Archive for the ‘ ptsd ’ Category

It Hurts So Bad I Can’t Feel It

I’m going to talk a little bit about dissociation today, or more importantly I’m going to talk about dissociation when it gets out of control and becomes a problem in everyday life. I say this because we all dissociate, everyday, all the time and it’s important to remeber that it’s not always a problem.

What is dissociation?

In psychology, dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

At the milder end of things we have the everyday dissociation;

  • drifting off while reading or listening
  • feeling numb when dealing with difficult news
  • going through rote motions with no thought
  • creating sub-personalities (this is work Bob, this is party Bob and so on)

At the more extreme end of things then it can take on more distressing forms;

  • finding yourself in a strange place, unaware of how you got there
  • amnesia
  • depersonalisation – feeling like you aren’t in, or fully in your body and you are watching it act
  • derealisation – feeling like the world around you has changed, be it in appearance or in deeply held feeling
  • identity disturbance – this can vary from not being sure who you are or what your feelings are (usually because of a mix of the above) through to fragmenting into multiple alternate personalities.

Why does it become so extreme in some people?

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Falling into a Crisis

Mental health crises are an inevitable part of the course when you live with the after effects of trauma. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), or EPCACE (Enduring Personality Change After Catastrophic Experience) as they are now calling it is something that is an everyday part of my life. As with most things, some days it’s bad, some days it’s alright and some days it’s average.

Some days however, it gets bad and then it stays that way. Well, it actually gets worse. You see, I get exhausted from a lack of sleep, from being constantly on edge, and from fighting to stay in the present day rather than slipping into the scary past. When I’m exhausted I can’t manage those symptoms as well so they get worse and I in turn find them harder to manage. At that point I spiral beyond “bad” and into crisis.

I’m in the crisis spiral again right now. I know the drill, take whatever drugs you need to ensure you get some sleep and rest. Do whatever you can to isolate yourself from sources of stress. Once I’ve got the rest it’ll reduce the severity of the symptoms, and I’ll have the strength to manage the ones that remain. It’ll all be easier. Right now it doesn’t feel like it’ll ever be easy again of course, that’s the problem. I’m struggling to have faith that things will ever feel better, and for all I tell myself that’s part of the viscous cycle I can’t quite grasp that it is. This time, my mind keeps telling me, it’s different. This is the time you don’t get better, this is the time you get drowned by it all. Continue reading

Leaving Abuse

[content note: this post covers my personal experiences with domestic abuse in some detail]

“Why don’t they just leave?”

“If someone did that to me I’d be out of there straight away!”

“If they were really being abused they’d run at the first chance!”

I’ve had all of these statements thrown at me and I’ve heard them applied to others living with domestic abuse. Aside from being generally unhelpful and blaming the victim for the abuse they are receiving, they are also based on a central faulty premise; that leaving domestic abuse is easy. For many of us that live(d) with it, it is exactly the opposite. It’s that difficulty that I’m going to discuss today.

To start with we have to remember a few things about domestic abuse; Continue reading

C-PTSD Flare, Stress & Compassion

I’ve been having a Complex PTSD flare, or EPCACE flare to go with the diagnosis on my medical records. Some new pills have managed to get the worst of the symptoms (somatic re-experiencing & full flashbacks) under control, which leaves me with some time to think about the other elements of the flare up.

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The Perils Of Being Emotionally Unstable

It’s 2013, January is steadily disappearing and I haven’t written a new blog post in a little while. I’ve been struggling quite a bit with mental health issues lately and it’s made writing on my blog quite difficult, but I think it’s time to give it ago.

Trigger warning for after the cut; talk of domestic abuse, stalking, harassment, courts and mental health

Taking my abusive ex-partner to court was a really difficult thing to do. He was being charged with harassment because of the following;

  • Kept standing outside of my place of employment and watching whilst I worked in a manner that was very intimidating given our past.
  • Occasionally he’d come in and flip out of control, shouting and making threats – eventually I lost my job because he kept doing that and scaring away customers.
  • After I passed one of his friends on the street or saw them in a bar he’d be there in no time calling me names and making threats.
  • He made a fair few threats to kill me and I believe he would have on a couple of occasions if police sirens (called by witnesses) hadn’t scared him off.
  • He kept sending letters telling me about things he knew I’d brought for my (ground floor) flat which he could have only known about by looking through the windows.

The police were very supportive and arranged for me to give my evidence via a video link because the idea of ever seeing his face again was making me break down completely, I’d been living in fear of it for so long. The court date was pushed back by the defence at the last minute and I spent another 3 months telling myself it would all be better after the hearing.

