Guest Blog: Alex - The power of love and support
Over ten years after starting to experiencing night terrors, panic attacks, anxiety, and withdrawal, Alex was diagnosed with PTSD in June 2023. Unaware at the outset that these struggles were linked to a past trauma, and experiencing a huge lack of support from professionals, in this guest blog, Alex shares the profound realisations of how loving support can help and the transformative journey toward understanding, acceptance and diagnosis.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD in June 2023, a decade after my symptoms first started. Ten years ago, I had no idea that the night terrors, panic attacks, anxiety, withdrawal, and flashbacks I was experiencing were symptoms of PTSD. At the time, it didn’t even really occur to me that it was all the direct result of a sexual assault I had endured; I blamed myself and just felt something was wrong with me, cutting myself off from loved ones.
It was not until the end of 2017, when I was 21, did I begin to look into and suspect PTSD, after getting out of a domestically abusive relationship. Solicitors were involved at the time, and after explaining to my solicitor that I felt the current flashbacks I was experiencing along with nightmares and intensely painful chest palpitations were signs of PTSD, my solicitor urged me not to get a diagnosis. He felt court professionals would use that against me. So I didn’t, I continued as I was with these painful heart palpitations for two years, on two occasions going to A&E about the pain. I then started my psychology degree.
It was during my psychology degree that I had access to research papers and relevant books, reading more about PTSD and the impact of domestic abuse, arming myself with knowledge. I knew that if anyone else was feeling as I was, I would be telling them that they were having a normal response to horrendous circumstances, that their brain is doing exactly what it has evolved to do in the face of danger, that hypervigilance and avoidance is completely understandable. And I wished someone would say those things to me.
It was also around this time that I was finishing EMDR therapy, a specific type of therapy designed for trauma. I found this therapy helpful as it worked in a way that seemed to take this mentally tangled knot of experiences, feelings and nightmares, and separated this entanglement. I left EMDR therapy feeling more able to understand my trauma and it felt easier to manage now the knot had been untangled. I had a better understanding of myself, and my therapist was the first professional I had seen who suggested PTSD, really confirming my suspicions.
Despite this, even my therapist did not want to write to my GP to get me a formal diagnosis of PTSD, for fear of the stigma I may face in my personal life. Time and time again I was fed these messages, whether directly or through what I had read, that I would be blamed, I would be judged, and it would be more beneficial for me to keep quiet about how my experiences had impacted me rather than put a label to it and find acceptance in that.
I felt unlovable, and that I would have to keep pushing that part of myself down, taking bathroom breaks to shake off the flashbacks.
When I was 26 those feelings began to change, as my partner came into my life and showed me that I am lovable, not just on the days when I have no flashbacks, but even on those days, and even on the nights I wake up panicking. Regardless, the love I felt never wavered, and it reached that part of me I kept pushing away and ignoring.
My partner has helped me in so many ways. He has taken the time to empathetically learn what has happened to me. He has wanted to understand by triggers in order to either help prevent them or know how to calm what I called my ‘amygdala flare-ups’.
When I am tremoring, he will hold me until it passes, and when I am in need of reassurance, he understands that some part of me is not fully in the present and how to ground me again with positive affirmations. So much of my trauma is connected to feelings of worthlessness, failure, being unwanted and used, and he takes the time to counteract those negative thoughts.
Ultimately, despite the messages I had received from the influential authorities in my life, I realised that, diagnosis or no diagnosis, I still have PTSD. Diagnosis or not, I would still wake up panicking, I would still have tremors, I would still have flashbacks and I would still make myself smaller and listen more carefully to any change in tone of voice. Yet, without a diagnosis, I would just continue to explain away these things as ‘just a thing that happens’, I’d treat them as quirks. Without the language, I could not make sense of it properly for myself and my loved ones, nor could I have the proper access to any support I needed. I had also now learnt what it felt like to have all of these ‘quirks’ and actually be loved, cared for and treated with gentleness. This was the biggest turning point for me and how I overcame the fear of being diagnosed with PTSD and all the stigma that could bring, and I was diagnosed with PTSD in June 2023.
There is so much power in feeling accepted, and that helped me overcome my fear of being stigmatised. I now feel so much more myself, in part because I am no longer denying a part of who I am. It may have taken me a decade, but now, at age 27, I am writing a blog for PTSD UK to raise awareness of and embrace PTSD. Feeling cared for, for who I am has made all the difference to me, and I have come to realise that the people that mind do not matter, and the people that do not mind are often the ones that also love you completely, PTSD and all.”
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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.