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