Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Ups and Downs

Time for another update and I am told by everyone around me that I am doing well. So I suppose I must be. It's really hard to see from within that I am moving forward sometimes but my therapist, my friends and family can see the changes a little more easily than I can. Apparently, I should be proud of myself and I am but on the bad days there seems so far still to go.

The main difference I can notice in my mood is that when I get good days or even a good part of a day, I feel far more positive and carefree than I can remember for a long long time. I love those days. And they are what keep me going on the not so good days. I could take on the works when I feel like that. My smiles are real, not forced and light me up from my heart outwards. It feels amazing. Just fantastic. I had a whole two and a half days like this last week. It was the best two and a half days. I just kept on going. Full of energy. Full of positivity. And then the walls collapse and its like the light goes out. That's the best way I can describe it. Like I run out of power. Someone or something switches the power off. It's that quick. Or like a car running out of petrol and grinding to a halt. It makes me feel so helpless and so at the mercy of my emotions although I try hard to hold on to the good memories and just accept that my head needs some space to heal at the moment. One day I hope I will always have the good days and not the bad.

On the bad days I still feel very low in mood. I feel very emotional and I feel drained, overwhelmed and panicky. The flashbacks come flooding back and I cry a lot. Having said all that, it seems these days where I get the breakthroughs. Little sparks or memories that suddenly link things together so that they make sense. Almost like little Eureka moments. It is these moments that will, essentially, heal me and so while this dark place certainly is no fun I know, deep down that it means my therapy is working and that my head is doing a lot of hard work to heal me.

Therapy itself is still going well I think. I really do have to leave my rational self at the door sometimes. Since my trauma took place when I as a child that is where I have to heal from so we work a lot with the inner child. Crayons, toys name it....and it would be easy to be self conscious and feel stupid, it's not for everyone, but I can feel it working and I look forward to my sessions more than I dread them so i will keep on at it.

It's the two extremes really. Really up. And really down. And flying between the two is tiring in itself. On my good days I am starting to feel ready to get back to work, slowly and steadily. Ad then I have days when I can barely get out of bed which makes it seem that I am a long way from being able to return. But baby steps and I will get there.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tea or Coffee?

Time for another update and it's been a really hard week. I know I keep saying that, I'm not trying to be unnecessarily depressing I promise. I still see every day as a positive step in moving forward.

Following my therapy session last week I felt a lot of memories and emotions opening up. Things I had forgotten about and feelings so raw they would stop me in my tracks. I have done a lot of crying this week. Really a lot. My therapist tells me that I shouldn't fight this and just to let it out. So I have been doing and I usually feel better afterwards. I feel lighter.
The dark times have been darker again. I have had days when I have struggled with the outside world on any level. It seems too loud, too bright and too scary. Twice this week whilst out and about I have been overcome by these symptoms and have broken down in public. Not fun. I hadn't felt quite this way before but having contacted my therapist to ask her apparently it is normal an to be expected after opening myself up the way I am doing. Again, though its hard, it means that my treatment is working. I am very lucky to have a fiancé who understands and can look after me in these moments. I'm also very lucky to have my therapist who encourages me to contact her anytime if I need to.

The beginning of this week felt very low and very dark but yesterday things seemed a little brighter and I'm feeling ok today so far, despite being full of a cold. The hardest thing to deal with is making decisions. Even the simplest of choices can take me ages. My mind goes completely blank and numb. Which isn't much fun at all. Stupid little decisons; tea or coffee? The easiest tasks can seem utterly overwhelming and impossible. And then this feeling itself multiplies until I just want to curl up in a corner and hide. Again, all these symptoms are normal and expected for sufferers of PTSD. Add to these the ongoing nightmares and flashbacks and you can imagine how draining things can be.

But the fact that I am dealing with all this, albeit one minute at a time sometimes, means that I am working towards recovery. I have never been more determined to beat this. And I will!!
One other thing this week is that I have found a PTSD page/group on Facebook. To read that other real people are experiencing the exact same symptoms right now is a huge comfort. I know there are people who read this blog who have similar symptoms but are worried about seeking help. Have a look for a support group if you can manage to. It can really make a big difference.

