I wanted to share my recent experience with PTSD as I’m hoping my story will be able to help others, and bring more awareness to mental health and ending the stigma. Maybe someone will come across something that they resonate with and be open to trying some of the books/treatments/documentaries etc. that helped me, especially where depression and anxiety are a big part of PTSD.
So not long ago I was diagnosed with PTSD and was signed off work for the foreseeable future. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop in a person after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as war, natural disaster, car accident, or acts of violence.
I definitely ticked all of the above. For example, being so jumpy I would scream when someone would walk into a room, and when I say scream I mean scream like I was in a horror film and I would hold my chest because my heart was beating so hard. And say if I was on the train, I would avoid rush hour at all costs because I hated it if someone sat next to me or got too close, I even hated making eye contact, it would make me feel so uncomfortable, when usually I wouldn’t care! I won’t go into the details of exactly what I experienced but before I go on, one thing I’d like to request is if you know my dad please don’t mention anything to him (he could tell I wasn’t well so I told him I had insomnia), he’s not in his best health at the moment and if he has any worry or stress it will make things worse so please respect my wishes to protect his health, thank you.
So the simplest way I can explain my experiences without going into too much detail, is that over the years I have experienced men putting their hands on me when I’ve been in a vulnerable situation (under the influence of alcohol or being alone etc.). There are 2 that stand out the most. This year a man tried to take advantage of me without my consent, let’s call this Event A. It was a scary experience but I managed to get away. What I didn’t realise, was that it was going to be the biggest trigger ever re an assault from my past that I blocked out with alcohol and drugs, we’ll call this assault Event B. I talk about it in more in my blog here:
Although Event B happened years ago, I believe what I experienced this year was a huge trigger re my past and brought back all the bad memories and feelings that I didn’t process, and that’s where my PTSD stemmed from.
So along with my PTSD I fell back into depression which I hadn’t experienced in years, and I ended up moving out of London to be with my sister and her family so that they could look after me. I was in bits. I remember being on the phone to my best friend Jaded sobbing, bawling my eyes out saying “Why me?! Why does this keep on happening to me?!” 🙁 And bless her, I remember she spoke so firmly to me, with such strong belief “Nothing like this will ever happen to you again, it just won’t!” And although I didn’t believe it (and I know it’s not 100% realistic) she’s my best friend and she said what was needed in that moment, it felt good that she had so much faith in me and my future, as much as I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, she could and that meant a lot. She wouldn’t ever ask me about when I was going back to work, have you done yoga yet, you should go for a walk etc. She would just praise me, even if I’d been in bed all week, she would say “well you’ve stayed sober and that’s amazing!” and I remember she posted this on social media love her..
But I didn’t feel strong at all. I actually felt so weak that there were times where I wanted to give up. But feeling her support and seeing her constant belief in me, and the support and love from all of my family and friends were the only thing keeping me going. I cannot put into words how thankful I am to have such an amazing and understanding support system. And I just want to thank everyone who shared their own experiences and struggles with me, I didn’t feel like I could talk to a lot of people, but when I heard someone say they’ve had suicidal thoughts, violent experiences or PTSD etc. it would help me, because I would feel less alone and I found myself opening up to them more, I guess because I didn’t feel judged.
I remember being in such a low place, the lowest in my life, I went to the doctors to get help and they signed me off work and prescribed me with these antidepressants called Citalopram. They asked how did I feel about medication and I was so desperate I said “I don’t care I’ll try anything.” So I went to the chemist and bought the medication. Turns out they don’t start working for at least 2 weeks! Err, I need something now! And one of the side effects that really put me off was increased depression and anxiety during the first few weeks of treatment. I was in such a bad way and having the worst negative thoughts of my life, I just thought it’s not worth the risk of becoming worse. Although not everyone suffers from side effects, my intuition was telling me no. Loved ones shared their thoughts and their own experiences on them, or other similar medication, and I could see the pros and I could see the cons. But for me personally, the cons outweighed the pros. Plus with my history of addiction, I didn’t want to become reliant on something and then have the extra battle of being weaned off them (I’ll talk about this more in a bit). Don’t get me wrong I’ve seen medication help people and aid them back on the right track, and I don’t think I’m any stronger for not taking them. The fact that I had my family and friends financially supporting me so that I didn’t need to go back to work was also a big reason why I didn’t take them. If I needed to go back to work ASAP I probably would have taken them as when the treatment does kick in, it really is supposed to lift your mood, which would have helped me get out of bed and go to work. Anyway, I actually believe I had PTSD for a long time from Event B, but I had suppressed it so well with alcohol and drugs I didn’t actually process what happened. I remember writing in MY SOBRIETY blog:
“Everything was getting suppressed deeper and deeper the more I was drinking. I get that it sounds contradictory, because how did I overcome depression and anxiety, but yet abused alcohol and drugs to suppress the remaining issues? To be honest, I don’t know. But that’s how I was, I think overcoming all of my dark times gave me this amazing gratitude and appreciation for life, and that’s where my positivity stemmed from. And at the same time, all of the underlying issues that I wasn’t ready to address, I would just hide, block and forget about them with alcohol.”
Now I can see how I overcame my depression and anxiety and was so positive, it was because I didn’t actually process one of the worst experiences of my life. If you block out and pretend that you didn’t go through something, then you don’t have to get depressed about it. Your brain is such a powerful organ, it can take your trauma, put it in a box, file it away and shut it so that we can survive the pain. It can cause complete avoidance of wanting to even remember or think about the trauma. But sometimes we can be triggered and that box can be reopened, which is exactly what happened to me. In the blog I also wrote about how I went to counselling, which I did, but it wasn’t counselling to process my assault, it was always about moving forward and keeping positive. Which is good, but only after you really face your demons. I definitely drank mine away and brushed it under the rug, and then years later it absolutely came back to slap me in the face, but this time I was sober, a completely different experience.
