Eyes Down, look in for symptoms...
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I have just spent a wonderful evening with my grandparents, something I do at least once a week now. It's fantastic being able to spend time with them both and I feel so relaxed with them as they have a calming affect on me. Talking of relaxed, I wasn't last night!! I went to bingo....yes bingo!! The local bingo hall is great for me because it gets me out of the house and into 'society' without being worried about lots of noise or crowds of rowdy people. I went out on my own and thought nothing of it because I knew I should be ok. I bought my books and sat down and I was ok until we started playing the early book. I started missing numbers and had to rush to catch up. My concentration level was pretty pants which is not that great when your supposed to be there to win! I was becoming frustrated with myself because I shouldn't be making silly mistakes and I never used to at all. I always paid very good attention to detail and used to have a photographic memory. This doesn't happen every time I go to bingo thankfully but it did yesterday evening.
Poor concentration is just one of the symptoms of PTSD I have been experiencing. Not everyone has all the symptoms and not everyone has the same coping strategy for each one. People react differently, some are extremely angry and hit out, alcohol free flows for some and others like to enter another world on whatever new drug is out there at the time to help them forget. It does not make them any better or worse than the next and each individual requires a singular treatment pathway.
So what other symptoms have I experienced then? I have terrible dreams some nights which dependant on severity, carries me through to the next day including intrusive memories I would rather forget. I do have a couple of recurring dreams which are not necessarily in a war zone. The first is an aeroplane crashing and I am first on scene. Then the trauma of the injuries are really not pleasant, most of which are injuries I was exposed to on tour. Injuries no one should ever sustain and no one should ever have to witness. The second recurring dream is of me on my knees with an injured child lying across my thighs and I have a bullet hole in my forehead. I cannot shake these dreams no matter how much I try. Others come and go and vary in significance and severity. One night I woke up on the floor in the corner of my room behind the door and I was sweating. Thankfully no one is currently sharing a bed with me :-) As you can imagine, after nights like this I am absolutely shattered the following day which means I really don't have the energy, motivation nor the inclination to do anything at all.
My anxiety levels are so very high most days making me snappy, irritated at the most ridiculous things and all this leaves me frustrated but mainly with myself. I hate being like this, I used to be so laid back. My humour is returning some days and I can be on top form then something will be triggered and its like an on/off switch I cannot reach so someone presses it for me. This makes me worried about going to meet friends socially as I am not sure how I am going to be from one minute to the next. I met up with some friends last week whilst at RAF Cranwell and I felt so anxious before hand. I was a little uncomfortable but when we sat down in a corner I was next to patio doors which lead outside meaning I could escape if I needed to. I have become extremely hyper-vigilant which is not a very good symptom because I cannot relax! I did have a laugh for ages and then I just felt like I needed to leave. I heard sirens outside and immediately I was at nightingale again for a split second. Consciously I knew I was in a restaurant but for a second or two it triggered something within me. I became uncomfortable and started to feel a tad anxious, especially when the group began to talk a little louder as the place filled up. I said I had to leave but thankfully the meal had finished and most of the others left with me which was good.
I worry when I am in the position of starting a new job because of how I feel most mornings after a tough night. My concentration levels are affected and that's not good for productive work to be fair. Some nights when I start to dose in bed and I hear aeroplanes overhead I sometimes feel like I am lying in my pod close to the flight line. I have to physically open my eyes to get out of that thought process. Thankfully some triggers I can handle but I have to avoid quite a lot of situations I know will affect me. When I am more settled I will venture out to these places as I feel gradual exposure will help in some way.
This is my day to day battle but thankfully at present I haven't turned to drugs or alcohol to try to forget or to help me sleep. I would rather be tired than go down that road for sure but it does take some will power. Some nights I end up crying because I cant switch my mind off. Noise is a massive thing with me and my noise reducing headphones help a lot. They do hurt after a while though so I cannot wear them all the time. It gets me down some days and as I have already mentioned I have been to some very dark places sometimes but I have people I love and who love me and I would never want to hurt them. My situation is not easy on them anyway without this adding to it. They are aware of my blog and they read it so they can understand me. I write because I can articulate what I cannot speak out loud. I don't know if this is through embarrassment, guilt or what but the words don't flow very well.
Bottom line is I have good days and bad days, sometimes I have good and bad moments in one day but at least I have another day to go through it. I will not complain about this, I write so that others may understand me better, others may recognise these symptoms in themselves but also so that relatives of those going through it can understand and better handle things.
I do have to say that PTSD isn't solely restricted to military exposure. Anyone who has experienced in person or has witnessed an extremely traumatic event can be suffering from PTSD. Eyes down, look in and see if you can help, support or get help yourself. Don't be ashamed, you are dealing with something that is the cause of a terrible event which people need help to work through.