“We deserve the love we give to others, and showing yourself kindness, love and respect is the most productive thing you can do. You matter and you deserve to live always. Even if there’s someone on your shoulder telling you you don’t.” – Laura-Jane
I’m Laura-Jane, I’m soon to be 24 in July and I live in Surrey in the UK. I’m currently studying a Counselling and CBT Diploma whilst working for Santander as a Financial Crime Officer. I spend a lot of time at work assisting our vulnerable customers and the teams that deal with them which is a passion of mine.
I was exposed to mental health from a young age as my brother suffers with mild Autism and Bi-Polar Disorder, I feel that my journey with my mental health stemmed from my sister being very poorly with multiple Cancers throughout her life, her first diagnosis being when I was only 6 months old in 1997. She went on to fight a further 4 Cancers but we lost her very suddenly in 2017, when she came down with Bacterial Meningitis and Pneumonia. Nothing could have prepared me for this and she was my best friend.
I’ve come to realise that my anxiety and low mood/depression have been present since I was about 14 years old although I wasn’t aware of this at the time. Instead, I was told my rapidly changing moods and insomnia were likely to be hormone-related so doctors rarely took seriously how I was feeling. This being ignored over the years leading up to the loss of my sister was a contributing factor to my mental health decline after we lost her.
The words ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’ was mentioned to me pretty early on after her death, I was crippled with insomnia where I was getting less than 45 minutes of sleep per night. This was making me lethargic and unwell, I was often dizzy and queasy, no appetite, and no interest in doing anything I previously enjoyed. After a few months, I started to have intense flashbacks of the hospital and my sister on a ventilator in my dreams when I did manage to sleep which added to my distress about sleeping even more. This all came to a head when I took myself down to my GP and had a total breakdown in her surgery. It feels like a blur now but I distinctly remember not even sitting down before I fell to my knees whilst begging for her to just help me sleep.
I left the surgery with a cocktail of medication, the doctor I saw explained that a referral for mental health services was 4 months and she didn’t even put a referral through. Instead, I was given sleeping tablets, antidepressants and beta-blockers for anxiety. I felt pretty failed, my Mum confiscated all of the prescriptions as she was terrified at the thought of me being as vulnerable as I was with access to that many drugs. I’m grateful now that she did this, as I was in a very dark place.
After a few months of feeling numb, I started to research therapies, and my employee assistance program provided me with CBT and Counselling for a short period. Truthfully, I didn’t feel the benefits of this as it was very basic, she felt my needs were more complex so I hunted for a private Psychotherapist. After a few consultations I was struggling to feel comfortable enough to talk about things, so I ended up giving up. On reflection, I don’t think I was ready as the trauma was still so raw.
I went back to my GP demanding that I needed a referral to the mental health services and they said they would put me forward to see a psychiatrist which was where a more formal diagnosis of PTSD symptoms was diagnosed. I was prescribed an antidepressant which helps clear my brain fog and it’s a slight sedative so it has helped me manage the insomnia too. It doesn’t however, combat the complexities of a condition like PTSD and I still experience frequent flashbacks, panic attacks, and low mood/anxiety. This is more manageable with frequent therapy which is being provided through my local areas mental health team. Without regular therapy, I would struggle to live a more normal life and I would recommend anyone having access to therapy even if it’s just for day to day woes. Therapy provides a safe space for you to talk about things you wouldn’t usually talk about with someone who is trained to listen and work towards your goals with you. Without it, I don’t know where I would be now.
Coping Mechanism & few activities which have helped me with PTSD:
1. Breathing Technique
When feeling anxious/approaching a panic attack, I like the square breathing technique.
- Begin by slowly exhaling all of your air out.
- Then, gently inhale through your nose to a slow count of 4.
- Hold at the top of the breath for a count of 4.
- Then gently exhale through your mouth for a count of 4.
- At the bottom of the breath, pause and hold for the count of 4.
2. Challenging Negative Thoughts
Me and my therapist I often focus on the amount of time I spend worrying about hypothetical situations or things I cannot control. To reduce this, I have a diary that I split between worries that are in my control, then hypothetical. By writing out what the worry is, I categorise whether it’s a worry I can act on and change, or whether it’s hypothetical and one I cannot influence. Writing it out helps put it somewhere rather than lose in your mind and I find it’s easier to let go of when you’ve determined what type of worry it is and documented it.
3. Worry Time
I allow myself a set time each day/week depending on what I’ve got on as time to concentrate on things I need to worry about. This will be half-hour/an hour. I take myself away from others in my household and I will sit down and focus on the things I need to do/hypothetical worries and I allow myself to just sit and worry about them or act on them if I can. This helps me spend less time worrying about things throughout a normal day, as I’ve allotted a set time for me to do it and it feels more controllable.
I go for walks with my boyfriend daily, we will try to do this for at least an hour or two in a big open space with little people around. This just makes me feel peaceful and calm.
A message to all PTSD survivors:
If I could give any advice to others struggling with this battle, it would be that talking is healing. I have spent years holding in my emotions for them to eat away at me and trying to unravel them has been hard work and it will continue to be. But each time I say something that I haven’t said before which has been inside my mind, I feel an instant bit of relief.
We deserve the love we give to others, and showing yourself kindness, love and respect is the most productive thing you can do. You matter and you deserve to live always. Even if there’s someone on your shoulder telling you you don’t.
You must be dedicated to putting the work in, there is no simple fix or cure but you are worthy of that dedication and I promise it will be worth it.
Keep going. Keep living. Keep loving. 🙂