What is PTSD?

Many people ask me, "you did not serve in the forces how do you have PTSD?" The answer is simple. PTSD is not just a soldiers mental health problem. It can affect anyone who has witnessed or been part of a trauma. 

So what is PTSD at its heart?

To answer that you have to know how the brain works.

Imagine this is your brain (the box in the middle) is a factory. Normal memories go into the factory, get processed and come out the other end and filed away. Your factory process it and it goes from being in the now and filed into the past. This is key in how PTSD happens.

However, when you have a traumatic memory it looks more like this.

Because of the trauma in the memory, it cant all fit through the factory door. This means, no matter how many times the factory tries to process it and when it cant it spits it back out. This is why when you have a triggering event it still feels like it is in the now. It makes you feel like it is happening all over again.

The treatment that I have been undergoing is trauma focused CBT which looks at it in a certain way.

The path of your memory has peaks, small peaks and large peaks. The larger peaks are the parts that cant fit through the factory door. Trauma Focus CBT uses a technique call updating to try and bring the larger peaks down below the line so that the factory can process it all.

Updating is a hard part in the therapy. You have to activate the memory to find out where the taller peaks are and then, you have to figure out what the updates are. For me one of the peaks was when I woke up and found out what was happening at Grenfell Tower. I could not believe that at 5 am I was wondering who was barbecuing. My update was that at the time I did not know I was autistic. Routines are important to autistic people and it could have caused more problems for me if I had broken my routine. 

Essentially you update the memory with what you know now, that you did not know then to bring the emotion down.

I have come along way since I originally got the tag and part of my journey has been about setting realistic goals.

The only way through is being realistic. I knew that there would be no way that I could go through what I did and not be changed by it. Some ways are good and someways were not so good. My goals were simple ones;

1) To be able to talk about Grenfell without breaking down into tears every time;
2) To be able to be in my flat without going crazy about fire hazards;
3) To be able to smell smoke etc and not have to be leaning out of windows to try and locate the smell;
4) To be able to hear sirens without jumping out of my skin.

These are realistic goals that I have been working on and I am so grateful to my amazing therapist who has helped me so much.

I know that I am always going to be worried more about fire and the things that I saw that day I never want to see again. If I get put into a situation where I have to see that again I may find that I am going to get triggered again and I will have my flare ups. I am currently coping though. Once you have smelt, seen and felt these kind of traumas you can never say that you were not affected or that you will ever be the same again but there is always hope.

If you are struggling with your PTSD I urge you to reach out for help. If you are not ready, do not let anyone force you into treatment until you are ready.

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