At the hearing I gave my testimony and spent much of the time in tears as I had to relive what had happened. It was hard as the magistrates frequently had to tell him to “be quiet”, “stop banging the wall” and to “sit down” which really intimidated me at the time. It was all going as well as these things can until I was asked by the prosecutor why I was so scared of him and I tried to explain it was because of the abuse I’d lived through. The magistrates stopped me and told me they couldn’t hear about any events that happened before a certain date (which included our entire relationship, criminal damage to my property, sending the police to my home for no reason simply to scare me and more death threats). How do you explain why you are completely terrified of someone who breached pretty much every basic human right you had until you no longer believed you were a proper human being any more, when you can’t say anything about the way they treated you? I couldn’t find a way. When I left everyone was very nice and explained that because of his behaviour in the dock, the two outright lies he’d told that had been contrary to other statements he’d made, the testimony of the witnesses and the fact they couldn’t find one witness for the defence he was finally going to get what he deserved.

After the hearing  I got a phone call to tell me that he had been found ‘Not Guilty’ and given a serious warning that if he did anything else it would come straight back to court and he’d be charged. The reasons the magistrate gave for this verdict was because I had been “overly emotional” given what he had done (that they had been able to hear about) whilst giving my evidence which threw my testimony into doubt. I was the reason he got off. My emotions were the reason he was able to tell everyone he was innocent of *everything*. I was branded another lying woman by everyone that knew about it and my world fell apart. Things got so bad I had to move to a new city. All because of my emotions.

So when I saw my psychiatrist and she told me that as well as depression, anxiety and PTSD they were adding a diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder I crumbled. Of course, that apparently just made me look more emotionally unstable because “the diagnosis shouldn’t have made [me] cry, most people find it very empowering”. It brought back all the feelings of pain when the abuse I suffered was dismissed because of my emotions. It made me feel like they were saying I was a broken person and therefore brought it upon myself/was over exaggerating things. I became scared that by my activism, blogging and tweeting was me unhealthily engaging in confrontations so I cut it right down.

It gave me time to think and to talk to those close to me about it. I have come to realise the diagnosis is clearly incorrect. I really don’t fit the diagnostic criteria at all. So, I am trying to challenge the diagnosis. It’s been taking up a lot of time and energy and it’s really thrown me back into a similar head space to that which I was in after the court case. In an effort to get past this blip I thought I’d write it down and draw a line under  it all. 

Language Check: Victim or Survivor?

Edited to clarify post content.

When it comes to talking about people who have lived through traumatic events people often get hung up on ‘what they should call them’. In most spaces I visit online or in the world at large there are two words that keep being used to label those who have experienced trauma; victim or survivor.  There seems to be a continuous debate on which word is the most appropriate.

Should they be called a victim? Or does using the term victim make them sound powerless and  create a unnecessary negative label? How about survivor then? It sounds strong and empowering! Yet it can serve to minimise the pain and trauma by making it sound like it’s a thing of the past, something the person is clearly ‘too strong’ to still have enduring problems dealing with the event(s).

It leaves us in a pickle. If these two commonly used words aren’t quite right, which label is?

Long answer: Stereotyping people is not cool. When looking at issues of gender there are countless papers written on the harm caused by stereotyping people as either girls (feminine) or boys (masculine). A quick example is that boys get harmed by the societal expectation that they should never show emotion and girls get harmed by the societal expectation that they are automatically weak. In issues of disability we can see the harm the ‘supercrip‘ stereotype causes as it creates an environment where disabled people feel like if they can’t become a paralympian/get a job/’overcome’ their impairment or disability then they are failures. The same goes for people who have lived through traumatic events. Many don’t feel particularly strong for having simply survived, some feel guilty or angry or miserable or numb or a ever-changing mixture of all of the above. Depending on where an individual is they may or may not find it helpful to think of them selves as having been/being a victim. The point is that is their choice and it will rarely be the same choice as another person would make.

At the end of the day labels are powerful tools and are best used sparingly and respectfully. By trying to lump all people who have lived through trauma into one label you will hurt or distance yourself from those who don’t like being labelled that way. It is far better practise to let people tell you what they want to be called. If you have to use a general term to talk about a group of people (as I have had to in this piece) then using non-emotive language to do so is always best. Instead of saying ‘trauma survivor , ‘trauma victim’, ‘trauma sufferer’, ‘person afflicted by trauma’ or similar I simply talk of people that have lived through or experienced trauma. I try not to make value judgements because I realise they can do more harm than good.

Short answer: None of the above. Don’t label people! People have the right to self determine. If you have to label a group avoid using emotive language and stick to facts.

"Oh… So Where Did You Serve?"

“Oh… So where did you serve?” Is a question I’ve had a few times since coming out of the mental health closet and openly talking about my PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) diagnosis. I always reply that I have not been in the military, nor have I spent any time in a war zone.

