Case Study: CBT Treatment – Matthew
A traumatic experience at work over 30 years ago left Matthew with PTSD, which at times left him with anxiety, panic attacks and unable to leave his own home. Matthew used CBT to learn to cope with unwanted thoughts, accept his status as a victim without shame, and has found strength in sharing this story as a beacon of hope for others who have experienced trauma.
“I was always a bit of a worrier. Worrying that the worst possible thing would happen to me. As a child I would constantly be worried about being abducted by a stranger or that I would be seriously ill.
Something would always be on my mind. But as I grew up, although still a little bit of a worrier, I managed to let it go… I guess I was growing up.
In my late teens, walking into my work at a financial institution one day I was going through my usual routine, coffee on the way to work along with a sugar bun and started my busy day. Nothing out of the ordinary. In the blink of an eye, I am now at home shocked and stunned. Wait, what happened during that day? I remember answering questions and being frightened and afraid, but not the details of the day.
I always knew I was an anxious person and I never really remembered what happened that day as it was such a blur. I remember being in the office and then being at home. The parts in the middle are extremely fuzzy. I now know, a gang of men had attempted to steal my identity for bank fraud. At the time however, no one had any idea how dangerous they were or how much danger I was in or if I knew more than I had let on or indeed if I was one of them. It was the type of crime drama you would watch on the television, but fortunately, the Police caught them, and I was confirmed as a victim of their scheme.
At this point I made the biggest mistake of my life and just brushed this under the carpet… I was OK. But I wasn’t.
I found that watching any crime drama on the television would make my heart race or watching injustice would annoy me so much I had to look away. Around 3 years ago I started to get major anxiety and one day I couldn’t step foot out of the door. I was having panic attacks and flashbacks. I turned to my GP and went into therapy. It turned out I indeed had PTSD.
The day I came across Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was the day I had a telephone appointment with my GP. I was always very proud that I had not been off sick from work for over 20 years. I always managed to trudge on. The day I had to go sick for work was when I couldn’t step foot outside the door. My whole body was consumed with fear. I will never forget that day as I felt as though I was dying inside. My GP spoke to me about medication in conjunction with CBT and she told me that it was a long road ahead. I had another appointment with a specialist at the surgery who referred me to Talking Therapies. Even though I was sceptical I was willing to try anything. I had heard of CBT before but wasn’t really sure what it involved.
It took a few months to get to see someone but I was relieved when the appointment came through. I wasn’t nervous about my appointment but I did have questions about how it would work. I thought my therapist was going to start off by saying ‘What has been the issue’. She didn’t. She just let me talk and it was at this time that everything came out of what I could remember. If I am being honest my family didn’t seem that invested in my treatment. As the event happened so long ago they probably thought it was all put to bed.
It was also hard for me to accept that I had PTSD and quite a severe case of it. Carrying around this amount of baggage for over 30 years had been unknowingly exhausting.
My therapist put a plan in place to help me fill in the gaps and rewrite my narrative. I even did a Subject Access Request to the relevant authorities so I could bring this along to my sessions but they all came back blank with no records found. For a start that was a relief, but also it was a little frustrating. A great part of CBT was the room I was in felt safe. I felt protected and I felt as though I could say anything without judgement or being harmed.
Was I sceptical? Yes. However, the further we went on the more faith I put into it. I didn’t want this event to ruin the rest of my life. I did have a moment of clarity during these sessions and I will never forget it. We were chatting during the sessions and I said I had always going through life feeling threatened and afraid and that the event of the past was always in the back of my mind. If I was enjoying something I would then suddenly remember the horrendous event I had been through and the enjoyment would be gone. My therapist said something so profound it changed my perspective. She said ‘that’s quite sad isn’t it‘. It was. As I left the session I burst into tears. I had suddenly realised the actions of other people had taken the enjoyment out of anything pleasurable in my life. These men who were criminals had altered the trajectory of my life and probably not giving the whole event a second thought.
It was at this point that I was determined to deal with the past and try to not put it behind me, but try to deal with the unwanted thoughts and feelings that went along with it. I accepted that I would never forget it, but I could try and not let it dictate my day to day living. Up until that point I had been carrying this amount of baggage around for over 30 years.
My therapy was slow, steady and although it didn’t help me remember what happened that day, it helped me rewrite the narrative and I found ways to cope with unwanted thoughts and finally admit I was a victim and that I shouldn’t feel ashamed. It always felt like a dirty secret, and it is only recently that I felt a little more comfortable talking about it. My brain has blanked out that day and although some people have been able to fill bits in, I don’t quite recall.
I should also mention that this happened over 30 years ago. Who knew that something could fester for that long undetected? All the issues I was having over the past 30 years or so were symptoms of PTSD. I was a very strong person who many looked at as being able to cope with anything. It turned out I wasn’t coping with anything and just burying it so far deep that I was numb. It was only a matter of time that it was going to come out…and it did.
I was treated terribly at the time, and it turned out that a work colleague had committed the crime. This made me lose trust in everyone, everything and the goodness of people.
Am I cured? No. Can I deal with things better? Yes. There are times when I see the Police and my heart races but I remind myself that I haven’t done anything wrong and I am completely innocent. I remind my myself that I have no criminal convictions or arrest record and I have lived an honest life. I try not to think of the group of men anymore. I try to laugh at the fact they met through a paintball club and thought that they could have pulled something so hideous off. I try to make light of it and some days I do succeed.
Getting help was the best part of this story and a positive part. I have bad days and I accept that. My advice for those that have been through a traumatic experience is that talking really helps. It sounds like a cliché, but it was the best thing that I did. Having CBT for PTSD isn’t a magic wand to make you better and it takes work, but it does make things a little more bearable. I found it difficult to talk to someone at first as it felt a little self-indulgent, but it turns out my therapist was able to help me fill in some blanks and really delve into what I never really wanted to talk about. Although I can’t erase the past, I can try to change my future. Now I can cope with unwanted thoughts and feelings due to the therapy I had and if anyone is hesitant about taking to someone, don’t be. There are people to help. You’re not alone.
Many thanks for taking the time to read story.”
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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.