Monday, April 16, 2018
When I was 19, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I don’t think I took it very seriously. I just knew that I was sad all the time, and the pills the doctor described would probably clear it right up. My parents didn’t have a lot to say, mainly because they didn’t know exactly what it meant. My mom was more on the “just snap out of it” spectrum, while my dad was a “sit in the corner doing his crossword puzzles, hoping I was going to be okay” type of guy.
Eventually, when I realized that the pills weren’t a magic cure-all and that the symptoms could get even worse, I felt very alone. I suppose that’s why I put up with far too much abuse in terrible relationships; I didn’t want to be alone. I spent most of my 20’s on a roller coaster ride. Eventually, self-injury entered the picture, and that terrifies people. If it’s not something you’ve ever experienced yourself, chances are very slim that you’ll ever fully grasp the concept.
I wasn’t very kind to myself. I self-harmed, I starved myself, got into dead-end relationships, and stayed up for days at a time. I met up with a lot of guys I talked to online. I was lucky, every one of them was the same person I had met online. I never once thought that it was a serial killer or a predator meeting up with me at the mall.
Back in the 90’s American Online (AOL) had this feature where you could become pen pals with people that lived far away or nearby, it was your choice. I started a pen pal friendship with a guy named Joe mainly based on our love of wrestling. By this time, I’d had enough bad experiences with the men in my life that I was fine with taking I slow, and maybe never even meeting.
However, Joe and I did meet eventually. We met up in a parking lot closer to his side of town, and we went to see The South Park Movie. We had a good time, and he was very nice, but our schedules just seemed to clash. He was in a band, and if he wasn’t working, he was practicing. I think a small part of him felt that perhaps it wouldn’t be best to get involved with a woman with so much baggage.
He stopped communicating with me, and I was left to wonder. Even my mom asked me where he was; she had liked “that one” as she put it. I went on about my life struggling with the pain of depression and practicing self-harm several times a day. Eventually, I was admitted to a group home to try to help me get my life back together.
It was early on in 2001 when Joe started to call again. He admitted that he had been too immature and afraid of what he didn’t understand. He wanted another chance, so I said yes. We dated as much as we could, and we talked a lot. I needed to know he was in it for the long haul this time. On May 18, 2001, we officially started an exclusive relationship. On August 3, 2001, we were married. This August marks 17 years together. When you know, you know!
It took us a little while to get our footing, especially Joe. He needed to learn that if I did self-harm, getting angry with me only made me want to do it more. Now I was ashamed because I’d done it and felt an immense amount of guilt for putting him through that again. He learned quickly. I am 5 years clean from self-injury, but there were certainly some pitfalls along the way. Joe learned to tell me that he understood that I was in pain. I didn’t have to harm myself to show him how bad it was. That felt like a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders.
He started going to all of my doctor appointments right away, which was a huge blessing on many levels. He remembered details better than I did now, and instead of it looking like I was trying to lie to the doctor, I had someone there to back me up.
Joe has helped me down off the ledge more times than I could ever count. I haven’t always been a joy to live with. There was a point where I could think of nothing, but suicide and I kept telling him to go and leave me alone. I didn’t want to ruin his life too. He stuck it out, and he learned by trial and error what he should or shouldn’t do.
I can’t work, so being stuck at home all day and into the night wasn’t the best for me, but when he came through that door, it was like a light switch would turn on inside of me.
Even if I was still depressed, I felt comforted. I knew that my best friend was here to help me navigate these emotions, and calmly talk me through whatever I was going through. In 2013, I did attempt suicide, but I don’t blame Joe in any way. It was more about me feeling like a burden to him and everyone else. Being away from him while I was in the hospital was torture. Knowing I was going home to him and my safe place was all that got me through.
Now when I’m struggling Joe just says, “what can I do to make it better?”. I don’t think he realizes that caring enough to ask the question has already lifted a burden.
We are there for each other every day, in every way. He is my soft place to fall when I can’t hold on anymore. Which is why I will forever be grateful to have him in my life. He’s been my savior, my voice, and my advocate when I couldn’t do any of that on my own. I feel sadness for anyone that must tackle mental illness on their own. I would loan you my Joe, but I’m afraid he’s spoken for. He has helped me to channel my negative thoughts, he has helped me see things more clearly, and he has helped put me back together when someone else has broken me down.