It’s funny how much the media influences the publics perceptions of disorders. Most people when picturing a PTSD sufferer in their minds get a picture like the one below:

Picture of a white, male, American soldier in uniform looking overwrought

The average PTSD sufferer/survivor on a global scale is actually depending on your preferred way of looking at it is female and not a soldier. They are someone like me. Someone who has been exposed to a very traumatic event that was “outside the range of usual human experience.” Things like witnessing a violent/ unexpected death, rape, torture, sexual abuse, witnessing or experiencing life-threatening physical assault, terrorism, being held hostage and similar are often causes of PTSD. Where many people experience some level of trauma in their lives only about 8% of them will go onto develop PTSD.

So, what is PTSD? It’s a severe anxiety disorder caused by physical trauma and/or psychological trauma. It’s thought to happen when the brain is exposed to extreme levels of adrenaline which causes the brain to store & deal with the trauma in a disordered manner. People with PTSD have the following symptoms as a result of their exposure;

  • Persistent Re-experiencing – flashbacks (v.different from memories), nightmares, intense negative reactions to things that remind them of the trauma and other re-experiencing of the event.
  • Persistent Avoidance & Numbing – disassociation, seriously reduced ability to feel certain feelings and a desire to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma.
  • Increased Arousal – hypervigillance and associated problems like difficulty falling/staying asleep.

In my case I spent years in a extremely abusive relationship where I was frequently abused (physically, psychologically & sexually) in horrific manners during which I was repeatedly exposed to the imminent possibility of my death. Looking back I’m still not sure how I survived some of the stuff. It all feels like a nightmare I can’t quite forget yet can’t bring myself to properly think about.

It’s funny, I can type about it sometimes but yet if I try and talk to someone about these things face to face my brain simply shuts down on me. I can’t hold the memory of what I was trying to say in my mind and I just end up opening and closing my mouth and eventually apologising for the fish impression and changing the subject. My brain is very good at blocking off the traumatic memories by either making it all feel like a dream or a story. Sometimes it shuts me down and I simply sit and stare into space, it feels like being simultaneously awake and in a deep dreamless sleep. Othertimes it drives me away from things that are likely to trigger flashbacks or re-experiencing. Occasionally it causes head pain so intense I feel like my head has been cut open again. Normally it just makes me forget things that I find extremley difficult to deal with which can be very problematic.

For the last year or so of my relationship and the years that followed I would have these intense re-occuring nightmares where the same horrific acts were being carried out by my ex. I’d find I would be unable to recall how I got cuts & bruises or why I was suddenly terrified of seemingly harmless things. It wasn’t until I escaped his reach that I really started getting flashbacks. Waking nightmares, memories so powerful they are indistinguishable from reality, like having time-travelled back to the time of the trauma and being forced to re-live it again and again. Imagine the most horrendous thing you have ever exprienced, the worst thing to have happened to you, forever etched in your mind. Haunting you with not just the old emotions but the smells, the tastes, the senstations on your skin. I hate them most of all. I think they are now the thing I’m most afraid of in the world. When they started kicking in I broke down. Having recently become disabled I lost the ability to cope as my mind crashed six months after my body. I lost the ability to sleep, lost the ability to disassociate for a while and ended up ready to kill myself. Luckily my GP intervened and got me psychiatric help where I was finally diagnosed and I began to get treatment.

I’m saddened to say that I’m not alone in this. I’ve met hundreds of PTSD sufferers online over the last few years and the overwhelming majority are female victims of domestic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. Not white male soldiers – though I’m not ignorant enough to suggest my experiences are going to be representitive. Yet we often seem to be ignored when a discourse is opened up about PTSD, especially by the media. As well as the issues with inaccurate representation by the media fueling public stereotypes and misunderstandings it also can be very damaging for victims of the above traumas. Denial, silencing & victim blaming (often thanks to that pesky Just World Fallacy) is a really common experience for those of us who suffered in these ways. These problems create a feeling that people don’t/won’t take the horrid thing that happened to you seriously and more often than not they get internalised making survivors blame, silence and doubt themselves. Naturally this makes healing far harder. When the media ignores stories like yours and paints your struggles as being somehow less traumatising it adds to this nasty mess.

The more I think about it, the more sure I am that there is a gender bias in the reporting and coverage of PTSD which fuels the blackout of ‘womens issues’ with regards to the disorder. PTSD from ‘masculine’ causes like the serving in the military or in the emergency services is talked about far more commonly than PTSD arising from incidents that disproportionately happen to women*.

For plenty of reasons, male dominance in the media being a big one, people like myself are being left out of the PTSD discourse. If we want to move forward and stop creating a culture where some traumas are problematically rated as ‘less deserving’ than others, then things need to change.

* rape, domestic abuse, sexual assult – please note that no where did I say these things don’t happen to men.

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