Case Study: CBT Treatment – Darren
Darren lived with PTSD for 8 years before he opened up to his wife about how he was feeling following a trauma experienced through his work as a Police Officer. He underwent CBT treatment over 10 years after his initial trauma and says as a result of this treatment, ‘Life is very happy, I no longer have any symptoms’. Darren even went on to write a book about his experience to help others.
“I lived with PTSD for around 10 years. I didn’t tell anyone until around 8 years after my trauma, when I finally opened up to my wife as my behaviour was becoming bit erratic. I had this macho belief that I couldn’t tell anyone – I didn’t want to appear as ‘weak’, and a bad person for feeling that way and the culture I grew up in and worked in was very macho and male opinionated. Men don’t really talk about mental health or feelings.
Living with PTSD on a daily basis became mentally tiring at times, it’s the triggers; they seem to have this way of constantly having you on edge, I had a few triggers both visual and environmental. If it were a dark, frosty night and I’d see a old street light the orange tinge would remind me of the event that affected me and set off my anxiety as the intrusive thoughts would start and then going to bed became difficult because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The nightmares would then start if I did get to sleep and it would be a replay of the event over and over till I woke up in a cold sweat. This wouldn’t happen daily but if triggered for certain it would. You never knew when the next trigger would happen.
A big part of my PTSD developing was avoidance of processing the traumatic memories from that night. If the subject came up or something related on the TV I would walk away or make up an excuse why I couldn’t go to a social night or walk into the kitchen and make a drink to avoid viewing it or hearing it. I did anything to avoid thinking about it because I knew I’d end up sleep deprived and it would sometimes give me flashbacks. I found when out on social nights and having alcohol it sometimes made the triggers more sensitive and the flashbacks more vivid especially if I had bit too much alcohol. This became a problem for me as I’d become erratic and no one understood why. It was difficult but it got easier over the years to manage it and avoid certain things but it never went away! I spent a lot of years confused and angry about what was happening to me. I couldn’t understand why this event kept haunting me and coming back into my mind. For years I struggled and was too scared to seek help or talk about it due to my beliefs and culture I grew up with.
I had never heard of CBT before. My work were promoting Mental Health week and had a CBT therapist come in to give a talk on the subject. The therapist encouraged 1-2-1 confidential sessions with all staff. I was really nervous about my 1-2-1 and it was a huge step for me, but a recent trip to the cinema scared me into getting help. During the film I got triggered unexpectedly when the film caught me by surprise by showing a very vivid scene relating to my trauma and I had a really scary flashback to a point where I was crying in the middle of a packed cinema, it scared me so much that I knew at that point I needed help so I started accepting there was a problem. Anyway, I went into the 1-2-1 and we got talking and I mentioned what had been happening, I was diagnosed with PTSD there and then. It shocked me and I took a few days to get my head round it but it did start to make sense to me. She referred me for private 1-2-1 CBT Therapy straight away through my private medical insurance through my work.
The therapist explained the steps and processes very clearly. I was little bit nervous as I didn’t really want to relive what I had been through but you need to face it and they help you step by step. I think, more importantly, I was ready and had accepted I needed help with the condition. I felt like I had taken the right step and was keeping an open mind to the therapy as I really wanted to stop this condition controlling my life. The prospect of months or maybe even years of therapy was daunting, but I knew I had to do this to at least try make peace in my mind. It took around 6/7 months of CBT for me to be signed off as fully healed. The final stage was visiting the place it happened; sounds scary but actually you find you update the memories with new ones as the environment has changed.
My family were very shocked, I found it really hard to come out with it. My mum was quite upset because I had hidden it for so long and felt horrible that I couldn’t speak to her about it, but she really supported me and my Dad, and sisters. They were really supportive especially my Wife. My mates were fantastic, they listened to me and supported me, but I think what was best of all is they treated me no different, that really helped and made me feel normal: not a guy with PTSD just Dazza their mate. They all helped me tremendously through the therapy and I’ve helped them understand what its been like, although my wife saw daily what it did to me. I’m very lucky to have them as I know some people unfortunately don’t and that makes me sad but they need to know they’re not alone and there is load of help out there.
My Therapy was through my Private Health Insurance through my work. My first session was about my history like growing up, my family situation and home life, had I experienced trauma before etc. I felt safe with the therapist, she slowly brought my barriers down and I started opening up. She taught me certain coping behaviours to remind myself during any anxiety attacks or if I felt unsafe. Little things like, rubbing my index finger and thumb together to remind myself I’m in the here and now. Other things were spray of your favourite smell like a lavender spray, I had a smell element to what I experienced so this helped when this came into play – it helped me relax and again remind myself that the trauma is just a memory. I had a few setbacks, I think at two points I was kidding myself a little that I was now ok and was jumping ahead of myself in my recovery, my therapist got me realigned and really helped me through the tough scenarios like the reliving phase.
After my treatment, life is very happy, I no longer have any symptoms. Although I know the memories will live with me forever and every now and then they do comeback or I get reminded but I know now I’m ok and it’s the past. I feel so much lighter and mentally very tough and strong. I now openly speak about my PTSD and experiences with it. I really want to help others with the condition and hope my book I wrote will help inspire others to seek help.
My best advice is try to accept that you have a problem, that was certainly a hurdle for me and try understand the triggers. Once you understand the triggers and find a way to cope with them it gets lot easier to then process and move on. You need a support network round you whether that is one person you trust or a group/ family, its vital to moving on and its ok to need help or support. If you want to beat PTSD you may need to put yourself through hell but I promise you, when you come out the other side it’s amazing.
A little quote I heard a while back: “Trauma is a fact of life, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence”
You can find out more about CBT treatment for PTSD here.
You can find Darren’s book on Amazon here.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.