I would be lost without him. He has an impact on every part of my mental health, and always for the positive. Sometimes all it takes is for him to come home for the darkness to lift. I’m blessed, and I am grateful. Even if I do still find myself in the pit of despair, I know there’s something that will climb down there with a blanket and snacks and ride out the wave with me. I only wish everyone could say the same.
Monday, April 2, 2018
I have never felt love or happiness in the way that I do now. Thank you Handsome Doc. Thank you MK. Just thank you.
The three of us share love, laughter, tears and joy.
We share our home too.
We share our home with bi-polar. My bi-polar. #bipolar
The good days are good! Well of course they are, the clue is in the name.
The bad days? They’re really not so good. They’re decidedly ‘ungood’. In fact, they stink. I wish they would just do one.
The chalk and cheese of life.
The emotional weighing scales in my DNA seem to self calibrate of their own free will. And living with bi-polar inexplicably grants these scales permission to tip at any given time.
To be absolutely clear, I am not bi-polar. I live with bi-polar. Bi-polar Disorder Type 2 to be precise.
This mental illness does not identify me though. I’m still the same me as I was before my diagnosis. But I live with it. Quite different things, don’t you think?
It’s my curse and my blessing, weird as that may sound.
The hypomanic episodes feel like an absolute blast at the time. Who wouldn’t want to feel excited by everything in life? Over excited. Who wouldn’t want to feel capable of doing anything? To have no fear of failure? Motivated. Inspired. Energetic. And happy. Happy happy happy. Oh that happiness! Sweet joy! Yeah but guess what? You’re not real. You’re a fake. Jog on fake happiness, you’re not welcome here. Do one.
This blast though… This blast carries with it an underlying terror of the inevitable low which will follow. The desperate, black low. The loneliness. The exhaustion. The inability to communicate on any level. The feeling that I am not part of the real world. Why is it that everyone else is living a life in which I am a mere onlooker? I’m a film extra in my own life story. My life is not my own.
And then there’s the sadness. Yes that’s it. More than anything else it’s the sadness. The grief and the sadness. The grief of the euphoria which has been and gone. Simple, agonizing, quiet sadness.
There’s a gremlin in my head. He tries to push thoughts of the impending darkness out of my mind. He teases me that this hypomanic state is just fabulous, and where I belong. And do you know what? He does a good job, but over the years I’m slowly beginning to learn to fight this mischievous little gremlin. I’m learning to answer him back. Slowly.
He’s still very much alive though. He’s had more comebacks than Liberace sadly, but I’d like to think that he’s no longer a ‘shoe-in’ to win. He’s met his match, although still knows all too well how to creep up from behind and pounce when I least expect it. He’s like a leopard hunting his prey – he comes in camouflage.
But hang on, to the outside world I have a privileged life, don’t I?
The answer to that is yes.
I’ve found love in a way that I never knew existed.
I live in a beautiful house in Surrey.
I’ve been blessed with a wonderful son. My pint sized legend, MK, who brings me such enormous joy every single day in life.
I have no money worries.
We go on at least two luxurious (and at times entirely chaotic and hedonistic) holidays a year.
As for me personally? Well… I guess I’m relatively inoffensive to look at. (Unless I’ve pulled one of those lonely all nighters).
How can I possibly live with a mental illness? What kind on ungrateful self-absorbed person can feel sorry for themselves with a life like this?
Me. Yes me. It’s beyond my control.
Even during my darkest days, I never lose sight of my blessings, but they mean nothing at that point. Nothing has any meaning when I’m battling through a depressive episode.
I shop in Sainsbury’s, where I can at times be heard humming a happy wee tune as I push my wonky trolley up and down aisle 15 (aisle 15 has everything by the way – when I can’t find some random thing I’m looking for the shop assistant always directs me to aisle 15. Always. Fruit, fishfingers, fromage frais and fresh donuts. Aisle 15. Try it).
I ‘do coffee’ and ladies lunches.
I’m occasionally funny (well, mildly amusing).
I walk tall (despite being just 5’2”).