I will keep updating as and when - if I can simply help one person to understand these issues better then I have no regrets in sharing.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Tough Week

This week has, without doubt, been one of the hardest so far. I was ready for it but I think it's safe to say it has still knocked me off my feet.
Last psychotherapy session I was given homework. I had to write a letter to the man who raped me and write about I felt now. About what he had taken from me and about how the rape had affected my life. I have always found writing to be a huge help, a really effective way to let things out and so as hard as the task was I was determined to make the most of the chance to have an outlet for some of the emotions I have I internalised for the last 23 or so years. I spent a lot of time thinking what I might write and then on Tuesday night put pen to paper and let it all spill out onto the pages. Once I had started it wasn't Hard to know what to write and I was relieved when I had finished and proud of myself too.

On Thursday morning I had my psychotherapy session. I knew what we were covering as we had discussed it the week before. We would be reading through what I had written and looking at that. And then we were going through my memories of the day I was raped. I was scared that morning. It's a very real fear. Even though, rationally, I know that I am safe now the flashbacks and panics are such that I want to avoid them at all cost. To actually face them head on is hard. I know that opening more memories will increase them. More and more little snatches from that day at coming back to me. As they do the flashbacks get more frequent. And yet I know that this is helping long term. I am dealing with it. Each emotion that is being uncovered is being dealt with, each memory filed away where I won't need to look at it, just accept it is there. But to get to that point I have to open the box and let all these memories and emotions fly free around my head for a while. I hope that makes sense. It's hard to explain or describe.

That session in itself was ok. Hard but ok. I'm not sure there were many tissues left but I got through it. My therapist read what I had written aloud and then I read it aloud. We talked about it and then moved on to the memories of that day. By the end of the session I was immensely proud of myself and relieved that I had managed. The rest of the day wasn't too bad, the relief last a while although that night I had a number of flashbacks again.

It's now a couple of days later and the immensity of this week has most definitely caught up with me. My head hurts. Not in a headache way but an
Internal emotional ache. Last night I had a really difficult evening. I lay on the bed and all I could do was be mindful of each breath. Riding the pain out and knowing it couldn't last forever. It's hard to describe what it feels like. Almost like I'm in some kind of limbo. Not asleep but not awake. Unable to react to or interact with the work or people. Not really able to speak. The thoughts and feelings get in the way of any meaningful verbal expression. Even hugs don't help. They feel smothering and restrictive. A part of a world that I can't handle at that time. And yet I can't sleep. I close my eyes and the flashbacks start. I feel a real fear as to what the nightmares might bring. PTSD is such an isolating experience more than anything else. As much as I have tried to explain it I'm not sure I've really hit the nail on the head.

And so I will see what today brings. I feel tired, drained, overwhelmed, exhausted and yet proud of myself. Even through the darkest points I know that this is the road to recovery. I can feel, deep down, things starting to make sense to me. Things starting to click into place and starting to heal. I can't wait to move further along this road and I am so lucky to have so many wonderful friends walking by my side.

Monday, 27 August 2012

18 months on

Has it really been over 18 months since I last posted?  The time has gone quickly in some ways and dragged in others.  In this time I have been contacted a few times with people asking for updates, which I find really touching and other people have been in touch to let me know that my story has helped them deal with some similar symptoms.  All these things have helped me a lot.

Due to some fairly major changes in my circumstances I have to say that my health situation has not improved.  If anything, certainly at the moment, it is as bad if not worse than it was when I last updated.  After six sessions with my psychologist, in December 2010,  I received news that I had been offered a job I had applied for - at the other side of the country.  This of course meant stopping my appointments just after I'd started to notice a difference......there was no choice though, the new job was too good an opportunity to turn down.  And so I moved.

To cut a long story short, I am only now getting back to where I was.  I have just started work with a psychotherapist and I am really hopeful that she will now work with me throughout the journey to sort my head out.  One big difference that came as a shock moving from Wales to England is the lack of organised mental health services available.  After speaking to my GP in the first instance I was referred for counselling.  My GP has my original PTSD diagnosis so that still stands.  On the NHS you are entitled to six hours of counselling.  One hour per week.  And that's it.  There is no long term waiting list, even with a diagnosis such as mine.  Unless someone is exhibiting symptoms linked to hurting themselves or others then you are on your own.  Even now, as I write, I find it hard to believe.  But that's what I've been told by health professionals for over a year now so it must be the case.

