I’m outside putting fresh hay in the guinea pig hutch, taking advantage of the brief period that the rain has eased from pissing it down to simply pouring it down (a small but important distinction) and there’s a flash. Lightning is not my first thought. I’m sure for most people it would be, but my immediate thought is that someone is taking a photo of me. Why? Is my arse hanging out? Did my tit fall out my top (again)? Is someone going to post it on the internet?
Now, you could call me irrational. And you wouldn’t be at all far from the mark. I want to see the best in people and I want to believe the world is a good place but I don’t. I’m afraid of people and I generally believe that if something bad can happen it will happen. To me. Of course on this occasion it was just lightning, as evidenced by the extremely loud clap of thunder that followed and made me drop the bag of hay in a puddle.
I was reminded of this weeks episode of The Island with Bear Grylls**, during which SPOILER ALERT contestant Hannah had to leave following a thunder storm which triggered her PTSD. Is that comparison a bit extreme? Well, yes. I was in my own garden, not in the jungle. I was within a few feet of my home and family, not thousands of miles away from them. But also no, it isn’t extreme. I live with PTSD. I used to say I suffer with it but a wise woman told me that the measure of how well you cope with chronic illness, physical or mental, is the language you use to describe it. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes suffer, but I guess that’s part of living in any context.
Do you know what the most common question I get asked when I tell people I have PTSD is? Isn’t that the thing soldiers get? Well, yes. It is common among soldiers because they volunteer to go into a lot of potentially traumatic situations. But I am no soldier. PTSD can be triggered by any traumatic event: violent and/or sexual assaults, witnessing crimes or deaths, natural disasters. One in three people who experience or witness a traumatic event will develop PTSD at some point afterwards, whether its immediately or years down the line. For me it started pretty quickly but I didn’t deal with it for too many years. I pushed it away so it came out as depression and self harm and I developed a ridiculous amount of phobias, some of which have stayed with me, some of which have thankfully waned. Some days I still get vivid flashbacks, I feel hands on my skin that aren’t there, hear loud breathing, I get tunnel vision and my chest feels full of water.
Sometimes it’s triggered by a direct action – like the time a drunk football fan decided to dry hump me at a bus stop – or by something that should be inconsequential – like hearing a certain place name. Sometimes it happens because I’m tired or upset, sometimes it happens when I’m having a normal, even a happy day. Thirteen years (almost to the month) since I was sexually assaulted and there’s not a week goes by it doesn’t effect me in some way. Not that I haven’t learnt how to deal with it. I have relaxation techniques, distraction techniques, I am aware of triggers and I am (mostly) no longer self destructive. But PTSD isn’t something you can take a pill for or put a patch over, it is always with you. Hannah
from the island said so herself while talking to Digital Spy.
Mental health is often dealt with under the table and treated as something shameful. It shouldn’t be. I have a lifelong mental illness much like I have a lifelong disability. One requires me to carry a stick, the other requires me to carry a card with a mantra on it in case I panic so much I can’t remember how to calm myself down. I haven’t needed it in a very long time, but it’s nice to know it’s there. Mental health problems affect approximately one in four people, so why are we embarrassed? I felt weak for a long time, guilty about making a fuss and embarrassed that something that happened just once could prove so difficult to move past. But trauma is trauma, whether you get it on a battlefield or in a bedroom and I am not ashamed to say it. I have PTSD.
If you think you or someone you love may be suffering from PTSD check out this Mind page on it and/or speak to your doctor.
**There is actually about a ten second shot of me during this episode. Proper to anyone who spots me!