12. Living with PTSD and how living environment affects physical and mental health.
Ok, so this is my biggest elephant in the room. I don’t like talking about it, I don’t like admitting I have it, and I don’t want to have it. But I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (commonly known as PTSD) so suck it up buttercup!
It was my intention to go into my PTSD in great detail, however, I’m struggling with it and writing the blog is impacting on me. Something I should have expected but just didn’t give any thought to, although given that I kept putting off this particular segment, it probably should have occurred to me!
With the likes of the Invictus games and Gareth Malones' Invictus choir, everyone (unless they live under a rock) knows what Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder is, so I am using that to justify not spilling my guts on the subject. If you’ve not heard of the Invictus choir, click here to hear the song. For me personally it resonates, and I can relate to so very many of the lyrics in it.
I was having regular appointments with my Dr who had referred for some counselling. It with the NHS and, as she could see I was deteriorating, she changed my medication and put me on Sertraline. Apparently, it’s one of the anti-depressants they prescribe for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As far as the counselling went, well it was an unprecedented disaster. The counselor and I didn’t ‘gel’ not at all, in fact it’s probably fair to say that she was the most condescending individual I’d ever come across and I closed up like a frightened clam. After that first assessment, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her again, and set about finding someone I felt I could trust. Trust becomes a huge issue when you’re going to be at your most vulnerable.
I am very fortunate to have a wonderful friend who fostered children with a particular set of needs for many years. and she gave me the name of the lady she has taken children to. It was perfect, she does counselling and has worked extensively with PTSD sufferers with a lot of success.
I was struggling with smells, (which is one of the hardest post-traumatic-stress-disorder symptoms to treat) car journeys, situations and a boatload of other things that were triggering some vicious flash backs and nightmares. I loved the counselor instantly, she was on my wavelength and she ‘got’ me. Well as well as anyone can get me. Her manner is outstanding, blunt and to the point, and I respond well to that type of person. We were in business and I went all out to ‘fix’ myself with her assistance and particular skill set.
Despite us connecting instantly, it was incredibly difficult for me to open up to her, I couldn’t remember a lot of what had happened to me in the crash. There were a lot of blanks and memory glitches, and I was terrified what would happen when I did remember. Vicious circle! There was also the fact that I’m one of those people who is even more ‘fine’ and self-derogatory when she’s in a position she’s not comfortable in. I feel I must add, I prefer to be ‘fine’, rather than burden everyone who asks. besides I’d be there all week if I was honest with people. Nope I’ll stick with fine thanks… Yup, still in denial.
So, back to the treatment. The counselor used Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy or EDMR. To say I was skeptical is an understatement. This link for explains it far better than I ever can.
It worked to a degree in that, I am able to function relatively ‘normally’ with the aid of large doses of Sertraline. Hurrah for Sertraline … and chocolate! I still suffer with the flashbacks when in the car, as living in the country means narrow lanes and lots of sudden braking. Also when I smell certain smells a flashback is triggered. The nightmares have decreased and in general I’m 'fine'.
EDMR is a peculiar experience and I have to be honest it wasn’t a process I particularly enjoyed. My brain was blocking things out for a reason, it was bloody terrifying relieving the accident and discovering what had happened! Although, without the EDMR I dread to think where I would have been, certainly not where I am today. It was beneficial to me in a number of ways. It forced me to confront what had happened, it gave me tools to deal with it and got me out of the house. So, all in all it was a win win situation. It just didn’t feel like it at the time! However, its good to talk right?!
Did it cure my PTSD?
Well no, I don’t think it did, as I still suffer with the symptoms.
Did it help?
Most definitely, I feel my post-traumatic stress disorder is bearable, although not gone, I just think of pink sparkly unicorns and its all wavy baby.
I was very lucky in that I was in a position to be able to pay for my treatment and counselling, there are so many people who don’t have that privilege and are forced to wait for long periods of time without any help at all. Thanks to the rich and famous people speaking out about their mental health it has taken a lot of the stigma away from it. Even though its more accepted by society, I still feel very self-conscious and embarrassed about my depression and, even more so my PTSD. I was a Police Officer for God’s sake, I could cope with any situation that was thrown at me during a shift and, I did on a daily basis. However, those work situations didn’t cause my life to change completely or, take away the job I loved, my mobility, my independence and to some degree my kids. I was also capable of boxing those work situations off very effectively which I think was a bonus. Others may disagree with that. I don’t like talking about my own mental health issues, as I worry people are thinking I should just pull myself together and get on with it. So, this blog post is a huge thing for me, actually admitting I have mental health issues and suffer with post-traumatic-stress-disorder … in black and white … for the world to see.
