“PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions”
As humans we feel things, whether it’s on a deep level or shallow level. Our emotions can consume any event that we go through and highlight the worst parts. Life has a way of knocking us down and continually kicking us while we’re already down, just to put salt into the wound. Sometimes, we relive these traumatic events over and over again; post traumatic stress disorder is real.
What is PTSD?
Post traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition brought on by either witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Symptoms can range from flashbacks, anxiety/depression, nightmares, emotional numbness, avoidance behaviour, intrusive thoughts, forgetfulness, fear, detachment, varied moods and so on.
When these symptoms appear for more than 4-6 weeks, its diagnosed as PTSD and can last for either a short time or an extended time, or even come back periodically.
It can occur from anything such as war, murder, death, bullying, assault and even natural disasters. There’s no real timeline to PTSD and it varies so much for different people.
What treatments are available?
The only real treatment for PTSD is either CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or any other type of talking therapy. Medication isn’t really used for this sort of thing though it can be helpful for people for a short amount of time. (Antidepressants aren’t a life long ‘cure’)
This is my story…
In 2013, I lost my pa. It wasn’t as easy as him dying in his sleep or going through natural causes. Instead, he was diagnosed with cancer too late and that’s pretty much when it went downhill. At the beginning on 2013 after losing a lot of weight and having other symptoms, and after many doctor visits he was finally diagnosed with cancer that had spread everywhere by this time. The initial plan was for surgery to remove the organ that housed the most cancer so he would get another 12 months or so out of life. This is when I realised that the foundations my life sat on would fall apart again and that death isn’t avoidable.
When you hear the word cancer you cringe, you get uncomfortable. Hearing the diagnosis for a loved one mess with you beyond words. Especially when it’s followed with being told that it’s too late to really do anything about it.
Fast forward to around April/May (time kind of melted all together during this time so my timeline might be off and make this confusing) when he first went into hospital for the surgery, every day after school I would go into the hospital and see him until visiting hours were over and then repeat that for the next 2 weeks. The initial surgery to get a biopsy of the cancer was a success, he woke up and was told to come back in a week or so to remove the organ.
Surgery comes to remove the organ and that too was a success, as he was coming out of the anaesthetic he started getting delusional and seeing things that just weren’t were. He want himself and there was something wrong. That day at school I felt horrible all day knowing that something was wrong and coming into the hospital to see him like that made me realise the power of gut feelings. He got me to sit by his bedside where he held my hand and told me to look after my nan for him and to never forget him. I honestly didn’t know how to react being told this at 16. I had no idea.
He went back into surgery as they thought there may be an issue or infection with the initial surgery causing my Pa to act out of character. That’s when the safety net of my life and soul didn’t catch me. He went into cardiac arrest coming out of the surgery and his heart stopped beating for a few minutes until they resuscitated him. I remember walking into a waiting room with my mum, nan and brother and just realising that this was it. He has to be flown to another hospital to check for blood clots and to attempt to wake him up. Before being flown out they let us go and see him, my heart dropped seeing him attached to life support, hearing the machine beeping and lights flickering, tubes everywhere.
There was nothing they could do other than keep him comfortable. A week later, as a family we had the discussion about taking him off life support and seeing what happens, no one had any hope. I did, but I knew deep down that there isn’t. He vaguely woke up, but only enough to murmur yes and no and move his toes on command. He was like he had brain damage, he just wasn’t in there. 2 weeks pass and my family have called the hospital home for around 4-5 weeks at this point and he was breathing on his own but he was basically brain dead. We made the decision to risk returning him to the first hospital and letting him go there. He ended up ‘living’ on his own for about 2 weeks. He was basically brain dead the entire time, he wasn’t there and he wasn’t the Pa I grew up with. Then one Tuesday morning, he started breathing funny and that was the moment that I stood at the end of the bed and watching him die, take his last breath on this planet.
I’ve left out a few details in this due to personal reasons but you can start to paint a picture here.
Not long after he passed away I started having vivid nightmares of him dying over and over again. It progressed to me jumping out of bed every morning and getting ready as if I was going to the hospital. I the started having flash backs, sometimes when I blinked, sometimes if I heard or smelled something from the event or even if I saw something similar on tv. At first I thought this was just what grief was, but it isn’t. Grief isn’t having to relive the same traumatic event over and over again in all aspects of your life. I was afraid to sleep and afraid to think. Barely anyone believed me that I was dealing with this as it’s something that’s mostly tied with war and romanticised in films and tv.
I found that people are afraid of something they don’t understand, and therefore either dismiss you as over reacting or belittle and underestimate the actual problem. At my worst, i was battling with PTSD, clinical depression and bullying. My life was literal hell for quite a while. It’s one thing having a loved one die, but watching them turn into the shell of who they were and them taking their last breath is something else entirely.
One of the reasons I was getting bullied was due to my mental health, I was perceived and told I was weak. At the time I thought they were right, every day I have constant flashbacks, I cut my wrists, I struggle to get out of bed, I couldn’t be happy or anything to that affect. I began therapy and going into recovery and I realised that I wasn’t the weak one, but they were. They bullied me out of fear, they didn’t want to understand or expand their education and look beyond their own stigmatic views. Instead, they took their fear out on me, who was already scared to be experiencing something that was terrifying that I couldn’t understand myself.
I won’t lie, PTSD is complicated, scary, hard and confusing but a little acceptance and understanding goes a long way. The best way to remove stigma is to educate and expand the minds of those afraid of these things. I also developed another aspect to my PTSD from the said bullying, I was afraid to leave my house out of fear of seeing those people that inflicted such torment in my life, I started building walls around me and not letting anyone in, I developed a strong reaction to when I think or know I’m being targeted again, I basically developed the worst trust issues I’ve ever had.
I tackled it with intensive therapy and no medication. I was determined and stubborn enough to do it mostly on my own. However, everyone is different.
My story now…
4 years on and I’m in therapy again as anxiety that has risen this year has opened up the gateway that I once sealed off and brought back my previous mental illnesses. I’m dealing with it much better now and it does get better, you are able to live your life and you are able to recover, however you won’t really be the same ever again and that’s something that you have to come to terms with. It’s important that people know that PTSD isn’t just here one day and gone the next, but it sticks with you no matter how minor or major the trauma you experienced was.
Don’t let anyone make you feel invalid for going through what you’re feeling. I wrote this post because I wanted to just get all of my feelings out about PTSD and how serious it really is. I hope it’s been helpful.