Although I’ve been through hardships and heartaches during my sobriety, I’ve always managed to ride it out and use certain tools to help me like reading, yoga and meditation. But none of that was helping me this time round. I was bed ridden for days, I didn’t shower, I didn’t answer my phone or reply to messages, I just couldn’t, I had no energy. One way to explain it is The Spoon Theory. This is my in a nutshell version – think about having 20 spoons a day, and each spoon gives you a certain amount of energy, but you can only use 20 for that day so use them well. Usually I’d jump out of bed and get to work, that would be around 2 spoons. Then I’d use a few more spoons while I’m at work and going out for lunch etc. Doesn’t seem like it takes a lot of energy. Now the depressed PTSD Rochelle would need 1 spoon to get out of bed, 1 spoon to put the kettle on, 1 spoon to get in the shower, 1 spoon to raise my arms to wash my hair, you get the gist. By the time I had finished breakfast I was so tired I would get back into bed.
You can read the full Spoon Theory here..
One of the reasons why I was so tired was because of all the bad dreams I was having every night, along with broken/lack of sleep. Or even if I got 4-5 hours straight, I would wake up tired because of my dreams. My body may have been resting for a long enough time but my mind was going non-stop. I was knackered. Some nightmares were really violent and I would wake up scared in a panic, my heart beating out of my chest and I couldn’t work out where I was. Most nights I would have to sleep with the light on. My nieces bless them, they would come into my room for a cuddle and scare the sh*t out of me! Any little noise I would think someone’s coming to hurt me, it was awful. My sleep deprivation and days in bed feeling scared and anxious got so bad I didn’t see the point in living anymore. I remember walking to therapy one day and I was crossing the road thinking, I actually wouldn’t care if I got run over right now, in fact it appealed to me. I went on to have more suicidal thoughts, especially when looking at all of my sleeping pills and anti depressants, but they were just thoughts, I knew I wouldn’t actually attempt it but I still felt really guilty for having them. I opened up to my therapist and said how awful and guilty I felt for having these thoughts. How could I think like this, imagine how heartbroken my nieces would be, imagine how devastated my friends and family would be. I thought about Jaded a lot too because she had just given birth to her gorgeous son Chase and was living the happiest days of her life, I couldn’t spoil that for her.
My therapist explained to me that suicide is a form of escapism, and it made sense. I didn’t have alcohol or drugs to suppress my emotions anymore, or even to knock me out for a good night’s sleep. And omg the sleep deprivation, the nightmares, it was all so overwhelming. I heard that the military uses sleep deprivation as a form of torture, and I can see why!
“Keeping someone awake for hours or even days at a time is a highly effective way to ‘break the will’ of a prisoner, causing a whole range of undesirable ill effects from cognitive impairment, psychosis, breaking down the immune system and even causing heart defects and cardiovascular disease. The more you deprive someone of sleep, the more likely they are to suffer memory loss, confusion, even hallucinations.”
I’ve never appreciated sleep so much in my life. I used to sleep so easily, so much so that my friends even got me a nap queen T-shirt for my Birthday! So to go from that, to sleep deprived with violent nightmares was a shock to the system to say the least, I was struggling.
I asked my therapist how come people that are up all night with babies can cope but I can’t. She explained that they are up all night for a baby that they love and adore, so it’s worth the tiredness. Whereas I’m up in a panic with nightmares, feeling scared and alone. It’s not the same thing. My therapist was amazing by the way, she was the 3rd one I met! I would go to therapy and if I didn’t feel a connection, I would try someone else. My auntie who’s a therapist was worried about me, because I would tell her about my sessions and she would say that I’m basically getting re-traumatised, and I was! I’d leave there in bits 🙁 But I didn’t realise it until I met my 3rd one, she took her time in creating a safe place for me, so that whenever I had to relive my past and became really distressed, she had the tools to calm me down and help me get to that safe place 🙂 The safe place I chose was this beach in The Philippines that I’ve been going to all my life, I chose it because it’s where I’m most at peace..
She would describe it to me in such detail with her soft calming voice while I was holding the EMDR buzzers. She was really good at her job, being with her I felt like I was with a caring friend, I’m so grateful to have met her. So EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, which is a type of therapy specific for PTSD and trauma.
What I realised with the other therapists was that I already knew a lot of the stuff they were telling me. I had experienced depression and anxiety in the past, I overcame that with the help of counselling and I’ve learnt new tools through exercising, yoga and meditation. One therapist was teaching me how to breathe, and I just kept thinking (in my sleep deprived irritable self) “mate I’m a yoga teacher I know how to breathe, I need something more!” So I was recommended EMDR therapy. I was fascinated by it. Well, only after it started working. In the beginning I was like I’ll just try anything. But when I started seeing some progress, I really respected the method, and was so intrigued by the brain and how it works. It even made me see how powerful alcohol and drugs were, and how it can really block out your memories.
