Throughout treatment, I continued to read up about CPTSD to try and improve my knowledge of why I felt the way I did. Understanding things like triggers, emotional flashbacks, boundaries, the inner critic & self worth, and how they all link together to create what I can only refer to as hell on earth.
But what's it like now that treatment has finished?
I would like to reaffirm that I'm not 100% healed, nor do I live each day as though nothing happened. I still have to deal with the occasional flashback, triggered by something on TV, a passing comment or sudden memory that brings things back I'd rather forget. But there is a difference now. For one, I can spot them a mile away and have new coping strategies to process them and allow them to move on by.
1. I talk to my wife straight away and let her know what's happened
2. I remind myself they're just memories and cannot hurt me anymore
3. Telling that inner voice to shut the hell up and focus on what's real at that current moment
Sleep can still be an issue, but whereas I was having to take a sleeping tablet every night for over a year, it's probably only once a week now, plus I tend to sleep better now than I ever did. However I have realised that I need at least 8 hours of sleep every night to feel any sort of "normal" the next day. Anything less and I'm tired, grumpy and have less focus.
The worst parts I'm still struggling with are memory (lack of it) and an inability to focus for any serious length of time. I compare it to be a dog in a field of squirrels, getting distracted every 5 seconds by something else and it can get extremely frustrating. I have developed some coping strategies, by writing things down and trying to achieve quick wins first so at least I get a sense of accomplishment. But the memory thing is a nightmare and on some days can get me down. I forget the obvious things like being asked to do something in 30 minutes. That's gone within seconds, but other things like what we're having for dinner, what we're up to at the weekend or even worse, people's names. Apparently these are by-products of serious trauma and just one of those things I have to accept, but it makes certain things a lot harder for me to do such as studying. For example I have to write things down over and over again, repeat it in my mind to even have a slim chance of retaining it over the next few weeks or so, and I absolutely hate it. I'd say its one of the key things that still affects my confidence and challenges my inner critic to convince myself I'm thick.
When the brain fog kicks in I feel an idiot and have to deal with the surge of negative thoughts that perhaps I'm not up to my job and should consider something else. I suspect this is an ongoing battle for the foreseeable future and I'll just need to deal with it as and when it crops up. The problem is, like everything else related to mental health, its invisible to those around me unless I speak up and tell them what's going on, which in itself gets frustrating and occasionally humiliating.
It's not all bad though
Having experienced the most horrendous years with bad mental health, I now have a huge sense of empathy for others going through their own challenges, allowing me to relate to them more than ever and provide an insight as to why they might feel the way they do. When you're at your lowest point in life, you feel alone, isolated and a burden to those around you. Having someone to talk to who understands those feelings has become a gift I now want to share with as many people as I can and pay forward what I've learned. It almost seems ironic that I was desperate to live a normal life away from darkness of mental health, but now it's given me a sense of purpose and direction to help others, and for that I'm grateful.
Other improvements include the ability to put myself first and say no to things when sense something could negatively impact me or cause unnecessary stress. This may sound quite minor to most people, but having spent most of my life being a people pleaser in the hope I’d receive positive affirmation because I was unable to love myself is an incredible feeling. It’s actually quite a strange position to be in now, where I care greatly for others and their well-being but not at the detriment to my own health.
The scope of 2021 is slowly increasing, where only a few months ago I was happy to just get by each day without mass depressive episodes occurring. Here we are in March and I’ve launched a Mental Health Journal and more recently a Food & Weight Journal. In addition I’m attending training to become a Mental Health FirstAider at work and then later this month I’m doing a 2 day introductory course on NLP. There’s also the book I’m trying to write in the background and a coping strategies guide at some point. There‘s a sense now of making up for lost time. I can’t get back the decades of depression and suffering, but I can have a bash at new opportunities to see what I’m capable of. I just wish the brain would occasionally shut up with all the ideas and let me have some quiet time. Those are days I need to take extra special care of myself and slow down a bit where possible.
I’m knackered now..... shut up brain.