Sunday, 9 February 2014

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

As one would expect, you can never escape a rape unscathed and the consequences can follow for years if not for a lifetime. I had spent a significant number of years struggling on/off with depression and anxiety before this ever happened. This was further complicated by having Autism. I was beginning to make real strides of progress in the aftermath of a rather traumatic school life and an emotionally abusive parent who fled the family home for greener pastures. My parents soap-opera divorce proceedings were 2/3 weeks away from a court hearing and I was less than a fortnight away from moving away from home for the first time. There is never a good time to be raped but this definitely was a case of appalling timing.

I shut down. I couldn't function and I had to start from scratch without a guide or a clue. I was just beginning to heal but now I felt like I was cursed. One thing after another after another after another...

I still have nightmares and flashbacks on a near-nightly basis. I am hyper alert at the best of times. I don't have a good grip on my emotions: some days everything can and will irritate my core, other days I'm numb and detached with little motivation. I feel forever exposed and can hardly do anything right. I am a very troubled sleeper (especially if I'm sleeping somewhere for the first time) and prone to waking up multiple times a night. Physical intimacy, regardless of how much I crave it, can be a challenge. My appetite is either non-existent or ravenous (90% of time it's the former.) If I let you buy or make me a drink without me watching you, you really have my absolute trust which is an extremely rare commodity.

After almost 5 months and 3 different types of anti-depressants failing to help or causing outright sickness, I went to a GP at my practice who specialises in mental health. She sat me down and allowed me to explain my situation. At the end, she was able to explain something very clearly: I suffer from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)....

...and it's no surprise considering the list of traumas I've experienced and prior mental health conditions which has made me more vulnerable to it. It is estimated that 3% of people will experience this in their lifetimes. Some studies have found that 1/5 of firefighters, 1/3 of teenage survivors of car crashes, 2/3 of prisoners of War and 1/2 of female rape survivors suffer from PTSD. It varies in severity and length in every person. There are many treatments available including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), self-help and anti-depressants. 

If you know someone whose got PTSD, it can be tricky to know what to do. First and foremost, I strongly discourage you to suggest they can 'just get over it and move on'. It's clearly not easy for them and that will only make them feel worse. Secondly, look out for mood-swings and changes in behaviour like avoiding work. Thirdly, if that person wants to confide in you let them: feeling listened to can make a huge difference even if just for a moment. Don't shame what they tell you. If they say anything like "I'm sorry, this must be really stupid," assure them it's not and they're doing really well in articulating their feelings. Unfortunately there's still a stigma around mental health issues which are damaging and toxic. Finally, don't coddle them. Don't assume because they have any degree of mental health issues they are incapable and need to be sheltered away from every little thing. 

I'm due an assessment for therapy in under 3 weeks. I have good days where I can function perfectly and enjoy myself. I also get really hard days where I just want to create a fort in bed and stay inside and not come out. The unpredictability is astounding. Honestly, I'm pretty scared I'll put off anyone I might be interested in in being with me by what I'm recovering from. I'm scared of driving away my closest friends and family despite the fact they have assured me many times that I'm not. I'm trying my best and that's all I can do. The key is I'm trying. I'm trying to recover and I'm trying to help as part of that. I want to take a stand in getting rid of all of my hair not only because I passionately believe in what I'm campaigning for. I'm doing it because I'm trying to convince the part of me that's still hiding that she doesn't need to be frightened anymore. I'm trying to convince myself that I can be strong. I'm trying to keep stand. 

Please check out my JustGiving page and keep following the blog. I am just over 20 weeks away from The Big Cut and counting down. 

Lots of love and solidarity <3

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