Despite the numerous issues I am alive, which has to be said is a bonus. I have a great life, I can more or less cope with the PTSD and, I am now furnished with some effective tools to deal with it. I am able to do more than many people are and for that I am eternally grateful. However, the best bit is that I am absolutely hilarious and stunningly beautiful to boot (also clearly delusional, just humour me ok!)
There is so much I could write on this subject, but as I said everyone is aware of what Post traumatic Stress Disorder is. It DOESN’T just happen to our wonderful service men and women. It can happen to anyone. Whether you’ve experienced an accident, been subjected to sexual abuse as a child, or indeed, an adult. PTSD doesn’t discriminate, and what one person can deal with without lasting effects, another person can’t. For me, the Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder is at its worse in the month of May, the anniversary of the crash. I bloody hate May with a passion. For a few years I’ve endeavored to keep myself really busy and do fun things to try and ward off the PTSD. Does it work? Hmmm, I think it does a bit, it means I focus my brain on other things and use distraction techniques.
My awesome son suggested it, and it helps. One year my post traumatic stress disorder had been particularly crap, He’d gone to work early in the morning, and outside my bedroom door had left a pile of pink balloons, 2 star Helium balloons along with a little wallet card which I always carry with me. Whenever I look at that little card, it never fails to make me smile. It reminds me, I’m ok, I’m loved and someone is always there for me. Which in itself is incredible. Written on one of the balloons was ‘you’re still going’. As you can imagine I burst into tears. What an amazing thoughtful individual he is.
It was him who suggested I fly to Australia and meet up with him as he was travelling out there. Then we’d go to New Zealand for the British and Irish Lions Tour (mahoosive rugby fans). Having travelled to Australia twice previously but never visited New Zealand it was a no brainer. The full trip is In the upcoming Australia and New Zealand blogs.
Something that was severely detrimental to my mental, and indeed my physical health was my living environment. As an independent Pink Sparkly Miss being able to live independently was a huge thing for me. Having looked after myself for a good many years, I felt it was something I was actually proficient in. My obvious physical limitations meant I had to have some help but eventually I conceded it was necessary if I was going to have any kind of life.
The little house I lived was a rented property, location wise (apart from the sharp camber on the street) it was perfect. Everything I needed was within a 5 to 10 minute Doris ride, or if in Mildred and depending on who was pushing, a 3 and 15 minute trundle. The rent was affordable to me and it allowed me to be within easy reach of the bus station, so I could utilise my bus pass. It was a little further from the train station (not that I had any intention of using one in a hurry) and I had a fabulous taxi driver who would take me anywhere I needed to go that wasn’t on a bus route, or when the weather was bad. Given my frequent hospital appointments i could have trundled to them in Doris in no time at all. However, I have to admit to using hospital transport more often than not, as invariably these appointments dragged on and on. Tesco delivered to my door and the drivers carried in and unloaded the baskets onto the worktops. If I was thinking properly these big shops coincided with Boy Friday or friends visits. (thinking see!) making it adequate for my needs. The wet room made a huge difference obviously.
However, there were downsides to living in the ‘perfect’ location for me. The house was very very cold, it had a huge conservatory that made the kitchen, hallway all open plan. In the summer months it was perfect, I had a light airy space, which I absolutely love. The winter months, not so much. I managed to combat this somewhat by covering the whole conservatory with pink bubble wrap the first year, tin foil the second year, and very swanky silver insulation for the other years. This at least kept the house a little bit warmer and all my heat didn’t escape through the roof. Obviously I didn’t put it up, that was a little job for anyone who was passing when I wanted it done, I just gave explicit instructions and helpful advice… As it was all open plan, the cold filtered up the narrow staircase, which was another problem if I’m honest. Particularly as the wall at the bottom of said was a lovely feature stone wall. I know Exactly hard that wall was, having fallen down the stairs and hit it more times than I can remember, with and without the pink crash helmet.
There was gas central heating, but no matter how long I had it on, the house never warmed up to the tropical temperatures I prefer and I spent hours at a time sat in the lounge, wrapped in my ‘Honcho’, from http://www.festivalkit.co.uk a cwtchy blankie, hot water bottle and an electric blanket. As the house was old and the street it was on was very narrow, only a measly amount of daylight filtered in through the windows. Two of the walls were exposed stone like the bottom of the stairs. Whilst it looked lovely, it was also a bit like Eyore, gloomy, the result being I spent the majority of my time without much natural light. Very much like a mole, but without the rodent features.
This was extremely detrimental to my mental health, which was, by the time I considered my environment, at an all-time low. It also impacted greatly on my physical health. the environment and climate I’m in affects me massively, and I’m sure you guys find that too. To add to the coldness, it was also incredibly damp, one of the walls in my upstairs bedroom was exposed stone, and it was so wet, the wall was crumbling, the carpet had mould spots on it, and everything in it was damp, despite the heating being on constantly. The lounge was the same, the wall wasn’t crumbling but, it was very wet and the wetness had seeped across the carpet, halfway across the lounge. As I was a tenant, I was subjected to 3 monthly inspections. Every single time I was inspected by the agent, I mentioned it I was told that they’d ‘discuss it with the owner’ and that was the last I’d hear about it.
