Today is ‘Time To Talk’ day.
A day when people are encouraged to speak out about mental health – in whatever shape or form it might be relevant to them.
And so, it feels fitting that I post this blog today.
It’s the post that has been in my mind, and in my heart for months – if not years, and of course, I am anxious about posting it (but then, I have an anxiety condition, so, what’s new?!)
For many of my friends and acquaintances this post may come as a bit of a shock, for a select few it will be common knowledge, and for those who have continually supported me during my cryptic messages on social media recently – it will probably come as a relief to finally know what the bloody hell I’ve been referring to in less than transparent terms for the last year.
So here we go.
In September of last year, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (PTSD)
Wow, just writing that down feels slightly overwhelming.
You see, as a teenager, I was in an unhealthy and abusive relationship.
Again, it feels weird to look at that on paper.
For six years between the ages of 14 and 20, I was subjected to emotional, physical, sexual and any other type of abuse that you can think of.
I count myself lucky that at the age of 20; I was able to escape the situation.
Then, as you can imagine of a young woman who just wants to get the fuck on with life, I swallowed the experiences and pushed them to the back of my mind.
I’m still not quite ready to go into the details of the abuse – and a lot of it I still haven’t come to terms with in any shape or form. Now isn’t the time to dredge it all up, despite having replayed vast swathes of it in my mind for the last six months – repeatedly.
Let’s just say – it amazes me that as humans in the 21st century, we can still treat each other in such a callous and unforgiving way & that the spiteful words and actions of another can burrow so deep into your soul, it can strip you of your sense of self, esteem, dignity, respect, and worth. I don’t know if I will ever truly ‘recover’ from the events of those years – but what I know is I am going to try everything I can to stop myself being defined by the heinous acts of someone I did nothing but love – & I need to assure myself that I am bigger and more powerful than what he reduced me to for such a long time.
Despite repressing quite a lot of what had gone on during that time in my life, and carrying on my life regardless, unfortunately in the intervening years life dealt me another delightful blow – the repression of all those memories had physically injured my brain, and since 2014, I’ve been living with a chronic illness – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (commonly known as M.E)
I kept my entire trauma so tightly locked up, and my flight or fight response on such a hyper vigilant level for so long, my brain, immune system, and central nervous system were actually damaged.
But me being me, stubborn as a pack mule, I carried on. I pushed myself to achieve everything said person convinced me I would never be able to do. And I built a life for myself.
That was until early last year.
The heady combination of planning a wedding, my dad falling seriously ill with sepsis, and dealing with traumatic news stories on a daily basis (I’m a News producer) meant that one day last summer – my brain finally gave up – and threw everything I had been holding back for so long, right into my face.
From that moment on, my life changed wholly and entirely.
I went from functioning at a high level consistently every single day, to not being able to leave the house, complete basic tasks, hold a conversation, brush my hair… you name it… I was shit at it. The world was absolutely terrifying.
The nights were the worst. Imagine reliving your worst possible trauma – in full sensory detail – every, single, day. There came a point where the night terrors were so bad, I honestly believed my life, as I knew it, was the dream – and I was actually still 16, locked in that bedroom, and I had created a better reality for myself just to escape the horror.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced a PTSD flashback, the only way I can describe it, is like being hit by lightning over and over again. One such flashback happened to me in Marks and Spencer of all places. I worked there, as a teenager, and Saturdays were always my most fearful of days, as I knew he would be waiting for me at the back door after work – and I’d be trapped until Monday morning. So, unsuspecting 30 year old me popped in for some slippers – and like a tsunami the memories came flooding back, I was 17 again, and everything was terrifying. After freaking out rather publicly, I think I went in a catatonic state for about 24 hours afterwards, my body just couldn’t cope with it anymore.
During this time, I tried to explain to some of my best friends that my erratic behaviour wasn’t aimed at them, it wasn’t personal, I simply was not coping with day-to-day life. One of them said in response that my ‘negative attitude was becoming self fulfilling’ – at the time I didn’t really know what to say to that. My response now would be, I’m pretty sure that trying to maintain a positive outlook while trying to bury some of the most hideous experiences of violence and degradation by another human being, all for the sake of feigning normality, makes me anything but a negative person.
There’s a certain sense of worthlessness that comes when you sit on the sofa on your 30th birthday, not sure how you might get through the day, and you realise that people you considered to be your closest friends don’t even consider you worthy of a phone call or a birthday card – despite you having told them that life had become pretty difficult for you. I had heard so many stories about the lack of understanding that surrounds mental health conditions, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would experience it in such an upfront and heartbreaking way.
However, there were also those friends and family who were by my side every single day, with no questions, no judgement and no expectations. My fantastic fiancé, my colleagues from work, my family and my beautiful best friend who I cherish more than ever. They saved my life in so many ways. Without them I don’t think I would be writing this.
Another hero came in the form of my GP – Dr James Simpson of Tyn Y Coed surgery in Bridgend. Dr Simpson is everything you could hope of a GP, and through him I found a strength and understanding that I was in such desperate need of. Dr Simpson is absolute proof that there are amazing, selfless practitioners out there who are thoroughly devoted to their patients –and who are the living manifestation of Aneurin Bevan’s vision for the NHS 70 years ago.
When Dr Simpson told me I had a textbook case of PTSD I was surprised, I had researched items on PTSD at work, and I thought it was reserved for those who had been involved in warfare. I never considered that it was something that could apply to a 30-year-old woman – though I am now aware than in reality more women suffer from the condition than men.
Unfortunately, while my GP is amazing, when I received the letter telling me that the current waiting list for the treatment I need (EMDR) is a year long – I must admit I fell into a state of some desperation. I am getting married in August, and I face the prospect of still being unwell on my wedding day. This highlights to me, in very real terms, the absolute need for more resources to be put into the growing mental health epidemic we face in this country, doctors simply cannot cope with the demand, we need an expansion in access to services more than ever.
I, again, have been fortunate in that my employers have been second to none in their support, allowing me the time off when I am too unwell to work, access to an employee support system as well as altered working hours and responsibilities. I never take for granted how lucky I have been to maintain employment throughout this time; I honestly dread to think how many in a similar situation have not been as fortunate.
So here I am today, still unwell, but rebuilding. Some days are easier than others, some are just impossible. This isn’t my full story; it’s the tip of the iceberg – but it is what I’m well and strong enough to share today.
I set up this website with the intention of spreading positivity and the value of life’s blessings. I hope nobody will see this post as negative. It isn’t, it’s the story of someone determined to recover and build a better life, someone embracing the empathy that a severe trauma has equipped them with, as well as the ability to reach out to others and let them know that I will listen if anyone ever feels alone in their struggle with mental health.
I have such a long way to go in this journey, but I know I am doing it with the support of the right people – & as for those who have chosen not to come with me along this path, that’s fine too, I am beginning to accept it, and I know I am deserving of the wonderful people who have chosen to stand up alongside me and speak out in the face of domestic violence and the impact that it has on people’s lives.
After a decade of silence, it’s truly time to talk – and more importantly it’s time for me to accept the fact that I am deserving of happiness, of love, and of my own self worth. That, is the ultimate goal for me, succeeding in the face of adversity, realising that the reign of terror that I was subjected to, is really, finally, over.
If you are dealing with mental health issues:
If you are or have been in a situation of domestic violence: