Rebellious Rebirth – Oran: Guest Blog

Rebellious Rebirth - Oran: Guest Blog

In this moving guest blog, PTSD UK Supporter Oran shares her personal story after a traumatic event brought childhood traumas to the surface. Dealing with Complex PTSD, Oran found solace in grounding techniques and the therapeutic power of music. Oran’s story is an exploration of her journey with complex PTSD and her gradual steps towards recovery, illustrating the profound impact of self-care, therapy, and creative expression.

“A lot of life happened to me in a short space of time – my father passed away, a traumatic divorce leaving me as a single mother with 2 children under 5. Just as I was finding my feet in a new relationship and having my third child – my mother passed away (when my youngest was just 12 weeks old), leaving me a well-established family business to run with 11 employees and many large international clients and orders. 9 months later, Covid hit which meant I had to close my business during the initial lockdown, causing stress for my employees and customers alike.

The build-up of all of these events, while also raising three children started to cause me general anxiety but through yoga practice, meditation, and swimming I managed to keep on top of things. It was only when I suddenly experienced a traumatic life event 9 months ago that things began to unravel for me.

The night of the triggering event, I was unable to fall asleep AT ALL and literally entered a period of ongoing insomnia. This led to fatigue, which was accompanied by a racing heart, and a constant feeling of being in a state of high alert. When sleepless nights turned into stressful night sweats, intense nightmares and wakeful flashbacks, I realised something was not right. I couldn’t seem to settle back into balance. The final straw was when I was doing a supermarket food shop and the self-check-out alarm went off because the scanner didn’t like something and I found myself in tears, uncontrollably sobbing and feeling as if I had been given a piece of horrendously sad news. I was starting to realise the emotions I was experiencing from day to day were not in the right ratio to the particular situation. I felt out of control and as I was into weeks of this unsteady state, it scared me enough that I went to see my GP.

My NHS GP was so calm and kind, I remember crying through the whole appointment saying “I’m not depressed, I’m a very positive person. And I know I’m not crazy but I really don’t feel right.” He began to ask me about the traumatic event that had happened followed by a description of the flashbacks. This was the strangest thing. My nightmares and flashbacks were not about that event, they were about traumatic events from my childhood that I had never dealt with. My father had chronic addiction disorders when I was growing up which resulted in violent, abusive and scary situations for me. When my parents divorced, we literally moved to the other side of the world (from Australia to Scotland) and ‘got on’ with our new life. The GP helped me to understand that I had unprocessed trauma and grief that had been triggered by the recent traumatic event. Although the two were not directly related, my body had flipped back into the state I recognised from my early childhood years – panic and paranoia. Or as the GP named it – Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance – a condition in which the nervous system is inaccurately filtering sensory information and the individual is in an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity. This abnormal state of increased responsiveness to stimuli that is marked by various physiological and psychological symptoms (as increased levels of alertness and anxiety and elevated heart rate and respiration) was now affecting my everyday life.

At first I was referred to the wellbeing Practitioner within my NHS Health Centre who took me through basic counselling sessions, before referring me to the psychotherapy team for PTSD CBT also known as Trauma Therapy. However, as the waiting list was very long – I really struggled to find ways to keep going from day to day UNTIL I began practicing Grounding Techniques every day. I actually found many here on PTSD UK – and LOVED visiting the site to feel I was not alone – why I wanted to be involved in this blog to inspire others and say – there is light at the end of the tunnel! For me, at first I could not turn my phone on, reply to emails, open my post, do the laundry or cook a meal. I felt totally crippled and emotionally paralysed. I went between feelings of numb (dissociation) then right back into a state of panic attack (hyperarousal). The “yo yo” between the two was frightening and I received a local brief intervention support by phone which was a life saver. Literally crying on the phone to someone who would simply say “I’m here, it’s ok, take your time”. Because I had cut off from friends and family. I needed a stranger who didn’t know me and wouldn’t judge me. Finally, 6 months after my PTSD diagnosis, the waiting list found a place for me and I began weekly trauma therapy which was a god send. It was at this stage that I began to manage my self-harming and self-loathing, both of which had severely increased and was causing me more shame and anxiety on a daily basis.