In my own case, I had a stroke of luck.  The lady counsellor I saw for my six NHS sessions was in the process of setting up her own charitable organisation to try and fill in some of this gap for people needing professional help.  She is a psychotherapist and specialises in helping those who have gone through any kind of abuse.  A couple of months ago she was finally able to open this charity for business and I have been able to restart my therapy.  I have had to start with a new therapist, one of her colleagues,  and we, of course, have had to go right back to the beginning.  Again.

And so here I am.  My symptoms are all attacking me full blast at the moment.  The nightmares, the flashbacks, the panic attacks and the associated feelings of being overwhelmed by the slightest little thing.  I have had three sessions with my new therapist so far so we are right at the beginning of taking the lid of this box, taking all the crap out and dealing with it to put it back in an orderly way so that I can replace the lid, neatly and in control of what is in there.  I can't wait to get to that point....but for now I feel like things are floating at will around my head and that someone is stirring it with a big stick.  I'm trying hard to see this period as a positive one.  I have to go through this in order for things to improve - and heaven knows I've never been more determined to get there.  I am more aware of my triggers than I was so that can help me to deal with the panics and I am coping better with the nightmares and can generally manage to get myself back off to sleep after them now.  The whole situation is draining more than anything, just exhausting.  My mind won't do what I ask it to do half the time, it's almost impossible to make the simplest decision and I double cross myself and analyse the most ridiculous things until I just can't think anymore.  Again, this is all part of the process.  I have been warned that the symptoms will get worse before they get better as my therapy starts to open up memories, emotions and experiences.

I will try to keep my blog updated when I can as I move from this point forwards.  I know from my original post that I am far from the only one living with these symptoms and that many different traumas can cause the same reaction, sometimes years into the future as mine did.  I have never once regretted sharing my story on here, from the moment I knew I had helped someone it was the right decision and as I have always said the taboo surrounding sexual abuse, PTSD and mental health in general make the whole situation so much more difficult to deal with.

Feel free to comment, as ever and I hope my story continues to be of some help in helping to understand PTSD.