I exchange pleasantries with Mrs Meikle the school lollipop lady.
I even high fived Mr Harper, the school caretaker, when I walked MK through the school gate last week. On reflection, that really wasn’t cool. He high fives every child as they skip through the gates. He does not, I repeat, not, high five the parents. Ever. It was bad judgement on my part and I think surprised me as much as it did him. I’m sorry Mr Harper
So how can this seemingly ‘normal’ and capable mummy be mental?
She just can.
I use the term ‘mental’ in a tongue in cheek context. I feel I have earned the right to be self-depreciating.
This is of course not an illness that should be trivialized in any way, but during my lengthy stay in a private mental health unit, humour got me through it. It’s almost like gallows humour I guess. It never takes away from the gravity of the illness though. Never.
Somehow though, sitting in the smoke filled patients’ lounge (pre-smoking ban) and having a competition to see how many songs we could come up with that had the word ‘crazy’ in it seemed fun. I got “Still Crazy after all these years” by Paul Simon. Pleased with that.
Acute post traumatic stress disorder having just come back from fighting in Iran. Poor Adrian was a mess when he came in.
Obsessive compulsive disorder where the obsession was related to people. Dave was a deeply troubled man, who in fact obsessed over me when I was discharged from hospital. Very frightening, but also desperately sad for him and for those close to him.
Actually I often wonder what became of Dave. I hope you have found some relief, Dave. Some relief from your torturous illness. And thank you Dave. Thank you for being a part of my journey and for teaching me tolerance.
Today it’s Saturday. I like today. I’ve been well since Thursday, and am still feeling at peace with myself.
Prior to that however, was a 3 day low.
It hit me pretty badly this time. That said, it’s all relative. We mustn’t confuse it with the times when the gremlin told me that suicide was the best option. With the times that I believed him and mapped out various plans on how best to go about it. He lost in the end though. Well I’m here, aren’t I? I’m here. Thank you Dr Ciani. Thank you meds. And thank you therapy. You have saved me, quite literally. Thank you.
I must just add that this gremlin is not a ‘voice in my head’. Bi-polar Disorder type 2 presents no psychotic behavior. To become deluded, to hear voices and to hallucinate is a very different thing to having either hypomania (a high), or a depressive episode (a low).
This recent low though. Eugh! I could feel it coming on, having spent the previous three days as high as a kite. It wasn’t so much that I exchanged pleasantries with Mrs Meikle the lollipop lady, more that I had to quash the urge to hug her and swing her round tell her how much she suited fluorescent yellow. Oh and how well she wore her lollipop. How she carried it and moved it with such effortless grace and finesse.
I’m hugely relieved and proud that I managed to quash that urge. It was a close call though. Could’ve been awks.
I was top of the class at pilates. I was planking like a… well… a plank. The rest of the class had rolled up their mats, popped out for lunch and savoured a twelve course tasting menu whilst I was still holding that plank.
Poor Handsome Doc was talked at for 3 hours straight after a long, draining day at work. He’s a very successful consultant anaesthetist and intensivist. He deals with devastation and loss on an almost daily basis. My 3-dimensional plan of the way we ought to landscape the garden just HAD to be explained in agonizing detail right there and then though. The Tokyo Pop Sofa by Driade in black would offset the raised flower beds, all of which would be filled with just white flowering shrubs. Green and white only in these bad boys. And as for the Pieris Japonica Sarabande? It favours shade. Ideal for our south westerly facing garden. Who knew?
I’m sorry Handsome Doc. You are my hero and my rock. Your unwavering love and support during these challenging episodes is nothing short of incredible. You get me. You get ‘it’. Thank you Handsome Doc. Just thank you.
This low, however, was less fun than the exhausting high. When the doorbell rung I fled into the bedroom like a stealth bomber and stopped breathing until the coast was once again clear. Phew! That was close. I’m sorry Jen (at least I think it was you at the door), but do call again and I promise you I will run towards the door this time, not away from it.
I disguised my pyjamas (rather stylishly, I’d like to think), amongst various Ugg boots, puffy jackets and beanie hats when I took MK to school. Well I had to, didn’t I? It shaved off a good 7 seconds when it came to collapsing back into bed at 9am. The bed which I stayed in for 3 solid days, other than a few trips to the fridge for yet another 1.75l bottle of Coke Zero, the trips to the loo (which were frequent due to the excessive consumption of said Coke Zero) and of course the school runs.
