All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

Roadblocks to Recovery: #1. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

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I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday reading through some of the blog posts that I wrote in 2012 and 2013, quite possibly the most prolific blogging period of my online writing career. Some of the posts were depressing, some were uplifting, some funny and others steeped in inspirational content. But the defining characteristic of each blog post that I read was hope; hope for me, hope for a better future, hope for my recovery journey.

Over the last twelve months, ever since I slipped into a deep depression that refuses to lift no matter what I do, I realise that this hope has evaporated. I no longer have hope that I will ever recover. I no longer have hope that my life will be any better than it is now. And that’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever written, for if my life is never going to get any better than what I have now, I may as well kill myself, because what I have now is nothing.

My “life” (if you can call it that) is a monotonous routine of the same-old, same-old every single day. I roll out of bed in the morning only because I need to go to the bathroom. I fiddle online. I listen to the radio. I watch DVDs (almost at the same time each day) and I yearn for something (anything) to happen so as to break the routine that I have fallen into. Sometimes I try to break the routine myself; go for a walk, cook something new for dinner, break up the route I take when walking to the supermarket, but nothing cracks the protective routine I’ve fashioned for myself.

As I read those blog posts yesterday evening I began to wonder why I have such trouble breaking my routine. Why I have no hope for recovery. I started to wonder about all the roadblocks that have been created that are preventing me from continuing my recovery journey. All the niggling frustrations that have been concocted to prevent me from living the life that I want to live. And it is these roadblocks that I need to explore, to try to work out why they are causing such problem and what (if anything) can be done about them.

For until I navigate these roadblocks I will have no hope, and without hope, there is nothing.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

PTSD

The first roadblock that is preventing hope from re-entering my life is something I wrote about recently: PTSD. My PTSD is a complex beast. It is not just from one incident, but rather several life-threatening and traumatic incidents that have occurred over the last eight years of my life. From being emotionally abused, to being raped, to being forced to live a homeless, sub-human existence, the memories of these events permeate every facet of my life, forcing me to live in a constant hyper-vigilant state. There are so many triggers, so many things for me to avoid, that ‘living’ is something that seems almost impossible. Even simple acts like someone chewing gum, talking to people or writing comments on blogs can cause crippling panic attacks and hours of re-living the events that have defined my life over the last several years.

Even without these triggers, my PTSD can come flooding back unbidden. I have already mentioned recently the near constant conversations I have with the ghost of my abuser, frantically trying to make sense of what she did, why she did it and why I deserved it. Conversations (nay, screaming matches) that can last for hours at a time, no matter what I’m doing or where I’m doing it. At night, my sleep is constantly disturbed by the near-endless nightmares of being raped, and that is when I can get to sleep, as my efforts are often affected by the memories of my time sleeping rough as my mind constantly asks whether or not I ‘deserve’ to be sleeping in a bed.

Living in such a hyper-vigilant state is exhausting both physically and mentally. Constantly having to be aware of everything that is going on around me, constantly avoiding things I want to do and places I want to go, in case I find myself triggered, in case I succumb to the crippling effects of a panic attack. It’s mindbogglingly tiring. So much so that I often have very little energy to do the things I want to do. I have trouble walking down the street without being overcome with exhaustion, I have trouble keeping my mind focused on even simple acts such as grocery shopping or watching a movie.

No matter what I do, the PTSD has a direct impact on every area of my life. And no matter what I do, nothing seems to alleviate my suffering. I’ve tried everything; from CBT, DBT and mindfulness, to talking therapy, exposure therapy and psychotherapy. Nothing works. Nothing does anything to alter the hyper-vigilance, flashbacks or endless replaying of my previous trauma.

The impact it has on my life is devastating. And the PTSD I’m afflicted with is clearly a major roadblock on my journey to recovery. For as long as the PTSD has such a hold on me, I will never have hope for recovery, let alone be able to recover to any reasonable degree. But what can I do about it? People suggest I should “move on”, “get over it” or “move forward” from the trauma. I’m told to simply stop replaying events. I’m encouraged to just “deal with it”, but these suggestions are nothing more than platitudes that I already know, platitudes that ignore the devastating effect that PTSD can have on someone. It’s not easy to just “get over it” or “move forward” when you are constantly being reminded of the trauma to the point of panic attack and inaction. It’s not as simple as just “moving on” or “dealing with it” when your subconscious mind constantly dregs up memories that you don’t ask to remember. When I’m lost to a PTSD flashback, when I’m trapped in a conversation with the ghost of my abuser, when I’m experiencing nightmares of being raped or being assaulted whilst sleeping rough, I’m not even conscious enough to acknowledge my own name, let alone tell myself to just “move on”. It’s just not going to work. Period.

So what can be done? Well, if I had the answer to that my PTSD wouldn’t be causing as much of a problem, but I need a plan of action in order to rebuild hope, so I have to come up with something. Anything. So:

Firstly, I need to undertake some extensive talking therapy. I firmly believe that psychoanalysis from someone who is trained, someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who has experience of PTSD, will do me the world of wonder. I’m hoping this will come courtesy of the psychologist I have recently been put in contact with, if it doesn’t, then I need to find someone else. Regardless of how much it costs.

Secondly, I need people in my life. People have always been more powerful to me than medication. The most stable I have ever felt in my life (late 2006) came at a time when I wasn’t medicated, when I wasn’t receiving treatment, but when I had friends. The simple act of just being around these friends, spending time with them, sharing my life with them, enjoying life with them, changed the structure of my brain and enabled me to see myself for who I want to be. They distracted me from my issues, took my mind off my troubles and enabled me to enjoy life. Yes, people would help, that much I’m sure.

Thirdly, I need to consider PTSD specific medication. If there is such a thing. I don’t know much about the world of medication when it comes to PTSD, but it’s something that I need to research, something that I need to look into. For if medication can help, I’m more than willing to give it a go. So if anyone has any experience of medicating PTSD, please leave a comment below, your experience would be greatly appreciated.

Fourthly, I need to write more about the incidents that have caused my PTSD, for by talking about them in a safe environment (such as my blog) I may be able to look upon them in a new light. I may be able to alter the way my brain interprets them, alleviating the control they have.

Fifthly, well, I don’t have a fifthly, so four items will have to suffice for now. At least it’s somewhere for me to start rebuilding hope.

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.
If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
Thich Nhat Hanh

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