I hope you’re sitting comfortably with a good cup of tea, as recommended for all my posts. I promise it’s worth a read especially if you suffer with anxiety, PTSD or any other mental health issue (or know someone who does).
I’ve been having a bit of a rough time the last couple of days at home so I decided to yet again revisit my drafts folder on my blog and finish this post for you guys. I would hate to think anyone thought they were alone when they needed people to understand the most! I haven’t said anything sooner because this isn’t how I want to be defined but I am aware that this is a part of me and may always be. I started Afro Glory to celebrate the positivity and culture in my life so I wasn’t sure I would ever share this with you but here it is.
Loneliness is the worst. I just want anyone who feels lonely or isolated by their mental health to know they aren’t alone and how they can help themselves.
Wednesday 12th April 2017 was my last day of therapy and I had been anticipating it so much. It’s funny how we can become anxious about the things that are to help us from being anxious.
Anyway… I couldn’t be more grateful to the NHS after everything I’ve experienced in the last 3 years. Since August 2014 I have been in and out of the NHS with surgeries, checkups, x-rays, physiotherapy and lastly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
CBT is a 12 week therapy session provided by the NHS for trauma sufferers or people who need someone to talk to about events in their lives that they have struggled to process. It’s free and if you commit to it, it will work! It doesn’t get rid of your mental health issues but it teaches you to take positive steps towards regaining control of your mind and body.
In 2015 I was diagnosed with PTSD. I fought that decision because I didn’t feel like I could possible have PTSD. I mean come on… men and women go to war and come back with PTSD after seeing and experiencing horrific things. How could I have it after being attacked by some stupid boys in my home town?
Without jumping ahead of myself, I’d like to just go back to summer 2015. This is 1 year after the trauma and the summer that I was diagnosed. I was feeling… something I couldn’t quite explain. My palms would sweat, I would shake with nerves, I felt nauseous, I had uncontrollable bursts of anger, I was getting about 4 hours sleep a night, Excessive over eating and worst of all my heart would beat out of my chest and hurt… it felt like I had lost control of my body. I thought I had a heart condition. I kept telling the doctor ‘there’s something wrong with my heart, there’s something wrong with my heart!’… later I was told I was having panic attacks. Later I was told I had PTSD. It’s so important to listen to your body guys!! If you’re feeling different and new sensations like I was don’t dismiss yourself. You are valuable and need to address your health.
First of all the doctor did what she was trained to do. She offered me drugs to help with the anxiety and depression that came along with PTSD. If any of you reading this have parents in their 50’s or over then you know what they are like with going to the doctors. They will literally eat grass as a home remedy before heading to the doctors… well I have my mum to thank for the same mentality because the last thing I want are drugs as a cure. I’m definitely not knocking anyones choice to take drugs in order to help them deal with their mental health issues. For some people it’s very important that they do take drugs but for me it was always a case of regaining full control and being aware of my body at all times. I opted for therapy to deal with my PTSD, I kind of knew it would make my journey harder but I also felt it was really important to me to make the journey to recovery myself.
When PTSD was explained to me. I kind of understood what my body was going through. I had been letting out all of the built up stress my brain had repressed (in order to protect me) between summer 2014 and summer 2015. It wasn’t until April 2016 that I received any help with CBT. To be quite honest… I don’t remember much between being diagnosed and my first round of CBT.
I got really bad…
All I did was stay home (outside of working). I was tired all the time, had no motivation to do anything, thought about how pointless everything was, I had signs of IBS due to stress, I couldn’t socialise, I couldn’t sleep… my mind took me to some very dark and hopeless places.
When I had my first round of CBT, I hated it. I just wanted to get out of it. My boyfriend encouraged me to attend all my sessions and really work on it but our life circumstances called for a different action. We had both lost our jobs and were living with my boyfriend’s mum. It was a very stressful time for us and I didn’t have the space to work on myself. I skipped sessions because I was too tired or felt unwell. I made excuses all the time to get out of things.
Looking back on the first round of my CBT I think it made me worst, because I wasn’t committed to it and I lied to myself that I was comfortable with my therapist. It’s not that I wasn’t committed to the idea of getting better and having a healthy mind again… it was because I didn’t want to think about what happened. I just wanted to continue ignoring this horrible event in my life and go back to the person I was. What you don’t realise is that you always have one foot in the past while you’re having panic attacks. CBT teaches you to address your problems before they come out in different ways – such as panic attacks. After you finish CBT it doesn’t mean it’s over and you’re “cured” it just means you have all of the foundations and building blocks to get your life back on track and learn to remain in control of your body when you most need to.
