Guest Blog – Aaron

Guest Blog - Aaron: my PTSD story

At only 16, Aaron has already been through a lifetimes worth of pain – and his resulting PTSD diagnosis took him to ‘the darkest place he never thought he’d get out of’. In this incredibly powerful blog post, Aaron shares his inspiring attitude, what helped him get through the toughest points and we’re SO proud that Aaron even reveals that he wears a PTSD UK patch on his top when he’s representing GB at American Football

“My name is Aaron Ruby, I’m 16 Years old and was diagnosed with PTSD 18 months ago.  

My story is difficult to write as I’m still living parts of my nightmare but having started EMDR Therapy (which my parents are paying for privately) I can finally start to believe that it will not control me or define my life the way it has done.  

I’ve always enjoyed sports it’s been my driving passion from an early age. I swam competitively since  the age of 8 training up to 9 times a week and by the age of 13, I was on the National pathway and  ranked in the top 5 of the British rankings. But it became all-inclusive and I wanted to try more  things and give other sports a shot.

I began running for a top running club, Boxing (Trojan TMA) and my ultimate passion in life is  American Football which has become my driving force as of now, it really has saved me in so many  ways. The club I play for is called Tamworth Phoenix.  

In early September 2020, I was sparring at the Trojan TMA gym when my right shoulder dislocated  mid-round. I will never forget the excruciating pain and the agony of my first dislocation but at that  moment, I remember not thinking much of it going to the hospital and coming out with a sling and  just being told to rest.  

I thought I’d be back training within a month which was a far stretch from the truth of what was to  come over the course of 6 months.  

I had 40 anterior dislocations to my right shoulder, 2 major surgeries and basically lived in the  hospital going back and forth every time my shoulder dislocated which plunged me into excruciating  agony and have to get an ambulance to the hospital where they could relocate my shoulder with  pain killers.  

This was the start of my PTSD journey. 

As we were still coming out of COVID lockdown, I had to wait 3 months for my first surgery with my  shoulder dislocating daily with any type of movement. I would pick up a can of coke, walk up some stairs, and get out of bed and it would dislocate. I was living a nightmare that felt like it would never end being in more and more pain as the dislocations mounted and the hospital trips increased.  

In normal circumstances, the surgery I needed would have been done as an emergency within a  week or so as my shoulder was no longer connected to my shoulder socket but due to COVID, there was nothing that could be done.  

I know the hospital did all they could and the 3-month wait was still an emergency appointment as  most hospitals were still in COVID lockdown. I will never forget the pain of lying in the school sports hall, classrooms or corridors for up to 4/5 hours waiting for the paramedics to arrive. The excruciating pain with my shoulder sitting on my chest to the point where I used to black out with pain and till I had no feeling in my lower arm due to the nerve damage.  

The paramedics used to give me morphine via a cannula plus gas and air so that I could put my  shoulder back in myself by dropping my body in such a way it would snap back. I would pass out with the pain, after having so many and it being so frequent there was nothing the hospital could do apart from sending me home after they relocated it and confirmed by x-ray. 

I couldn’t bare having any more sleepiness nights in the children’s ward waiting for the doctor to  come in and apologise that there was nothing they could do for you and discharge me, due to my surgery being already booked in.  

This was happening daily, my life was a merry-go-round of dislocations and hospital visits – a far comparison to the sporty kid I once was, I could no longer sit in classrooms or see my friends I became more and more isolated.  

In November 2020, I had my first operation which was said to be a success. A week later I popped  out with my mom to get some fresh air (about 22 dislocations in), I remember nothing of this but I  collapsed in the street and started convulsing and fitting (looking like an epileptic fit and mumbling to myself). An ambulance was called I was taken back to the hospital they couldn’t find anything physically wrong this was my first episode of PTSD that had taken over my life. Each time I had an  episode, I was reliving the dislocations that were now happening daily I could no longer function as a normal teenager. My brain became completely consumed with fear it never went away but I tried  so hard to carry on. I remember the night after the surgery at home with no feeling in my arm due to  the block they had put in post-operation, I can vividly remember sitting up and seeing all these doctors and paramedics standing around my bed and I found myself talking to myself having all sorts  of visions. I ended up not sleeping at all that night being filled with terror and fearing for my own safety. From these two events, my real battle started as I would have flashbacks and seizures sometimes daily, I couldn’t be left alone, I never felt safe, and it wasn’t me.  

In May 2021 my worst possible nightmare came true, I tripped and fell and my right shoulder  dislocated again only 6 months after my first operation to fix it. I went back to square one dislocating my shoulder another 18 times going back and forth to the hospital stuck in a cycle that I  thought would never end.  

I had to undergo a second operation that month. This time it was successful but living through now  over 40 dislocations, and 2 operations in only 6 months it felt like my life was completely over. I could not control the feeling of overwhelming fear, loss and complete despondency, I wanted to die.  I have lost most of my friends. I was going to school to sit in a side room for hours until I’d have a seizure or my shoulder would dislocate again and my parents/ambulance would have to fetch me.  