Friday, 28 January 2011

A Progress Report

I've been wanting to post a follow up to my last blog for a week or so now but it's kind of hard to find the right words (I know. Me lost for words..... that's not normal!). I suppose the first thing is that I can honestly say I have no regrets about sharing my situation. Not one. I have been contacted by so many people since hitting that 'publish' button. Some on Facebook, some on email, some on Twitter. Some have been people I know, others I don't but every single one has been supportive and a few have been through or are still going through similar issues and situations. To hear from them that my post was such a help and a comfort was a huge deal to me. I hoped it may help someone, somewhere...... I never even considered that I would KNOW it had helped. That is a humbling feeling.
The one thing that most of these messages had in common was that they asked for me to post updates. People want to be able to follow my progress, some of them are thinking of taking the step towards the same kind of help.
It's hard to know quite what to update and what not to. As I said in my last post, it's all too easy to be taken over by PTSD and the causes of it. But I don't want to dwell on it. There's a whole lot more to me than what I am dealing with and I don't want to be characterised by pyschology appointments and symptoms.
But, on a practical level, I have now had four appointments with my psychologist and I have to say I couldn't really hope for them to be helping any more than they are. I have seen a number of counsellors over the last few months and I have to say the difference between them and the lady I am seeing now is huge. Counsellors listen. They are great at listening and sometimes that is all you need. You talk to them and, when there is a lull in your speech, they look at you, nod and say 'Hmmmm'. That's it. And, as I say, sometimes that is perfectly adequate. This time I needed more and I am getting it. My psychologist also listens but she asks questions, she gives opinion and offers advice that may help. She helps explain what I am feeling and why I feel like that. She explains my symptoms and puts my mind at ease. And that is priceless. I couldn't understand why I don't have a chronological memory of the events of the rape. I don't. I have snatches of memories. Smells, still images, sounds......I can remember some bits but I can't remember what order they go in and things that I would have thought I should remember, I can't. At all. I now know that this is perfectly normal for PTSD and so now I am not worried about it.
I'm not going into too much information about my individual appointments, I'm sure if anyone has any specific questions they will get in touch. I am always more than a little nervous on the day but the time I spend at the centre isn't too bad. We started on a timeline so that we could get more of an understanding into the kind of 13 year old I was, that will help us to understand more how the abuse affected me. We spent a good three weeks working through that and we have also talked about more recent events and how past experiences colour them too. This is one thing that I am finding fascinating. I am still so affected by my past. I know that sounds fairly obvious, and it's not neccessarily a bad thing....but I am so aware of it now.
Yesterday......well, yesterday was tough. I knew the day would come that I had to relive the details I can remember of the rape. I was expecting it a few weeks ago but it didn't happen then. It happened yesterday. And boy was it difficult. There were many tears, many tissues used and eye makeup streaks aplenty.....but I managed it and I am so proud of myself. Last night was hard too and I find this a lot after my appointments. I can feel fine as I leave the building, fairly positive in fact but I was told right from the start that after each session I have to give myself time and space to react. And it normally starts to hit me about an hour later. Reactions can come in physical form like a headache or more of an emotional form...... Last night I had the lot; shaking, headache, I felt sick and I felt dirty and I cried...a lot. I just allow these feelings. I don't fight them, don't analyse them, don't question them. I just ride them out like a roller coaster. I can feel as low as I have ever felt but I know it will pass. There is a part of me at this point that wants to get in touch with my close scream, cry, shout and just let them comfort me.... I think for the first couple of weeks I probably did. And it helped at the time but then, afterwards, I regretted it. I know my friends will disagree with me here, but I felt too needy. I felt weak. I felt a burden. And so now, I generally get through this stage on my own. I don't ask for help and I just allow whatever I feel to come and go because the bottom line is that I have to come to terms with my past, my feelings and my experiences. Other people can help but they can't do the work for me. I have to that on my own. That is probably the hardest lesson I have had to learn so far. Don't get me wrong I still need help sometimes. I still need hugs and, when I do I am lucky that I have people ready, willing and able to offer support (and the best hugs going). It's been so important for me to learn when to push through and stay strong.....and when to shout for help!
I'll update again as I go along....and, as before, I really hope my experiences may help others.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Difficult One

It's been a difficult decision whether or not to write this post......I expect it will be a more difficult one still to decide whether or not to hit the publish button.

If you have been following my blog for a while you may remember this post. Well now, finally, I have started my treatment. It's taken twelve rather long, slow months but now I am being given the chance I need to face this head on.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a strange animal. The original trauma that I am dealing with happened to me when I was 13 years old. That's 21 years ago. And yet, without any real warning, a simple conversation triggered the symptoms almost exactly a year ago today. I struggled with nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and depression.....getting from one day to the next was sometimes an impossible task that could only be tackled hour by hour or minute by minute....... The six weeks I took off work are just a blur to me now.

Any problems of a mental nature, I find, are still very much a taboo subject.... Don't get me wrong, it's a lot more acceptable to talk about them now than twenty years ago but it's still not easy.....and it's a difficult situation for the person experiencing these issues. You're split in two. Part of you wants to reach out to those you trust and those who are close enough to talk want help, unerstanding, love, support and to feel safe..... but at the same time, another part of you wants to ignore don't want to be characterised by the symptoms. You don't want to be taken over by them even though, at times, that's exactly how you feel. I am not my symptoms, I am me. But, at times, even I struggle to see me through the fog that the PTSD creates.

This social taboo issue makes things considerably harder for someone dealing with a trauma. Because, for some people, it's not just the diagnosis of the PTSD that is hard to discuss....for many people, myself included, the trauma itself is often treated in the same way. My issues are based around an event that happened when I was still a child. I was raped. I am not ashamed of writing that but even as I do I imagine people cringing as they read it. Sexual abuse is something that happens to many people; both men and women, boys and girls and it is still something that is not talked about, mainly because people don't know how to talk about it. And so it's easier not to. But that is not true for those of us who have been attacked in this way and are trying so hard to make sense of the experience and move on.

