An Insight into PTSD (in connection with @ailaandlior)
After twelve weeks of panic attacks, flashbacks and persistent anxiety I was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Very clearly this had found me after the traumatic last weeks of my pregnancy and experiencing a stillbirth. People have often asked me what it is like to live with, what its intensity is like and how I handle it. Today, I wanted to give you a small insight into this all too common condition after experiencing baby loss. This article is written in connection with @ailaandlior after they posted awareness about this issue.
In short, PTSD is when someone relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, it also instils feelings of anxiety, guilt and isolation. In addition, it affects sleep and makes it difficult to concentrate. The symptoms are severe and tenacious enough to have a significant impact on a persons day-to-day-life.
I was sitting at my desk, it was a normal day, I was struggling but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Above the mumble of the music in my headphones, I hear a simple sentence and I catch a very small part of it "Yeah, they were in the delivery suite". What people don't understand about this condition is that when you have a flashback, you are literally transported back to that moment. It isn't just merely remembering the experience, it is physically experiencing it again. It's all of the feelings, all of the symptoms, all of the pain... all of it. All over again yet you can't disclose to anyone what's happening, you can't snap yourself out of it and you're feeling everything and nothing all at once.
What helped me? Letting myself experience it as fighting it often made it worse. If I felt able to, I would move to a place where I felt safe and knew I could calm myself down afterwards.
Repetitive Distressing Images
Another thing that really floored me would be that sometimes I wouldn't exactly relive the moment but out of nowhere I would have images of my son on his blanket, or seeing the incorrect measurements on a screen, or seeing the words 'significant cranial abnormality' on my pregnancy notes. These can happen whenever and wherever and sometimes may not even be caused by a trigger.
What helped me? I would try and replace it for a positive image. For example: thinking of my son on his blanket could be quite distressing so I tried to remember seeing the love in my husband's eyes when he held him for the first time. Or with the measurements, I would remember seeing his heart beating away on the screen.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is sadly not contained to your mind, it affects you physically too. Some days I would experience physical pain in my stomach as I relived those moments, I could feel myself sweating (I am rarely hot!), I'd feel physically sick and my heart would drop into my stomach when someone harmlessly mentioned something that reminded me of that day and I would even sometimes feel my hands shake on my keyboard as I tried to type.
What helped me? This is so practical but I found that having water nearby helped me a lot or something to chew on like a mint. It helps to have something different to focus on so that you are not all-consumed by the physical sensation. Sometimes going for a short walk would help me too.
I tried for a while to avoid anything that would remind me about that day. Though the truth is that everywhere we look there is a trigger of some sort and it is just of little or more intensity. I can't recommend this for everyone, but for me, I decided that there were some big things I needed to face up in the early days of my grief. I revisited where I had my consultant scan, I went back to the hospital where I gave birth with heartfelt words for my medical professionals. I found that this helped me to associate some good things with the places too. In other settings where I would find it particularly difficult I would put some boundaries in place and take a break when I needed to.
What helped me? Remembering the good about those environments. For the hospital, I'd remember the joy of holding him, for the scan room I'd remember the joy of seeing him wiggling around on the screen, for spending time with my friends I'd remember their support.
This is the one thing that caught me off guard the most. I had never had a panic attack before. When I found myself gasping for breath in the aisles of the supermarket, my heart pounding out of my chest I started to panic even more. I made a swift exit to my car and sat and sobbed while I tried to catch my breath. For a moment, I honestly thought I was in danger. Unfortunately, for me, these became very frequent to the point where I would be having 2-3 a day and the smallest things could set them off.
What helped me? I would say that the biggest things that helped me with this were CBT and also exposing myself to it more. I found the more I saw a baby boy, the less it threw me back to that moment. I found that the more I saw my GP, the less it became a post-partum checkup without a baby and the more intentional I was about seeing my friends, the safer I felt in their presence.
These are only some symptoms of post-traumatic stress order. I wanted to share this with you today for two reasons. Firstly, because it is incredibly important to identify that you may be struggling with this. I can promise you, that left untreated this will take over your life. You will be unable to get through a day without it having a significant impact on you. I found myself with thoughts ruminating that I never thought would enter my head, I now know that without figuring this out that I definitely would not be in the emotional state I am in now.
Secondly, because there is hope. I can hand-on-heart say that every day was a battle for me. There wasn't a day that went by that I wouldn't have a panic attack, it felt exhausting just to live and carry on with everyday tasks. I braved my GP's office, which when you have crippling anxiety is a big step in itself, but with my diagnosis, I was able to go through an online CBT course and with this and taking a break and actually resting, I am able to handle my condition a lot better.
I am not saying that I never panic, or that I'm never anxious but it is no longer taking over my daily life and I can live with hope knowing that there is good in my future and in my present and even in my past. You don't have to stay stuck in that cycle, it can be broken. It takes hope, faith, trust and seriously hard work, but it is possible.
I pray for all of you that read this post and it resonates with you. It can be all-consuming but so is grace.