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.