Guest Blog: How writing is helping me to cope with PTSD
Many people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder find that writing can help them to understand their PTSD or C-PTSD and the symptoms they are experiencing – whether that be a diary of thoughts, notes on a scrap of paper, or by writing a novel. In this latest guest blog, Katy, who is a wellbeing writer, blogger and mental health advocate, writes about how she rediscovered writing which helped help after trauma.
“I remember when my first poem was published in a children’s magazine. I was as proud as a seven-year-old child can be. At the time I didn’t know that several decades later, I would have another poem published, but this time in a book. A book filled with unique art pieces written or created by many inspirational warriors, my own work amongst them. After a decades-long break from writing, I had found a silver lining amid a personal nightmare. Since then, I have known that I can always fall back on my writing and it has become a tool in helping me cope with my PTSD.
Towards the end of 2020, I had a terrible accident. I was walking home from work when a van hit me as I was crossing a road. I was only a meter or so from the pavement… After the accident, I ended up in our local hospital with a fractured back.
A week after the accident, I started to experience flashbacks, and several weeks later, I got diagnosed with PTSD. The event had awoken unwanted memories from previous traumatic events. Pandora’s box had opened, and old nightmares had started to haunt me again. Having buried them deep away many years ago, as part of my coping mechanism, I wasn’t prepared for something like this.
My stay in hospital, and recovery at home, coincided with a Covid-related lockdown. In trying not to lose my sanity, I actually managed to find my silver lining. I took a pen and paper and emptied my head onto it. Whilst I couldn’t walk, I had two hands which served me well. After a break from writing which had lasted many years, I returned to it.
Writing became a kind of therapy for me. As I was making a progress, I recorded my thoughts on paper. I started to research about PTSD; I was able to get a greater insight about it from the PTSD UK website. Shortly after, I created the Journeyofsmiley blog where I have been sharing my experience with others ever since.
It’s good to know that in tough times we are not alone, and I was grateful to receive a positive response from others. This gave me the idea to start the PTSD: My Story Project, a safe place for trauma survivors to share their own experiences. I’ve always believed in the power of stories. I am convinced that through sharing our experiences we can inspire others and help fight the stigma surrounding mental health.
This was also one of the reasons why I entered the art competition organised by PTSD UK. Their website was an invaluable resource during my research about PTSD, so I was over the moon when I found out that they had chosen my work to be published in their book. Writing means so much to me, and whilst my writing doesn’t normally include poems, the piece was like a shout out into the darkness. I felt like I needed to scream and put those words on a piece of paper. There is so much despair in that piece, but also determination and belief that one day I will get better. And I wanted to share that message with others. I wanted others to know that you are never alone and that we can do it.
Whilst my aim now is to raise awareness of PTSD and to empower and inspire others, writing is still a tool I use to cope with my PTSD. I write a journal where I record my thoughts, often looking back at it to be able to report on my pain and actions to health professionals. It also allows me to recognise patterns myself and by doing so, I can help my mental recovery.
It has been proven that expressive writing can improve both our mental and physical health outcomes. Whilst recalling traumatic and emotional events may sometimes be hard and distressing for us, putting our feelings and thoughts on paper is also valuable and meaningful. I find that once it is out of my head and on paper, it has the efficacy of helping me to manage stress and anxiety better. And there is also evidence that it can improve our immune system and general wellbeing.
The good thing is that you don’t need to be a writer to start writing. Anyone can do it. You can do it at home, on your computer, or take a pen and paper outside with you and sit on a park bench to write. Although I share my experiences with others on my Journeyofsmiley blog, I also have a journal that I keep private. So even if you do write down your personal thoughts you don’t have to share them with anyone else. However, it can help you to record things you want to discuss with your therapist. There isn’t really a guide of what you should write down, it’s totally up to you. And whilst there are people who prefer to do their writing in the morning, you can do it any time. I often write in the evening. Then I can write down all the things I that did during the day and for which I am grateful.
You can even have a separate gratitude journal where you record anything you are grateful for and this can include people around you. The only thing I would say when you do your gratitude journal is to be specific. List a few things that you are grateful for and write specifically why. This helps you see the positives in your day and manage your negative thoughts better.
Whilst trauma can take so much away from us, there are tools that can help us to cope with PTSD in our life. We just need to find approach that best suits us and maybe writing is the right one for you.
Katy is wellbeing writer, blogger and mental health advocate and mentor who lives in England (UK). She has worked hard to overcome her trauma, and she writer about her experiences to help others in similar situations. She is also the founder of PTSD: My Story Project, a safe place for trauma survivors to share their stories in order to raise awareness of PTSD and inspire others. She continues to share her journey on her Journeyofsmiley Blog.
- Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338
Photo by Karolina Grabowska
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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).
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