Category Archives: PTSD

Change is a positive force

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks. I have been swinging between positive days and not so positive days. Much in my life at the moment is in a state of uncertainty, and I’m trying as best as I can to embrace the mantra that everything happens for a reason and that change can be a positive thing, even if you can’t see the benefits it may bring as yet.

One aspect is my job. I received some news six months ago that my employer was going to be scaling back the service I work for, which meant that either I face redundancy and a very poor payout or accept a new job on a substantially reduced level of pay. Ordinarily I would have accepted a lower rate of pay and kept the job, but it means I won’t actually be able to afford to live and risk the prospect of losing my home and my beloved pets.

So I began looking about for something else that would enable me to keep a roof over my head, food on the table and my pets in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Change can be scary, but one of the lessons I have learned on my journey with PTSD is that you cannot grow without it. Without change you are always stuck in the same place, noimaget going forwards and sometimes even going backwards.

Last year I started my journey towards recovery, where I accepted that the responsibility to heal and embrace life came down to one person…me. I started doing little things that scared me, but as I did each little thing it gave me confidence to try the next little thing and so forth.

I have just applied for a new job which scares me a little, but it will be a good learning experience and opportunity for growth. In addition to this, I have booked myself another solo holiday adventure to Thailand later in the year. It is somewhere I have always wanted to go, but kept getting discouraged by people telling me horror stories, but in January I decided that life was too short and before I knew it I had marched into a travel agent and booked the flights.

I have just started a new hobby too. I have started bouldering (rock climbing without ropes) I had my first session at the beginning of the week and I loved it. My instructor was so positive and encouraging and I really surprised myself in what I could do. I am so proud of myself, because once I started pushing myself outside into the big scary world I realised I am much stronger, braver and more capable of achieving anything than I had ever realised.

Unlearning fear, relearning trust

Possibly the most difficult aspect of dealing with PTSD on a daily basis for me, is my over exaggerated fear response. I know pretty well what triggers send me off into a massive panic mode, and I know logically that my response is irrational, but how do you learn to stop reacting with fear to circumstances where there is not actually anything to be fearful of?

To give a little background, my PTSD developed as a result of being trapped in an abusive relationship over a long period of time. I lived in fear of arousing the anger of a very aggressive, controlling, manipulative man. My self esteem had been completed eroded, as is typical with all abusive relationships I was made to feel everything was my fault. I became completely incapable of trusting my own judgement and understanding who was a good person and who was a bad person.

imageFortunately I found the strength to leave, and I haven’t regretted that decision for one second since. Unfortunately that experience and the subsequent stalking that followed for many years, left me with PTSD. My mind instantly went into panic mode every time the phone rang, or there was an unexpected visitor on my doorstep, or if I saw someone matching my ex’s build and appearance. My body and mind would just freeze with fear and I would start hyperventilating and shaking like a leaf.

Last year I undertook some hypnotherapy to help reprogram my subconscious mind, and that has helped significantly with simple things like answering the door and phone and interacting with strangers. I am certainly a lot more confident in myself and better at trusting strangers than I was back then.

However, I seem to still be incapable of coping with any form of aggression. The moment someone becomes verbally aggressive with me and more particularly men, I just shut down and become a shaking wreck. I know logically that physical violence isn’t going to follow, but my mind seems to instantly switch into panic mode and I can’t seem to stop the flight response.

How do you unlearn that fear response? And how do you relearn to trust your own judgement?

The enemy within

I like to think I’m a positive person, and for most of the time I am. I believe that life’s trials make you a stronger person, and that there is a silver lining to every cloud if you just know where to look for it.

Occasionally though the monster in my head stirs and I’m besieged with feelings of guilt, shame and self-doubt about the times when I have been quite bad with my post-traumatic stress and acted in ways I’m not very proud of. I try to rationalise and tell myself to accept that I wasn’t very well at the time and I didn’t deliberately set out to hurt others with my behaviour. But I just can’t seem to forgive myself and seem to dwell on the past.

I accept that I can’t change the past, I can only learn from it and try not to repeat the same mistakes and strive to be a better person. I see myself as a work in progress, constantly looking for ways to improve and to overcome my struggles with the monster in my head.image

My brain seems to have alternating episodes of rational, logical thoughts and behaviour followed by panic mode in which I’m predisposed to act out of character and do silly irrational things. I always have this fear that I’m going to have another bad PTSD episode and some innocent bystander is going to get caught in the crossfire. I absolutely hate the thought of hurting other people. 

It is strange to realise that my brain is both my biggest asset and at times my worst enemy. I am constantly striving for better mind management and I suppose part of the reason why I isolate myself sometimes is I feel it is necessary to protect others from the monster in my head.

The Mind-Body Connection

You may be aware there is a concept in psychology and medicine called the mind-body connection. This concept is based on the idea that our moods and thoughts can positively or negatively affect our physical wellbeing, and likewise our physical wellbeing affect our psychology.

It Is thought that practicing relaxation techniques, yoga, tai chi and other forms of physical exercise can promote a sense of calmness and wellbeing. I certainly know of family doctors who prescribe exercise as a form of therapy for their depressed patients. Several universities have researched whether exercise has positive benefits for PTSD sufferers, and the general consensus is that it is beneficial in reducing PTSD symptoms.

One suggestion is that we should all try to do 30 minutes a day five times a week for optimal benefits. However, when your going through a difficult time it can be hard to find the motivation to get your fitness gear out and get going. It is probably the last thing going through your mind when your struggling to hold it all together emotionally.

