourself or somebody else, then please consult a professional - and if need be, consult multiple.

I don't know what I want people to take from this post - like any mental health discussion, it is to end stigma. I feel that due to how often PTSD is associated with soldiers, people think anything less than war shouldn't lead to such an extreme result. I hope if you are suffering, or know someone who is, that this post comes in helpful to you in some way. Otherwise, I hope it gives you an insight into the struggle of living a day-to-day life with PTSD. Constantly being gripped by fear, anxiety and paranoia isn't the way anyone should have to live their life, but unfortunately it's just par the course for many mental illnesses, and PTSD in particular.

If you read this entire post - thank you for reading. I hope you understand and appreciate how hard a post this was to write and share with you all, but it's something I'm proud of, and it's my goal this year to share more mental health posts and stories with you here on my corner of the internet. If you liked this post, please feel free to share it too - let's talk about post-traumatic stress disorder.

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