I suppose, in reality, there are only a handful of people that anyone would want to discuss something like rape with in any detail. It's not something you want everyone you meet to know the smallest detail about but, having said that, beyond the handful of people closest to you, there is a larger circle of friends that you kind of wish just did know. To understand, to be there and to just 'get it'. But nobody can 'just know' and you have to go through the heart wrenching decision of how, when and if to share the facts and, then, how much do you share? And even then, you have to be ready for almost any and every reaction can be a huge hug, some may cry, others just look back in silence and don't know what to say leaving a very awkward situation. And there is no going back. It's no wonder so many people suffer in silence and don't say anything to anyone....just burying it underneath everyday routines and accepting that things will never change for them.

I find that such a sad situation. I suppose it's what I did for almost twenty years. I knew I hadn't dealt with things but it was easier just to carry on muddling through, ignoring some of the difficulties I encountered that, looking back, were blatantly caused by the trauma. I had no idea that after all this time it was even possible for PTSD to suddenly strike me as it did. It was so frightening. I felt like I had been taken over, I had no control over my thoughts and the flashbacks were so realisitic, bringing back memories I didn't know I had and using all my senses to show me that I remembered more than I could ever have imagined.

It took a lot to speak to my GP, but I did and, after 12 months of waiting and screening I have now just started my treatment with a consultant psychologist. I will see her every week for an hour for as long as it takes. It's more than scary and before my first appointment last week I struggled to hold back the tears and the panic....but that's OK. I know I am strong enough to deal with this now and to meet it head on. Last week we started working on a timeline and we got up to age 13. Which means this afternoon I have to relive, in detail, that day, that attack, that rape. It's something I have tried to hide from since the day it happened but today I will take the deepest breath and put myself back in that situation as a 13 year old. I know I have to do it so that I can finally move on.

I haven't written this post because I want pity, sympathy, attention or anything else. In fact I'm not concerned if no one comments at all. My hope is that my experiences just may help someone else who is struggling in a similar way. There are so many people coping with symptoms alone, thinking they are unable to reach out and take that next step. Even if I can only help one person to realise that other people understand their symptoms and have experienced what they are going through then I consider sharing my story to be worthwhile.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

It's all about the Legs

...all eight of them that is. Yep, I'm talking about the rather icky subject of spiders...eurgh. I don't like them. No, they have never done anything to me, I am well aware that they are probably far more afraid of me than I am of them....and every other cliche you can come up with. But I still don't like them much. Why anything with a body so small requires eight legs is beyond me. I mean EIGHT?! Why? I also struggle with that bizarre ability they have to lower themselves from the ceiling and seemingly drop in front of you. Gives me the heebie jeebies.

Anyway, up until recently Harry was fine with spiders. He was interested in what they could do, he talked to them....... no problem at all. This was up until about 6 weeks ago when we had a very close call in the bathroom. I had run a bath for Harry and he was playing downstairs. The water and bubbles were rising nicely and so I called him upstairs. He was just getting undressed when I spotted an 'issue'. An issue with eight legs.

'Stop! Don't get in!'
There, sitting on a small red rubber boat was a rather large spider. It looked about as worried as we did, in fairness and if I'd looked close enough it was probably trembling. Now, I wasn't going to pick it up but I didn't really want to drown it either. There was only one way out and that involved opening the window WIDE, scooping the boat and its passenger into a jug and flinging the whole lot out into the garden. So that's what we did. Harry threw some clothes back on and went down to rescue the boat, but then decided he wasn't brave enough to pick it up as he couldn't locate the the boat stayed in the garden for the next day until we were both sure the leggy creature wasn't still around!

Anyway, since then, Harry won't get in the bath without a grumble. We've had many a night where we've had to do a full bedroom check for spiders before he'd get in bed and go to to sleep. Until I hit upon a way of helping him to deal with this. The spiders started to talk back. He speaks to them and they reply (via yours truly, of course....) It can be a little tedious at times but if it works, then so be it. This has also led to the spiders having yesterday we had Horace in the bathroom and Maurice on the landing....Horace in fact was sitting on the light so we had to be careful not to singe his feet.....

So far today Harry hasn't looked for his spider friends, which is probably just as I went up to bed last night Horace had met Maurice.....and I'm wondering which one ate the other......