It was funny because I went from spiritual to scientific. I asked all of my loved ones to not send or speak any positive mumbo jumbo to me, yes I know it’s good to think positive and thoughts become things, and I know it’s good to be grateful. But after going through a few horrible experiences, all with different people and at different times, I only had so much faith and positivity left in me. I know it’s good to exercise, its well known to boost endorphins, our natural feel good chemicals that give us a sense of happiness and wellbeing. But it’s easier said than done when you have no energy to even get out of bed. It even changed my teaching style and motivated me to learn more about our anatomy and physiology. I remember pushing through and going to a yoga class and I didn’t enjoy it at all, the teacher was talking about energies and the full moon etc. And I just thought, mate, guess what, sometimes in life sh*t happens and it’s got nothing to do with the full moon or mercury retrograde. I sound so cynical I know but I feel like it’s made me more evidence based. No amount of crystals underneath my pillow was going to stop these nightmares, and no amount of meditation was going to help calm my mind. How could I meditate when my mind was going dugadugadugadugadugadugadugaduga 24/7.
The best thing anyone could say to me were things like “I got you, we’re here for you, however long it takes.” Not giving advice, just being there, being present and without judgement. That meant the world to me.
Questions like “You back at work yet? You should go to yoga, you been to yoga?” were so overwhelming. I know they’re genuine questions and only from loved ones making conversation, but where I was in such a bad place, a simple task like emptying the dishwasher would be a huge achievement for me and I was so so proud of myself!
So a question like “You back at work yet?” would absolutely throw me. I’d think work, I haven’t even thought about work, I’m just about getting out of bed! I felt like it undermined my big achievement of emptying the dishwasher. That’s one of the reasons why I stayed off social media too. For example, say I’m in a good mood because I’ve just emptied the dishwasher, I’d have a scroll on social media and see people on holidays, working out, going to parties. And again I would feel rubbish, like my dishwasher task meant nothing. So I avoided going on there unless it was to check messages.
Another thing I struggled with were people’s opinions and unsolicited advice. I didn’t realise I had so many judgemental opinionated people in my life! I get some people struggle with what to say to someone with mental health issues, especially if they haven’t been there themselves, but in those cases maybe just tell the person that they’re in your prayers and if there’s anything you can do to help to just let them know. Listen I’m only human, I’ve got opinions myself, but if I see someone struggling I try and show as much compassion and empathy as possible. And if it’s something that I don’t have a clue about, I simply say “I don’t know what to say.” Or maybe I’d say I would probably try this that or the other if I were in your shoes, but reassure them that I still don’t know because I haven’t experienced it myself. Although I know they didn’t mean to, some of the things my loved ones would come out with came across quite dismissive and insensitive, “Well, this is what happens/what was you doing/you should have done this/you should have done that” blah de blah de blah. The last thing I needed to hear was that “I told you so/are you not over it yet?” attitude. Mate, it’s done now, you can see that I’m not well so how about speaking words of care and love, and if that’s too hard for you, just say nothing at all. Or people would say things like “You not back at work yet? Come on Rochelle, loads of people suffer from mental illness.” FYI that is the worst thing you can say to someone with a mental illness.
I spoke to my therapist about it and she said today’s society is so rushed and there’s always an expectation that you can get over stuff pretty quickly, that you’ll be better after a while. Also a lot of people didn’t know about Event B, I didn’t tell many people about the assault when it happened because I just wanted to block it out. Anyway I started telling people about it so they could get more of an understanding of why I was so ill. That just because the abuse or trauma happened years ago, doesn’t mean your body and mind doesn’t store the pain. But then I realised, I shouldn’t have to explain myself to people. And do you know what, everyone handles their traumas differently. Someone could have gone through the exact same experiences as me but react in a completely different way, it’s just about respecting each person’s journey. I’ve definitely lost respect for some people, I’ve even locked a couple off. Seems harsh but sometimes you have to, to look after yourself.
The funny thing is most of these people talk about and promote mental health awareness, and I’m looking at them like, are you feeling alright? You’ve got someone in front of you who’s been prescribed medication, diagnosed with PTSD, and you want to get all judgy? Ok cool. What I really wanted to do was explain to them the ins and outs of PTSD, EMDR, show them brain scans, tell them every little detail about my past – and then punch them in their face (sorry it sounds awful and I wouldn’t do that now but I was hurt and had a lot of anger and frustration in me at the time, and I’m here to open up so I’ve got to be honest!).
But then I realised, what’s the point? What am I actually going to achieve from explaining myself to them, if they don’t get it, that’s fine. Let them be. It just made me respect and love my real friends even more, a lot of them didn’t understand what I was going through but I never felt judged. So I had to remind myself..
Brene Brown “Hurtful stuff, don’t hold it, let it fall to the ground, you’ve got to step over it and keep going. You can’t take criticism and feedback from people who are not being brave with their own lives. It just will crush you. ‘I don’t give a sh*t what anyone thinks.’ Yes you do. We care about what people think. Just don’t give a sh*t about what SOME people think.”
Watching Gaga: Five Foot Two on Netflix really helped me too. I had no idea that Lady Gaga had PTSD! I would go online and read articles and watch videos about her struggles, and it just made me think wow, if she can overcome this so can I. She gave me hope. I came across her song “Till it happens to you” and would resonate with every lyric. It felt good to know that I wasn’t the only person experiencing these feelings.
And to then see her win an Oscar! And hearing her speech, which was so real and inspiring. Lady Gaga “What it’s about, is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it. There’s a discipline for passion. And it’s not about how many times you get rejected, or you fall down or you’re beaten up, it’s about how many times you stand up and are brave and you keep on going.”
I just wanted to share that part of my journey in case you are a friend to a PTSD sufferer, or if you have PTSD yourself but are struggling to explain to people how you’re feeling, if you resonate with anything I’m writing please feel free to share this blog with your loved ones. I know something like this would have really helped me when I found it difficult to communicate. And by the way, I completely own the fact that I was sleep deprived and healing at the time, and was probably extra sensitive, but even now looking back I still agree that there are more compassionate ways you can react to someone’s struggles.