This went on for well over a year and my physical and mental health were in a very sorry state. In the end, it was a change in government legislation that got my situation addressed. Every rental property had to be of a habitable condition. You’d think that was obvious wouldn’t you? An in-depth inspection was done by the letting agent herself this time not a person they’d employed to do the job. To be fair every issue I had was noted down, (again) ready to report back to the owner. I didn’t hold out much hope of anything being done, so I was very surprised to receive a letter from the letting agent requesting access to the house. Builders were going to come and assess what needed doing and to provide an estimate for my landlady. I was thrilled, I had visions of being healthy, reduced pain levels, and living in my little house, no damp and lovely and warm.
Well that didn’t happen did it? Instead, after the builders came and assessed the huge amount of work that needed to be done, I received an email from the letting agent. The email advised me that the quotes had gone to the house owner and they would get back to me as soon as they had a response. If the house owner was going to get the repairs done, I was going to have to move out of the house for at least 6 months as the degree of work that needed doing was far more than initially anticipated.
Within a week I had a letter from the Letting agent, that went like this … please consider this your official notice to vacate the premises in three months… What the actual f*#k!!!!
My landlady, who was an elderly individual had decided that rather than spend thousands of pounds getting the house up to standard that she’d put it on the market. I was gutted, it meant searching for somewhere to live and in the time I’d lived there, the rental prices had risen drastically. My circumstances and particular needs narrowed the number of suitable properties significantly too. It also meant leaving an incredible group of friends who I could call on for just about anything.
So guess what this situation did for my stress, pain, depression etc … not anything positive that’s for sure. However, I was rescued. And when I say ‘rescued’ I really mean it!! My now Mr had a proposal for me. His wife, one of my best friends was very poorly with Multiple System Atrophy, a most disgusting, awful, cruel disease. There is no cure for it unfortunately and it leaves its victims, unable speak, swallow, move or do anything for themselves. (there is always someone worse off than you) As families we had known each other since our children were in pre school together and as a result spent a lot of time together. His proposal was this, I could rent their barn conversion from them in return for some Bev sitting. This was awesome, it meant I got to spend time with my friend, give him a break and have somewhere to live. The Bev sitting was a pleasure, it served two purposes, company for us both, and it nurtured the need I had to feel useful and help people I cared deeply about. The not feeling useful and not having a purpose in life was something I had struggled with since the crash.
The barn is stunning, I absolutely loved living there it’s in the most peaceful beautiful spot in the world. The bonus of it being I could move in straight away!
With this bit of knowledge tucked under my belt I emailed the agent and said I’d be moving out on the Friday. (nothing like acting fast is there) thinking I’d be able to get away with paying an extra month’s rent. Nope, still had to pay it. However, by the Sunday night, not only was I cwtched up in my new home, warm, dry and feeling the safest I’d felt in a long time, the other house was completely empty. This was due to some incredible family members and friends, who had worked their asses off. Packed up the house and moved the lot! You may be wondering what I was doing as this move was going on. Well let me tell you, I did jack shit! I merely directed where I wanted things in the barn… the start of my next huge adventure.
That move had the most positive effect on my health. As I said it was warm and there was not a smidge of damp or mould in the place. Despite being in the country, which you would think was limiting, it was actually freeing. I was surrounded by lush green grass, trees and wildlife which can only do good things for your state of mind and physical wellbeing. There were horses in the field next to the garden and I had someone I could rely on just up the field in emergencies. Most importantly of all for me though, was I felt safe, which was strange, I hadn’t realised I didn’t feel safe! Tikaani, my beautiful fur baby loved it, loads of space to run around and the open plan layout meant he could be near me all the time.
Inevitably Bev deteriorated, I spent more time with them, travelling up and down in Doris, and Trev the trailer which, made me forget my own issues. We focused on making memories and having fun. Not easy in the circumstances.
Doris, Trev and I making our way up to visit Bev.
I was looking forward to May for the first time since the crash, I would be seeing my ‘baby’ and spending quality time with him. As a bonus id be seeing old friends, a country I’d never visited before, and getting to follow the British and Irish Lions on tour in New Zealand. What more could a girl ask for?!
This is where the ‘what happened was’ ends. From here on, you will be reading (if you so wish) about our travels, escapades, days out, our favorite eateries, my can’t live without items, and what I take away on a trip with us and more besides. Thankyou so much for getting this far with me, it’s been a roller coaster from my perspective, but also therapeutic. That in itself has to be a good thing I think. Adios for now, hopefully you will visit us again. Much love. The Pink Sparkly Miss. x