I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2013. At that time, I didn’t completely understand what PTSD was and who it affected. Having suffered from depression, anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for many years, it was good to find out that there was a support network available to help me come to terms with my diagnosis.
Unfortunately, not everyone has an open mind when it comes to mental health. We sometimes face judgement from others, people whom we thought would have provided support and love at a time when we need it the most.
Some members of my family and within my local community believe my diagnosis means I am: “mentally deranged”, “throwing a wobbly”, “incapable of bringing up my children” and a “benefit cheat”. It has been a losing battle to get my family to understand my symptoms. One conversation resulted in someone telling me that they don’t believe in counselling – I just need to “get on with it”! And when I was in a respite house for a week, they called it a “nut-house”.
I feel like someone has stabbed me in the heart twice – once when my son tragically passed away, and secondly as my own family cut ties with me. How can I expect the public to understand how living with the myriad of symptoms of PTSD is to me, when my own family show such ignorance?
PTSD can manifest itself in many ways: increased anxiety and emotional arousal; rumination; suicidal ideation; feeling guilt, shame or isolated; insomnia.
Even though I am on 4 different types of medication, I still struggle with sleeping. Often, I have panic attacks. It is not uncommon for me to wake up feeling like I cannot breathe, or to call for help.
My dreams are nightmares. There is nothing ‘happy’ or ‘soothing’ about the things that race through my head during the night. My mind races from the day I lost my beloved 12-year old son, to arguing with my family members, to having someone try to kill me. I see myself running down a dark street, knocking on doors, trying to find refuge.
When I wake up, I am already anxious, tired and short of breath. But, life goes on and my children need to get to school. I walk into the playground to see some mums give me the cold-shoulder, some huddled together chatting whilst looking back at me. I drive home feeling suicidal, nervous, angry, hurt, lonely and nauseated.
During the day, I work on projects, like my new book. My home is very quiet, as is my phone. This is because I haven’t yet found myself a nice gentleman that is calm, honest, sincere or understanding. In the past, when a man has become aware of my mental health, they try to use it to their advantage. But I have my children, and that’s all I need in this world.
My mind is a whirlwind of life experiences that I have witnessed or been subjected to and they all make me feel tearful, depressed and scared. I have moments of ‘brain-fog’, hyper vigilance, palpitations, dizziness, flashbacks and little interest in doing things.
I then do the school run and go into ‘mummy mode’, being mindful not to let my children see the horrors of how I am feeling or what is going on in my head. I put on a brave face and smile, and try to be the best mum I can be.
The sun goes down and it becomes dark and quiet – the perfect combination for PTSD to kick in again. My body and mind goes into “prepare mode” as I wonder if I will finally have a good night of sleep. I take my time to go to bed, and when I do I usually watch something funny on my phone.
But what happens when I turn my phone off? How long will it take for my medication to kick in? Will I actually sleep 6 hours? I practice mindfulness in the hope that it helps. Sometimes it does. But I wake up the next morning to go through it all again.
As you can imagine, this is very challenging to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I have been abandoned by so many people that it has left me with a sense of disbelief and shock.
I am a devoted mother to my four children; I am studying for a BSc Health Science Degree; I single-handedly set up a bone marrow donor appeal on an international level when my beloved late son was alive; I am about to publish my first book; and I am a volunteer.
This life is about giving back to society and helping those in need. We are all human and vulnerable to the unexpectedness of what life can throw our way. I am determined to remain the strong, independent woman that I have evolved into and to come to terms with the fact that, to some degree, my life has become a very lonely one. But I will not let the ignorance of others dictate how I live my life.
I have a voice, and it will be heard.