Living with PTSD

Note: This blog was transposed from an internal intranet at my work.

“Just like there’s always time for pain, there’s always time for healing.”
― Jennifer Brown, Hate List

I am a trauma survivor – I live with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

This post is something very personal for me. I want to share this with you, my colleagues and friends – the horrors of the human experience are not such that they should be experienced in solitude – they should be shared with love, compassion and trust. (I will not be describing any of the traumatic events themselves) To me, this is the first time I am really saying this stuff in a public forum – this is part of my journey of recovery in establishing my identity and not being fearful of my past.

My trauma begun at a very young age – before I can currently remember directly. It persisted up until and culminated in my mid-teens with a series of exceptionally damaging and painful events. I was left alone, broken and terrified. On some level I recognised that something was wrong and that I needed help, but the pain and struggle of living everyday overrode any thoughts of becoming healthy or healing myself. 

Different people react in different ways to trauma; some people will become like a raw nerve, every emotion causing pain but ultimately trapped in that pain; some will suppress those emotions; some will be in so much pain they experience a psychotic break. My traumas forced me into a corner – I felt like I had nobody around me that was able or willing to help me, nobody that could understand me, and had no way out. My mind begun to suppress my emotions – they were too big, too scary, too difficult to understand – my minds chosen route was disassociation. It chose for me that I was to detach myself from the pain.

I’d like to take a moment to show you and explain some of the symptoms I have experienced over the years, and some that I still experience to this day, as a result of these traumas:

  • Memory loss – I have large parts of my teenage years I cannot remember. I also struggle retaining certain information, mostly emotionally-related. I will often have friends ask me “Do you remember when X happened?” and I will simply have no recollection whatsoever. This symptom in itself is difficult to deal with – I have the loss of the memories themselves, and then a kind of grief around that loss.
  • Depersonalisation – I have felt very disconnected from my own body. In my teenage years, I experienced severe acute bouts of this symptom, leading to a feeling of almost being “outside” of my own body – a strange feeling that I still can’t describe very well. In addition, to this day I struggle to connect with my own emotions and the bodily sensations they cause. I’ve felt completely and utterly numb, and unable to feel any emotion at all.
  • Derealisation – I have felt like the world around me is completely separate from myself. I’ve felt it’s not real, or that it is in some way a trick. I’ve felt completely detached from the rest of the human race, not understanding why everyone else seems so alien to me in their behaviours and speech.
  • Loss of feelings – I have been, at times, completely unaware of my own emotions and bodily sensations. Unable to understand what is happening to me, whilst remaining so detached from myself that I wasn’t even sure if I should care.
  • Shame/Guilt – I have felt shame about who I am, why I am not the same as other people, why I do not understand other people and why I seem to frustrate people. “Everyone else can manage their lives so why can’t I?”. Often in meetings I would look for what I had done wrong to cause someone else’s anger / frustration, creating a massive weight on my own shoulders without realising.
  • Emotional Volatility – being detached from my emotions means that often I simply do not know they are happening. I can find myself in the middle of anger and have no idea what has caused that anger, or upset for seemingly trivial reasons.
  • Relationship difficulties – I have struggled to maintain relationships with many people, often having to drastically change my own behaviour or ignore my needs in the aim of “fitting in”.

Perhaps the hardest symptom though, has been the symptom caused by all of the above symptoms. I have felt like I am broken beyond repair, unable to heal myself and stuck in a world full of people who I cannot understand or relate with.

I attempted to get help from within the NHS in my teenage years, however my own disassociation had become so severe that I presented with very few symptoms. From the outside it looked as though I was mildly depressed, on the inside however, my universe was collapsing in on me. My conscious world dissolved nearly completely – I had begun a new life – I was no longer in charge of my own actions. My life became robotic – I did not understand why I did the things I did, just that they were the right things to do. My pain was so large and all-consuming that my mind had decided to give it all up – happiness, sadness, excitement, passion, love – I was left with only the constant stream of unconscious thoughts into the conscious – instructions to myself ultimately on how to keep living. Oddly enough, my mind was not able to suppress everything – I was left with the peaks of the strongest emotions that I personally experience – anger and grief. These two emotions kept popping up, although only in their most severe forms. Anger and grief for me were like flashes in a pan – they would appear fast and disappear just as quickly. I would find my fist clenched with no idea what I was feeling, or crying with no idea what had upset me.

