Wild Side of PTSD

Guest Blog: Wild Side of PTSD

Hannah is aspiring wildlife researcher/conservationist who has just completed an MSc that she was very close to dropping out from due to her PTSD. Hannah’s passion for raising awareness focuses on an important part of understanding PTSD that’s not spoken about enough, and she tell us more in this inspiring blog post she’s kindly written for PTSD UK.

“People often think that the trauma itself is the hardest part, but it’s not…

For me, it’s the change of normality and the change of comfort zones. The going from a well-known toxic environment and adapting into a healthy one. It’s the rewiring your brain of everything you’ve ever known. Unlearning those negative habits that ‘helped’ you cope. Having to face potential threats on the daily because of the negative associations your brain has developed to keep you safe, when in reality it made you run from everything and everyone. It’s taught you to see the bad in everything, to self-sabotage every time something good comes into your life because as far as you’re aware, anything good comes with a price. So you brace yourself for impact and become untrusting of good experiences and good people. You doubt people’s kindness and question people’s intentions because they seem ‘too good to be true’. Its going from a toxic, manipulative, and abusive relationship into a healthy relationship, and not knowing what to do because it’s something you’ve never experienced. Yet you find yourself waiting for something to go wrong. You end up trying to push people away. Because being in a healthy, positive, and safe environment with positive and safe people feels scary, confusing and unnatural. It can’t get more backwards than that! But the truth is, not everyone is out to hurt you.

That was the hardest lesson I learnt from my PTSD journey!

At a young age I was bullied, verbally, cyber, and physically; I was called everything under the sun but my own name, I was sent death threats and eventually I found myself believing their cruel words and acting upon those threats. Between the ages of 13 and 19 whilst I was still being bullied, I experienced sexual abuse from both people I knew (and trusted) and complete strangers. I had experienced mentally and physically abusive relationships. I became scared of everything and angry at the world. I had to manage mental damage that other people had caused, people who today probably don’t even remember my name, let alone what they did.

I became distant from the good people in my life and disconnected from everything I once enjoyed. I developed these negative associations between a stimulus that I believed to be a threat when in reality, it was harmless. I wouldn’t go out by myself, even to do a grocery shop because I was afraid of something bad happening. For example, I built this negative association with men and danger/threat, so I’d avoid them as best as I could. If I walked past a man, I’d look away or try walk round him at a far, despite knowing deep down that not every man out there is a threat. Or if someone moved quickly, I feared they’d hit me. I hated confrontation due to the fear of being yelled at. I chose to silence myself instead of opening up in case my feelings got dismissed or invalidated again. Every smell, sight, sound, or situation that I had previously experienced something negative with had become threatening in my mind, even if in reality it was safe. Every time there was even the smallest chance of stimulus being threatening, instead of facing the fear, I’d avoid it and turn the other way. This mindset resulted in me turning down dream opportunities and having random outbursts at loved ones, which eventually left me alone because I’d managed to push everyone away and I completely shut down. Or so I thought.

Despite everything, I carried on and went to college and university to study what I’d always wanted to study, animal management and zoo biology. I grew up being surrounded by wildlife and knew from a young age the benefits that it had to my mindset. However, as I got into the second year of university, I got worse. I had run away from therapy as I was afraid of what that might show. I had so many undealt with issues and completely lost myself because I didn’t have the mental strength to pull myself back up. I was stuck. I began drinking and smoking again to cope. I even tried dropping out of university as I didn’t think I could cope or that I deserved the opportunity I was given. I didn’t feel good enough. I kept re-living my past and what people used to say to me. I kept having flashbacks to the abuse and didn’t feel safe. I had given up and lost all hope.

Long story short, despite being so close to dropping out of my second year of university, I have just completed my MSc degree! I’d learnt to let go of who I was and redevelop myself. It’s not about the change, it’s about the progress and development. I never changed who I was, I adapted. I surrounded myself with fewer people, but they were the right people that I choose every day to be a part of my life.

When I’m in my element of nature and wildlife, the middle of nowhere, that’s when I feel free. I feel a part of something that is so much bigger than you or I. The adventure is never-ending. I’ve learnt to put myself into a situation that would’ve once seemed impossible, but to take little steps to introduce myself to the situation opposed to completely throwing myself in or running away. I’ve learnt to accept my depressive episodes, my slumps, my bad days, and to feel the emotions that come with them instead of being in denial that they’re even there. I’ve learnt to manage my mental gymnastics in a way that works for me. I’m not perfect, I’m not 100% where I want to be but I’m getting there.

I’ve become self-aware of my thought processes, my cycles, and also understanding my triggers but not just from my point of view but from an outside point of view too. It’s still a work in progress but I’m finally headed in the direction that I once thought was impossible or non-existent. My current relationship has taught me a kindness and love that I never knew existed. It’s taught me that there are good people with pure intentions out there, and that no matter how much you try to push them away, so you don’t ‘hurt’ them, they’ll still be there. It’s taught me not only how to love another truly but how to love myself, how to support myself and how to grow. It’s allowed me to turn a negative situation into a positive one by gradually introducing me to those fears that I’d built a negative association with and creating positive experiences. It has become my safe place. And now I’m even on the way to my dream career of becoming a wildlife researcher – how I’m getting there is a completely different journey but one I’m willing to take, no matter how difficult or long it takes. I feel reconnected with myself and what my purpose is. It hasn’t been easy, nor will it be, but I can manage it in a healthy way that works for me

I have lashed out at people in the past because I was unsure of how to manage my thoughts and feelings. I tried to push them away. But few of those people never gave up on me, they stood by my side and have given me the love, support, and push in the right direction that I’ve needed. I cannot express my gratitude or appreciation enough for those few individuals. My circle may be small, but it’s full of pure, genuine, and kind individuals.

It’s not about how easy something is, it’s about how manageable it is. Like I always say to people, I’m like a boomerang, I always come back. No matter how bad the bad days may be or how long the depressive episodes or slumps may be or how intense the mental gymnastics may be. I always come back. And each time I come back stronger and more aware.

Things I learned about how to manage my PTSD better:

  • Find that safe person/people. Not many, just a couple who you can open up to and let in. Whether that be a partner, a family member, a friend, or a therapist.
  • Use those same safe people to help face your fears. Create little positive experiences in safe environment.
  • Never jump, never throw yourself in the deep end. Take little steps until you feel ready to go that little bit further. It takes time.
  • Get outside. Whether that’s through walking, hiking, volunteering, dog walking etc. Getting some fresh air and being around wildlife is what I like to call ‘natural therapy’.
  • Do something for the mind, body, and soul. Mind – journalling, meditate, body scan, deep breathing. Body – Get walking! Try yoga, dance, Pilates. Soul – Be one with nature and wildlife. Find a stretch of running water and just breathe it in.
  • Get out of your head. Whatever mental gymnastics you have, get them out of your head and onto paper, or even talk to someone about it. Something I learnt is that saying out loud how I felt, yes was scary and hard to accept, but it helped me to process and understand my emotions and feelings.
  • Understand the difference between motivation and discipline. Motivation encourages you to try something. Discipline helps you maintain it.
  • Create a morning routine. It creates structure to your day and helps you feel in control. It doesn’t have to be intense or full of steps, just little things that you enjoy to help set a positive intention for the day.”

 


Find your own space in nature, whether thats gardening, beachcombing, running, geocaching, wild swimming or Forest Bathing too!

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).

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.

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