The episodes I was experiencing have changed, I now see paramedics working on me I could feel  needles going into my arm. It felt like I was floating above watching and reliving the dislocations  over and over again. I could not control it and this was happening throughout the day.  I would see paramedics walking past me in Tesco’s I would see them in the school corridors, I would see them anywhere and everywhere. I never felt safe, I would fear being alone.  

In January 2022, the school decided that it was better if I studied at home. I was completely on my  own, with no friends, no structure in my life just living and breathing PTSD day and night.  

Every day I would wake up doing the same routine, not leaving the house, doing rehab twice a day  and I was completely left to my own devices. Being alone for 70% of the day and seeing the same  people not being able to even go on a walk by myself in case I collapse or had a seizure. This part was the hardest for me being stripped of everything that made me feel like me (Sports, Friends,  Social Life) all gone within a week and just left to fester in my thoughts. This crippled me. 

In between the two surgeries, I attempted to take my life. I have only ever spoken about that to my  parents and the people closest to me but it is not something I’m ashamed of. I don’t know how I’m  still here. Something has got me this far and that’s the part I’m holding on to.  

It is very hard dealing with all of this 24/7 and that really felt like my only option, a way to free myself, a way to finally stop all the pain, but something kept me here and I’m willing to fight for whatever that was.  

As “Big Dog” my Boxing Coach and friend would say there are only 24 hours in a day until you can  restart afresh. That really stuck with me because I know Tomorrow can be a new day. I’m just  thankful for my support network because I truly wouldn’t be here today without the likes of my  mom & Dad, Big Dog, Dr David King, Karl, Jodie, Mr Boyes and so many more of my closest friends.  I realise many people are not as fortunate to have so many people in my corner but when I say I wouldn’t be here without them I really mean it.  

My only break from all this was talking things through with my Psychologist Dr King who was been  amazing at working with me with the CBT techniques.  

But what really was saving my life was a feeling of belonging to the Tamworth Phoenix American football team and Trojan (Big Dog) my boxing coach.  

I felt I had been rejected from all I enjoyed. I loved school and wanted to do so well but I was no longer part of it. Every Sunday night no matter whether I was in a hospital or at home I would wake  up at 2 am to watch the Las Vegas Raiders game.  

I watched every game that season, I felt it was my only escape, the only part of the old me that was left. For those 2 hours that I watched my mind wasn’t on school, my shoulder or the traumas I was  reliving, it was purely obsessed with the Las Vegas Raiders and this compounded my passion for  American football through the roof.  

I returned to training with Tamworth Phoenix practice, wearing my sling just to make me feel a part  of something again. I started to go back to the boxing gym just to socialise and see my coaches and  friends. I made bonds that I will never let go of and honestly, they saved my life.  

On the flip side, so many people doubted me and questioned my actions on how I forced myself into school every day and how it didn’t meet their “Requirements” because so many people doubted me, some of whom I thought were my closest friends & teachers. I have learned some people will never understand what you are really going through and I had to learn the hard way. They truly don’t deserve to be part of your journey.  

The real people in my life accepted me.  

They never gave up. I used to turn up to training both at the gym and on the football field and collapse with an episode for no reason I can remember, but they looked after me. They never judged me and accepted me for who I was.  

I could never get over that. I can never un-see myself lying there on the floor screaming, fitting  begging for help. I can picture it over and over and the worst part is I had no recollection of any of  my seizures so I always had to hear second-hand from the people I love and those closest to me and  how they saw it. 

I could always see how they must have felt by their facial expressions that broke me. The guilt and trauma that I inflicted on other people I hated it. Even knowing I did nothing wrong and I couldn’t  even control my brain. But it still eats me up to this day.  

On the flip side to all this due to Covid my surgeries with everything I missed virtually 2 years of  school, 70% of missed lessons. Being in year 11 in school is kind of a big deal. (I timed it all this  perfectly I know?!) 

I had 8 weeks to crush my whole 2 years’ worth of revision for my GCSEs. I never found school easy  but I always worked hard and was achieving 7 to 9s.  

But after sitting a few mock papers I quickly found myself to no one’s surprise getting 2s and 3s. This  really broke me I’d worked so hard I enjoyed school and considering GCSEs are the “biggest” things  in your life at 15/16, it crushed me.  

I resented the idea of GCSEs because of everything it stood for. People suggested that I shouldn’t  even sit them.  

With no revision due to school being one of my biggest PTSD triggers, I sat 90% of my exams 90%  more than everyone expected me to do.  

It was brutal for months, the school told me to stay at home. I have now been at home for 7 months  with no teacher contact, no lessons and then the realisation I have to sit my GCSEs.  

Even thinking of the word “Macbeth” honestly is agony because all I remember is having a seizure  right after we finished reading the book. Whilst I was in and out of an unconscious state, I could  hear the lesson still going on in the other room. Little things like that cut the deepest because it  takes you back to my weakest place. A place you never want to revisit.  

