Following on from the guest post that I recently wrote for 1N5, I decided to share the full version on here. For those of you who might be dealing with PTSD or going through challenging times that seem never-ending, my intention with the below is that it gives you hope that you can & will come out the other side.
My mental health story feels like a complex one, and the last two years especially have felt like an endless marathon, but I suppose no mental health story is without its complications.
In 2009, my uncle died in a fatal car accident. The shock was overwhelming and prolonged. I realise now that I did not get the help or support that I needed at the time, and neither did my mum or cousin. I spent years grieving for them and couldn’t comprehend the effects that this had on my own wellbeing. I became excessively angry (an unnatural emotion for me) and alcohol only heightened this. I was misunderstood (by both myself and others), and lost dear friendships because of it.
Since December 2015, I’ve experienced living with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), after being first on the scene of a fatal motorcycle accident. The same patterns reappeared, such as not being able to handle alcohol, though this time close friends recognised this and gave me a gentle push in the direction of the right help & support.
During this period, my sleep was either broken & filled with nightmares, or extremely deep & heavy, causing me to wake up sluggish. I struggled getting out of bed in the mornings – it’s like a lethargy I still struggle to explain with words. You’re not being lazy, you genuinely feel like a lead weight.
PTSD, like many mental illnesses can affect your whole body, not just your mind.
I now know to be patient with myself, to practice self-care as a preventative measure, and to go at my own pace. It might often feel like it in our society, but there really is no rush.
Take your time.
Everything surrounding my uncle’s death was brought to the surface through this incident and was finally dealt with through counselling. My whole life was unpicked, but I felt a sense of relief at finally healing wounds I didn’t realise needed seriously tending to. The sessions really helped, but the weeks in-between often felt like a roller coaster. I was constantly on edge. And I mean constantly.
Your body goes into a constant high-alert mode with PTSD.
I could feel the extra adrenaline in my body everyday. This still occasionally happens in moments. It made me worry about my physical health & the extra strains that my body was going through.
I remember one of the worst things for me was the loss of spark and excitement I felt for things. My usual zest for life seemed to have disappeared, and there were times when I seriously questioned whether it would ever return. My thought patterns were destructive and my anxiety had moments of turning into mild depression.
My triggers were out of control.
I wasn’t actually fearful of death or the same thing happening again, what I actually dreaded the most were certain words being spoken (even when used in a completely unrelated context), or conversations on accidents, because with them would come the memory of the trauma & the painful emotional connections attached to them for me to relive again. The fear of that was phenomenal. Even light-hearted conversations about new cars or traffic would paralyse me, because I’d panic where that conversation could potentially lead to.
(Hints of Hope: This has faded. I still experience it in moments when I’m feeling particularly low or stressed, or my anxiety is heightened elsewhere, but it’s usually much more manageable & possible to stay afloat of.)
Fight or flight weren’t options for me – freeze was the only thing I did for a long time: Sitting uncomfortably, reliving and re-feeling that past trauma, again & again while people talked around me. It felt like a form of torture and it lead me to a constant avoidance of certain people, places and conversations, just in case.
It’s scary how much you get used to thinking that that’s what your life will always be like. But I promise you that it won’t.
After six counselling sessions, and thanks to amazing support from friends & family, although there was still a long way to go, I felt that PTSD wouldn’t be part of my life forever.
Straight on the back of my last session in summer 2016, Dad was diagnosed with dual depression & anxiety. Over the following 5 months, Dad’s mental health worsened. As I’d already resigned from work ready to move to Australia for my year abroad, I postponed my trip & became Dad’s full time carer. With 2 attempted suicides, my only purpose day to day, was to keep him alive, until his admission to a psychiatric hospital on Boxing Day, where he lived for 4 months.
Everything I had learnt through my PTSD & counselling sessions earlier that year prepared me to deal with those 5 months as best as I possibly could. I wrote everything down each day and I talked & cried to friends daily. If it wasn’t for that I don’t think I’d have got through it all quite as well as I did.
Allow people to help you, and surround yourself with supportive people.
I spent most of 2017 in Australia trying to ‘live life to the fullest’ & make the most of my year abroad like everyone else seemed to be doing, as friends & family reminded me that I still needed to go & live my life too. I made the best out of it that I could at the time & in the circumstances, but in all honesty, I spent most of my time over there just trying to recover from the ordeal of the previous year, feeling guilty that I should still be doing more to try to help Mum & Dad, and doing a great amount of grieving in the process: for the motorcyclist & his family; my Dad; my Mum; myself & the father I used to know; and the life I’d known & believed in.
I so badly wanted to leave the previous year behind & make the most of the here & now. But I just couldn’t, and it was unfair on myself to think that I could. My whole world was quite literally turned upside down and I hit rock bottom.
It was uncomfortable & often excruciating dealing with a lot of different losses and unresolved grief in quite a relatively short space of time.
(Hints of Hope: Despite my mental health story, you need to know that I’m still smiling, that I still find the good in people & things, that I trust in life & the path that it’s taken me on, and that I’m using all of these experiences to make me, not break me. Although I still have a great deal to work through, the brighter days are becoming more frequent.)
I now very much fully understand & appreciate the importance of self-care, but I continue to try to improve the mental health & emotional wellbeing of both my father, myself and loved ones daily.
Remind yourself regularly, just as I do, that the best you can do is to heal yourself first before you can help to heal others, and lead by example in that respect.
My one piece of advice for anyone living with or directly affected by mental health would be to talk, and to find the best outlet for you, whether it‘s writing, music, art, sport…
Anything that we hold in just festers & grows over time, and it will keep reappearing until properly dealt with.
It’s ok to not be ok, as I promise you that not everyday will be as dark as it may feel at the time. Everything is temporary after all. Reminding myself of that has helped me through a lot, and I hope that it can for you too.
On the days it really does all feel too much & you feel that you have no-one to talk to: Help Is Here
If you have any questions on the above, please let me know in the comments below, or if you’d prefer to message me privately: Let’s Talk