Ok so back to my loved ones. I have this one amazing, strong and thoughtful friend that has been through a similar experience to me, so I reached out to her and asked for help, I asked how did she overcome her traumas. And she kindly gave me this book..
Cupcake Brown is a true inspiration, I sometimes think to myself if she can do it so can I! One of the most moving, heartbreaking and motivating books I’ve ever read. I mean it was just sitting in my room for ages because I didn’t actually have the energy to read it, but I remember one day I forced myself to and once I started I was hooked. Especially where she had addictions to alcohol and drugs, there was so much I could relate to. It made me feel less alone and also put a lot of my stuff into perspective. Not belittling my experiences, but just making me feel grateful that I’ve come out of situations that could have been a whole lot worse.
While I’m on this subject I just want to talk about how important it is to process and feel your negative experiences. I’ve always tried my best to keep positive and strong and think, there’s people going through worse than you. But do you know what, as much as it’s good to practice gratitude etc. it’s also good, and very important to accept that yes there are other people worse off but you’re going through a hard time too and it’s ok to be sad, it doesn’t mean you’re weak or ungrateful, it means you’re human. And the more you go through the motions of an upsetting time, the less likely you’ll suppress them (which could then lead to a build up, and it all come out at a later date).
On that note, here’s a Red Table Talk I’d like to share with you:
In this episode, former NBA star Keyon Dooling talks about his journey with PTSD. In 2012 at a restaurant bathroom, a drunk man approached Keyon and grabbed his bum. This moment caused the repressed feelings from his childhood to rise to the surface and Keyon switched, which then led on to a mental breakdown and checking in to a mental institution. His abuse happened at 7 years old, and this incident in the bathroom happened 25 years later! That’s what I mean when I say it can all come out at a later date. I really look up to and respect Keyon for sharing his story. At one point Jada says “It’s the vulnerability as well that nurtures the strength.”
You can read more about what happened in this article Keyon wrote:
“But if our heart is broken, or if our soul is hurting, what do we do? We just internalise it. We become hard. We spend our whole lives running from the ghost. Until one day, it catches up to us. And I can speak from personal experience that all the alcohol and all the women and all the money in the world will not solve the problem. The only way to finally escape is to stop running and turn around and face the ghost.”
After this talk, Adrienne and Jada also met with Dr. Norcott to discuss the episode. I resonated with it so much. They spoke about how victims only have a few options – anger, retreat and/or deny. They spoke about loved ones being there to listen, without judgement. Dr. Norcott said that when people hear disclosure they often ask details, what happened, what was going on? She then explained instead of questions, the best way to respond is saying something like “thank you for telling me, that took a lot of courage to share that, it’s not your fault.” But people get curious, and they sometimes feel like asking questions is being helpful too. To which Jada said “but surely they should leave that to the professionals.” Yes Jada! 🙂 Last but not least they spoke about finding a therapist, making sure you don’t give up till you find someone you’re comfortable with, sometimes it takes a minute to find the right one for you. So true.
Reading this by Melody Beattie also resonated with me:
“While denial is a survival tool that can save our lives by buying us time to gather our resources and prepare to face shocking truths, resistance serves no positive purpose that I’ve ever discovered. It isn’t a survival tool. All it does is drain us and deplete our energy. Once you recognise you’re resisting something, you can replace resistance with surrender. When we accept, surrender to, feel, and then release our emotions, we come into balance.”
Now even after reading, EMDR, and understanding my condition more, I still had a long way to go. EMDR therapy is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through, but it was worth all the tears. A fitness friend was talking to me recently about “short term pain for long term gain.” Straight away I thought of EMDR. It made me look at it like, yes you’re going through a really tough time but in the grand scheme of things it’s only for a short period of your life and it will benefit you so much in the long term. Having a therapist you trust and connect with helps a lot too, don’t settle. Remember before I said when I met my therapist she was the 3rd one I saw, it’s so important to follow your intuition. Usually I like that, bish bash bosh, let’s get to it, onwards and upwards process. But this time round I needed someone that showed empathy and care, and attention to detail. She really took her time processing each event with me. Not to use my money, but to make sure there was nothing we left out and no memory left blocked. It took a long time but I’m so glad it did. I mean my assessment itself took 2 hours. But it just showed me that all my experiences didn’t happen in 5 minutes, so I’m not going to recover in 5 minutes (that’s actually what my homeopath told me). When I looked at it like that, it made me respect the process and the length of time it was going to take. So after my assessment she said we’re going to do EMDR on my 2 worst experiences, starting with the most recent, Event A. Omg I was in bits, could not stop crying, talking about the event over and over again, it was so draining and upsetting. I was knackered. And I’d always get the worst nightmares after too.
Where I was so low on energy I wasn’t exercising, and the foods I was eating were purely out of convenience. I’d think to myself, what is the quickest thing I can eat which doesn’t need any preparation? Erm let’s see, chocolate bars and cherry bakewells. I gained A LOT of weight. I was the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I remember checking my BMI and the result was overweight. I couldn’t believe it, how things could change so quickly, I hadn’t been overweight in years! Not since I was last depressed, which made me feel even more down. So then I turned to even more chocolate and cake. My therapist and homeopath explained to me that I was turning to chocolate and carbs because they can make you happy, they temporarily boost endorphins and serotonin levels in the brain. Chocolate also contains tryptophan which is a natural antidepressant. Another theory I read is that fast burning carbs (like cookies and cake) are associated with not only pleasure centres in the brain, but also addictive centres. Because you are consuming the carbs so quickly, you are not only constantly happy, but also craving more and more. This kind of attitude can cause overeating, and ultimately weight gain.
