We all go through some kind of traumatic experience in our lives. It can be anything from being in an abusive relationship to losing a loved one. When we talk about trauma, we can sometimes minimise our experiences and think our traumatic experiences aren’t as valid. This can be due to thinking that they weren’t life threatening experiences or it wasn’t “as bad” as what someone else we know has experienced.
This brings me to the topic of post-traumatic stress. When we hear this term, we think of it as something soldiers get from active combat but anyone who has been through a trauma, or multiple traumas, can develop post traumatic stress.
A lesser-known diagnosis is complex post-traumatic stress – which is, well, more complex than what we know of post-traumatic stress – complex PTSD is usually diagnosed in someone who has trauma from multiple traumatic events rather than one big traumatic event. Examples of this can be repeated abuse, bullying, serious health problems and neglect.
How to look after yourself if you are experiencing post-traumatic stress?
If you are experiencing post-traumatic stress, take time to focus on self-care. Do things such as cuddling a pet, taking a bath, doing a hobby you enjoy or even sleeping. Self-care doesn’t always have to be productive; it can be something enjoyable. Adding self-care to your routine can have a positive impact on your mental health.
I was diagnosed with CPTSD by a psychiatrist at the age of 18. The things I was challenged with were:
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal ideation
- Emotional flashbacks – The definition of an emotional flashback is intrusive thoughts or mental images of a lived traumatic experience where it may feel like a replay button is causing you to relive the trauma over and over. you can feel like you’re transported back to those feelings you had at the time of your traumatic experiences as if you’re experiencing those feelings all over again.
- Dissociation when triggered – this is the brain’s way of protecting me when I would be going through triggering or distressing situations.
One of my pieces of advice would be if you are facing mental health challenges, try not to use unhealthy coping mechanisms. These may include drinking, substance abuse, binge eating or doing anything that impacts your well-being. This is because unhealthy coping mechanisms may cause further challenges in the long run. Throughout this blog, you’ll find out different ways to cope with your mental health in more positive ways.
One of the main factors and causes of my PTSD was medical trauma which I would and still do downplay and invalidate my own traumatic experiences. This was because my life was never in danger. They were just “small” bad experiences that slowly chipped away at me and bit by bit destroyed my confidence, self-worth and happiness.
I never had any life-threatening condition or needed major surgery but I developed symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue in my early teens. This in itself was difficult as it continued to gradually get worse to the point where I struggled to get through each day.
My advice for people struggling with trauma is to seek social support
Whether it’s your friends, family or people in a support group. Talking to others who understand can make a big difference to your mental health. Even if you don’t have that social support right now, you can find it, whether it’s online or in a local social group etc. You won’t always feel so alone.
My illnesses are still disabling but that’s not something I necessarily see as a bad thing. It took some time but I have accepted myself for who I am and my disabilities are a part of me. Here is my story of dealing with the grief of living with an illness!
As a teenager, I was undiagnosed and had no idea what was happening to my body and neither did the doctors. I would go to the doctors for help but was always brushed off with excuses. I was told that it was just hormones, growing pains or psychosomatics. Some even suggested I was faking it to get out of school.
In reality, I was dealing with multiple long term chronic illnesses and was experiencing pain all over my body. These included,
Later on, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety due to my education and social life suffering. I felt like I must be going crazy because the pain felt so real but I kept getting told there was nothing wrong with me and to get on with my life.
Which leads onto another piece of advice that I would give to help with this. Do things to take your mind off it. For example, watching your favourite shows, reading a book or listening to music. These things can temporarily make you feel better in the moment and bring you comfort.
However, for further support, like I mentioned earlier, seeking support from someone who can help on a bigger scale. Help from our loved ones, friends, or from support groups can go a long way. However, sometimes we need more than that. We might need to talk to someone who is experienced in dealing with mental health and trauma survivors.
I also had some bad experiences, including a couple of dangerous ones, with doctors and counsellors that no one should have to go through. I always used to feel like I was the problem, that there must have been something I had done to deserve this. However, people’s pain should be taken seriously.
If this is the case for you, find someone that can advocate for you. It doesn’t have to be another professional in the field, it just can be a friend, another family member or even someone who has been through the same as you. This person can come with you to meetings etc to be that extra support and take over the conversation if it gets too much for you.
Let out your emotions, cry, scream into a pillow, channel your anger into something healthy. Bottling things up and acting like everything is fine isn’t helpful as you aren’t dealing with your emotions. If you don’t find ways to acknowledge your emotions, it can build up and it can have a bigger impact on your mental health.
Here are some ways you can help with channelling your emotions
- Using creative outlets like art or writing, can be therapeutic. Keeping a journal can help you get your thoughts down and monitor your symptoms and progress. There may be classes you can take for art or creative writing in your area or you can just do it at home in your spare time. Writing down my story and my feelings about it helped me and so did an art therapy group.
- Reduce triggers. Try to reduce your exposure to triggers. For example, this could mean avoiding certain media that may be triggering. Although, sometimes triggers are unavoidable if they are something that can come up in day-to-day life in which case, you’ll have to use other techniques to cope with facing your triggers.
- Use the five senses technique. This technique is used to ground you and is particularly helpful if you experience an anxiety/panic attack or dissociation.
- Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. … (example: trees, cars)
- Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. … (example: grass, clothing)
- Acknowledge THREE things you hear. … (example: birds, traffic)
- Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. … (example: the fresh air)
- Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. (Example: the drink you had earlier)
I have to keep reminding myself that my experiences are valid and that trauma is still trauma even if others have been through a lot worse. We shouldn’t be comparing our trauma to others and what might be traumatic and causing lasting effects for one person might not for another.
Working through your trauma can take a long time and it is always a work in process but any positive steps you make can make a difference. I am still working on mine; I’ve got a way to go but I have also come so far. Healing is possible, however long it takes. Remember that all of our experiences are valid and we all deserve to feel safe and at peace with our past experiences.
Please reach out if you are struggling. Reach out to people such as your GP, a counsellor, or a well-being practitioner etc as it can make a world of difference if you get the support you need.