This year, we’re relaunching our Spotlight On series which takes a closer look at mental illnesses that are less commonly discussed. In this article, an anonymous contributor shares their experience of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Content warning: This article contains discussion of a suicide attempt, emotional abuse, and mental health issues including PTSD, alcohol and substance abuse, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.
I am writing this in the middle of the night because, once again, my flashbacks are so bad I can’t sleep. I like to call it insomnia because then at least people understand why I’m always awake at 4am. It’s harder to admit the real reason - that I see him, and what he did, every time I close my eyes.
I wish the advice to just “let him go” would help me, but in the same way you can’t tell someone with depression to “lighten up”, you can’t tell someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or any kind of trauma disorder, that they just need to let those feelings go. I’m done with these feelings. I’m beyond sick of seeing him in my head, of reliving November 2016 over and over until I get to a state of believing I’ve dreamt everything since – as nothing in my life could ever feel as vivid as that night.
Sometimes the truth about struggling with an illness like this is learning to bear the painful throws of it, because the tragic reality of PTSD is that there isn’t really a cure. Once you have emotional trauma, you live with it, you cope with it, you struggle with it, but unfortunately you may not ever go back to being the person you were before.
When you think of PTSD, you may imagine traumatised WWI soldiers coming out of the trenches, or those involved in high-speed car accidents, but in reality, it can be triggered by a wide variety of circumstances. I developed PTSD in two waves. Firstly, after my flatmate attempted suicide in our kitchen in halls. Secondly, after an emotionally abusive relationship with the same man, where I was constantly gaslit and broken down to the point where I couldn’t function without him. When we were together my terror related to his suicide attempt affected our relationship daily. I couldn’t see him walk out of rooms, whenever he didn’t answer texts I thought he was dead, whenever he had another bout of depression I’d get rid of everything in my own personal life to sit and be there for him to make sure he wouldn’t do it again. Sometimes I’d wake up crying out next to him. Often I’d have a panic attack when he left me in my flat and walked back to his. He even lived in the same student accommodation that he had made his attempt in. His room made me numb; seeing him lying in a depressed heap on that same floor destroyed me daily.
After we split up very traumatically, I began to be affected by many of the symptoms associated with PTSD more strongly than ever before. The worst part of this is that at least the first time I could be around him to make sure he was okay. At least I had someone who had been there who could help. When he left, I had nothing left but the trauma I had to deal with myself, alongside the fallout of what he did to me at the end of it all.
The symptoms of PTSD are wide ranging and affect a lot of people differently. I have been through a myriad of experiences since, many completely out of character but as ever, everything relates back to the trauma. On an almost daily basis, I experience flashbacks, nightmares, and hyperarousal (which is where you live in a constant state of anxiety believing that everyone and everything around you could attack or hurt you at any moment). I always feel shame and guilt, and unfortunately I live with near constant self-loathing and destructive thoughts that affect my everyday life and the people around me so much.
When things escalate due to alcohol or my prescription antidepressants I sporadically dissociate after spiralling. These days, these episodes often lead to misuse of alcohol or drugs, making risky decisions, and generally endangering myself – all in an attempt to suppress the feelings despite knowing it’s wrong. I can see myself from the outside too, but sometimes you’ll do anything to relieve that pain for just one moment and in those states honestly you don’t care what happens to you.
When the breakup had just happened and the trauma was at its strongest, I couldn’t leave my bed. I cried until my nose bled and my face dried out, I got so anxious I was physically sick multiple times a day, and I stopped eating and lost about two stone. It’s not uncommon to self-harm in lots of different ways (that I won’t go into) and at times, you ultimately believe that suicide is the best option when feeling this low.
I am so sorry that I’ve had to describe this so explicitly, but in an attempt to be truly honest about what it feels like to have PTSD, I have to explain what I have been through - and still go through. It has destroyed a few friendships since and terrified my family. It’s impacted my work and stopped me playing music which, up until this point, was the thing that made me the happiest in the world - its impact is undeniable.
But I want to be positive as well. The help I received from the University Counselling Department saved my life. The friends that have stuck by me despite the tears, anger, and midnight calls are some of the most special people I could ever have around me and I have gained an appreciation for myself far beyond what I could have ever imagined. Sometimes I just remember all that I’ve had to go through, but crucially all I’ve survived.
The thing about PTSD is, everyday things can be a battle. But every time you get out of bed, you win; every time you laugh, you win; and every time you do something great, it only increases its impact on you. I would be wrong to say that I haven’t improved, that I’m in the same pit I used to be in – because that just isn’t my reality anymore. I find myself in the oh-so-familiar hole reasonably often, but the times in between, I continue to live. My friend said to me recently: “You’re glowing like I haven’t seen you in years.” It’s because every single day I’m getting better, every single day I’m fighting for help, and every single day people around me understand me better. Hopefully, eventually, I’ll be able to say that I’m surviving and thriving.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article you can contact the University Counselling and Psychological Services for information and support:
0141 330 4528