I have decided to write a series of blog posts similar to my previous interviews, although this time I have chosen to focus on specific mental health conditions. I, myself, haven’t experienced what these chosen people have; I am going to learn so much from them as I hope everyone else reading this does. I am so grateful for people coming forward and offering their stories; its never an easy thing to share vulnerabilities of any kind, but even more so when there’s still so much stigma attached to mental health as a whole. Therefore, most of the people I have spoken to have expressed the wish to remain anonymous which of course is always their right.
The first mental illness I’m going to highlight is post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD as a lot of us know it as. There are a lot of misconceptions based around this condition – some people think that only people in the military or emergency services can suffer from PTSD; this is totally untrue. Anyone who has been through some form of trauma is at risk of developing this condition, which is why its even more important to recognise the signs; for ourselves and others.
I have two people that I have spoken to for this specific condition; they are both different genders, ages and their triggers for PTSD are completely different. I feel that the contrast between the two will show how widely this can affect people.
1) What is post traumatic stress disorder?
PTSD is a high anxiety disorder which often means you relive a traumatic event either through certain situations or sometimes through your dreams.
There is no set definition for this. I’ve seen various types and forms of PTSD and each one varies so much, in form and severity. To fully understand it you truly have to experience events of the same nature.
2) What was the trigger for your PTSD and how did this affect you?
My biggest trigger was losing both my parents in less than 6 months of each other. I didn’t have time to grieve for one before the other.
Boredom. This is a common factor in most cases I’ve seen, dealt with and experienced. I could go through my days with ease, in the company of other people and not even think or feel any emotions about my experiences. There are days though when it almost feels like I step into my front door and as soon as the door closes behind me it feels like I’ve started a timer. That timer sets in quickly and if I’m not active or keeping myself occupied with something then I can quickly fall into dark thoughts. Once you’re in that phase its awful and its very hard to get out of. Its even more draining to pretend you’re doing okay.
3) What are some of the thoughts and feelings that you experienced with this condition?
I would often feel like I had lost control of my life and that things were in a downward spiral. I couldn’t leave the house alone for 6 months because I would suffer from panic attacks. I couldn’t be in crowded places; couldn’t go to a supermarket because I would feel trapped. I would often tell my partner that I didn’t want to go to sleep because I would relive watching my parents die and I would often wish it was me that had gone and not them. I would say that I didn’t want to wake up everyday, just trying to escape the reality of my situation.
Suicide. No matter how serious these thoughts may be it is very common. Its so easy to lean towards when so much is going on in your brain that you struggle to balance. This isn’t just common through PTSD; I have experienced and spoken to many men, most of which aren’t and never have been soldiers, that have contemplated or even thought about ending their lives. Another big thought is the loneliness of it all. If I could visualise it for you, a technique thats helped me a lot, it would be that of a small, dark room with no exit and a window too high to reach.
4) How do you overcome this during the most difficult days?
I overcome my difficult days with the amazing constant support my partner gives to me. Even silly things like running a bubble bath or ordering my favourite takeaway made me realise he was there for me; to protect me at my strongest or weakest moments. I hand on heart know that without him, I would not be here today.
Mainly, I don’t. Thats the sad truth. Substance abuse to a minimal effect I revert to sometimes. However, I struggle for the most part alone, like most.
5) Was there any help available to you during crisis? If not, how did this make you feel?
I had doctors help and counsellors, however, I never truly felt like they understood where I was coming from. They hadn’t experienced what I had or watched what I had and I felt helpless. Medication boxes get handed to you and when you are that low, you don’t want them. You want someone to tell you things will be okay and for that person to make their time with you happy or at least bearable.
No. No exterior help was offered to me when I left the army or even when I returned from Afghanistan. I cannot fault this though as I never asked or showed signs of it whilst at work. I cannot blame the army for that but I do know of blokes who have asked for help and its been an immediate afterthought. Too many servicemen and women are ignored. Due to the nature of the role, especially in infantry, a lot of physical injuries happen so this is relatively seen as the only injury. My good friend, who of which died in front of me whilst serving, has seen the end of his war; but me and the others there have not. It doesn’t end out there, it comes home with you.
6) What are your views on how mental health is being portrayed in the media?
A lot of mental health in social media is negative; they never show the true reasons why people drink or have anxiety or depression; and I think its a mask that some celebrities don’t want to take down. It used to make me feel like they were ashamed of having mental health issues and that I should be ashamed too. However, this years mental health awareness day made me realise that so many people out there, famous or not, suffer from a huge variety of mental health issues and talking about it is THE BIGGEST thing people are scared to do; but its also the most important thing to do. Anyone can post a photo on social media about being a support for someone, its a whole different world actually being that support or needing it.
