Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Let's Talk About PTSD


Up until a couple of months ago I didn't believe you could suffer with PTSD unless you'd witnessed or lived through a horrific event, so although I've known my sister has been suffering with PTSD since our Mum died, it never even occurred to me that I was suffering with it too.

You see, the moment my Mum passed out on the floor as the bleed to her brain took over, my sister was there and witnessed everything.  Luckily the paramedics were already on the scene minutes before my Mum collapsed, so she was in the best hands possible, but I will never, ever forget the fear in my sister's voice when she called me in the middle of the night.  It was like she was a little girl all over again and I just wanted to scoop her up in my arms, protect her and wipe away from her memory what she had just witnessed.

If I could, I would switch places with her in an instant.  No 20 year old should see her Mum in that way, and I hate that there is nothing I can do to change that, but sadly that is the way life goes sometimes.

We were with my sister in about 10 minutes.  Luckily we live very close to my Mum's old house, and hearing the panic in my voice, Spencer was up and dressed before I'd even got off the phone to Morgan.  Knowing something bad was happening, he was ready to get me to where ever I needed to be.  As we pulled up at my Mum's house, the paramedics were just lifting my Mum into the back of the ambulance, so Morgan got in the car with us and we followed the ambulance to the hospital.

That ride to the hospital was the most terrifying drive of my entire life.  Knowing my Mum was in there fighting for her life, and knowing there were paramedics doing all they could to save her, not knowing what was going on in there was the worst feeling ever.  I didn't take my eyes off of that ambulance once.  I don't know why because it's not like I could see her, but I just felt like it was the only way I could be close to her in that moment.

On the way to the hospital I had totally convinced myself that she was going to be fine.  That maybe she'd had a severe stroke, that she was very poorly, but she was going to be coming home with us in a few days, however, it didn't take long for the doctor to come and tell us that our Mum was incredibly poorly, that in fact she had suffered from a brain aneurysm, and that she was probably going to die.  It was literally said as direct as that.  He then left the room, and I broke.  I well and truly broke.

I remember that night as if it only happened hours ago.  Every moment is so clear in my mind it actually scares me, and certain things trigger my brain to replay the events of that night again.  At first I thought this was normal.  I assumed this happened to everybody who lost a loved one like this, but it was starting to get on top of me.

There are two main triggers.  One is seeing an ambulance with it's sirens on.  Something I cannot escape on a day to day basis unless I crawl under a rock for the rest of my days, but seeing an ambulance with it's sirens on, knowing there's probably somebody in there fighting for their life takes me back to that moment.  How scared I felt not knowing what was happening to my Mum as we followed the ambulance to hospital, and all of the events that follow that.  The second is if my sister calls me it an odd hour of the night.  She recently called me just before midnight with a health concern (That luckily ended up not being anything sinister.).  It was a similar situation where I was fast asleep in bed, the call was at a very similar time that she called me on the evening everything happened with my Mum, and she had a level of fear in her voice.  All of that mixed together with me being woken up by the call and suffering with that kind of confusion you usually do when abruptly woken up and having to come to your senses quickly just made me momentarily flash back to that night again.  I actually remember for a split second thinking "Oh no it's happening again!".  Genuinely for a second my brain thought I was actually going to have to relive that night all over again.

As time went on I struggled more and more with this.  When I get pulled back to that night, I literally feel everything I felt that night again, as if it's happening in that moment.  The pain I felt when I was told my Mum was going to die feels exactly the same in these moments as when I was actually told this in real life.  It feels like hell sometimes, having to suffer again and again and again, to the point it was making it near on impossible for me to move forward with my life.

It wasn't until I spoke out to my Aunty finally that she simply said, "You have PTSD".  It seemed ludicrous to me when she first said it.  Like I said at the beginning of this post.  In my head only people who witnessed something traumatic could suffer with PTSD, and in my head that was war veterans who'd witnessed things we couldn't even dream of in war zones, or people like my sister, who actually witnessed what happened to my Mum.  In a way I didn't feel like I had a right to suffer with PTSD.  I didn't feel like I'd gone through enough to be diagnosed with PTSD.

However, a week later I spoke to my counsellor about it.  I opened up to her about these feelings and flash backs I'd been having and mentioned that I'd spoken to my Aunty; that she'd said I was suffering with PTSD.  I was convinced my counsellor would disagree, but I was wrong.  She said that of course I am.  That I was playing down what I'd been through.  Yes, my sister was the one who had witnessed our Mum collapse, but I took over from that point.  I was the one who sat in the hospital bay with our Mum alone with the doctors as they performed a number of pain inducing tests on our Mum to try and incite a reaction from her.  I was the one sat in the room alone after that test took place when my Mum was officially pronounced brain dead to me.  I was the one who had to go and deliver that news to the rest of my Mum's family and the friends who had come to support her and us too.  We both played our part heavily in that weekend, so naturally, we are both suffering with PTSD.

It manifests itself in different ways depending on the person.  Whereas I suffer in the way I've described above, my sister has suffered with severe nightmares since that night and massively struggled with sleep since.

I wanted to write this post, because I want others to know that anybody can suffer with PTSD despite my initial beliefs, but more importantly, it's ok if you're suffering.  What's most important is that once you have identified you are suffering with PTSD, you do something about it.

I believe my PTSD is fairly mild in comparison to my sisters, which is really severe.  I found talking it out with my counsellor helped me a lot.  The fact that there was an explanation to what was going on with me was a huge help, and talking to my counsellor really helped me compartmentalise things a little.  This isn't to say that the triggers don't go off sometimes still, but I do feel like I have more control over it, however, I think my sister is going to need a much more intense version of therapy to help her move forward with her life and hopefully, the nightmares will become fewer and fewer in time.
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