The Inclusive University

A Personal Experience - The Disabling Effects of Trauma

Posted by Valerie Russell Emmott | 1 comment
22Dec2016

 

 

 

What happened to me

Earlier this year, I felt a sudden change within my physical and mental functioning. It started with night terrors and insomnia, but quickly turned into extreme depression, very high levels of anxiety in seemingly normal situations, regular panic attacks, unwelcome flashbacks, periods of disassociation, hearing and seeing things that did not exist, emotional numbness, demotivation, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, heightened fear, body tremors, body pains, feverish sweating, loss of appetite and nausea.

I felt I could control or contain it until it started affecting my ability to speak and write. I could no longer access language the same way and this caused me to forget simple words. Sometimes, it brought on a stammering problem, and there were times where I would open my mouth and I could not get one word out.

My academic and professional life felt strenuous and tiring. I could no longer remember routes that I had walked a hundred times before and I started to lose balance in my body easily therefore socialising became more and more difficult. My personal life was painfully affected and I lost a lot of confidence very quickly. I isolated myself from my family, lost a lot of friends and lost the relationship I was in. The loss in every area of my life and inability to function felt like being trapped within my own body.

Seeking help and getting diagnosed with PTSD

It took me some time to accept that I needed help but once I did, I approached my GP at the UWE Health Centre, UWE Wellbeing, the NHS and various charitable organisations. After several assessments, I was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a condition that sets in after a traumatic event where the event could not be processed properly at the time of occurrence. The memories are not stored in the brain in the same way and then start to re-surface later as though being played back in flashbacks with heightened reactions, triggered by the smallest of sensory reminders. This causes the physical and mental capabilities to feel overthrown.

For months, I had not understood what was causing these troubling symptoms that I could not control or contain, which felt even more disorientating - therefore finally having the PTSD diagnosis felt comforting. It helped me to understand that there was nothing wrong with me, I simply had a condition that was affecting my abilities.

Following the diagnosis, I did many new things to help me adjust and cope better:

    • I read available information to understand more about PTSD;
    • I was given medication specifically for PTSD;
    • I approached therapy that was targeted at PTSD including counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR);
    • I joined a specialist group to meet others who struggled with similar issues;
    • I discussed my diagnosis and circumstances with my Head of Department at UWE, my line manager, supervisors and colleagues that I worked very closely with;
    • I lived a crisis house in Bristol for a month to dedicate time for my recovery;
    • I mapped out my triggers and reactions to pinpoint what I find difficult to cope with;
    • I changed my lifestyle to be more accommodating and manageable;
    • I was kinder and less critical of myself;
    • I made time to do small replenishing things I had denied myself earlier in the year because I felt undeserving – I went for leisurely walks, listened to music, joined a choir, wrote in a journal, read books, cooked, went out for meals, travelled,got a kitten (whom I named Detective Bubbles) and even dyed my hair in colours that I liked; and
    • I spoke openly to my friends and family instead of putting on a pretence.

         

Almost a year has passed now since my diagnosis. Even with all the positive steps I have taken, it is an ongoing battle with symptoms that still surface and re-surface. Yet I am very grateful I reached out for help and receive the support I need.

Language as a barrier to healing

In terms of language, there were many labels and negative phrases people said to me: "you're weak," "move on from this," "you always act like a victim," "it's like you're 98%," "overreacting," "the past is the past," "you only think about yourself," "abusive," and "behaving like an abuser."

PTSD is a difficult condition to describe. I would personally describe it as living in a different world; one filled with fragments of a past traumatic event that flood your system, seize your senses and cease you from existing in the current world. The emotional and physical pains that come with it are terrifying mainly because you cannot stop or control them. The powerlessness, guilt and shame are heavy burdens to bear. It is difficult enough having the condition and made more difficult by negative connotations people attach to it.

Language is a two-edged sword. It can be used effectively to communicate messages and it can be used to entrap people. Nobody should have their personal circumstances dismissed or minimised, ignored or shamed. I consider Post Traumatic Stress a disabling condition for myself yet I describe myself as strong, as a survivor, and as 100%.