It was during my trauma therapy that my therapist explained that my condition was in fact complex PTSD. The self-harming had started when I was in high school as my father had appeared out of nowhere, after a period of estrangement, which had of course been very triggering for me. I use to tear off all my toe nails until they bled and then walked around in pain, feeling a sticky sense of relief. Last year, this resulted in me needing to have an operation to have my toenails chemically burnt at the roots so they would not regrow in order to prevent further infection and ingrowth. This was something I managed to hide for years and only shared during my PTSD recovery. My support worker helped me realised I had been experiencing early childhood trauma from a very young age and never really dealt with it. In my 20’s, I also experienced severe panic attacks, so much so that I missed several university exams and often needed to request resits. At the time, the GP just put my panic attacks down to stress and overwhelm, but this was because I never really shared with anyone the depths of my inner struggles and the confusion I still felt about my past and could not seem to understand, accept or process. In many ways I felt like I did not have the right to still be upset about my childhood all these years on! The reality was that I had been kidnapped, survived a serious car accident, and told from an early age to keep things secret and to myself. I went through most of my adult life keeping everything in. On the outside I was a happy go lucky ‘good girl’. But inside I was lost, confused and so numb I could not feel my anger. After a serious of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), I had been living with undiagnosed trauma for many years, masking my panic attacks and chronic anxiety by saying it was stress from being so busy all the time.

Even as a very young child, I was always attracted to music. My mother said when I was 2 and 3 I began making up my own songs – often at bath time while she left the door open and cooked dinner in the room beside me, she would listen to my made up songs! When I was 8, I joined a recorder group, I learnt piano when I was 10, I taught myself guitar when I was 11 and moved onto the harp and singing lessons at age 13. I left home when I was 17 to go and study a diploma in popular music – mainly because I was interested in composition and songwriting. For my the mix between clever poetic lyrics as a tool for describing thoughts and feelings with the movement of melody as a tool for describing emotions – has always come naturally as a form of creative out flow. Melodies come to me and lyrics whirl around my head until the only thing I can do it stop, find a napkin or scrap of paper and sing into my phone voice memo.

Learning instruments were the initial tools that got me into music performance, but for me – creating the song, making something, the act of making the piece of art has always been the therapeutic part rather than performing it. That is fun and enjoyable – but the healing part is the cathartic process that comes before! However, when I became a mother, while I still played my instruments and sang (often to the children), I stopped creating music and writing. On one level, this may have been because I was so fulfilled by my new role as a mother – a lifelong dream! But on the other hand, I was also exhausted and it is hard to create anything when you feel totally depleted! For this reason, I stopped song writing for ten years and then was so out of the habit that I thought, that part of my life was over.

So when I began my brief intervention support sessions it was suggested to me that non-stop journal writing might help me in times of great distress when I was otherwise self-harming. My support worker suggested I keep a few pads around and pens handy, so that when the panic attack or anxiety hit me out of nowhere, instead of needing to hurt myself to self sooth and calm down, I would write every word about what I was thinking and feeling – even of it was awful shameful things about myself. This and the grounding exercises was the only thing that could get me out of a state of extreme panic. So I got into a good HABIT of doing this when home, but when out and about it was harder. In those situations I would practice a grounding exercise – often in a public toilet or my car! Then, when I began my trauma therapy, my psychotherapist saw my notes that the writing helped me and asked why I no longer made music and suggested, that now I was working reduced hours yet still finding it hard to cope with everyday life, that it might be beneficial for me to channel some of my high anxiety thoughts and emotions into music.

The idea was not to make the music for anyone else, but to progress it from words in my diaries that had been an empty out into more of a form. In a way, this allowed me to get to the guts of what I was really feeling and thinking. Musical lyrics allow you to say things that you might not be brave enough to name in a literal sense – in a poetic and abstract way. In the same way, you can pour high emotional experiences into melodies in a way that feels safe because it is musical and sung (or played) rather than spoken or addressed to anyone in particular.