I was aware that my body wasn’t getting the nutrients it needed, and the only way I could help that (with my lack of energy) was by having a packet of prepared fruit every morning. I’d always choose chopped mangoes, because mangoes are my favourite AND it came with a fork inside the packet, which saved me walking a few extra steps to the kitchen drawer haha yay!
I would be in bed for days, not showering. I remember my hair would be so greasy that my nieces would ask if it was wet! People would say that I was gaining weight and not showering because I was subconsciously making myself unattractive to men, which wasn’t my intention but could be half true as I did hear it all the time from people that these events were happening to me because I was a pretty girl. Anyway, eventually as the weeks went past, the event in my mind went from the emotional side of my brain to my logical side. I started to think more rationally and became less and less upset. For example, as scary as it was escaping from Event A and at the time I didn’t know what to do, my therapist would challenge me and ask why didn’t I fight him, I said because he’s twice the size of me and could easily hurt me, so instead of trying to fight him I grabbed my phone and ran off. Which then made me think, well Rochelle you did react the safest way possible at the time and have some sort plan, you still had your wits about you. I began to notice little improvements here and there. Going for a walk because I felt like it. Watching something other than reality TV. Don’t get me wrong I loved binge watching reality TV, it was like my glass of wine, a distraction, numbing me from my pain. But then I’d get the urge to watch a documentary. Like my brain was starting to work again. I would watch Making A Murderer, Dirty John, Evil Genius etc. Then as I got better I started to watch Our Planet with David Attenborough. Now I look back and think that’s what I should have started watching in the 1st place, if you’re suffering from violent nightmares, crime documentaries don’t really help! Although I wasn’t 100%, I was well enough to meet up with a friend for lunch and catch ups, and I started to feel a bit more myself again and could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel 🙂 And then, we had to do EMDR for Event B, the worst one. All the memories that I had blocked out came back, they were so vivid too, I could even remember the smells. That really took its toll on me, crying, sobbing, hyperventilating, borderline panic attack. It was like I was reliving the event again, I felt scared and so overwhelmed 🙁 I was back in bed for days on end, not showering, awful nightmares. I was really struggling. I had been vegetarian for over 2 years at this point, and I remember after my 1st EMDR session re Event B, I went straight to McDonald’s. I couldn’t care less, I actually enjoyed it.
So I’m not a vegetarian anymore. I still eat a lot of vegetarian foods as I do feel healthier when I’m vegetarian, and I’m not eating meat and fish just for the sake of it, but if I see something I really fancy then I’ll treat myself, in moderation. I remember I called Jaded and said I’ve done something really bad, I told her what happened and she was like “Oh! I thought you was gonna say you smoked a fag!” Haha! And then she reassured me that I done well to choose a McDonald’s burger out of all the things I’d given up (alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, meat, fish and caffeine), and she’s right, I felt strong again. I know McDonald’s isn’t the best thing for my body but it’s a lot better than me relapsing. Which I almost did by the way! I would dream constantly about drinking and doing drugs, I’d watch people have a drink on TV and think omg I would love a drink right now. And I didn’t want just one drink (which sometimes I crave but I always talk myself out of it), I wanted to get absolutely smashed. But that was a big red flag for me. Rochelle why do you want to get smashed? I wasn’t celebrating my Birthday or anything, it was purely to block out my emotions and pain for one night. And hopefully get a good night’s sleep with no nightmares!
I opened up to family and friends and they were so supportive. I even told them I was thinking about drinking in secret, another red flag. They were quick to remind me why I gave up in the 1st place and that I would regret it if I did, and it just wasn’t worth it. I do remember every time I had a dream about getting on it I would wake up feeling guilty as I’ve done so well in my sobriety (teetotal since December 2016). It was also handy that there wasn’t any alcohol in the house, because I’m pretty certain if I saw a cold bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge, I would have taken it straight to my room. Also reading A Piece Of Cake helped me a lot.
Cupcake Brown wrote: Learning to have fun without a drink wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In fact, being sober allowed the fun to last longer because I wasn’t getting into fights or getting thrown out. More important, the next day I could remember the good time I had.
That was a good reminder for me of why I became sober, and wanted to stay sober! Also after Cupcake’s relapse her sponsor tells her “You need the humility Cup. Because pride gets us drunk. Ego keeps us drunk. Humility allows us to ask for help; it enables us to get honest about what’s really going on inside.” Which encouraged me to go to my 1st ever AA meeting 🙂 It was amazing, I loved every second of it and was so happy I made the effort to go (as it took weeks and weeks to get the energy). I’ve always been curious about AA meetings but never felt the urge to attend. And I know some people assume because I’ve been sober for so long that I must be used to it, but I was over 2 years sober when I was diagnosed with PTSD and it was the hardest battle ever with my sobriety. I remember saying to my friends I’ve got this thing instilled in me called “f**k it.” And that’s why I have to be careful around alcohol, especially if I’m not in a good place. If I have just one drink to take the edge off things, I know I’ll think “f**k it” and end up drinking a bottle, next thing I’ll be smoking a cigarette, and before you know it I’ll be taking drugs again. All or nothing! That’s how I ended up in McDonald’s haha, I thought f**k it! I opened up in the meetings about how I was feeling and about my dreams of drinking and doing drugs, and it was so nice to see people nod and agree with me, because they’ve experienced it too. And I’d react the same way when they were telling their stories. I don’t have a lot of sober friends so it was a breath of fresh air to hear stories that I could resonate with. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly too, I’ll definitely keep on going.