My hair was crying out to be washed to the point where I’m convinced there were various species of wildlife nesting in there.
Showering? Are you serious? Not happening. Not today, not the next day, and most definitely not the next.
Tears? Oh my days were there tears? At times there were spells of silent misery. The tears were tumbling but I couldn’t utter a sound. At times I wailed. I wailed and sobbed and hugged my knees for comfort searching for any kind of relief from the desperate sadness I was feeling.
But guess what? It passed. It passed as it always does. The sun came out to shine again on Thursday and has remained bright since then. Thank you sun. You heal me.
For now I am at peace. How long that will last before the next episode I simply don’t know. For now though, I am at peace.
The blessing of bi-polar? I am kinder than I used to be, more tolerant of other people, and perhaps most importantly, I’m in touch with my emotions. I think (hope), I can tune in the emotions of others. Of people who may be fighting a battle themselves.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with an accurate diagnosis and receive the most wonderful treatment. Medical and chemical treatment, but also beautiful treatment from those close to me. Thank you friends. Thank you family. You know who you are and you know what you do. Thank you.
I’ll be on a hefty dose of meds for the rest of my life – mood stabilisers, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. Each of them have some pretty miserable side effects, but that’s ok. I am one of the lucky ones. Thank you Dr Ciani. We got there in the end.
I’ll always dip my toe in the water of hypomania and depressive lows, but on a far milder scale than I used to. Where once I would fully immerse myself in that pool and tread water for days on end, it’s now just the slightest of toe-dips. I barely need to dry my feet afterwards.
I’m winning. I’m beating this mischievous gremlin. He can, as I said earlier, do one.
Friday, March 30, 2018
I am a High-Functioning Depressed Person
High-functioning depression is something that’s not talked about a lot. Whenever I’m on social media, looking through some of the hashtags or talking to the different people on there, I find very few mentions of it. It’s something I feel needs talking about. So I’d like to tell you a bit about my depression and how I am a high-functioning depressed person.
When talking about depression, for those who haven’t experienced it personally, people often picture someone like Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh: someone who is gloomy, pessimistic and anhedonic. If you think of the stereotype, it’s often someone who might look a bit like this:
Does that look familiar? Your stereotypical, socially-perceived depressed person. Well, what people don’t always realise is that there are two types of depression.
This one is known as low-functioning depression. It’s what society commonly perceives to be “depression” and it’s where stigma creates one of the biggest problems for people who are depressed, because it’s “the way we should be”, even though that’s not the case.
The Reality of High-Functioning Depression
As you may have guessed, high-functioning depression is the complete opposite of low-functioning depression. We don’t get stuck in the funk where we cannot do anything, we don’t spend hours upon hours trapped in our beds, we function more than that. If anything, we appear to be normal members of society. That does not, however, mean that we aren’t struggling. Check out this article by amysboarderlineworld, which sums up what I’m trying to say quite nicely.
You see, we might appear to be normal, functioning members of society but that is an illusion, a myth we have created for others to see. We struggle, perhaps just as much as someone with low-functioning depression. We just continue along our lives as though nothing is wrong which, in turn, makes us seem like nothing is wrong.
That is the reality. The struggle. People see that we are “normal, functioning members of society” and assume that we are not depressed or anxious (as that’s the thing, it isn’t limited to depression). Unfortunately, it’s the way it works, for people seem to think we are, for want of a better word, “normal”.
But we’re not.
I’m a High-Functioning Depressed Person
In reality, you won’t see me struggling. I’m good at hiding it. Very good at hiding it. Look for it and you might miss it, because we get on with what we need to do. I certainly do. Even on the bad days, I’m frequently plodding along with whatever I need to do. At work, back when I worked at the bank, I was often on a bad day yet no one knew. Out of 100 employees who worked in the same office as me, only one person ever frequently picked up on my bad days. In some cases, I’ve been on self-destructive bad days with blood leaking from self-harm wounds. It’s not been pretty.
So high-functioning depression and anxiety is something we need more awareness of. We need to get those discussions going!
