Saturday, 28 November 2009


At risk of sounding like a therapy junkie, I am currently halfway through my therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once a week, I spend an intense hour and a half attempting to put my many demons back into their box and get my life in order.

Unlike the hypnotherapy for my wasp problem, this is not a particular straightfoward task. I know what I want to achieve from the PTSD therapy, but since I have to do all the hard work myself without any helpful input from my subconscious, it is a much trickier path, especially since all the fears and anxieties my PTSD are more low level and insidious than the my fear of wasps. The former is constant, the latter is seasonal and while my answer to both is stay indoors away from the big bad world, it doesn't really help either problem.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a slippery customer to define. It tends to encompass a certain number of common symptoms, such as suffering nightmares and the day-time equivalent known as 'flashbacks', along with active avoidance of anything that exacerbates or 'triggers' symptoms and feelings and a sense of heightened danger and being 'on guard'. The severity and complexity of these symptoms can vary according to the type of trauma experienced, leaving a combat veteran and a rape victim with the same disorder, but on different pages.

PTSD also causes secondary problems that develop like ivy on the drainpipe of an old house. In my case these are depression, anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia. The sheer list of problems to be tackled in 12 weeks of therapy can be discouraging in itself, but it would be very fulfilling to tick off each of those things at the end of it. Unfortunately all these secondary problem make it more difficult to thwart the PTSD. They interfere with the attempt to consign the current feeling of flashbacks that make it feel like the trauma is happening to you again to regular normal memories that lurk in your mind, only to be recalled when you choose. It is the difference between keeping everything in a messy emotional heap that threatens to take over the table or storing it neatly in a filing cabinet to access when needed.

Sadly I have never been very good with random bits of paper and tend to accumulate piles on tables in my physical life, so I'm not entirely sure why it comes as such a shock to me that I haven't been able to tidy my emotions either. It's never particularly confidence inspiring to have to admit to yourself or others that you can't handle your own emotions and events in your life, especially when others have managed fine, but that has been the reality of the last few years of my life. I'm also my own greatest critic (in my mind I'm like one of those old school types with a super posh accent who frequents a members' club) so I find it hard to admit it's ok to find things tough.

It seemed like for the therapy to work, I was going to have to change a lot about myself as person as well as try to put the lid back on Pandora's Box. Unsurprisingly I was apprehensive about this, but it turns out that my therapy is more about being encouraged to look at things from another perspective rather than the rut I've got myself into over the past few years. It's surprisingly easy to do when someone else guides you and I'm getting a lot more from the sessions than I expected.

I have had CBT for these problems a few years previously, although without a formal diagnosis of PTSD. This is when I discovered that it's sometimes not about the therapy, but all about the therapist. If you don't trust them and feel like they will be your safety net in tough times, it's probably not worth even doing the therapy. My first CBT practitioner was not-so affectionately known in my house as Dr Dickhead. His helpful advice to someone as traumatised as myself was that I was paranoid about personal safety as so many women are, and that I was nervous around men not because 3 had attacked me in 1 year, but because my parents are divorced. Our sessions were shortlived to say the least.

My current therapist is calm, reassuring and encouraging. There is no sense of judgement, just a genuine feeling that she wants to help me resolve my issues. Plus she is available by email in between the sessions if anything gets too much which is a particular reassurance. I feel I can talk to her about even the weirdest things that arise in my sessions. It just goes to show that the NHS can get mental health services right if you give them long enough! All I need to do is keep up the hard work for the next 5 weeks...and hope I don't start to lapse into therapy speak before then!


  1. "in my mind I'm like one of those old school types with a super posh accent who frequents a members' club" :)
    I can totally relate to the therapy. I was diagnosed with PTSD about 3 years too late (all stemmed from a traumatic birth experience and subsequent C-Section). I totally agree that success and recovery has a lot to do with the therapist. It wasn't until I was referred to Sylvia Buet of Anapsys that I really felt comfortable. I had faith from day one she could help me. She used CBT as well as EMDR and slowly but surely my panic attacks (which were my most debilatating symptom) lessened. I still find it amazing that by simply changing how I approach and think about things I've stopped the attacks. Of course I still fear them, and my hyper-arousal is still "annoying" to those around me. I jump at my own shadow and detest loud noises. However I manage it now, and it doesn't control my life anymore. I control it.
    I hope you get there bird xxx

  2. I'm so delighted to hear how much your therapy has helped. I hate to think of anyone living with this horrible condition, plus it comforts me to hear it will help me too.

    I can cope with my panic attacks, but my agoraphobia is the problem for me. Hyper-arousal a-go-go!

    Congrats on controlling it. You've given me new momentum! xx

  3. Hi gherkingirl

    I saw a comment of yours on Comment Is Free below Scott Stossel's article and was drawn to your blog, specifically about the problems you've faced with PTSD.

    I am a freelance broadcaster making a short radio feature about PTSD and am looking for people who can talk candidly about their own stories to contribute. My hope is that like Scott, talking in this way can help lift the stigma around anxiety and make for good listening.

    I really like that you have a sense of humour in your writing too!

    I'd be interested to meet or talk on the phone if possible to discuss it. I myself have had experience of anxiety, so can relate in some way.

    My email is