After having PTSD for around 4 years now I thought I’d share with you what life is like as a PTSD sufferer. I consider myself to have a mild case of PTSD and I’m aware of many more people that have the condition much worse than I.
The other day I was having a discussion on Twitter which involved my usual extremist ways of dealing with people that break the law. The tweet that set my brain in a descending spiral of anger had mentioned that if I had my way the Army would have been brought in for the London riots of 2011. This set off a trigger that made my brain go down a similar route to previous episodes.
I start to think that some people (in this case the rioters) are very ungrateful of the sacrifices that I and others have made. Had it not been for people like me willing to risk our very lives being completely obliterated leaving those that we love totally mortified, they would not be able to enjoy the freedom they take great pleasure in flouting.
This increases my anger
I then start to think about the things that I and people like me have done in order to ensure that these morons retain their freedom (by this point they are the lowest form of scum on the planet and my mind is stuck in a downward spiral).
This gives my brain a chance to feel sorry for itself
The time in history my brain usually decides to bring to the front and push in front of my eyes; nose; ears (& parts of my body that technically do not have senses) is a specific job when I was a member of the Bomb Disposal Team on my third tour of Iraq.The job involved going to suicide bomber that had already decided to share his hatred for the world with others. Whilst they were a few lifeless bodies laying on the floor, they were nothing that we didn’t see day in; day out.
After a short time on operational tour you forget that these lifeless bodies that you see in front of you are actually someone’s Son; Daughter; Mother; Father; Brother; Sister; Wife or Husband. Instead you see what is logical with the emotions stripped from the situation: you see an empty shell/corpes.
The reason that this job stands out is the sensory overload that was actually left after the operation had finished. Although at the time it was something that shocked me in many different ways, it was something that was quickly put to the back of my mind as we moved on with the various jobs that we received.
I went on to finish my fantastic career in the Army and left to start a business dedicated to providing a courier service to the members of the Armed Forces and their Families based outside the United Kingdom.
After a year or so my business failed which co-coincided with the re-occurrence of two recurring injuries I picked up in my time in the Army. The fact that my business had failed and I had nothing to occupy my time meant that for the first time in a long time my mind had a chance to relax. As it turned out this happened to be a negative outcome. My mind was now relaxed and I was starting to suffer from depression from the failure of my business and the loss of my only means of income.
It soon became apparent that my mind was suffering more than it was telling me. I would avoid having a shower for a week at a time as when I got in there the feel of the water running down my face caused flashbacks of another bad job that we had (on the same tour) when we had to wash the blood and dirt from our faces. Even the thought of a shower and the flashbacks would fill me with dread. This meant that my depression got worse which in turn led to my physical conditions getting worse and so started the downward spiral.
Luckily my fantastic GP and the support team around him quickly diagnosed that I was suffering from PTSD and gave me the tools to cope with it. I would like to say that they have cured me of it but I don’t think the condition will ever leave me and I believe it is now about managing with it as best I can.
In me it wasn’t evident straight away what was wrong with me. Obviously not showering and flashbacks were a good indicator but the general depression brought on my PTSD also led to a lack of patience and with a new son this was not a good thing.
Things came to a head when I had been self harming for a few weeks. By this point It looked like I’d been having an affair with Cat Woman (incidentally one of my Wife’s nicknames). In order to cope with one of my toddler’s tantrums I had to leave the room and drew every fingernail on my right hand from my left shoulder all the way down in one diagonal stroke to the right side of my stomach as hard as I could. Although it drew blood and hurt it wasn’t enough and so I filled my hands with hand sanitizer and spread it all over my torso – now that hurt. This was the first of the self-harming incidents that was visible to my Wife and she then became very worried (even more than she already was). I have to say that my son never saw me self-harm although he witnessed the outcome of the above incident.
The outcome of my self-harming was a calm feeling and a massive release of tension in my body. I am unable to explain it but when things got bad I just wanted to hurt myself and when I did I felt much better; as if a great big weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
The above incident was the final straw for me and the sheer thought that there was a possibility that my son may witness such an incident or start noticing the results meant that I had to seek professional help.
Again – thanks to the brilliant help my Barnsley Primary Care Trust /NHS and after seeing several different people I was given access to the back to fitness program. This gave me a 6 month gym membership for free to do anything I wanted in the local leisure centre. As a former swimmer and given the chronic back pain that I had I decided to concentrate on just swimming. I went most mornings and I saw the benefits almost straight away. I had to use a walking stick to walk with less frequency and after a few months I was actually able to look for work that would help me get even better.
I began to deliver Betterware and then Avon books. This allowed me to carry on the physical side of the treatment and the very fact that I was once again earning money and contributing to society was a massive Phycological step forward.
There it was, the downward spiral had been reversed. I was exercising again – this gave me a better mood and the fact that I was earning contributed even more. My physical conditions got much better and I no longer had to spend 18 hours a day laid on a floor unable to move.
My second (more specialised councillor) taught me about a technique called grounding. I had to decide on an item or aspect of my life that would remind me that I wasn’t surrounded by sandy climates or in danger but was instead back in my home Town of Barnsley and was surrounded by the people I love.
As I was a new Father at the time and I was a house-husband (with not so much emphasis on the house) I chose my lovely baby boy. He would always be there and at the time this was quite literally true. If I went somewhere, so did he and visa versa.
From then on, If I experienced an episode or flashback I could look at him or (if I was away from him) take something out of my pocket that belonged to him and I knew that the grounding strategy was working. This in itself would relax me and as I would always be extracting myself from the cause & go straight home to where I was safe – things would soon get better.
I find that music is a great help when I’m feeling down and particularly when having a PTSD “episode”. For me it has to be chilled out classical music: usually (unless I’m in a really bad state of affairs) chilled out classical music will calm me right down and make me forget my troubles. To a lesser extent there is music from the lovely voices of Alison Moyet and Adele.
Moving onto more modern times. I still have bad memories and flashbacks. The latter are the worse and are a common occurrence in dreams and they often immerse me in the world I was once in. I see what I saw then; I hear what I heard then; I smell what I smelled then; I feel what I felt then (the sense of trying to anticipate what was going to happen next etc); this is even extended to senses that aren’t well…senses (hard to explain so I won’t try).
There are many days when I actively suffer from PTSD and there are many days (like today) when an incident happens and I know it’s one of my triggers so I do my best to try and keep calm. I am not in a position to carry my son around with me all the time and so I have to try and manage it myself. It is not easy.
Today I walked past to late teens/early twenties males walking down from Town and they each had a bottle of alcohol with them, openly drinking them during the early hours of the afternoon. It may be that they had just finished a shift but more than likely they had spent the money that we pay in taxes to buy booze instead of getting a job. This is a very common trigger for me. It helps if I’m not alone but if I am I find that listening to music through headphones whilst walking provides a decent distraction and gives me something to focus on when I encounter a trigger.
In general the lives of my family has been changed. I can no longer watch any programs that could involve exploding cars or things on fire and if I manage to catch a news report that contains something along these lines my mood changes for the worst for the next few hours at least.
My lovely Wife has told me that she knows I dream of these times as she can hear me crying in my sleep. She is also aware of what sort of visual queues set my PTSD off and gives me warnings when I am out of the room. My Wife has stuck with through me all the bad time regardless of how bad I have been or how bad my condition(s) have gotten. Even when I had to spend 18 hours a day lying on the floor unable to earn money she has been the unflinching concrete post that has been supporting me and offering both emotional as well as physical help.