I have been sharing my journey of finding freedom from PTSD; from the initial trauma, and difficult months that followed, to beginning to slowly recover by seeking healing for my body, soul, and spirit. In the last post I wrote about pursuing healing, spiritually. Today I will share about my big breakthrough.
As I sought healing for my body, soul, and spirit, I began to experience slow, but steady improvement. This was encouraging to me, but I was still struggling a lot. My doctor had diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, so for about six months this is what I thought I had. But the more I read about it, the more I began to doubt the accuracy of the diagnosis. As I learned about the various symptoms of GAD, I could tell that my own symptoms didn’t really line up with those that I was reading about. I began to suspect that what I had was actually PTSD. The more I researched, the more I became convinced that this was true.
Although I was feeling a lot better than I had been at my worst, life still wasn’t easy for me.
One weekend we went for a family walk at Scotney Castle (a National Trust Property nearby). I struggled so much that day. I was gripped with anxiety during the drive. When we arrived, I felt dizzy and anxious, and almost decided to leave. I went into the lavatory and cried. I felt so frustrated. I composed myself and we went for our walk. When we came home I was very discouraged. I was grateful for how much I had improved, but desperate to find complete freedom from my symptoms, and to have my life back.
I spent the rest of the weekend reading about PTSD and the possibility of recovery. As I read about how to deal with it, I saw that I had already been doing a lot of what was recommended for recovery. But over and over, I read about a therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation, and Reprocessing) which is specifically helpful for PTSD. I have a friend who had previously recommended that I have EMDR. I spoke with several people that weekend who have had the therapy themselves, and have found it extremely helpful.
I spent a long time searching online for local EMDR therapists. I prayed that God would lead me to the one who would be just the right person for me. It took a while, but I found a therapist named Jules Fothergill (Feel Well Live Well Therapy based in Kent, UK) who I really felt was a good fit for me. I knew from the moment I spoke to her on the phone, that she was the right person, and that she was going to help me.
During my first session, she could see right away that it was indeed PTSD that I had been dealing with. She explained to me what happens with PTSD; how it affects the brain, and what the symptoms are.
PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not something that only affects those who have suffered extreme trauma on the battlefield; it can affect anyone. According to the U.S. PTSD statistics, 70 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience some kind of trauma, and 20 percent of those will go on to develop PTSD.
Most people will experience at least some type of trauma at some point in their lives, but the majority will not go on to develop PTSD. Normally people are able to process the trauma, and get on with life. But for some, the trauma is just “too much” for their brain to handle, and therefore it does not get processed in the correct part of the brain (the hippocampus). Instead, the unprocessed trauma ends up causing the difficult symptoms of PTSD.
This is what happened to me. The trauma that I experienced was simply too much for my mind to process, so it was left, unprocessed, in my brain and caused all of the suffering that I have experienced for many months.
EMDR is a psychotherapy technique which helps to “file away” the trauma in the correct place in the brain, causing the difficult symptoms to subside.
My therapist used a combination of EMDR therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I experienced a significant shift in my symptoms after my very first session. I went to therapy weekly and continued to improve. The EMDR and CBT both helped me a lot.
Here are some of the things that I found particularly helpful:
Knowing What I Had
One of the most difficult elements of this season has been not knowing what was causing the sudden, intense, seemingly never-ending symptoms. Why did I suddenly feel so terrible? So NOT myself? To have a professional explain to me exactly what was going on, brought me so much relief and freedom. It took away the mystery and disarmed the fear. What I was going through was a normal response to experiencing a traumatic event, and it was possible to recover and to feel like myself again. This knowledge lifted a huge burden from me. Now when I felt the symptoms, I would say to myself, “it’s just the unprocessed trauma, and I am on my way to recovery”.
A debilitating symptom of PTSD is intense anxiety. I had never experienced anything like this before, so it was really hard to know how to live with it. With PTSD it hits the hardest when you are around people; especially out in public, and around any group of people, small or large. Your mind tells you that there is a threat, and so you feel anxiety. This is all experienced in the subconscious. My therapist taught me a technique to use in this kind of situation, which helps the anxiety to subside. This is called grounding. You focus your attention on one of the five senses. So if I was at church and I felt overwhelming anxiety, I would start to focus on a sense, “touch” for example. I would touch the pew in front of me, and just focus on how it felt. It is smooth, hard, cold, etc. Or “hearing”; what do I hear? I hear people talking, birds singing outside, music playing, a baby crying. What this does is that it brings you from the subconscious (where the anxiety is), into the conscious. It brings you into the present moment, and it causes the anxiety to subside significantly. And it really works. This one technique has been invaluable to me.
Dealing with Emotions
Something that came up through my therapy is that throughout this journey, I haven’t processed my emotions well. Because I am with my kids so much, I didn’t want them to see the full extent of what I was feeling, so I bottled it up – a lot. (I didn’t keep everything from them. I feel that it is important for children to know that life isn’t always easy, and to learn to walk through the difficult times well, but I didn’t want them to see my crying all the time because I thought they wouldn’t understand it, and that it would upset them too much.) I realised that I had quite a lot of bottled up emotion that I needed to somehow let out. There are lots of ways to do this. For me the primary emotions were sadness and anger. To deal with the sadness I just had to let myself cry whenever I needed to. So I explained this to my kids, and instead of stuffing my sadness, I would let it out. I also had anger to deal with. There are lots of ways that you can let anger out. Go out into the middle of nowhere and just shout it out, pile up a bunch of pillows and hit it out, scribble it out with a crayon and paper. It might sound funny, but these things can really help. (You can look up more ways to deal with emotions online.) Doing some of this helped me to process my bottled up emotions, which made me feel a lot better.
Walking Through the Stages of Grief
I hadn’t lost a loved one, but I had “lost” many months of my life. I needed to grieve this, by walking through the stages of grief. One thing my therapist recommended to help me with this process was writing; hence the birth of this blog. I had wanted to write my story anyway, hoping that it could be a help to people, my therapist’s encouragement gave me the push I needed to get on with it. Writing has proved to be therapeutic and helpful, in working through such a trying season.
All of these things helped me significantly, right away. My world was opened up and I was able to go to church again, to pubs and restaurants with my family, to London to visit art galleries and museums. It still wasn’t easy for me to do any of these things, but it wasn’t impossible anymore. I applied what my therapist taught me, and it helped me so much. My own attempts to heal myself did indeed help, but seeing a therapist brought so much breakthrough and acceleration to my healing process. It was like I went from a slow stroll of recovery to a sudden sprint. The combination of everything that I had been doing for my body, soul, and spirit, along with consistent psychotherapy has been exactly what I have needed to get better.
There seems to be a stigma around mental health issues and seeking help from mental health professionals. I don’t understand this at all. If someone breaks their leg, they go and seek medical attention and get it fixed, they don’t just leave it broken and try to continue life in agony. It should be the same with mental health issues. If something is broken, there are trained professionals out there who can help fix it. For the rest of my life I will strongly recommend seeking help, to anyone who is suffering with their mental health. Of course don’t go to just anyone; find the right person for you. If you do this with an open mind, I know it will speed up your recovery by leaps and bounds.
I am meeting with my therapist weekly. I am feeling better and better all the time. She believes that I will recover fully within the next few months.
Next week I will share about what I feel that I have gained from this experience.
- From Fear to Freedom Part 5
- From Fear to Freedom Part 7