While others might not be musical, for me getting back into a hobby / passion project / creative expression was extremely empowering. Mainly because I felt I was ‘failing’ at keeping my house clean, making delicious family meals, keeping up with my job, or even being a good partner. I felt a lot of shame of not being able to from all the things I normally found easy and even enjoyed. Simple tasks were too much and my beloved husband had taken over the majority of the housework, food shops and logistics. He allowed me to focus on the children as he knew for me parenting is the thing that brings me the most joy in life. We told my children I was very tired and needed to cry sometimes and were open with them about how I might read their books in my bed instead of theirs and how I would be spending more time at home and need them to help me a bit more and notice I might not do things for them as quickly as before. What was very moving, was how they all adapted to being more calm and caring towards me and I felt a deep sense of unconditional love. To be honest, knowing my husband and three boys didn’t need me to do so much for them all time, and actually as long as I was around and listen and still present, everything was ok. The house was chaos, the laundry pile was always over flowing and meals were much simpler but in some ways, we all became a bit closer. In the same way, where at first I would hide tears when crying at every single kids movie, they all began to tease me – Mum is off again … and my regular teary outbursts did not upset them, but actually became an invitation for a cuddle. My youngest would offer to brush my hair as he had seen my husband do it to calm me down during a panic attack. So, while I felt I was not DOING much service in my work or family life, music became something I felt I could DO. Probably because there was no pressure or need or expectation to do it. I would suggest for someone else this may be baking, gardening, sewing or painting. I personally found that art of creating something took me outside of myself and allowed me to feel connected to SOMETHING. At a time when I felt very lost, numb and empty. I noticed myself questioning everything in life (Except my husband and kids) to the point of my entire world view, politics, my past, relationships. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore and I didn’t even know who I was! I needed a lot of love, care and time at home to sleep. I began taking daily afternoon naps before the children returned to school so that I could be present for them coming home. I noticed the panic attacks and constant anxiety and hyper vigilance caused me to feel very depleted after lunch time, and I could naturally sleep at that time of day (especially after eating) far easier than at night. I learnt to value afternoon nap time and not judge it. It was often the only part of the day I felt totally relaxed and at peace in myself.

Now that I am 9 months into my recovery, I have really started to feel a lot better. In the beginning there were days I was so fatigued that I could not get dressed for a whole day. Other days I had so much panic and paranoia that I could not drive my car. Other days I was so emotional that I would have to ask my husband to come home at lunch time for a hug just to get through the day. In the first few months, I wondered if I’d ever feel normal again? But I did not realise my old ‘normal’ was unhealthy coping.

My GP said I could try medication for the anxiety but also suggested this may numb what was going to need to be raised in the CBT sessions anyway for long-term trauma resilience. I decided to focus on the grounding techniques, music and CBT and combination of the three allowed me to get into a more regular practice of managing my everyday life in this new way. I am now able to go for up to three days without any PTSD symptoms, but also need to remind myself I am still in recovery and pace myself. With the COMPLEX part of my PTSD diagnosis, I have also come to accept this is going to change my life forever as I will never go back to the deep state of dissociation I was living in for so many years. Accepting what has hurt us, what still affects us and coming to terms with that being a part of our new ‘norm’ takes time. It changes how you think and feel forever and in the same way, requires you to be far less demanding on yourself. I now ask for help a lot more. I pace myself and set times in the day and week for regular rest and solitude. I’ve found that having time alone is key to keeping myself balanced. I also choose more wisely how and with whom I spend my time, as my energy is precious and not as free flowing as it used to be. Learning and adapting has not been easy, but I now feel that while PTSD has changed me, it is not all for the worse. It has allowed me to be more true to myself, more authentic about how I think and feel about things and all of this I am able to channel into my music in the hope of moving and inspiring others.

A little bit like a recovering alcoholic is always in recovery, I feel the same about complex PTSD – I will always be in recovery. I accept that now and what has made this easier to accept has been making music about my story, journey and ongoing recovery. I am now making a whole collection of songs for my upcoming album called Rebellious Rebirth (due to release in the autumn) which has been written and recorded throughout my PTSD recovery journey. In the meantime, my debut single Falsely Faithful dropped today which feels like such a big achievement after months of feeling broken, lost and unsure of how I would ‘get back to normal’. The truth is, I am not back. I am in a totally new place and I give thanks for being able to be kinder to myself – than I have ever been in the past. This journey has taught me the true meaning of self-compassion – which starts with accepting your thoughts and feelings for what they are, without judgement or the need to change them. This is not easy but with a listening ear, and some way of a creative outlet, I think we can find a new norm and grow into accepting PTSD as an opportunity for self-growth and self-acceptance. If I can do it – anyone can. There really is light at the end of the tunnel!

Best Wishes,

Oran”


You can listen to and download Oran’s latest single on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music or watch the video on YouTube under Falsely Faithful by Oran. To keep up to date with Oran’s latest releases, please visit her website oran.co.uk which also has all the links to her various social media accounts and channels.

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