PTSD – what works for me: Michael’s Story

PTSD - what works for me: Michael's Story

In the first of a new series, PTSD UK supporter Michael shares his story of Complex PTSD with us – what caused it, what he experiences as a result, and importantly the things he’s found that help him cope, manage his symptoms and allow him to look toward his future plans of writing a book. 

“If I’m honest I never really thought about PTSD. My knowledge of it was that soldiers got it from being in conflict. I had a distant uncle who I never met, and he sadly committed suicide decades ago. He was in the US army and was in Vietnam.

I started following the PTSD UK Facebook page a few months ago because I realised, I was struggling with my own mental health.

It was around 1992 when I left school at 16 a very young immature naive kid. I didn’t have many friends and the ones I did have were acquaintances rather than friends. Yes we would play at the bottom of the street but I was never the one to be invited into their houses to play just in the street to make up the numbers in a football or cricket match. I was very happy when I left school and started a part time job. That’s where I met him. We would talk for hours and because he lived just around the corner, we would spend time around his house playing board games for hours. He introduced me to alcohol and I remember throwing up after half a can of lager. It was amazing to have a friend as I hadn’t had one before who liked me even though I was 16 and he was 44. Well, I’m sure you can guess the rest and I don’t really need to spell it out. It went on for years. He introduced me to some of his friends. I knew something wasn’t right after a while so I managed to get out. Partly because we moved home and I changed my job. I was too scared to talk to anyone about it out of fear and shame. No one would believe me – I was a kid and he was an adult so I blocked it out, filed it away and tried to get on with my life the best I could.

Drugs and alcohol helped with this in my early years. Then it was work. I used to keep my mind busy. I used to bomb around all the time…100 miles an hour. Always something on the go. It wasn’t until 30 years later that my head ‘exploded’. Stress got the better of me and I had a meltdown.

I have visited the street where he and his wife lived several times over the decades. So I never knew what happened to him. I don’t know why or what I would have done if I ever saw him and I don’t know why I visited. I googled his name during my breakdown and found a few articles about him from years earlier. He had been found and convicted of similar offences to someone else and the story was almost identical. I found out he had passed away and I still don’t know how to feel about that.

After hiding this away for 30 years, now it’s all I can think about and I can’t let go. I had dark thoughts, some very dark thoughts. How I was going to take my own life to end the pain and the over-thinking. That’s when my wife called in the mental health team and as a result I was diagnosed with complex PTSD (C-PTSD).

My moods change all the time. Some days I get up, walk the dog, pop to the shops to grab some shopping, maybe have a wander around town and grab a coffee. Other days I can’t get out of bed. I can’t eat or drink. I just stare at the walls and cry. I have a constant ringing in my ears – left then right in the middle and going round in a circle. I feel out of my body like I’m standing about 6 inches behind myself. Looking at everything that’s going on but from a distance. It’s fuzzy.

I feel scared all the time, so I have upgraded the security cameras around my house and every time they go off I look at the footage. I stand at my bedroom window and just look out, keeping an eye on what dangers are out there. The daft thing is he is dead and can’t get me. But he can when he lives in my head. I wake up every night in a cold sweat. I have nightmares where I punch out and kick out. I feel so sorry for my wife as I have kicked her a few times whilst I’m asleep. I don’t know I’m doing it until it happens, so I’m sorry my love I really am. I have thoughts all day everyday about what happened and how it happened. Why I let him do this to me. I feel his presence around me. I hear him talking to me. I can feel him touching me.

I started to stutter quite a lot and I’m constantly tensing my body and have lots of random arm and leg movements, but I’ve learned this is my body processing what happened. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings as a child and how to cope so they were buried deep. I also dissociate – my brain stops me talking about the abuse a lot of the time. It’s not that I don’t want to talk, it’s my body protecting me.

There are times I have not washed or showered for a week. It’s not simply ‘man up and get out of bed’ – it’s like I’m paralysed and my arms and legs don’t work. I have a dark heavy blanket over my head weighing me down and nothing else matters. I’m in my own little world, constantly reliving the abuse.

But I have learned some coping mechanisms and breathing techniques that do really help. I’ve started singing ‘head shoulders knees and toes’ to help me move. Previously, I would lie in bed for hours thinking about moving my leg just a few inches but I couldn’t. But singing this helps me to move. It’s just a little twitch of the muscles to start with, then I build up from there over and over singing the song in my head for as long as it takes until my arms and legs work.

I also focus on hope and that’s what keeps me going. Luckily I have a great wife and support of my parents and family. They are a massive help and I’m so very grateful for that.

The thing that drives me now is trying to raise awareness of both abuse and mental health and so I’m writing a book. A book about my life: from me growing up and what happened to how I’m feeling now and what it’s really like living with C-PTSD, what it’s like hiding away for all these years. I want to help people and tell them they don’t need to hide away like I did – you don’t need to struggle alone.

I still have so much guilt that I have hidden this for years and he was able to continue in doing this to other people. I wonder if I had said something about this years ago I could have stopped others being abused and could have stopped what they are going through or been through. I have so many people to thank for helping me, but the one person that helped me the most is someone I will probably never meet. He is the person that was abused by the same man some years after me.  He came forward and told his story that led to his conviction. Without him coming forward I would have never seen the article in the paper and still been in hiding. I have so much to thank him for.

Even though I’m struggling with all of this it’s better ‘out in the open’ than being hidden away, eating you up inside. Help is there. You may have to hunt for it but when you find it your world will change (it may not feel for the better at the start) but it really will help. It’s not going to be easy by any means but it will be worth it I promise that. I’m currently receiving counselling and I think it’s going well although I feel I’m still at the start of my journey.

I hope this will help someone who needs it. I wish so badly I had not waited for over 30 years, but this is the next chapter. Writing my book, sharing my story. Even just writing this helped me with the knowledge that I might get through to just one person and they might get the help they need, before it’s too late. 

I have a long way to go but I’m willing to take a chance and see where my journey will take me. People are there to help and I’m hopeful that I will make it through this.”

Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.

It’s important to note, that while choosing your PTSD or C-PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

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To protect the contributors identity, an image of a model has been used 

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas

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