I haven’t had any thoughts about drinking in a while. Looking back I think I was able to stay sober for a mixture of reasons. Not being around any alcohol helped, and not having any in the house. I talked to my loved ones about my cravings and dreams, problem shared is a problem halved and all that. Therapy, attending AA meetings, and last but not least reading the book A Piece Of Cake. Also resting. Where I didn’t have the pressure to go back to work, or even socialise with friends, that helped a lot. I could just chill, and face my demons without any other pressures. When I suffered from depression and anxiety years ago I was drinking a lot, so it suppressed my emotions and that’s what kept me going day to day. What I appreciate now though is, how much alcohol and drugs are just a temporary fix. Yes it can help block out bad memories, make you feel less anxious, forget about your problems and give you a confidence boost, but if you’ve got stuff to deal with, they will come out sooner or later. Event B happened to me years ago, and I’ve only just processed it now! As much as this has been the hardest time, I believe I dealt with it the best way possible, facing these demons from my past head on and sober (which I needed to do years ago), without any substances to lessen the pain. It did hurt but when you come out the other side you do feel that strength again. Also I highly recommend reading Allen Carr How To Control Alcohol, and Rob Kelly Thrive. The Allen Carr book will help loads if you’re struggling with drinking, and the Rob Kelly book will help you with any negative thoughts, it’s evidence based too which I love. And you should be able to find/Google PTSD support groups in your area, I didn’t attend any myself as my main focus was EMDR and AA meetings, but they sound really helpful.
One thing I will admit to while I’m here is sleeping pills. I would buy the Boots own brand Sleepeaze. I showed the ingredients to my homeopath and she said they were like antihistamines (drowsy hay fever tablets) and not to worry too much. She gave me natural remedies in sugar pill form (not liquid form because it has traces of alcohol)..
..to help with any anxiety I would experience, like if I woke up in a panic after having a nightmare. I didn’t actually ever take them though because in the moment of panic, you forget you have them and you just focus on breathing and looking around reminding yourself you’re home and you’re safe. She gave me some others to help with sleeping, trauma and letting go etc. I haven’t ever tried natural remedies before but I was willing to try anything that could help, especially where I didn’t need to get weaned off these and was less likely to become addicted. I think they did help, along with EMDR, and of course time. Like they say time heals most wounds. Anyway, sleeping pills, not great. Especially with my history of addiction. But I was knackered. And looking back a lot of days I would wake up, check the time and then be on a countdown for when I could next take a sleeping pill. It was a sad way to live, I didn’t feel like I was living at all. I chose to take sleeping pills over anti depressants because they’re not mood/mind altering. Since becoming sober I’m really funny with mind altering substances because it just reminds me of alcohol and drugs. That’s just me and my past though. I’d still have bad dreams and broken sleep with the sleeping pills, but I noticed even though my mind still felt tired and dreaming non-stop, my body would be asleep for longer. I tried my best to have a couple nights a week without taking them though because in the back of my head I knew I’d eventually need to wean myself off so I might as well start getting into the habit now. Sometimes I’d doze off quickly and naturally (which felt amazing!) and some nights I’d be tossing and turning for hours. Some nights I would only get 2 hours sleep. My goal is to fall asleep naturally again without bad dreams and in silence (I usually have to have something playing in the background).
Ok so back to EMDR. My conclusion was, none of the events were my fault, there are just some horrible people in this world (who have no care or idea how damaging their actions can be). I am worthy, and they were just unfortunate circumstances. It’s taught me to be even more vigilant and to just try my best to not be in a vulnerable situation again. I get that horrible things can happen to you anywhere, even in your own home, but all I can do is try my best to keep as safe as possible. I truly believe that I would have handled Event A a lot better if I dealt with my assault when it actually happened. When I told my friend about my past experiences, she said to me “Oh it makes sense now why you always went back to your ex, I never understood why you kept on going back to him.” And it made me think, maybe she has a point. I did love my ex and we were on and off for years, and in hindsight one of the things I loved about him was how I always felt safe with him. But who knows, just thought I’d share that here because maybe there is a lot more to our actions and the decisions we make than we think. Also remember before I mentioned my auntie is a therapist? She’s been advising me for years to go to trauma therapy re Event B and I always brushed it to the side thinking “yeah maybe one day”, now I wish I listened to her sooner. It’s definitely a lesson learned though, do not suppress your sh*t. And by the way with EMDR, it’s not there to fix or change what happened, but to look at it in a new way.
It also made me see that even with my sobriety, being vigilant and having my wits about me doesn’t mean I’m always going to be safe. I guess I kind of thought where I was hurt previously and under the influence of alcohol, that I’d be ok now that I’m sober. Not the case at all. I do feel safer now yeah and I’m so grateful for my sobriety, because when Event A happened I managed to get away. I don’t know if I would have been as quick if I had a drink, or how far he would have taken it. But it just goes to show sometimes you can simply be, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I just mentioned that one of my goals is to get a good night’s sleep. Another one of my goals is to get my brain back. The closest way I can explain it is baby brain. It would take me ages to figure things out, my short-term memory was awful and I couldn’t concentrate for long at all. My nieces were watching The Wizard Of Oz recently and I came across the part where the scarecrow was talking about how he wanted a brain. And I said out loud “Omg I know how you feel!” Haha!
Reading this from A Piece Of Cake gave me hope though, Cupcake Brown: “I started out by studying for five minutes (that’s about as long as I could go before my mind changed directions) and then taking a ten-minute break. Study for five, break for ten. Of course, this made doing homework take forever, but at least I was doing it. Slowly, I increased the study time and reduced the break time. Within a month, I’d advanced to studying for ten and breaking for five. After two months, I could study for almost a half hour without a break. There’s something to be said about baby steps.”