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
As long as I can remember, I’ve been dealing with social anxiety. When it first started, I didn’t realize that what I was feeling fell into any particular category. I’m glad to know now, but I’m wondering if it’s somehow made me even more susceptible.
So, for now, hang on tight! It’s going to be a bumpy ride!
I’ve always had poor self-esteem. It comes from being overweight as a child. It’s even worse now as I’ve gotten older and added more weight. There’s a constant running dialogue in my head when I’m in public. If someone looks at me, my brain automatically says, that’s right, stare at the fat girl. I’m perpetually consumed by what people think, and what they might say when I’m not looking.
Ironically, it’s even harder when I’m with people that I know. I’m always wondering if they noticed that I gained weight, can they see that pimple on my face, are my clothes OK? Then I will start comparing myself to them. Look at how good she looks in those jeans; I wish I could look like that. I know it sounds absurd, but it’s extremely hard to overcome.
The Social Anxiety Institute characterizes social anxiety by this definition:
Social anxiety is the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance. It is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.
If a person usually becomes (irrationally) anxious in social situations but seems better when they are alone, then "social anxiety" may be the problem.
So, it seems to me I have a textbook case. What the definition doesn’t mention is the physical response. The knots in your stomach, sweating, breathing heavy, crying and shaking, all of which occur for virtually every outbreak of anxiety. I’ve never sought out any specific treatment to help me control these symptoms. Maybe it’s time that I do. I often miss out on important events because the anxiety is so overwhelming. Without a medication like Xanax, I’m totally lost. Just getting in the car sometimes terrifies me, and all of this ties nicely into my Agoraphobia.
Medicinenet.com describes Agoraphobia with the following definition:
An abnormal and persistent fear of public places or open areas, especially those from which escape could be difficult or in which help might not be immediately accessible. Persons with agoraphobia frequently also have panic disorder. People with mild agoraphobia often live normal lives by avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. In the most severe agoraphobia, the victims may be incapacitated and homebound. Agoraphobia tends to start in the mid to late 20s, and the onset may appear to be triggered by a traumatic event.
These conditions are very similar to one another, but even so, having both of them is a nightmare. I’m making a confession; I haven’t driven anywhere in over a year. Joe does currently have to take my car to work, but even if he was home, I wouldn’t just hop in the car and go somewhere. Between the Agoraphobia and just general anxiety, I’m afraid to drive. There have been times when I’m driving down the road, or making a turn, and I can’t get the image of another car hitting me out of my head. It’s scary stuff. So, like a lot of people, I turn to avoidance, which is the wrong response.
So, now what? Being aware of my issues hasn’t ever been my problem; it’s following up on treatment that’s the real puzzle. I do have good news in that area, however. I finally went to see a new psychiatrist.
If you’re unaware, for roughly three years (since my suicide attempt), I have only been seeing my primary care doctor for medication management. However, he has run into some roadblocks with the insurance, so we started looking. I found someone, and I really like her. She’s the first mental health care provider that I have been to in about ten years that genuinely seems like she’s listening, and she actually cares. I’m grateful for that.
I started two new medications; one for depression and one for restless leg syndrome. She also increased my anti-anxiety medication, which is a huge blessing. So far so good, except for being drowsy during the day. It’s a side effect that I assume will gradually wear off. If that’s all I have to worry about, I would say I’m ahead of the game. Once again, it was suggested that I try therapy. Perhaps I will. If nothing else, I will meet the therapist that she works with and see if I’m comfortable. If not, I won’t continue. So, I feel like I’m off to a good start. What about you? Do these definitions seem familiar to you? Were you even aware that there was a name for what you were feeling?
I’m working on it, and I think I will get there. I’ve said it so many times before, but I’m so grateful to have the support of my husband. Without him, there would be no me.
For now, I’m going to keep moving ahead and being grateful for the good days. I will focus on my healthy eating and healthy lifestyle. We bought a heavy (punching) bag that we put up in the basement so I can let out some anger and frustration while hopefully helping me get in shape. I’m very excited, and I know it will help with my anxiety level.