I hope this will give encouragement to be kinder to those around you because regardless of their appearance or behaviour, they may be going through difficulties that are both visible and invisible to the eye. I also hope that this blog post can help others come forward and seek the help they might need.

by Dharshana Navendren, Graduate Tutor, Department of Architecture and Built Environment, FET

UWE support for the Zero Tolerance campaign

Posted by Valerie Russell Emmott | 0 Comments
07Jul2016
This article is taken from the Zero Tolerance campaign website and was originally published in April 2016 prior to the Bristol mayoral election:

The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) have been involved in Bristol Zero Tolerance from the beginning and are championing the issue of addressing gender-based violence in Bristol with the University of Bristol and others.

We spoke to Professor Jane Harrington, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, to find out what has been implemented and what they are planning for the future:

 Professor Harrington, the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative was needed because of the attitudes that she saw in students regarding gender-based violence: "I have been shocked by attitudes of students across the sector and was concerned that we had a specific policy to deal with this issue at UWE Bristol… In particular I have an interest in seeing that female students and staff have a safe working environment and that there are policies in place to ensure this. We obviously have a focus on students because this is a large issue, particularly around alcohol-related sexual violence and harassment. But it also translates to staff and it is important that staff also have a safe environment. Their home life can impact on the workplace, there is also the relationship of staff to students which needs to be appropriate, and it is also student to student. So we want to work on all of these aspects."

Professor Harrington is the Senior Lead for Gender at UWE and a member of the Bristol Women’s Commission and it was through this role that she was involved in setting up Bristol Zero Tolerance. "We felt it was the most pressing problem in the city and that we shouldn’t ignore it but should take a stance and not just sign the pledge but take actions, and this was an impetus for us to take action at UWE Bristol… I was the Chair of the Transport Sub-Group on the Women’s Commission and the biggest issue with transport is safety, likewise with housing, safety is a huge issue. So it impacts on so many areas. When we look at the percentage of sexual violence and domestic violence in society, it just has to be one of our main priorities, safety has to be a priority, because if we confront that and use it as a baseline then we can tackle the other issues of inequality against women and others."

‘Safety has to be a priority, because if we confront that and use it as a baseline then we can tackle the other issues of inequality against women and others.’ – Professor Harrington

For UWE Bristol, being involved in Bristol Zero Tolerance was important, as gender-based violence was an increasing concern and it was a priority to ensure the right response for students. For Professor Harrington it also "means that we can push in the direction that we were already going more quickly. It sends out a clear public message to students and staff about our values and the actions that we will take if they are not carried out."

UWE Bristol have also joined proactively with the University of Bristol and both student unions as well as with other agencies, such as the Police and Bristol Zero Tolerance, to create the Forum Against Sexual Violence and Harassment, which is a great example of joint working to create change on this issue. The Staff unions are also supportive and they are hoping to work with them further on this issue.

Externally, through the Intervention Initiative, they hope to help other universities and further education colleges implement this preventative work to tackle the problems of gender-based violence before they occur. As Professor Harrington notes, "if we can stop sexual violence before it happens, it is better than dealing with the consequences."

"If we can stop sexual violence before it happens, it is better than dealing with the consequences." – Professor Harrington



For Professor Harrington, a Zero Tolerance City would mean "that all aspects of sexual violence and harassment are tackled appropriately and people are empowered to take appropriate action and are confident that this action will be supported by the relevant bodies in the city, such as the Police, the universities and other services like The Bridge… I also want women to feel confident that if gender-based violence occurs or they are in fear of it occurring, that there is a place that they can seek help and be confident of this… My vision is that the percentage of domestic violence and sexual violence is diminished dramatically from where it is now and that this is not seen as a daily occurrence – that it rarely happens and is dealt with when it does… I want Bristol to feel a safer city to be a woman in."

She also has a message for the city leaders in Bristol: "I hope that whoever the elected mayor is after May 2016 that they commit to supporting this initiative and I hope that they see gender-based violence as unacceptable and want to address it, as well as recognising that this doesn’t happen without commitment
and funding!
"

We can’t disagree with that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diverse Doors Open Day

Posted by Valerie Russell Emmott | 0 Comments
27Mar2015

Sunday the 22nd of February was Diverse Doors Open Day in Bristol. This is an annual event organised by the Bristol Multifaith Forum (

www.bristolmultifaithforum.org.uk).

 

It is an event that I have attended in previous years. This year, my experience was more structured as I aimed to see as many faith buildings as I could in the Eastville, Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road area. I was travelling with a friend, so the places we visited needed to interest us both. We also wanted to visit places that felt comfortable and welcoming.