At 1st I was thinking why is this happening to me? Really feeling like the victim. Usually I’m strong and I’m like, everything happens for a reason der der der.. But this time it was different, I know I’m strong but I was tired. Really tired. Then one day a friend said to me, I reckon you’re going through this because it will make you even stronger, and it’s giving you more life experience to help others. It’s all part of your journey, it’s meant to be. I couldn’t see what she meant for ages, especially where I requested no positive malarkey from anyone haha.. But as I progressed I started to understand what she was saying. My outlook changed from why is this happening to me, to what is this teaching me? Of course this has made me stronger, I went through Event A, faced my demons and lived through PTSD sober, and finally processed and dealt with all my issues from years ago with EMDR. I started to believe in myself and my strength more and more.
I’m also grateful that Event A happened to me at this point in my life. I was able to take months off work, and really use this time to rest, heal and rebuild. And then I became grateful that I went through that horrible experience of Event A, because if I didn’t go through that, who knows when my past memories that I blocked out would have resurfaced. I heard someone say that PTSD is a small part of a bigger story, and it’s so fitting in my case. I feel like there’s a true weight off my shoulders now, I feel free. It’s changed my perspective on how amazing and intelligent our bodies are, and my teaching style, as it’s encouraged me to study more anatomy and physiology. It’s also changed the way I look at the people in my life. To not only listen to my gut feeling about someone but to follow it through there and then when I can sense insincerity. Also without PTSD I wouldn’t have attended AA meetings and found a lovely new support system there.
It also brought me closer to my nieces. We’ve always been close but where I was living with them I would see them every day and it just made our bond even stronger. They have no idea how much they helped me during one of the hardest times of my life. They knew I was ill, I just told them I had insomnia (which was half true). So they’d come in my room and see me and check up on me bless them. Of course we don’t ever take selfies when we’re at our lowest, but I came across this photo from when I wasn’t well..
I know it has a filter haha, but I look at it and think I was in that dressing gown for days! My nieces would come home from school every day in shock “You’re still in your pyjamas?!” Haha! But how lovely to have their company and laughter in my bed every day when I was low, they really did keep me going. Eventually with time and EMDR, my suicidal thoughts and cravings for alcohol and drugs became less and less, and gradually disappeared. Then I would slowly do little things with my nieces, like join them for breakfast. Another day see them at bath time. Another day bath them and read them a bedtime story. Next thing I know I’m up showering and getting ready to join them on a school run.
It doesn’t seem like much but they were huge achievements for me, especially where I thought I was going to be in bed for the rest of the year. It also gave me a sense of purpose, I felt good after spending time with them and helping out. What really helped the most was that my sister didn’t pressure me with anything at all. If I wanted to lie in bed all day in my dressing gown she wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I know it’s good to encourage someone who’s down to get up and be positive but she knew I wasn’t in that place yet and she respected that, and that meant the world to me. I found the less pressure I had to do something, the more likely I was going to do it. Oh this just reminded me of a conversation I had with my best friend Lhara apologising to her, for being so positive haha! I remember she went through a tough time in 2016, and I was taking her to Waterstones recommending her books, then I took her out to Pizza Express because she needed to eat something, I remember saying do you fancy a walk by the river? And she’d look at me like “nah.” I said to Lha I’m so sorry, I must have been so annoying because if someone done that to me now I would tell them to f**k off. She was laughing 🙂 She said it was ok because I was only trying to help, but I can see now how sometimes it’s not all about the positivity. Processing, grieving and duvet days are just as important! Along with my sister, my friends were an amazing support system too. Sometimes I would stay with them and they would take me food shopping and say, choose whatever you want. I would go from having a duvet day in my bed, to their bed. I remember one time I was on the couch talking to a friend and fell asleep mid conversation haha.. And that’s what I love about them, I could truly be my Debbie Downer self and they wouldn’t care. Always texting me asking how I’m doing and that they’re thinking of me, especially on my EMDR days. They would remind me of how strong I am, telling me that loads of people go through life not dealing with their issues and I’m here taking the bull by the horns, reliving traumas through EMDR and nightmares, and without alcohol or drugs to help ease the pain. As much as PTSD and the events have changed me, they have not defined me. And as much as it felt like a step back, it’s actually a step forward to a happier life, once I get through this last stretch of rebuilding myself it will be a weight lifted for good. They would remind me that no one can tell me how and when to heal. If you’re low on energy don’t beat yourself up over it, say to yourself I’ll do what my body allows me to do today. I would feel so bad for missing baby showers and Birthdays but they were all so understanding. Having their support and love was a big help towards my recovery. If I had planned to see a friend and wasn’t in the mood sometimes I would cancel, but sometimes I would push through and force myself to, when I got there I still wouldn’t want to be there and I’d feel so tired. But instead of going back home I’d wait it out and then something would click and I’d be chatting away feeling a bit more myself again, and I’d be happy that I waited it out. I think sometimes you do have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to challenge yourself (of course only when you have a bit more strength) because when you do it, it’s not actually as bad as you think it’s going to be. Or do your best to make it as easy for you as possible, if I was going to see Jaded I would wait until rush hour was over because that was less intimidating for me as I wouldn’t have to be on the train around loads of people.
