My PTSD ‘toolbox’

My PTSD 'toolbox'

During her life, Imogen Cauthery has experienced a number of traumas and resulting PTSD. Over time, despite some co-morbid conditions such as epilepsy and bulimia, Imogen has developed a ‘PTSD toolbox’ – a variety of therapies and activities she uses to help her PTSD and is proud to share her tips that she uses to live a fulfilling, rewarding and enjoyable life.

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a life-changing disorder. It can present itself at any given time, appearing days, months or even years following the traumatic event.

In my life, I’ve experienced multiple traumas, which have each brought their own individual PTSD symptoms too: a hit and run incident which also left me with epilepsy and multiple physical and neurological disabilities, a long running, complex court case, I was sexually assaulted and raped, I suffered a brain haemorrhage whilst getting surgery for epilepsy, and I suffered a cardiac arrest – all by the time I was 32.

Each of these traumas and the resulting experiences such as feelings of being isolated and shameful, have caused PTSD, and additional symptoms such as survivors guilt, I was scared of men, even those I knew and trusted, and still get anxious around them now, I am triggered by things I associate with the sexual violence, such as tents and camping, and GAP jumpers (I was wearing one when it happened), and if I felt an occasional headache, I would become anxious and think I must be having another haemorrhage, and had to teach myself that my body can have simple headaches. A times I’ve felt so trapped and abandoned, not knowing who to speak to, unable to run away and unable to fight it. After everything I had been through, my eating and exercise habits became extreme and I was also diagnosed with bulimia.

The symptoms of PTSD are often similar but they vary in severity when associated with each trauma. There are definite recurring themes  – for me there is always embarrassment, shame, loneliness, flashbacks, survivors’ guilt, depression, anxiety, fear, and a huge lack of confidence in myself and my life. I feel isolated and detached, despite much love and support from family and friends. It has affected the people around me and impacted my family relationships. With my lack of confidence, I have often felt worthless, which would trigger feelings shame and made survivors guilt even harder to overcome – why did I survive when I’m so worthless? Asking myself these daily questions causes me more fatigue than my epilepsy medication. I began having non-epileptic seizures in 2019, which my neurologist confirmed was linked to the PTSD.

Whilst overcoming my traumas, I couldn’t work or volunteer as my mental health struggle was so debilitating. Overtime, I gradually returned to my occupations and I currently volunteer part time and work 0 hour jobs.

I would describe the depression I feel as part of my PTSD as feeling constantly unhappy with no hope in life. After all my traumas, I went through a very quiet time, because I couldn’t find any happiness and purpose in doing the things I normally enjoy. Even stroking a dog in the park couldn’t stop me feeling shame from the memories. I’ve taken anti-depressants on occasions.

What really made a difference to me was patience. Patience that I would overcome my symptoms; I knew it would calm down in the end, so I just had to wait. Although I still get episodes of PTSD, the symptoms do not stop me enjoying the things I do. I find happiness in nature, music, swimming and exercising, spending time with animals, volunteering and seeing friends. I love to travel and explore, and there is nothing that makes me happier than hiking a mountain; whenever I reach the summit, I know why I am alive.

Throughout my life I have had a multitude of therapists who have supported me through the traumas and associated PTSD. For me, these included CBT, psychotherapy and counselling. I have found CBT the most challenging yet most effective at teaching my brain to think differently. For example, I learnt to remind myself that a harmless headache does not mean a brain bleed. I used exposure therapy to overcome my fear of tents and I purchased a GAP jumper which I wore it for 2 days to teach myself that nothing traumatic would happen. All of this to helps my brain to stop reconfirming my anxieties, and replace the negative associations with positive thoughts. I am also using mindfulness strategies to help manage my trauma-related seizures and am pleased to say that breathing techniques have really made difference.

Together with therapy, I have established my own toolbox to overcome PTSD. I know myself and my passions very well and what strategies to use in certain situations.

One of my favourites is animal therapy. I love being with animals and find them funny and interesting, and they listen without judgement! I currently volunteer at Bath City Farm once a week and consider it a day of therapy. Grooming the ponies, feeding the goats and cuddling the rabbits gives me time to think about other things beside my trauma and have a laugh. Helping the farm and its animals gives me a sense of purpose, and I can tell myself I am still alive for a reason as I have much to give. I’ve also been on conservation holidays, including a wildlife orphanage in Africa. Just the sight of animals brings me joy. They are great company, whether a pig, cat or cheetah!  

Listening to music is another form of therapy I use. Not only my favourite songs and pieces, but whatever suits the mood I am in. The sound of a clarinet helps me when I’m feeling tired and upset, because it is so calming. When I am scared, I turn to 70s and 80s hits for something upbeat and fun, especially Abba and Queen! Sometimes I have to choose carefully; I avoid 90s music when I am having an episode about the court case and/or the hit and run, as I know that childhood nostalgia won’t help at times like that.

PTSD is certainly treatable. I’ve found that by taking it step-by-step, the symptoms gradually become less frequent and less life-interrupting. Recovery takes time, but be patient with yourself.

I want to raise awareness about the effects of PTSD on daily life. It is a silent disorder and often undervalued. I have never felt ashamed of feeling the emotions associated with PTSD – the feelings are valid and only those without empathy would believe you had no right to feel them. Living with PTSD is a daily challenge and requires more understanding, empathy and support from society. I hope that by sharing my experiences I can help others suffering from PTSD and show them that you can still live a fulfilling, rewarding and enjoyable life.”

You can read more from Imogen here and you can see Imogen’s work with the road safety charity Brake in the video below. 

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