Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Living With PTSD: My Experience

It's been a few years now since I was diagnosed with PTSD, a diagnosis that took me by complete surprise.

If you'd asked me 5 years ago to explain what PTSD was, I'd probably have told you it was a mental health condition that only affected people like soldiers who'd lived in war zones or victims of violent crime. People who had lived through extraordinarily challenging experiences, who'd had their lives threatened in some way or witnessed something truly tragic and life-changing. 

I think this is probably quite a common belief to hold...and it's not entirely untrue, of course people who live through those situations can and do suffer with PTSD. 

But PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, can actually effect anyone who experiences something that they perceive as traumatic. Trauma is defined as an experience that causes feelings of fear, helplessness or horror. It is estimated that 50% of people will experience trauma at some point in their lives, and while many people will experience short-term distress as a result of this - around 20% of those people will go on to experience PTSD.

My Diagnosis & How I Felt

I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of childhood bullying and surviving a domestic abuse situation. I had been seeing a therapist weekly for a little while after suffering with post-partum depression, and if I'm totally honest - when she diagnosed me with PTSD, I felt shame. 

I compared my own experiences of being ganged up on by school children, and attacked by my boyfriend to the experiences of people who'd witnessed murders or survived terrorist incidents - and I told myself that it meant I was weak. How dare I suffer with something that should be reserved for those who'd suffered true horror!

Now, when I look back on that time - I realise I was in shock and denial. I'd lived my whole life telling myself that I'd survived all of those experiences unscathed. That it meant I was above it somehow, that I'd come out the other side in one piece and therefore those experiences had no hold over me anymore. But they did.

Speaking Up & Asking For Help

I was fortunate in that my therapist had recognised some of the symptoms of PTSD in me - panic attacks, nightmares, and extreme anxiety. I was also suffering with OCD and general anxiety, which isn't uncommon in trauma patients.

But my therapist felt that I would be unable to move forward with treatment for those things until I had worked on resolving my trauma, and so she recommended that I try EMDR therapy.

One thing that became clear quite quickly, was that I had very little memory of the traumatic experiences. I knew they had happened, I could give a rough timeline - but beyond a few little snatches of memory here and there, there were years of my life that were a total blank. Again, this is really common with trauma - but it can make it quite difficult to process the experience using traditional talking therapy.

EMDR was ideal, as it relied on very little conversation. Instead it uses eye movements and mental imaging to reprocess the trauma, effectively removing the emotional charge from the experience. When it was first explained to me, I thought it sounded completely bizarre but to my amazement it worked incredibly well. I went from being unable to mention any of the experiences I'd had without breaking down in tears, to feeling calm and collected when discussing them.

Although I found the EMDR very helpful, I knew that I wasn't done with therapy yet. I still suffered with panic attacks and social anxiety, and I was still plagued by OCD. So after a few years, I decided to reach out for support from a professional once again.

I see therapy in much the same way as I see conventional medicine. If I have a headache, I don't suffer on ...I take a painkiller. If I feel physically unwell, I see a Dr. 

To me, my mental health is no different...there is no need to keep struggling in silence, seeking support is always the right thing to do and thanks to modern life offering so many websites, private psychiatry and online mental health services it's easier to do than ever before.

I found a new private therapist, who I have now been seeing on a weekly basis for a year. We use a combination of talking therapy, inner child work and somatic therapy which has helped me to uncover previously repressed memories - this then allows me to address and process them, leaving me feeling more in control and comfortable with my PTSD than I ever have before. 

Therapy has been truly priceless - it has given me back so much of my freedom, and helped to release me from the hold that my past experiences had on me. It has truly changed my life, and increased my confidence and capability to love and care for myself massively.

Moving Forwards

As a result of how much therapy has improved my life, I found myself wanting to help others to free themselves from past trauma - and so last year I decided to start the process of qualifying as a therapist myself.

I'm now a fully qualified hypnotherapist, and I have plans to gain a degree in psychotherapy within the next 5 years. 

PTSD felt like the worst possible thing to happen to me, after some truly dreadful experiences - but the truth is that diagnosing and treating it was the beginning of a journey of self-discovery that brought me to exactly where I needed to be in life. My diagnosis set me free. 

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