I personally find that my anxiety is much reduced when I’m physically active and it also helps me to sleep more solidly. I’m going to conduct a personal experimageiment at home for the next month, where im going to exercise on my treadmill twice a day for 20 minutes, once during the day and once shortly before bed. During that time period I’m going to monitor my mood, thoughts, sleep patterns and whether I have my PTSD nightmares.

It would be preferable to be outside doing this in nature with long rambling walks enjoying breathtaking views and plenty of fresh air, but that is not always possible so for now I will content myself with studying the subject at home and let you know how I get on.

It’s important to keep pushing forward and work out what works for you personally and what doesn’t, it might be trial and error but it’s a learning experience and one that can only make you stronger and wiser. Keep positive and keep pushing forward on the path to recovery your future happiness is out there waiting to be claimed.

Small but positive…

Dealing with PTSD on a daily basis can be extremely challenging and it is very easy to become discouraged and trapped in the belief that things will never get better. However, adopting a positive mental attitude can make all the difference.

I think the first thing you can do is to stop comparing yourself to everyone else and focus on your own journey and goals. Don’t discourage yourself with what seems impossible, but focus on smaller more attainable targets and as you reach each one your self confidence and belief will grow.

Take time to enjoy nature, a walk on the beach feeling the wind in your hair, a walk in the woods listening to the birds singing, walking through corn fields brushing the stalks with your hands and enjoying the sun on your face. Plan to do something you don’t usually do, it may be something small but your sense of achievement and wellbeing will grow and you will be able to move on to bigger things.

Reconnect with friends, do something enjoyable like watching a feel good movie and making popcorn together. It doesn’t have to be expenimagesive. Smile and make small talk with a stranger at the supermarket, take yourself out for a meal it might seem strange and alien at first but once practiced enough it becomes so much more comfortable and natural.

If you enjoy reading, read blogs on the Internet that help and inspire you, novels that intrigue you, self help books that challenge you. Consider writing your own, writing down your thoughts and feelings has a strong therapeutic effect and can help you on your journey towards healing.

Taking up a new hobby or class is time well spent, it will not only help your confidence and sense of achievement grow but you never know what new friendships and opportunities it may bring into your life.

This is is how I started out last year, I started rejecting my urge to stay in the safe warm comfort zone at home, and started gently pushing myself to go out on day trips to start reconnecting with people and experiencing new things. By the end of the year I had taken myself on holiday to New York for a week of exploring on my own, and it was a huge boost to my confidence and has made me feel much happier.

Be Honest, But Be Kind

It is all too easy when battling with a mental health issue like post-traumatic stress disorder to beat ourselves up mentally and emotionally. We are made to feel that we should be “over it” and that somehow because we are constantly reliving a traumatic event over and over in our minds that there is something fundamentally wrong with us.

I can recall interacting with a few individuals during my time who had no appreciation of what it is like to experience a traumatic event, and had no understanding that PTSD is like a physical assault on your soul. I was made to feel that I was a freak or a weirdo because I had trust issues with strangers, I was slow to open up to people I didn’t know and they couldn’t grasp why I didn’t want to divulge my darkest secrets to them even after their unkind comments. Every unkind judgemental comment had me scurrying into myself further like a hedgehog rolling into a prickly ball.

To my mind there is a vast difference between constructive criticism and comments made out of ignorance. I am all for friends and loved ones pointing out that perhaps I might need to re-evaluate my life, priorities and methods of doing things on ocimagecasions. However, it is not helpful to ignore someone’s feelings and make them feel even worse about themselves than they probably already do.

I think it’s doubly important with PTSD and the associated guilt, fear and self doubt that comes with it, to be your own cheerleader. To be honest with yourself but to be kind. Remember to focus on the small successes no matter how slow progress maybe, it is still progress. When things don’t go as planned accept that maybe there could be a better or alternative way of reaching your goal. But keep trying.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there that won’t understand what an epic uphill battle you are waging, and will happily point out your shortcomings as they see them because you don’t fit into their neat little definition of “normal”. Don’t let their comments discourage you, and if they continually push your boundaries and don’t respect your feelings then maybe you need to re-evaluate if you need these people in your life.

Starting out on the path…

If you have stumbled across this blog then I want to be clear from the start I’m not here to throw myself a pity party, and I have no expectation of receiving sympathetic pats on the head from random strangers. Yes I have experienced a sequence of traumatic events which have altered who I am, but I am fully conscious that I am master of my own destiny and only I can build my life raft and sail it.

I made the decision to write this blog as a therapeutic way of processing my thoughts and feelings. I can only hope that somewhere along the line, it may help someone else out there battling PTSD feel a little bit less alone.

I came to the realisation that I have post-traumatic stress disorder sometime last year, despite experiencing nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety and depressive episodes for 10 years. I suppose I was too embarrassed to mention it to anyone, and it was easy imageenough to hide my hermit like existence from most people in my life. Easy to hide the fact I was consuming alcohol as a method of self-medicating to escape how I was feeling inside.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment, but I woke up and realised I had become a wraith, neither living nor dead, with anxiety and fear controlling my every day life. It was so easy to hide away and avoid things instead of accepting responsibility, facing reality and challenging myself. I had allowed the trauma to defeat me.

So I made the decision there and then, to stop being a victim and start being a survivor, to stop existing and start living. Maybe I couldn’t go back to being the person I had lost so many years ago, but I could start finding out who I am now and start out on the path to a brighter future.

I simply had to step out of the door onto the path and have faith the adventure ahead would be exactly what I needed it to be. I may not have a compass or map, there may be obstacles on the road, but the most important step was the decision to stop running away and to start walking towards healing no matter what lies ahead.