Just to quickly touch on wanting to go back to being the person I was… CBT taught me to think differently in all areas of my life.
CBT has taught me not to live in the past or to hold on to things that won’t help me heal.
CBT is like that big messy cupboard you have in your house. You know the one… where all of the bed sheets have been thrown in and you promise you’ll eventually get around to folding them later. Where all the half used boxes of stuff live and where all those papers you need to organise are. It’s constantly there in the back of your mind that you need to fix/clean this cupboard. With CBT you have to open the cupboard and take everything out and neatly put things back one by one… week by week. If you’re missing sessions you end up not putting the mess back in the cupboard for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, which can cause your anxiety to get worst because you’re living directly in that mess. (CBT is a weekly therapy for 1 or 2 hours depending on the sessions content, I should have mentioned this earlier).
So I actually did CBT twice. The first time, I was living with my boyfriend’s mum, in a crappy job that involved a 2 hour commute on public transport, depressed and (being honest) I didn’t like my therapist. It’s okay to not like your therapist, you need everything to be right for your recovery. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to your therapist then you need to address that and ask to speak with someone different. I seem to remember my 1st therapist giving me the option after a few sessions, maybe she could sense it too. I was too afraid to say ‘actually, I would like to speak with someone else’ and instead… well you already know, I avoided. I think if you are too scared to say something then just tell a loved one you would like to speak to someone else and see if they have some spare time to help you make that happen. They can do the talking…
I just want to mention before this next section: between the diagnosis and moving to London, I developed new habits and irrational fears that would give me panic attacks. My two main ones were stranger danger and public transport. Everybody I didn’t know became a threat and every form of public transport was a confined area full of people who were a threat. As you can imagine, this played havoc with my anxiety.
FINALLY after 6 months of the long commutes and living with my boyfriend’s mum, he was offered a well paid job in London. Of course we JUMPED at the opportunity. I don’t even remember us questioning the big move and being so far from home. We just did it and within 1.5 weeks we lived in London. A part of me used the move to escape the town where I was attacked, but I think the majority of me wanted change, distraction and adventure (as usually). Within 1 week I was in a job too. Things were looking and feeling great!!!… but with any major city comes massive amounts of people! Faster moving, aggressive, loud speaking people. The Underground was just a web of nightmares below my feet. Shopping for anything was like being thrown into a crowded hot box. The weekends became a frantic and over stimulating experience.
My anxiety reached it’s peak after about 2 weeks of living in London. I already knew there was a free service on the NHS that claimed to help but only made things worst. I ran out of options though so I rang my doctor and committed to therapy. I explained that I needed to complete CBT because I had just totally lost all control. I love life, it’s such a beautiful and precious thing but when you suffer from mental health issues… your mind is full to the skull edges with destructive thoughts and you feel like any second it’s going to crack open and be game over! I needed help and this time I needed to commit… so that’s what I did.
I was such a mess when I first walked in to my new therapists office. With EXTREMELY hard work over a 12 week period from myself, my therapist and my loving boyfriend Joe I made it through. Every week I had realisations and new ways of approaching situations. I started asking myself more questions and addressing my negative thoughts. I began feeling empowered again. I could recognise a panic attack and calm myself down. I no longer had to have a panic attack, I taught myself to breath again. I could be in public and on public transport with strangers again. I began to enjoy London and all its people.
When I realised that actually I want to be someone now in 2017, I want to be present again and not have one foot stuck in the past… it helped me grow strong again.
No blog post anywhere is going to help cure you though. I want you to know that this is my experience and always will be. You will never share this experience with me but you may have your own. Please NEVER compare your mental health with another person’s mental health because you are not in their heads and they are not in yours. Be patient with yourself and others who suffer from mental health. Don’t take everything personally.
Now that I have read over this post countless times and debated sharing this part of me on my blog… here it is. It really took some guts and time. My last push was knowing that someone could read this and that it may help them. I want people to know they are not alone and that their struggles are not meaningless or menial. There’s no right way to end this post so I’m going to send you somewhere else…
I recently did a collaboration with A Day In Her Shoes, we spent a day together and you can see me here speaking about PTSD and how I’m learning to overcome it. You’ll also hear more about me and all the positivity I have invited back into my life through moving to London and starting up a blog.
Feel free to comment below or drop me an email (theres a link on my IG account here).
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