Well here we are… the end of a very long and challenging year of my life but also a big chunk of my life. Over the last year I have been living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and having cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to treat it. Before starting my therapy I heard a lot of negative comments about how CBT doesn’t work and that it’s a waste of time. Well all I can say is in my experience it has worked very well. I understand that therapy probably isn’t for everyone, but it has made a big difference to me.
Now that I am at the other side of my therapy I feel that I can finally explain what PTSD actually is in an alright kind of way. It obviously comes from a traumatic experience, but how does it happen?
A trauma is any kind of near death experience, or an experience where you have felt that your life is in danger. When we are going through a trauma our brain turns in to survival mode and the only thing the brain can focus on is keeping us alive and safe. The logic and rational part of the brain, that would normally make sense of everything shuts off. So during the trauma all we can focus on is fighting to stay alive. Behaving rationally doesn’t even come in to it. After the trauma when the logic and rational part kicks back in it has a lot of catching up to do, matching all of the traumatic memories with logical thoughts and reasoning. Sometimes the brain can’t quite fit all of the pieces back together properly. This leaves memories that are patchy, not always in order and feeling very raw and emotional. The feelings of being there in that moment are still very easy to access. Some people struggle to access these feelings though and can be left feeling numb. I didn’t really understand what the therapist meant by the memories being patchy and emotional until they started to feel normal. I didn’t realise that they weren’t feeling normal. I thought that was just how trauma felt. I didn’t know that those feelings were PTSD and tha they could be treated.
So what have I learnt from my therapy? I have learnt that I was holding on to a lot of guilt about what happened, a lot more than what I realised. But my therapy taught me that there were so many factors involved in what happened, all of those factors were out of my control. Therefore it wasn’t my fault. I felt that me getting so ill because of drink issues and depression was all my fault. The therapist helped me to see that when you have depression, your mind is not capable of making logical decisions. So what may have been easy and obvious for everybody else, felt impossible for me. We talked about how society plays a big part in drinking. Alcohol is everywhere and there is no avoiding it. There is also the fact that I just fell unlucky. Only ten percent of people who drank like I did end up as unwell as I did.
The therapy also helped me to understand the things that happened when I was in hospital and question how negatively I had been thinking about things. One of the tasks I had to do was to write down a summery of the events that happened in the way I had been seeing them. Then I had to add in a different colour how I see things differently now. For example there were some parts where I felt proud of myself for dealing with certain things. Putting a positive spin on it helped me to feel very different about it all. Not that it was a nice experience, it definitely wasn’t. But there are some areas which do have positive parts in them which I just didn’t notice. That isn’t making light of what happened, but it helps to see things from a different point of view.
The therapy has helped me to feel more safe. I kind of felt like I was living on borrowed time and that any day it could all just end. This is true, but no more true than with everybody else. I have blood tests and a scan every six months which means that if something did happen then it would get picked up on. It is a lot more likely to get detected early and treated than everybody who doesn’t have these regular tests. So even though they are a bit of a pain and I wouldn’t have them if I wasn’t at risk. The fact that I have them means that I am less at risk of getting seriously unwell.
I have always been determined to never go back to my old drinking ways. I promised myself that I would never even taste it again because that could be the start of a slipperly slope back and maybe that time there would be no return. So I have always been very focussed. I can’t go back and I won’t ever let myself go back, but what if something happens? It has always been in the back of my mind that it would take something disastrous to set me back. So what if something disastrous did happen and I couldn’t cope? Well my therapist quite rightly pointed out to me that I was dependent on drink for around five years, I have been sober for six and a half now. And I have relived the most traumatic time of my life in therapy without even being tempted. So if that hasn’t set me back, then nothing will. She’s right. She is so right. I now believe in myself more than ever. I now believe that I can live the rest of my life without the slightest temptation. Because I’m better than that. I’m stronger than that. And I am so over that. It was the worst thing I ever did. But without that I wouldn’t be where I am now and I wouldn’t be who I am now.
Every two years I have to have a gastroscopy to check the blood vessels in my throat. This is because of my liver disease. A gastroscopy is a hospital test where you have to swallow a tube, the tube has a camera on it which they use to see your throat and stomach. I don’t imagine anybody likes these tests but I have a genuine phobia. I get in an absolute physical panic, shaking, tears, snot, the lot! I just cannot do it. Even with sedation I still panic. So just before finishing my therapy we worked on some relaxation and mindfulness to help me keep calm. During this session even just thinking about the test made my throat feel tight, I felt sick and got quite upset. That made me realise how much it really does bother me. I haven’t got a test due any time soon and I was in a different environment, but I still got really distressed. Luckily I have a plan now for next time. We wrote down how the test would be if it went perfectly stage by stage. I have to read this every day for a week before my next test. This will help me to see the test in a more positive way instead of dreading it. Then while the test is happening I have to try and think about to my happy place. A tropical beach with bright blue sea, bright blue sky, dolphins in the sea, the smell of sun cream, lemonade and burgers on a BBQ. The therapist suggested that I take something in that smells lemony which might make it easier to go to the happy place. We laughed about me getting my sun cream on just before the test and my Dad stood there with a burger. 🙂 We said that if the next test is at least slightly better than the past ones then I need to go for a burger afterwards to celebrate. And every time I have a more positive gastroscopy it should be rewarded with a burger. I quite like the sound of that. We even went for a burger after this therapy session. I really needed it after getting so distressed so we thought it was only right to start the burger rewards.
Before I started my therapy I knew that things weren’t quite right. I was really struggling to keep track of my emotions and I just couldn’t explain why I was feeling so stressed and overwhelmed. I knew I needed some help, but I didn’t realise quite how much. I guess with me it hasn’t just been one significant event. It has been almost a decade of losing my sight, depression, drinking, hospitals, testss and being critically ill. There is no way that all that could have happened without me needing some kind of therapy.
Some people say “in the old days things happened and you just got on with them” Maybe they did, they might have got on with them. But it doesn’t mean that they recovered from them as well as they could have. After going through depression, paranoia, confusion, hallucinations and PTSD, my view is that your mental health is extremely important. It’s not just a new fad that people will get bored of soon. When you and your mind are working well together, you can be best friends. But if your mind turns against you, it’s the worst enemy you can ever have. Because you are the one person that you can’t get away from.
If you are worried about yourr own mental health or that of somebody else, please don’t ignore it. You can find out more information about mental health and the support available by visiting the Sheffield Mental Health Guide website on the link below.
I would just like to thank my amazing Psychotherapist for all of her excellent work with me and adapting things so that I was able to do my work in a different way. Thank you also to IAPT who helped me to find the right therapy. My PTSD was successfully treated and now i finally feel like it’s all over and i can move on.
xx ❤ xx