Welcome to the blog for Free Your Mind mental health anti-stigma campaign

This is the blog for the Free Your Mind campaign which aims to battle stigma towards mental illness through the use of music, art, film, and culture.
The blog consists of informative and, hopefully, entertaining articles/posts.
Enjoy! :-)

Monday, 9 July 2012

Understanding PTSD (Part Two)

This is a continuation of Understanding PTSD (part one) which was posted to this blog in May this year.

Read "Part-One" here.

Symptoms of PTSD may not be present for a while after the traumatic event or experience.

Forcing a person to talk about a traumatic experience before they are ready in increases the likelihood of that person developing PTSD.

After being raped in 2009, I went to the police; where I had to talk about the experience, in great detail; before I felt ready to talk about what had happened. This was not the first time I had been raped; but this was, however, the first time I've reported an experience like this to the police.

I believe talking, about this particular experience, before I were ready, could have brought the PTSD, (which I believe I did already have, despite not yet receiving a diagnosis of such from a qualified mental health professional) and it's symptoms, to the forefront of my behaviour.

Triggers, or reminders, of the experience, can not only bring back extremely vivid memories of the incident (flashbacks), and bring back feelings related to the trauma. It can also, even, cause physical "re-experiencing" such as an itching, and/or, a throbbing or stabbing pain, in an area of the body for seemingly no reason and possibly not in a place on the body associated with what happened.

With PTSD a person may find themselves avoiding situations and locations which are reminders of the traumatic incident or experience.

Complex PTSD

"Complex PTSD" is a diagnosis which given for a reaction to prolonged and repeated trauma which, generally, involves a person being held in a state of captivity - either physically or emotionally.

In these situations a person is under the control of the perpetrator and is unable to get away from them.

I found myself in this type of situation between 2005 and 2007.

I were in an abusive "relationship" spanning almost two years.

This abuse included:

  • Emotional abuse - name calling (directed at myself); being told that I were a "Bad girlfriend"; when I cried, usually after he had hit me, he would accuse me of "Blackmail" and of trying to "Guilt-trip" him; and, him convincing me that I was worthless and that he could do better.
  • Sexual abuse - he often had sex with me without my consent, when I was unconscious and/or under the influence; and, sometimes, when I was unconscious, and/or in a "drugged-up" state, he would invite his friends to "Join in."
  • Physically - he would lose his temper over all issues with me, no matter how tiny, responding by punching or slapping me.

During this period I remained in denial about what was going on - I would refer to him as "My boyfriend" - but, in reality, I felt trapped by him; I felt scared and unable to escape.

The memories of him make me feel sick, shameful and anxious. Often flashbacks, to my time with him, are followed by a panic attack (sweating, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath).

The symptoms of Complex PTSD are identified as:
  • alterations in a person's control on their emotions - which may include, persistent sadness, thoughts of self- harm and suicide, and explosive or inhibited anger;
  • alterations in a person's state of consciousness - which can include, forgetting traumatic events; reliving the traumatic experience; and feelings of dissociation (feeling as though one is detached from their body and mental processes);
  • changes in self-perception - which may include feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, and a sense of feeling different from other people;
  • alterations in how a person perceives the perpetrator - examples, of which, include attributing power to the perpetrator, becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, or preoccupied with getting revenge on the perpetrator;
  • alterations in a person's relations with others - which can include distrust, isolation, or a repeated search for a rescuer;
  • changes in a person's system of meanings - which may include a loss of sustaining hope and faith, or a sense of hopelessness and despair.

During the two-year abusive relationship I often experienced "out of body" feelings - where I felt as if I were looking down upon my abuser and myself - I would disassociate myself from the situation so that it often feels as though what happened during that time, happened to somebody else.

Since the abusive relationship, I have developed a distrust of men, particularly  of those who are "romantically" interested in me. 

I have developed a negative perception of myself. Often, during moments of anger, I refer to myself as a, "Whore" - a perception of myself which I project onto others as if it is their opinion of me. 

I used to see my abuser as a "Boyfriend." It has taken me a very long time to come to terms with the experience. I have only, just recently, been able to admit the truth about what happened out loud, despite the relationship ending in 2007.

Stigma towards PTSD*

Stigma towards PTSD often ignores the deep level of impact a traumatic experience has on a person; which can lead to people, who don't understand the complexity of PTSD, to make unhelpful off-hand comments, such as, 
"Get over it."
"Move on."
"Stop living in the past."

PTSD can - and often does(!) - go ignored, due to others' disbelief of the occurrence of a traumatic event, or experience.

Common stigma towards PTSD also includes a "Blaming the victim" mentality. A person who has experience abuse repeatedly is sometimes mistaken as being of a "weak character". Survivors have been unfairly blamed for the symptoms they experience - i.e. survivors may be accused of having a self-image of victimisation. 

They may have, also, been misdiagnosed by mental health professionals as having Borderline, Dependent, or Masochistic Personality Disorder.

PTSD affects survivors for years and often has a deep impact on a person, affecting their self-perception and their relationships with others. But, despite its impact, the symptoms of PTSD may not be apparent to those who are around a survivors of abuse, leading to people underestimating the effect the abuse has had on the person. 

It has been found that PTSD can be overcome; with talking therapies - such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) - being shown to be the most effective treatment.

*After furthering my research on PTSD I found stigma towards PTSD to be more prevalent than I first thought.