I have been asked by the lovely Ghostwritermummy to blog about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am a survivor of this condition, but I’m not a clinician, if you feel you are suffering any of the symptoms or have concerns about your mental health, please see you doctor.
As long as humans have walked this earth, they have suffered trauma. Death, natural disasters, the destruction of families and communities, none of these are new things, and the human spirit is amazingly resilient. What has become apparent in this modern world, is that sometimes, people cannot cope with the aftermath of these life altering events.
Some sufferers of post traumatic events resent the term disorder, however I feel, particularly in my case, it is accurate. I think everyone who suffers a trauma goes through a period of adjustment, and a period of sadness, grief and terror at what has happened. However in some people this process does not occur properly and that is where the “disorder” comes in.
The symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder can vary but in essence are
* Reliving events associated with the trauma over and over again
* Hyper awareness, being on high alert all the time, unable to relax
* Intrusive thoughts
As you can see from this, this condition is very different from depression, particularly post natal depression. It can occur together with depression, but it can also stand alone. In my case I didn’t feel depressed or sad. My problem was an overwhelming anxiety.
When Joseph was in hospital I was distressed and concerned, but I was coping. I was reasonably logical, could make decisions, and felt I was coping well. There were moments where I lost control, where I cried a lot, or felt hopeless, but these were in keeping with what I was going through at the time. When you are told your baby may not survive the night, I think going to your room and sobbing your heart out is quite a logical thing to do.
What happened to me though, when I came home with Joseph, was that all hell broke loose. Sleep deprivation obviously didn’t help, but I was having hideous nightmares, every night, and sometimes during the day. They were vivid and graphic, and partly based in reality, they were awful, and at times I had difficulty separating what had happened in my subconscious to what was happening in reality.
The flashbacks were intense. The worst place for them was Tesco. The beeping of scanners sounded like Joseph’s monitor, the lights in the supermarket were the same as on the unit. Sometimes Joseph would get distressed at the brightness and the noise, and I would get distressed. More than once I would be scanning huge amounts of items through the self service as I couldn’t bare anyone to see my distress, or the tears coursing down my cheeks.
Events in hospital, that at the time were minor, coursed through my head. Conversations replayed over and over. I would torture myself for not having said the right thing, of having handled things differently. I approached conversations with doctors they way I managed them in my job, not as a mum. I hadn’t learned to be a mum, and I felt completely deficient as a mother, and that I had let him down, which was not logical at all.
I felt as though I was waiting for the hammer to fall. I had been told Joseph would be a poorly child, that we would be in and out of hospital for years, that he might be back on oxygen or assisted breathing if he got a cold. I felt Joseph would break.
I was hyperaware, I listened to every breath, worried about every mil of formula Joseph took, I worried about people holding him, about germs. I was like a wounded lioness, and it was very trying for other people, especially my in laws, who just wanted to snuggle their newest grandchild. I felt like I was watching someone else. Where was the laid back, happy go lucky Aussie? Who was this paranoid, strung out woman who was making life miserable for herself and everyone around her?
The other problem with post traumatic stress disorder is layering. There is research to say that a person’s personal history has a large part to play in how the cope with a traumatic event. When I started therapy it was clear that a lot of the trauma of my past had got all tied up in what was going on now. In my case, the nightmares were a complicated mix of historical events and the recent past, which made them difficult to distinguish from reality. I was scared to sleep.
It took me a few months to get help, but it was when at baby massage people were asking me about Joseph’s hospital stay that I realised I was ill. I was crying hysterically, I was a mess, and everyone around me just wanted to hug me, and hold me, and tell me everything would be fine. I will never forget the kindness of Becky, Andrea, Rebecca and Sam, and I had the courage to see my GP.
The GP took one look at me and said “you are not depressed”. I felt like a weight had been lifted. She said “I know its post traumatic stress disorder but I have no idea how to treat it lets get help.” The only thing that really annoyed me was that I would have to wait at least 6 months. Fortunately I had the resources to go private and found a wonderful psychiatrist who put me back together again.
What annoyed me greatly was that if it had been post natal depression I would have been seen virtually immediately but because I had post traumatic stress disorder, I would have to wait. I am so grateful I had the resources to get sorted straight away. I dread to think what would have happened.
The biggest part of my recovery has been the use of a medication, Citalopram. Oh how I loved it. After two weeks the nightmares stopped. The flashbacks soon followed. I could put up with the first week of headaches, the weird side effects. I was getting my life back, I could relax, I could enjoy Joseph. I started to realise that Joseph would not be a baby forever and I had to enjoy him whilst he was tiny and adorable, because soon he would be a toddler, and I’d be fighting for a cuddle!
What also helped was getting more involved with Bliss and talking to mothers of older premature babies, and I realised that actually, Joseph would probably be fine, he might have the odd obstacle to overcome, but he would be ok. And so would I. Now it’s been well over a year since my diagnosis, I am now off the medication. I wouldn’t like to say I am cured, but I am certainly better.