Over the years, I learned to live with the new reality I had been thrown into. My mind had a plan to get me help – it just had not told me what it was. I will not go into details, but I landed myself in hospital right in front of the people who I thought on some level could help me. I was very lucky to find the NHS had no beds and I was taken to an exceptionally good private hospital. I was there for around a month, and had learned a little bit about myself – enough to know on some level that I needed significantly more than one month of help.

By this stage I had gotten used to living in this way – feeling very little emotion, not understanding my own thoughts and actions, but also not really having the ability to question those thoughts and emotions as I was mostly unaware of them. Again, unconsciously my mind had formed a plan to get me help – this involved having enough funds available to me to find a private therapist in effect. To me at this stage, all I knew was that I needed to climb the career ladder, and fast. I managed to find myself a position in a software company – I found myself gravitating towards data and database administration, again not really knowing why. I was given a job within that software company as a junior database administrator. From there I moved up very quickly (and by the time I was 28 found myself here at MPS as a database administrator).

I found myself a private therapist after going through a few of them. At this stage I didn’t know what I was looking for, I was relying on that “gut feeling”, in this case the gut feeling telling me whether I thought the therapists could actually help me or not. I landed on a therapist (I am happy to say I am now 5 or so years into mostly weekly sessions).

My recovery started. Every week I went to therapy and learned about who I was, why I do the things I do, why I think the way I think and feel the way I feel. Over a long period I learned what it is to be angry, sad, happy, loving, passionate and why these emotional responses exist in the first place – anger is roughly “I want something to change” as an example. This allowed me to start mapping out my daily life and begun the process of connecting me back to my own body and emotions. 

Over time, I began to feel more and more calm about who I am, understanding that even though I do things and act in ways I might not want, my mind has done all of this for a very good reason – keeping me alive. I gained an innate trust with myself – whatever my brain told me I needed, I knew it was right. Forming this internal communication and trust with myself has allowed me to keep recovering and growing as a person.

Today, I am far more in touch with myself than I ever have been. When I’m angry, I’m able to account for why. When I’m sad, I know I’m still okay. I am growing as a person at the fastest rate I ever have. I am still learning to this day – at the moment I’m working on drawing out some of those unconscious processes that have been built up over the years to see whether I would like more conscious control over them or not. I am also able to give myself space and understand that I’m not going to get everything correct first time – I’m on a journey just as much as the rest of us are – this journey is my choice.

My life has become about the choice of who I want to be, rather than a story of the things that happened to me. I choose to grow because it is what I want.

I would like to end this blog by speaking directly to you – the reader. No matter how down and out you feel; no matter how crushed and inescapable your current situation may feel, no matter how dark the current situation appears – there is a path out. I was one of the lucky ones – I managed to find my route out and am still climbing that mountain today – a journey which I expect I will never truly finish, but then again this is the beauty of life to me now – the journey of personal growth and finding my own meaning of the world. This is within all of our gifts to ourselves – the gift to allow ourselves to change and grow. To me, this is the very reason why I have been put on this earth, to find what I can be, not what I am. We can sometimes feel like a passenger along for the journey of life – this is not the case – we can choose who we want to be, even if that choice isn’t clear to us right now – sometimes it just takes another person to show us the light.

I have purposefully not gone into any detail in this post in an attempt to ensure it does not distress anyone – I am however comfortable discussing the events I’ve been through. If anyone wants to talk about their own life, my own, wants any more information or just wants to reflect – I am here. Email me, Teams message me, Call me.

Together we stand stronger.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.