Relieved. Especially this time of year in the run up to Rememberance Day there is always a lot of cover about PTSD and the effects that soldiers struggle with after service. It is such a relief to see the comment sections of these posts full of brothers from all around the world genuinely supporting each others stories and struggles and showing each other that we’re not alone; regardless of how much we think we are at times. Sometimes we don’t even want help, we just want to express and being an ear to our voice makes it so much easier. I follow a gentleman called Tommy Robinson who is portrayed as a severe right wing journalist who has had extremely bad press coverage from the media. Tommy fights mainly for the rights of soldiers who return from service and receive no help from the MOD. There is a current movement called #iamsoldierx which I advise anyone reading this to look into. Our voices are coming in by the thousands and hopefully this is the straw that breaks the camels back. The MOD will surely be more considerate towards those who have been through our struggle, with a push from Tommy and the hundreds and thousands of us from around the globe. We are more than just a number.
7) Describe how life is daily when suffering with PTSD.
Life daily was horrific. I would wake up and not want to be alive. I would look at my partner and think he could do so much better; he has so much to give someone, why is he wasting it on me? I wouldn’t eat unless presented with food, even then I would eat small amounts just to pacify people. I would spend a lot of the day napping with the tv or radio on, because my nights sleep would be broken because of nightmares. I wouldn’t do a lot of anything. I wouldn’t get dressed, wouldn’t leave the house unless my partner needed to. I couldn’t be left alone even at home as I would panic. It was very isolating even though I was surrounded by people that loved me. I would then go to bed and dread it. I would panic an hour or so before bed and apologise to my partner because I knew I would wake up screaming at some point and disturb him.
No day is the same. Its hard to know where to even begin with this section. I’ve touched on it previously so know that coming home or being alone are usually when I’m pushed into those dark corners.
8) Have you experienced any other mental health problems since suffering from PTSD?
I suffered from depression – it runs alongside PTSD and anxiety attacks. I had a lot of ‘I don’t want to be alive’ thoughts but never suicidal as my mother would’ve hated that.
Anger. After my immediate return from Afghan I became violent. If I’m honest this side of me has always been in my nature anyway and I’d often find myself in confrontation but it changed rapidly. It became to the extent where I physically wouldn’t be able to control myself or know when I’ve gone too far. It nearly landed me in prison in January 2015 and took hold of me with some nasty side effects to not only other people but also myself. Alcohol was the fuel to this fire too which didn’t help with a squaddie lifestyle. It became a very vicious cycle which cost me a lot of friends and almost my freedom.
9) If you could give a piece of advice to someone who may be suffering from PTSD, what would it be?
Talk to someone, cry on someones shoulder, tell someone you don’t want to eat that food or that you’re scared to be left alone. Tell someone you can’t go into town today and give them the real reason; you’re too scared to be around people. Just speak to anyone, a GP, a friend, a parent or partner. It saved me and it could save you too. Its nothing to be ashamed of. It anyone thinks its weird or wrong to feel like that, they clearly don’t deserve to be in your life. They don’t truly care or love you. If they did, they would hold your hand every step of the way.
Please, talk about it. I’m urging anyone who sees this and feels what I’ve been through to contact someone. If for some reason you don’t feel like you have someone to talk to, or you do but they won’t relate, then contact me directly. I don’t have to know your name, you don’t have to know mine, but if it helps then pick up your phone and message me, I will always help because I know how hard it is without that. You don’t want that. Prevention is better than the cure. (07904906464).
10) Do you speak openly about your mental health? If not, how do you feel people would react if you did?
Absolutely. I don’t care if people think its wrong or don’t want to listen. Its not wrong; its my reality. I always have and always will speak out for mental health issues. Its nothing to be ashamed of, its not a disability. Its just a different part of you that some people have and some people don’t. The ones that do understand, the ones that don’t, in my opinion are jealous that we have something in common that they don’t have.
No. I still have never fully expressed or spoken about the extent of my experiences. However, I have seeked advice and help to learn how to cope with my thoughts in a way that benefits me. I wish I could speak of it, I really do, but to people that won’t understand, I feel like there isn’t a point. Some people who are very close to me do know some details. But honestly the truth hurts and its also too much to describe, let alone visualise.