At first I didn't know I had mental health problems. I knew I was stressed, very "stressed", but didn't understand why I was overreacting and so fearful of the future. I just could never rest, I kept feeling exhausted but unable to sleep or I'd sleep for 16 hours, day after day. My heart was racing. I kept getting ill and ending up at the doctors, but still I was afraid to admit how bad my thoughts were even to myself.
I might as well as pretend to be "normal"
I started having nightmares most nights. I would wake up and the sheets would be wet and I'd be really hot, even though it was a cold night. In the day I kept seeing things that I knew weren't really there. Mostly I'd see someone's shoes, the same pair, it was like they were faded and just part of the vision. The shoes belonged to someone who was constantly causing me problems, even treating me as if I wasn't even human at times. I couldn't even acknowledge that it was abusive behaviour. I was so sure that I was going "crazy" and that nothing could be done about it so I might as well pretend to be "normal".
In the end I just couldn't carry on anymore and spent almost a year either in bed or on the sofa. I was suicidal for a time. My heart was racing and I kept having panic attacks. Even simple things like food shopping were awful and I kept avoiding people I knew and places linked with the trauma. Anytime someone got close to me in a shop I'd be terrified. Nothing made sense.
It was a long time before I got professional help
It was a long time before I got professional help. I was experiencing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the frequent sight of shoes was a flashback. The nightmares and anxiety were part of it too. I saw a counsellor through a local charity and steadily got better, and medication reduced the symptoms too. I started writing a journal and drawing the flashbacks. I kept forgetting parts of the trauma and telling myself it wasn't so bad, or I'd be overwhelmed and dissociate for a while.
When I dissociated it was like the world was unreal, like everything was just a movie and nothing I said or did could alter anything. Now I understand it was just my mind's way of coping. My counsellor taught me that minimising and forgetting parts of the trauma is normal with PTSD, so is avoiding reminders of the trauma and periods of dissociation. I wish I had known that before rather than blaming myself for the symptoms.
I was experiencing was self-stigma
I realised after I talked to my GP and my counsellor that actually the stigma I was experiencing was self-stigma. I wouldn't get help because of my own fears and lack of knowledge - which led to stigma within myself. After talking to my counsellor I felt supported enough to tell a few other people and they were really supportive. But it's still very hard. I wish people wouldn't ask what caused the trauma because that makes it much harder.
Things aren't perfect but now I have my life back. I understand the abuse was not my fault. I wrote this to help other people understand more about PTSD and abuse, and to encourage people to get help sooner. Today I made a pledge at Time to Change to talk about trauma and dissociative disorders.
What do you think about the issues raised in this blog?
Find out more about dissociative disorders from Mind.