Content warning: post-traumatic stress disorder
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand, and what better time to have a good old-fashioned PTSD relapse than the Sunday night leading into it.
Well, at least it makes for good blog material!
So I have a mental illness called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and I know you look at me and go – but Charlie… you hate war! How the hell did you get PTSD?!
Well kids, being a woman is a war in itself, and I’ve gone through a few little battles and been left with a few scars to show for them. Nothing physical anymore, all mental. Talking about how I got PTSD is a whole blog in itself, but due to how last night went, I thought I’d dive straight into how seriously, bloody ugly PTSD can be!
I’ll start with what it really is – in case you don’t know.
According to mentalhealth.org.nz, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is “a psychological reaction to experiencing or witnessing a significantly stressful, traumatic or shocking event.”
Symptoms can start within a month of the traumatic event, but sometimes it could take years for them to surface. Symptoms involve reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, having negative thoughts or beliefs and/or feeling on edge.
“Triggers” are certain thoughts, feelings or situations that can bring out these symptoms that could make you relive the event as if you were there, or feel all of the feelings that were involved in that traumatic time.
For example, people who have been to war and seen horrific things may hear a car backfire unexpectedly as they walk through town and be mentally thrown back into the trenches as if they’re back in the war zone while they may be physically in Ponsonby. This is extremely emotionally and physically draining, and I can imagine pretty hard to explain.
For me, #metoo, while being an incredible and empowering time that I am 100% here for, has been the biggest trigger of all and caused many a panic attack in the last year or so. I’ll say it’s worth it for the greater good, but the personal expense is seriously exhausting.
And it’s so not pretty. Like… really not pretty… I’d say, it’s super super ugly.
It’s not like, me turning on the news, seeing a Weinstein documentary, and then turning and gently weeping on the couch for 10 minutes then going back to the TV.
It’s more like, me watching 13 Reasons Why by myself, seeing the rapist guy say something and then myself having a realisation and then beginning to mutter to myself “he knew… He knew… He knew…. He knew…. He knew…” tears running down my face, while slowly collapsing onto the ground, then bawling hysterically still saying “he knew! He knew! He knew!! He knew..”. Snotty, coughing, spluttering, struggling to breath, dizzy. Then starting to retch cos of all of the coughing. Thinking I’m going to vomit but unable to move cos I’m tingling all over and will almost definitely pass out if I stand up. Can’t think, can’t see, can’t feel, all I know is life is fear and pain and people are evil and people want to hurt me, and people have hurt me ON PURPOSE. Writhing from the pain that happens when your world implodes on you.
It eventually passed – I think I tried to call a hotline and the action of trying to make the call made this cloud dissipate from around my brain and I could just sit up straight again. And look around, embarrassed, in case anyone had seen that total involuntary loss of ANY sort of composure while I was just watching TV. But of course not – I live by myself.
It’s hard to explain how that total loss of control of your body and actions feels… But it’s not very nice.
The reason I’m suddenly aware of how ugly it is is having a panic attack in front of another person.
My poor boyfriend is moving his things into my apartment, right in the middle of the Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford story hitting the news. This might seem like another day in Drumpf times for most, but for me, this is top level triggering content. I know myself and my tendency to run directly towards the thinkpieces and consume all media about these things.
But that’s what causes panic attacks, so I avoided them all. I read some headlines, maybe watched Trevor Noah talk about it, but overall made sure I didn’t obsess over it.
However, that wasn’t enough. News that Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court made it to my little brain and it started tapping at my weaknesses. Over the course of the day, small memories were just popping into my head of things my abusive ex-boyfriend said to me, things that had happened to me. Thinking of all the ways women are badly treated in a world geared around men and making women their underpaid, over-worked, emotional labouring, baby makers.
And I cracked.
I went and laid in bed fully clothed (never a good sign) and played games on my phone. This is all fairly involuntary, I’m in a borderline trance. I then slowly start crying and realise that the Kavanaugh story has gotten to me and I’ve been sabotaged by my mind all day and now I’m hiding in my bed from the world because I don’t feel safe and the warmth of my bed feels as safe as I can get.
It all gets very messy from here, but it peaked with a very confused and upset boyfriend who I have become FURIOUS at (who, in my defense, didn’t react well to the panic attack) (in his defense, he hadn’t seen a panic attack before, was caught unawares and didn’t know what’s to do. Can’t blame him – it’s intense). I’m slamming doors, slamming the fridge doors and they keep flinging back open and I’m losing it, slamming them harder making them fling open harder. And I collapse. I become the mess I described in the 13 Reasons Why scenario again. I punch the fridge over and over. It’s not anger, it’s not about anyone. I think I just want power. Or to feel something. I eventually feel some pain in my hand through the blurriness and stop.
Then the cloud lifted and I realised… I had done all this WITH a person in the house. Oh my god, I’m a f*cking psycho!
The cloud lifted but it was too late. He had seen this person, so overcome by emotion that they just absolutely lose their shit in a way that I don’t think you ever expect. And seemingly about nothing -about something that happened in the United States when they’re in New Zealand (land of Jacinda ❤️)
I yelled at him, I can’t really remember what about. I also apologised a lot, and started crying more, and was still in some sort of panic attack where I started babbling about how unsafe I feel and how much I hate my life and the world is unsafe and was writhing around again, with this agony of the world in my veins.
Now I’m trying to remember why I wanted to talk about this, cos now I’m just admitting my craziness to everybody.
But I had to go to bed, and I went to work the next morning. This is my reality. This happens. This is PTSD. This is mental illness and this is your friends, your family, your colleagues.
This is people with depression, with bipolar, with borderline personality, with schizophrenia, with any sort of mental illness.
This is your boss, your politician, your coffee maker, your hairdresser, or your local homeless person.
Mental illness can sound scary, but it’s really just another thing that makes us stronger and makes us weaker.
I mean, I do feel ashamed sometimes. I try to hide it and be “high functioning” so people don’t think I’m weak. But even I don’t think it makes me weak, and I don’t think others with the same thing are weak so not sure why I assume that others will think that.
No one should be ashamed of what they’re dealing with – no one chooses it. I shouldn’t be ashamed of my PTSD any more than my brown hair, or my a-little-too-pointy nose.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this was your local high-functioning lady with PTSD reminding you:
It’s ok to not be ok.
One in six people in NZ have been diagnosed with mental illness, and that’s not to mention all of the people who have not been diagnosed. It’s also more common in women, Maori and Pacific Islanders, and people from socio-economically deprived areas. It’s more common than you’d think – we all need to talk about it more and we can see that there is no reason for the stigma.
And on a side note, I’m going to leave you with a final thought… If dudes stop raping and abusing women, I bet my PTSD will pretty much stop. Just saying.
If reading this (or dealing with the news lately) has brought up some negative feelings in you, please make sure you get some support.
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7 in New Zealand:
- DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
- ANXIETY HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY)
- LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
- NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737
- SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
- YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234There are lots of places to get support.For others, visit: mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/helplines/