So I’ve now completed my EMDR treatment YAY! 🙂 I recommend it to everyone, even if you don’t have PTSD. I’m still on high alert but a lot less jumpy. I asked my therapist if me being on high alert means I’ve still got PTSD, and she explained that it’s only natural for me to be like that after my experiences. As long as it’s not affecting my day to day life I’ll be ok. At my 1st and last session I filled out a questionnaire, I went from a score of 70 to a score of 13, a huge improvement 🙂 I’ve noticed things like if the doorbell would go off and I was alone in the house I wouldn’t be as scared and panicky anymore, usually I’d be thinking the worst. Last month I walked past someone who looked exactly like the man from Event A, and I just thought “oh he looks like him.” I finally felt desensitised. Whereas before seeing a lookalike would be a trigger and bring back bad memories, my heart would be beating out of my chest and cause me to feel distressed and scared again. After watching The Work it made me realise something..
A documentary set inside Folsom State Prison, The Work follows 3 men from the outside join a group of convicts through 4 days of intensive group therapy. I watched these men from all different backgrounds face their demons, and even get physical to release them. It showed me how overwhelming it can be for your mind and body when you do not process your emotional pain. One part that stuck out for me was when someone said “It’s not like a light switch, flip the switch and you’re fixed, there are steps.” I naively expected this from EMDR. I thought all I needed to do was complete my EMDR treatment and hey ho back to work and social life I go. But that wasn’t the case. So I decided to go to my mum’s in The Philippines for a while, away from distractions, close to family and close to nature. I couldn’t be in a better place to rebuild myself and get my ducks in a row 🙂
I brought sleeping pills with me including lower dosage ones to help wean me off, but then something clicked as soon as I arrived. I looked back at all my past addictions (alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, caffeine) and even when I was vegetarian for over 2 years, I never weaned myself off anything. I always cut it out completely! So I decided to do the same with sleeping pills. It was hard, and so tempting to take one because I knew I had lots on me and I was really struggling to get to sleep. But it wasn’t long before I was falling asleep easily and naturally again, sometimes even in silence, and there were even days where I would have a nap naturally too! Not every night was good but that’s to be expected. One thing that helped was wearing a blindfold, even though my room was dark already, I wore it because I physically couldn’t open my eyes once it was on, so that would help me fall asleep too. I also began to meditate again. I used to love my morning meditation but where I was so ill I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to sit in silence with my thoughts. And now I’m meditating every day again, it feels amazing 🙂
I’m still on high alert when I hear noises (only when I’m by myself though, or the only one awake), maybe that’s a part of me now, I guess only time will tell. I would tell my mum that I would hear noises throughout the night, it sounded like someone was in the garden and even on the roof! Turns out they were only mangoes falling out of the trees in our garden, and landing on the ground and our roof haha.. Once I knew that, it would make sense, and wouldn’t make me jump as much. I didn’t manage to do a lot of exercise while I was there, only a bit of yoga and swimming. I did teach my mum yoga for the 1st time which was lovely. It was also an unexpected confidence boost as I hadn’t taught yoga since last year, and I noticed how everything came back to me so naturally, it was effortless. A nice reminder of how my memory is improving and it’s making me excited to teach again soon 🙂 And I’m not going to beat myself up over my lack of exercise I know my motivation will come back when the time is right. When I was watching Beyoncé Homecoming, there was a part where she spoke about rehearsing again after going so long without (due to pregnancy): “It’s hard. There were days that I thought I’d never be the same, I’d never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same. It’s hard when you don’t feel like yourself, it took me a while to get comfortable enough. My body was not connected, my mind was not there.”
That actually made me feel better! Beyoncé is an amazing performer but even she had her struggles getting back to herself. I know our struggles were completely different but you know what I mean..
Also during my time in The Philippines I did manage to write this blog, and complete my pregnancy/postnatal yoga coursework! Like Cupcake Brown said, baby steps 🙂 Her method of studying really helped me. When I 1st arrived my concentration wasn’t great so I’d be writing for about 10-15mins then go into my room and listen to music for about 5-10mins, then back to my laptop. I remember when I 1st saw my mum she would tell me stories and I’d have to keep asking her to start again because I couldn’t concentrate for long enough. I definitely think coming off sleeping pills has helped with my concentration, I feel a lot less drowzy now which enables me to be more focused.
Another thing I noticed was how straightforward and vocal I became. If something didn’t sit well with me I’d voice it there and then, to family, friends, whoever. It was one of my “Aha!” moments, like omg Rochelle you finally got your balls back (oomph back)!
Whereas during PTSD if I was hurt, I would struggle to communicate how I was feeling (plus I didn’t have the energy) so I’d just cut the person off. But now I’m be able to stand up for myself again and it feels good, I feel like me 🙂 Another one of my “Aha” moments was hearing feedback from my loved ones, not that I asked for it but every time I’d speak to them on the phone they’d be like “wow Rochelle you sound completely different, you sound like you again!”
Before I go there’s one thing I want to mention which has remained consistent throughout my journey with PTSD, and that’s how I’d always remind myself – MY BLESSINGS OVERRIDE MY HARDSHIPS! When I was feeling depressed I’d not necessarily try to be positive, instead I’d try to focus on what blessings I have, like my family, my EMDR, the good kind respectable men in my life, a roof over my head etc. I didn’t have that mindset all the time, but when I did it provided a little grateful feeling which went towards my happiness and healing.
I’ve still got a little way more to go re my recovery but I wanted to share my story now as I’m doing much better. I didn’t want to wait until I was 100% because I don’t know when that’s going to be, might be next month, might be next year, who knows. What I do know is that I’m strong enough to share my story now and I’m so ready to move forward! 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Apologies to those who I didn’t open up to or know what I was going through, I wasn’t ready and I hope you understand. If you’ve read this and thought of anyone that might resonate please feel free to share.
And last but not least..