’ve puncture marks in my neck. Now, I could work with the advice of our spinning guru and pretend they’re from something utterly mad – like his mother’s best friend who had a scar around her neck. She told people it was from when her head had been chopped off, when in fact it was a less dramatic thyroid scar. But to be honest, I’m not feeling it, so instead I’m hiding my blue stitches under a polo neck for the duration. Stitches, which occurred due to being separated from two moles I had nurtured from a very young age. I’ve never been good at parting with things which held sentimental value – oh do you remember that time I knocked the top off one and it bled like a demon? However, the itch meant it was time to say goodbye…with my big girl pants on (and Him holding my hand) I had a local (four needles), scissors, and then some blue cotton. Tadah! Yet more healing to add into the general state of the fact that I’m in a perpetual state of healing generally. The blue cotton stitches look unsightly and I’ve got them for a fortnight, but I should have a prettier neck. The old adage goes – no pain, no gain! And I certainly know a lot about that. So I’m hiding my stitches like my bruised self, which I hid for so long.
Hiding. Over the past few years I’ve become very good at hiding injuries, scars…by taking myself out from social interactions. So much so that when I went to a party last weekend (yes me at a party), there was no panic attack, no scurrying away in a corner, and no longing for an invisibility cloak – it was shocking times indeed. My good friend Karl needed me, so Instead I brazened it out, put on my dancing shoes and shimmied on the dancing floor for the first time in three and a half years. My charitable spirit served me well and if I had to dance for the good of my friend’s happiness, so be it! And awaking on Sunday morning, I thought ‘how did that happen?’ And ‘how did I manage to find myself again?’
It took my quite a while to work out how long it had been. Firstly, my razor sharp memory of long ago has become muddled and foggy during recent times. Worries about early dementia, losing my actual mind even more, and (although I’m holding back the years with the quantities of face creams I layer on throughout the day) becoming old before my time, have all secretly plagued me. Had I come to the end of my mind’s actual growth?
It was a scary thought to face.
Before I realised I was becoming ill, in between black dog days and the fear creating havoc on the peripheries of my mind, I found it was taking me longer to do anything. I’d write a list and become weary at the thought of it. I’d struggle to do a piece of work which had been a mere breeze in the past. I’d forget what I was doing and would redo tasks which I couldn’t remember doing in the first place. During the bad times it could take me hours to cook a meal.
But even then, I didn’t know what was happening to me.
About two years ago, the memory problems, the black dog days, the fear, were getting worse. I could be in the most beautiful place in the world, living my best life and they’d be this sickness in my stomach, threatening. Or I’d feel numb – like someone had stripped me of all emotions. It was like my soul was broken, stolen maybe. I felt like I didn’t belong, didn’t deserve. Don’t get me wrong, some days were worse than others and I’d manage. I’d run, walk, cook, write, read, garden…all those things which made me happy. I’d push the sickness, the thoughts, the images away…And it worked for a while. I thought I was managing, I thought I was silently healing. But as the days and weeks passed, the darkness moved in like a blood shadow, my coping strategies lost their impact and I’d be worrying about Monday morning on a Friday night. Not one minute was loved, savoured or embraced. My whole nervous system was strung across a tight-rope, and I thought, and this was the scary thing, ‘I’m going to die’. Have you ever felt like you wanted saving but didn’t know what to say? I’d wander with this cloak of fear around me and prayed somebody would see my soul and know. It screamed ‘please notice!’, I just wanted saving.
The thing is, the brain, the human mind, is a complex thing. The brain can do one thing, whilst the body does another. In the thick of it, when I was heading for crisis point, I’d be doing one thing whilst my brain would be saying ‘what the hell are you doing?’ I’d freeze. To put it another way, I’d be like watching myself through a window and not having the voice to stop my actions. And I know it’s hard to believe, but I had no voice. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. I was literally losing my mind and I was hurtling towards the ground from a very high cliff edge. I’d never been so afraid. It was fight, flight, or as I’d done: freeze.
January 2019 hit and…
Freeze was pressed to play. At first I flew and hid. However, the urge to survive kicked in and with that I began to fight my demons: the sight loss, the dark days, the whole shebang!
You all know the next part.
One year later…After the free fall and finding out that I was worth rescuing, I was diagnosed with PTSD. To be honest, the diagnosis brought absolute relief; that what I’d been going through was actually normal. Over the last few weeks I’ve learnt that it’s not just a mental health issue which affects the armed forces, but something which also affects people for many other reasons. A lifetime of unresolved trauma and grief, whilst my eye sight faded. But as they say, knowledge is power and the more I learned about it, the more I felt able to grow.
Part of PTSD is that your brain runs out of cortisone, this I turn uses up all your serotonin. It’s like fighting a battalion with just your bare knuckles and a bit of bravado to get you through. It’s never going end well is it? Imagine my relief when I realised that when I’d become so poorly that it was actually a thing. The extreme highs and lows (even when I was high I felt sick preparing to fall. There was no escape). A simple chemical imbalance – if only we’d know …And I realised that just because you couldn’t see the wounds, didn’t mean they didn’t exist. I was depleted of all chemicals. No one could see it as it’s not like a broken leg. No one could hear it; like a bad cough. However, it was there destroying me like a cancer hidden away inside. The depression, anxiety, flashbacks (my goodness they’re a charm! – especially when you’re reminded of the time you fell down the stairs and never told anyone), fractured memory (large gaps of fog), paranoia (are they all talking about me? – I’ve since been taught that not they’re not’ and ‘if they are it says more about them than me!) and panic attacks (turns out that’s what was happening), were all there. I experienced the lot. And the dreams, well that’s for another time…
Luckily, due to all the help I’ve received, plus the little magic pill I take daily, I’m in the recovery stage which is called ‘post traumatic growth’. It’s like rewiring an old house and giving it a new lease of life. The science bit says I’ve got to rebuild my cortisol – bolster the resources. The increased serotonin helps that and I’m not ashamed to take the tablets which boost the chemical reaction. But that’s not a forever solution, what I need is a way to rebuild my brain. Counselling has given me closure and acceptance – I didn’t enjoy talking over shite but it certainly helped. However, I’m now learning how to overcome through training my brain: meditation, CBT, mindfulness…I’m to enjoy the moment. Dancing at a party. That’s how I got there.
But this is not the end of my story. As my brain awakens, I’m told I can begin to achieve anything my heart desires. I find this exciting as it’s like my journey is beginning. I thought my life was over, and I thought my soul had died. It turns out it was hibernating and was doing what it evolved to do – to survive and heal. Maybe I’ve blue stitches woven into my healing soul – ones you can’t actually see (just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t exist).
If you can identify with any of this, I urge you to find a way through. Talk to anyone who will listen, don’t be afraid and certainly don’t feel like you’re alone. I often think that if I’d have found a way to communicate this sooner or realised that I was actually ill, I might not have had to have been peeled off the floor of despair. Mental health isn’t visible until the sufferer hits rock bottom – even then it’s not so evident. It’s not something to be ashamed of and you can’t just ‘pull yourself together’. Guess what? you are normal. And if you do see another struggling, do what I’ve always urged you to do ‘be kind’. After all, I never thought it would happen to me…