The 5 weeks of exams were agony I got through it and I never had to think about school again. I can  finally “Move” on. Filled with mixed emotions because on the one hand I really enjoyed school and I  gave it everything.  

All my past achievements ‘Sportsman of the year’ and ‘leadership pupil’ all gone. I never asked for any of  this to happen but unfortunately it was now my life and school didn’t want to know the PTSD side of  me. They only wanted the Aaron I was before the Aaron that made THEM look good. The sportsman Aaron.  

After my second surgery, I began the biggest rehab I could have thought, in the hope, that I’d be able  to play and train again, band work after band work pain through the roof I rehabbed every day and  continued my way to recovery having to learn to use my arm again, I wrote a quote in black marker  going into that surgery “Watch Me Now”  

That’s stuck with me ever since no matter how much you are broken no matter how hard it gets, no matter how many people say you never do it again the only thing you have to say is “Watch Me  Now” That’s to everyone who thought and told me I’d never play sport again.  

In my darkest days, the consent support and encouragement of Tamworth Phoenix Coach Karl,  Trojan TMA Big Dog saved my life they gave me back a feeling of belonging. I was not a freak I was  just going through a tough time. 

Adam (Big Dog) was my rock at home calling me daily and helping me through my darkest days he  was there for me 24/7 I couldn’t have been more blessed.  

When I was getting back into training after 3 months of rough rehab, Coach Karl also encouraged me  to trial for GB Lions (American football). In September 2021, I gained a place in Under 19s GB Lions  Squad, I have never been prouder to wear and represent Great Britain. It was beyond belief that I would ever play American football again let alone making the GB team.  

Honestly, I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I received the email after the year I had and the  trauma I suffered. Not being able to play or train in any sport, I managed to go to the GB trail and  impress the coaches so much that they gave me a place. I’m also the Tamworth Phoenix Youth  Squad team captain and soon to be a fully qualified assistant coach for American Football flag  football. I think sometimes we don’t really appreciate how far we’ve come and that’s what I think I  need to work on.  

Even with the miracle recovery I had I still struggled every day with seizures and visions and that  sense of never being safe that there was someone always behind me, I would still hear voices and  imagine needles in my arms, and I would wake up screaming from nightmares. The friends I have made through sport and these clubs especially I know I wouldn’t be here today without them. I’ve learned even at 16 when one door closes on you another one will open.  

I have completed 6 weeks of EMDR therapy and I was so scared to start. My mom found this  amazing Therapist Dr Jodie Fellows. Although it’s hard and the sessions are draining and sometimes impossible to get through, I know it is working. I am not through it yet but I am actually starting to feel me again not every day or every moment of the day but I can see glimpses of the old me the one that was lost the PTSD me. It is like you are two people, one person who wants to move on and has  big dreams, whereas the other person just always drags you back down thinking ‘I’m never good enough’.  

I’m throwing myself into EMDR as I want this work although I’m still scared of the memories it brings  up one day, they will no longer control me and hopefully, all the vision will stop because I’ve come so far, I haven’t had a seizure in months I’ve started sleeping better, life is getting better and that’s  something I never thought I’d be able to say.  

I wanted to tell my story to say I know I’m only young but I’ve already learnt that in life there is always hope even when you completely lose yourself and you are on the verge of ending it all.  

If people turn their backs on you because of situations in your life they were never meant to be in it.  Treat special friendships and the people around you with respect as one day it’s those people that  will be your guiding light.  

I will never be able to repay the people that kept me here but the people who are here on your darkest days will be the ones celebrating with you at your best. That’s what helped me the most was the people around me their energy, and their presence.  

David and I (my therapist) use a term called the “Wounded Healer”. I throw myself so much into  coaching at Phoenix plus training with my Team, or the lads at the boxing gym. You can really see the impact you can have on people. When you step back and realise how you make people laugh, smile or they start to look up to you. That’s something that I felt helped me the most was helping other people. 

I remember for one of our youth tournaments I was playing in. One of the young players came up to me and said how nervous he was. American football can be really violent so I sat him down next to me in the changing room and gave him one of my armbands I wear when I’m playing. He put it onto his arm and the smile on his face said it all. The look of confidence in someone believing in themselves it’s the little things. It helped me to that feeling of belonging and seeing other people  around you wanting to be by your side. I feel blessed to have such people in my life and I know I will be ok. I’m now fighting for the future I know I deserve. Sports has been my saviour and the people within it.  

PTSD will not define me it will make me stronger and push me to fight even harder. Where ever the future takes me I’m so proud to wear the PTSD UK logo on my GB American Football top when I’m playing.  

I hope someone out there can relate to my story. There are so many more things I haven’t been able to say but if one person can find peace in what I’ve shared then it’s all been worth it. This was truly me at my weakest and the dark place I never thought I’d get out of.  

Thank you for taking the time to read it I hope it helps someone out there and the only thing you have to believe in is yourself. Remember you’re never alone.

“WATCH ME NOW”  

Aaron signing out. “

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