So, for now, hang on tight! It’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
I remember August 9, 2005 like it was yesterday. That’s the day the person I used to be died in a workplace accident. The day a disgruntled client walked into the company I worked for and threatened my life.
The event left me unable to work at that job and as it turns out, any job, due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that took over my life from that day on.
Sadly, this all could have been different had my employer understood the importance of responding more effectively to a workplace trauma to help prevent or at least reduce the risk of psychological injury.
On that fated day, it was especially busy because the receptionist had called in sick and I was covering her job as well as my own. Around 2 p.m. a dishevelled looking man came into the office. I can still clearly remember that he was wearing khaki pants and a red golf shirt. He approached the desk and angrily asked to see the manager. I asked him for his name and with a serious face, he told me to tell the manager, “It is Dracula and you don’t want to see any blood.” I was shocked at this and asked again and received the same response. I felt a shiver up my spine and my stomach clenched. As I picked up the phone to call Mike*, who was the manager, the man leaned over the desk threateningly and said, “Tell him I have a gun.” Mike overheard this comment and asked me if I saw a gun. I repeated what the man had said.
My heart sank and all I could think was that I shouldn’t even be here as my daughter was at home sick and I ought to have been looking after her. In that office however, calling in sick could get you fired.
I had no place to hide and truly believed he was going to kill me. There was no way I could get away.
I looked up at him trying to see if he actually had a gun and he repeated the threat saying, “You don’t want to see any blood do you?” I backed away instinctively, thinking only of how to escape. I had never been so afraid. I didn’t believe I was going to get out of this alive. I’m not sure what I said to him other than offering him a glass of water. I know that sounds strange, but our boss, Susan*, was very strict about making our clients comfortable. This was another issue she brought up regularly to threaten us with dismissal.
By the time Mike came into reception the man had calmed down and the police were on the way.
I grabbed my purse and ran out to my car. I was shaking uncontrollably and don’t remember picking up my daughter who I was taking to the doctor. On the way, my boss, Susan called. She asked me if I was okay and I told her I wasn’t sure. She said the police were coming first thing in the morning and that I needed to write down what had gone on with the man in the red shirt, word for word. She also said she wanted to see Mike and me in the morning before we talked to the police.
While I was at the doctor’s I went over and over what had been said. When I got home and started writing it out, the reality of the situation hit me. I broke down and sobbed.
As I drove into work the next morning, I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought the man in the red shirt would be angry the police were called and he would be waiting to finish me off. I pulled into the parking lot, but froze, unable to get out of my car. I truly believed he was going to come back and show me “blood,” and I started to cry again. After about 10 minutes a co-worker pulled into the parking lot beside me and smiled. I felt relieved, wiped my tears, grabbed my purse and got out of the car.
What happened next felt like further trauma. It started with my boss telling Mike and me to “suck it up.” She said there was no need to be shaken up because they knew the assailant. He was a long-time client, who had recently lost his business and separated from his wife. Mike’s attempts to collect $3,000 the man owed to the company had been “the last straw.” She asked for our copies of the conversations we’d had with the man and then told me to wait for her and the police in one of the meeting rooms beside the reception area. I felt terrified and all I could think about was the need to get out of there and find somewhere safe, but I was afraid that I’d lose my job if I left. After a long wait, Susan and the police officers came into the room and started questioning me. It felt like I was being grilled as if I was the criminal. The sting of that exchange still haunts me.
I learned that the police had gone to the man’s house to question him after the incident. Their words to me were that he was “just having a bad day.” When I asked about the gun, they said he didn’t have a gun registered to his name so there “mustn’t have been a gun,” it was “something he made up.”
I was also told that because he didn’t actually say he was going to kill me, I couldn’t press charges. Only the firm could, but wouldn’t because they were up for a business award that year and didn’t want the publicity. My boss said that they felt that cutting ties with the client should be enough.
It wasn’t. With no support either professionally or socially I wasn’t able to continue working at the firm. It was years before I could drive anywhere near that area of Burlington, because I was still afraid that the man with the red shirt would be looking for me. I had no control over these feelings. Despite my bosses and law enforcements perspectives that the threat wasn’t real and therefore didn’t require a response – it was very real to me.
