Peeling the Onion

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 so I’ve chosen to write in the spirit of raising awareness of hidden mental health issues.

A little known fact is that I have had post traumatic stress disorder since I was 19. I wasn’t diagnosed until several years later when things that I was doing and were happening to me earned themselves a label.  PTSD.

Now that was a long time ago, over 25 years and I have found a place for managing PTSD that works well for me. Yes I have triggers but I know what they are and what to do when I’m unable to prevent them. I’m fortunate, I was able to get help many years ago and that has given me the tools to go on with life without it dominating.

In truth the diagnosis of PTSD never held much meaning to me outside of my own symptoms and discussions with various medical professionals over a many years. That is until recent years where, with the emergence of social media, PTSD has become a subject of many an article and awareness raising.

When I first started to read related articles, I found other people were talking about feelings, reactions, thoughts and other symptoms that I had experienced for years. The impact on me was at times profound. These things in my life that I adapted to and developed coping strategies for were being described by others, someone else knew what it was like.  I’m not saying I thought I was the only one, I just hadn’t heard anyone else describe what it was like for them. Overnight I wasn’t alone, that in itself was quite something and I suppose something to be grateful to the explosion of social media for.

Guilt, isolation, shame, powerlessness, doubt, fear, flashbacks, anxiety, depression, anger, rage, grief, pain, insomnia, nightmares, shakes, sweats, recklessness, detachment, self harm, hyper vigilance and anorexia. These were some of the ways PTSD manifested during those early years.  In time I realised I was putting myself in harms way and it was becoming a bit of a thing. I had emotions raging through me that I couldn’t control and was convinced daily that someone was going to do me harm.

Eventually I went to see my GP and told her that I wanted to die and I needed her to help me not feel like that anymore.  Somewhere I had an overriding desire to live (or perhaps it was a sense of obligation). No matter, I recognised that I was out of my depth and needed help to process events of the past that were dictating my future.

My GP was great, she put something in place for me the day after I saw her. It wasn’t perfect but it held me for the moment and was a life saver. I went through a variety of assessments, which was incredibly difficult as it meant reliving and sharing each time the one thing I had learned not to talk about.  Finally a diagnosis and I found myself in pioneering trauma therapy for a year.  It was not an easy time but it was the best thing I could have done.  I dealt with a lot and learned a lot of coping mechanisms, which today have become part of my day to day life and has enabled me to have a career, relationships and a good life.

One of the coping mechanisms gifted to me through that year was the ability to speak the unspeakable from the head and not the heart. To tell my story without having to entirely relive it. That single ability instantly took away the isolation.  I don’t share the reason why I have PTSD very often and I’m not going to here but when it matters I can at least say the words.

Over the years I’ve maintained good mental health with perhaps a couple of blips. I had a bout of depression after a miscarriage and the end of a long term relationship and more recently I have discovered that a traumatic event can indeed revive a previous trauma.

The last 18 months have not been easy and I think it’s fair to say that losing your colon could be considered a traumatic event. Perhaps unsurprisingly, over recent months I’ve found myself working a bit harder than usual to keep the PTSD genie in the bottle and my mood in check.  I’ve had low times on and off, not to mention being totally knackered from a year of illness followed by major surgery. I have no idea how long it’s going to take so get everything on track but I’m pushing on, optimistically balancing my physical and mental health. I suspect if I can deal with the physical health issues the mental ones will come good once again.

And there it is, another layer of the hoo-ha onion peeled..


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