We started by visiting the Sikh Gurdwara on Fishponds Road. We were welcomed and shown the upper prayer hall. Our guide explained that Sikhs originally formed an army, and that they had been Hindu before they established themselves as Sikhs. While we were in the building we observed several people praying.

There was not a structured service in progress. Sikhs usually visit the Gurdwara on Sundays, possibly something copied from the colonial influence. The holy book the Guru Granth Sahib was pointed out to us. It is treated with great respect and has its own bed chamber close to the altar. Our Sikh guide helped me appreciate the importance of the sword in the Sikh religion.

We started by visiting the Sikh Gurdwara on Fishponds Road. We were welcomed and shown the upper prayer hall. Our guide explained that Sikhs originally formed an army, and that they had been Hindu before they established themselves as Sikhs. While we were in the building we observed several people praying.

There was not a structured service in progress. Sikhs usually visit the Gurdwara on Sundays, possibly something copied from the colonial influence. The holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, was pointed out to us. It is treated with great respect and has its own bed chamber close to the altar. Our Sikh guide helped me appreciate the importance of the sword in the Sikh religion.

Our second venue was Shah Jalal Mosque, the one you might see from the M32 motorway as you approach Bristol. This building although fairly new showed signs of vandalism and disrepair. There was a tall fence around the compound, and from the side of the building it appeared to be closed.

Our first impressions were misguided. This was the venue where we received the biggest welcome. Our young guide, Mohamed, said that he was studying in Loughborough. We talked for some time with Mohamed. He was interested in our background as much as talking about his own faith.

Our next venue was another mosque – this time in St Mark’s Road. Finding the entrance was not easy. At first, we thought it was only men who could enter. When we found the entrance for women, it took us around the side of the building. We went in and found numerous shoes belonging to women. There were voices of women coming from an upstairs room. A regular meeting was in progress – but we found our way into a large ground floor room where several groups were talking with faith members. The Diverse Doors Trail bus had arrived at this venue.

We then stopped for lunch in the nearby Thali Cafe on St Marks Road, Easton.

After lunch, we walked on to find the Liberal (Progressive) Synagogue. The Diverse Doors Trail bus was at this venue as well. There was a large group of people who were already seated, but we found seats at the back of the room. Rabbi Monique Mayer introduced us to a song and we joined in. The Rabbi had a lot to tell us, and we tried to follow the "service" in the prayer book. But we were confused, as the page numbering was from back to front. We heard a lot, but I am not sure how much we learnt. The singing was a good way to engage the audience and I would have liked more of that. I think I would like to visit again either on an informal basis or to see a service in progress. Incidentally, this was the only venue where we did not need to remove our shoes or (as women) to wear a head scarf.

Our last venue was the Hindu Temple. We were welcomed by a woman who could speak very little English. We felt as if we were intruding on a family event, but we did wander up stairs to the prayer hall. We saw people using the building as individuals and as family groups. This was a valuable, albeit short visit with no one to tell me more than I already knew about Hinduism. I had been here before – when the resident Pandit (priest) had told me a lot about the Hindu faith.

I would certainly recommend attending a Diversity Open Doors event whenever you get the chance. It is an annual event. Joining the Diversity Trail might suit some people – but I think I enjoyed going around at my own pace. Most of the buildings I visited were within a ten minute walk from the nearest railway stations (Lawrence Hill or Stapleton Road). Travelling on the Severn Beach Line was only £2 return regardless of how far I travel.

Blog post by Heather Watts

If you missed Diverse Doore Open Day and you want to find out more about the faiths and beliefs of staff within this university, you might like to come along to meetings of the All Faiths and None (AFAN) Staff Network. We are a new group and we aim to meet monthly. New members are always welcome whatever your faith or belief.

To find out more contact:
Ian Yemm (

Ian.Yemm@uwe.ac.uk) who is the Coordinating Chaplain (Anglican) based in the Community Hub at Frenchay Campus;

 

Valerie Russell-Emmott (

Valerie.Russellemmott@uwe.ac.uk) who is the Equality and Diversity Manager within Human Resources;

 

Heather Watts (

Heather.watts@uwe.ac.uk) who works as a Technician in Education.

 

The next All Faiths and None meeting is on Wednesday April 29th from 12 – 1:30 pm on the Frenchay campus. Meetings are informal, feel free to bring your lunch, and drop in! Email

allfaithsandnone@uwe.ac.uk to get email updates about meeting dates and topics.