I was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and told by several specialists I would never be able to work again. I was and still am being alienated by some of my family and friends because they can’t, or don’t want to understand why I don’t “get over” it! Dr. Viacheslav Wlassoff (Brainblogger) says “There is no use telling PTSD victims to “get over” it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.” The shape of our brain; particularly the hippocampus, changes and PTSD victims are unable to discriminate between past and present experiences. For instance, one of my biggest fears is going anywhere I could get held up and for me that means wherever there is money being transferred from hand to hand. Banks, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, special events, etc. For most people these are safe places and the chance that something bad is going to happen is slim, but I have a psychological injury and my brain has trouble distinguishing between past and present. I am hyper-vigilante, and on guard all the time.
I have panic and anxiety attacks. I sweat so badly because of my fear I have to carry a change of clothes with me at all times. Simple tasks like being a passenger in a car, are so stressful for me, I need to take meds to calm myself before I go out. I have nightmares so vivid that I’m literally afraid to go to sleep and the lack of sleep makes me so tired that I’m unable to concentrate. I double book myself all the time, or forget things completely. There are many days I’m so afraid I won’t even open my curtains.
During the first five years of being diagnosed with PTSD, I went through four assessments with four different facilities. Each time I was put through an assessment, it triggered a difficult emotional response and I would become suicidal. The rejection from some family members when I would talk about my diagnosis or what I was going through contributed to the desire to take my own life. Fortunately for me, my partner was, and still is, there to support me through it.
I tried cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which looking back, I believe was worse for me than the trauma itself because it just compounded how frightened I was of the outside world. Part of the CBT I received was exposure therapy; going to sit in a bank, restaurant or anywhere else that caused my PTSD symptoms to go through the roof and stay there until I felt comfortable. The extreme stress and mental anguish even thinking about this was horrible. I got my PTSD diagnosis ten years ago and I still can’t do those things without a panic attack. I have also tried anti-depressants, and sleeping pills; amongst other things to help me get better, but so far nothing has worked.
As a result, I’m the one who has been sentenced to a life where I am unable to conduct normal everyday activities like going for a walk or picking up groceries. I was diagnosed with stress-induced diabetes and central serous retinopathy; which is a serious condition I was told could cause me to go blind if I didn’t get my stress level under control. For me this meant getting rid of the negative people in my life, including family members, because my relationships with them only increased my negative self-talk. I’m a people pleaser and I always worry when a person doesn’t talk to me anymore, or treats me differently, so this was not an easy task. I almost always think I’ve done or said something wrong instead of considering that maybe it was the other way around - I think some negative people thrive on that.
I have now started to surround myself with positive people, those who would never think of questioning why I wasn’t the same person I once was. People that embrace me as I am because they know that if I did have a choice about my injury, things would be so different. Surrounding myself with supportive people is not just comforting - there is evidence that it can help prevent and heal trauma.
I recently read that a research study in the U.K. showed that perceived social support reduced the severity of PTSD symptoms that could lead to suicide. Social support at work has been defined by Cobb (1976) as the belief that you are valued and that your well-being is cared for as part of a social network of mutual obligation. For those who perceived themselves as having high levels of social support, resilience was improved and the impact of PTSD symptoms were lessened.
I fully believe that a supportive response from my employer and recognition that I had experienced trauma would have encouraged me to reach out for the help I needed in time so that I could have continued working. Further, the workplace could have put processes in place so that I, along with my co-workers, felt safe and supported. This might have included:
- Making counselling support available through the company’s Employee Assistance Plan or a community resource.
- Having a more supportive process for investigating, following up and recording the incident.
- Communicating how to prevent or respond to future incidents including conducting a risk assessment.
- Delivering an education program on prevention of workplace violence.
- Ensuring that the organization's direction for workplace safety was reflected and highlighted into corporate and service-specific goals.
My workplace’s response was ineffective and made my symptoms of PTSD even more severe. They didn’t and still don’t get it.
They say I’m not the person I used to be and they’re right. That easy-going, active, friendly woman doesn’t exist anymore. She died in a workplace accident 10 years ago. The worst part? Her injuries could have been prevented.
*Names have been changed
Published by Moods Winter 2016 - Workplace Mental Health http://www.moodsmag.com/moods/order_previous_issues.php