Tuesday 10 December 2013

Let's talk about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

For over a year now I've been experiencing disturbing thoughts / behaviours which, when I look at MIND's page on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), appear to sum up exactly what is happening to me. I've known this for quite a while, but haven't wanted to admit it. Why not? Because, curiously, I feel as if what I've been through doesn't "deserve" the label of PTSD. After all, I haven't been involved in a war or an horrific event like the London bombings. And no-one has died. (Except my Dad and my friend, Sue.)

"All" I've had to deal with is a number of years of battling with my son's anorexia. Plus, I am so very fortunate on so very many counts. As a result I feel as if I don't "deserve" to feel like this, and I feel extremely angry with myself for being so "selfish / self-centred". Thus far, my self-help approach has been to "Stop thinking about yourself and just snap out of it!"

So let's look at what MIND describes as the symptoms of PTSD...

Reliving aspects of the trauma - vivid flashbacks (feeling that the trauma is happening all over again), intrusive thoughts and images, nightmares, intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma. 

Yes, check the box. Nightmares are proving a problem at the moment - the shouting variety. Over the course of just two nights this week, I woke myself and my husband up twice by shouting loudly. At least one of the nightmares was about Ben. In it, I was resorting to physical violence to get him to resist a relapse back into the eating disorder and to successfully socialise at university. I've been having this kind of nightmare for well over a year. I remember requesting a single room at the FEAST eating disorders conference last November because I was concerned I'd keep a room-mate awake with the noise.

And, you know, I still crumple up when I see physically healthy, happy, "normal" teenage boys and young men - aware that this is what Ben "should" have been like and probably would have been like if it wasn't for the leech-like nature of the eating disorder and the way it's left him looking as if he's still 15, with depression and severe social anxiety.

Avoiding memories - keeping busy avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma, repressing memories (being unable to remember aspects of the event), feeling detached, cut off and emotionally numb, being unable to express affection, feeling there’s no point in planning for the future. 

Yes, check the box. Keeping busy!!! Ha ha, I've been drowning myself in activities e.g. writing. Look how quickly I put together my last book! Not because I "rushed it" in the truest sense, but because I worked incredibly intensively with long, intensive days, focusing on the minutiae to get it right. And even then I missed a couple of really obvious typos (now corrected!) which made me feel like kicking myself.

Emotionally numb, yes. Been there, experienced that, still do. And the affection bit. And the future bit, worrying if the legacy of the eating disorder will stay with us forever. Plus the acute feeling that Ben's eating disorder ate up important years of my life as well as Ben's. At 55, I am not getting any younger.

Being easily upset or angry - disturbed sleep, irritability and aggressive behaviour, lack of concentration, extreme alertness, panic response to anything to do with the trauma, being easily startled. 

Yes, check the box. Cue dinner the other night with me deliberately dropping a red-rag-to-a-bull type remark into the conversation. Result? A massive shouting match which was 100% my fault and unnecessary.

Disturbed sleep - yes, nightmares (see above). Plus repetitive dreams - anxiety-fuelled dreams. Also I wake up several times, every night, and find it difficult to get back to sleep. So I am permanently knackered.

Lack of concentration... kind of weird when teamed up with "keeping busy", but that's the way it seems to be going... Lots of procrastination at the moment, lethargy, feeling that you "just can't be bothered" and that whatever it is you are about to embark on is just "too big".

Panic response: being on Red Alert most of the time. I've come to refer to it as "spiralling", because it feels like one of those Catherine wheel-type fireworks you light and which starts by slowing going round and round before - whoosh! - breaking free of the pin that's holding it to the wall and shooting, spiralling, into outer space. This "spiralling" seems to be there virtually all the time these days, in the background, being suppressed by me. And every time I get in touch with Ben, or vice versa, or he comes home for the weekend I dread what he's going to say as regards the dreadful week he's had (as a result of the social anxiety) - I am on Red Alert.

Startled, yes. Sudden loud noises, etc are really distressing. Like when Paul's watching the football on the telly and his team scores. "Yes!!!!" he suddenly shouts at the top of his voice! And whenever I hear anything that's remotely like the noise that "ED rages" used to make, I completely freeze. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, in sheer, ice-cold terror. Again, it might just be something like Paul and Ben watching the footie on telly and someone scores or makes a stupid move.

All of which is why I went to see the GP on Friday - one of the senior GPs. I've been on ADs for a while, but now he wants me to self-refer for therapy.

But, you know, I feel such a fraud. I really, truly feel that I don't "deserve" to feel like this. My son is alive. I am alive. We are all healthy. I should be thrilled. I should be over the moon. I should be on Cloud Nine rather than behaving / reacting in this way.

Get a grip on yourself, woman!


  1. You've left out the most important criteria, Bev: going through an event or series of events in which actual or threatened death or serious harm to self or others is experienced or witnessed, and in which feelings of terror, horror and helplessness are experienced.

    The impact of Ben's anorexia more than meets that criteria. You had to battle daily with the fear that he might die, and it wasn't at all irrational - there were concrete events in there, such as when he was hospitalised with a very low heart rate and when you found him half way out a window. Even though he was ill, the constant violent arguments would be enough to traumatise anyone. And people who have experienced previous trauma seem much more prone to recurrences of PTSD. You have recounted several impressively crappy experiences in your young adulthood on this blog, and even though you have had counselling before and may well have dealt with them, your nervous system is probably kind of sensitised to trauma.

    So as a counsellor and as someone who has suffered from PTSD myself, my personal and professional advice would be to try and find some compassion for yourself in all of this. The more frustrated you get, the more anxious you'll feel. I really hope the therapy services can help you out.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Katie. You are right, of course. xxx

  2. It is amazing how similar my response to my daughter's eating disorder is. You explain the shame I feel about not being able to just "snap out of it." And I hate that I'm adding to my husband's stress and long list of concerns.

    My younger daughter hid under my bed covers the other night and scared me to death and I nearly took her eye out with the heel of the boot I threw at her in self-defense. To say this was an over-reaction would be an understatement.

    So much of what you write relates to my current state, and yet I still feel like we just don't have time for this. We still have a daughter to make well and keep well for the rest of her life. We also have two younger daughters to keep safe from this horrid disorder. Every time one of them (ages 11 and 5) doesn't want to eat something or leaves food on her plate, my heart races and I immediately fear that I'm seeing the first signs of an eating disorder in them.

    Thank you for putting into writing what I'm feeling and helping me feel like my reaction to my daughter's eating disorder isn't ridiculous, selfish or weak.

    1. Hi Jan, thanks for your comment. What your are feeling sounds spookily similar to what is going on here... Look after yourself. xxx