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The Recovery Toolkit Blog Tour*

TW: this post may touch upon some distressing themes including therapy, mental illness, emotional abuse and PTSD.

Admittedly, tackling my own issues with mental health and a complex PTSD diagnosis has been something I have been putting off for some time. This book arrived on my doorstep about a year into trauma-focused therapy, and I am glad to be sharing my thoughts with you. Please note that I will not divulge the specific circumstances around this diagnosis and will keep terms neutral to protect the identity of others. I will, however, mention the ways in which complex PTSD impacts on my life and how resources like Sue’s can help you to take control of what can be an overwhelming situation.

Sue Penna, smiling at the camera. She has blonde and brown short hair, and is wearing bright red lipstick.

Sue has worked with people who have trauma as a result of adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs , for over 30 years. She has worked for the NHS mental health services for 20 years and is an expert in trauma following abuse. Sue is an advocate for trauma-informed practice, and as someone in the thick of her own trauma-informed therapy, I know that this process is vital for me to go through in order to heal from my own ACEs. For more info on ACEs and to find your own score, click here.

Find out more about Sue Penna & her work on twitter @SuePenna, and you can access her website here.

A book cover, with The Recovery Toolkit on the front, and chain links. The book is mostly purple, and has white graphics

Dealing with trauma is a messy, difficult journey. Although I am fortunate enough to have specific therapy with a trauma specialist, there’s a lot of homework to do outside of my sessions. Complex PTSD is exhausting. For me, it manifests in every waking second of my life. It is the inability to ‘switch off’, the need to feel busy to stop a plethora of auditory, visual and emotional flashbacks, the OCD that makes me do things repetitively, or means I am always scanning my environment for danger. It is a crippling lack of self-esteem, zero confidence, and not believing positive feedback. It’s going to the shop and struggling to decide which item to pick up off the shelf for fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision. It’s the need to excel, exceed expectation, constantly prove my worth. It is the exhausting, repetitive cycle of being unable to sleep, sleeping for too long, waking up with my heart beating out of my chest. It is the constant need to feel safe.

Sue’s book, based on her experience of supporting those who have been through traumatic events, is a 12-week programme that explores the different ways you are feeling, the need for self-care, the dynamics of abuse (focused around domestic abuse but also relevant to other types of trauma where a person or child felt trapped and unable to leave) as well as relaxation techniques and the need to track thoughts and emotions.

I am keen to address what contributed to my cPTSD, and to feel more content in my life, regardless of having experienced complex trauma(s). I know this process will take time, but books like Sue’s provide me with the hope that I have a chance to relinquish control, and can explore the steps I need to take to heal and carve a happier life for myself.

A picture with the Recovery Toolkit book, and advertising the book on sale for 99p / 99 cents.

Many thanks to Sue and Jeni for allowing me to feature a glimpse into this book: if you feel the need to explore the Recovery Toolkit, I am sending you solidarity and love.

Categories
cPTSD Mental Health Problems Mental Illness

Unearthing silver-linings

Who’d have thought we’d be in this position? We’ve been locked-down since the middle of March and life as we knew it has been turned upside-down.

The covid-19 pandemic has been a real roller-coaster of emotions for many. There have been unimaginable losses, a myriad of changes and acknowledgement that life may never be quite the same ever again.

Like many, I have been working from home for the past two months, and staying at home where possible. Although it has obviously been a real change to my daily life, there have been some unexpected positives that have come from all of this. I’m fortunate enough to be able to access therapy over video-calls, and being locked-down is reducing any outside stresses, allowing me to really focus on getting the most out of my sessions. It’s been one of the little silver linings I’ve seen peeking through, and I am going to grab this opportunity to reflect, heal, and learn with both hands.

My mental health story is something I have shared on no superhero before, but last year was a really pivotal time for me. I was diagnosed with complex PTSD (cPTSD, CPTSD, C-PTSD). Obtaining this diagnosis was key for me, as it helped me to start the long process of unravelling the mechanisms behind my mental health, my beliefs and my behaviours. 12 months on, I am acutely aware that this process will not be an easy one, nor a quick fix. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort. One day I’ll share a little bit more about cPTSD and my experiences, symptoms and story. But for now, as I sit in my flat surrounded by the things that spark happiness, warmth and love, I am feeling like I’m at a Good Point in my journey. It is possible to find some light amongst the dark. It is possible to unearth those silver linings. And I am going to make the most of them showing through.

Categories
Anxiety Depression General health and well-being Mental Health Problems Mental Illness OCD

CBT, OCD and Coming Clean

It’s been a good few weeks since I started CBT, and thought now would be the right time to share my experiences with you so far.
Since my mental health conditions are ongoing, I’ve had multiple assessments and this isn’t the first time I’ve had ‘talking therapy’ in order to help alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety and depression. When I initially presented with mental health problems, we decided counselling would be the best thing. Counselling is more about talking through the issues that are bothering you; CBT is working out how to change your behaviours and learning how to better rationalise your thoughts by searching for ‘evidence’, rather than clinging onto assumptions. Though I actually really benefited from counselling, it was the right thing for the time. I hadn’t explained my deepest, darkest fears before; I hadn’t confided in someone and told them all about my secrets and how I felt about myself and so on. And for that time, counselling was great. It gave me a voice, and provided that undivided attention I needed to address these issues and tackle my mental health head-on. Now I’m at a different stage in my life, and I didn’t feel talking about everything again would be beneficial right now.
This is where CBT comes in. The NHS defines CBT – or cognitive behavioural therapy – as ‘a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave’, and is particularly useful for ‘anxiety and depression, but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems,’ (NHS, 2014). Rather than just discussing your thoughts, emotions and resulting behaviours, you are actively developing coping strategies and methods to manage your behaviours, which are often unhelpful and perhaps increase feelings of anxiety/depression.
It’s quite a long-winded explanation, so I’ll try and illustrate with an example from my sessions:
Situation : Seeing deadline date in diary
creates
Thoughts and Images: of a bad mark, disappointing others, feeling unworthy and useless
These thoughts and images then produce
Emotions and Physical Sensations: ‘nervous tummy’, palpitations, impending sense of doom and anxiety.
as a result of these emotional and physical sensations, my behaviour changes:
Behaviours/What I did: withdraw, ruminate, ask for reassurance, plan rather than do, hide away from impending situation.
These behaviours then reinforce my Thoughts and images, and so the cycle perpetuates and continues. The idea here is to address the behaviour; it is very difficult to stop the thoughts, but I can stop behaving in an unnecessary and unhelpful way. So, rather than withdraw, perhaps I should focus on what I have done. Changing this focus involves taking into account my good marks, keeping an activity diary to show myself what I have achieved despite how I’m feeling. I know this sounds so simple, but I often get too blinded by my anxiety and depression that I forget what I have done. It helps me immensely to keep track of this.
If you’ve had dealings with anxiety, depression or similar conditions, you’ll know how troublesome assumptions can be. And when I’m at my worst, when the irrational thoughts pop into my mind, it’s so hard to get rid of them. My therapist is keen on getting me to realise that my assumptions – eg ‘people think I’m stupid – are just that; assumed, with no real evidence. Assumptions are largely negative, and don’t help anything, so I’m working on undoing that negative thought process and replacing it with something useful, instead.
Another thing we’ve identified during my sessions is the fact I have OCD -obsessive, compulsive disorder – and have been engaging in classic ‘OCD’ behaviours, including repeatedly checking. This was a bit of a revelation for me. Admittedly, I did wonder whether the checking I’ve been doing was normal, but I didn’t realise it was OCD. I tend to become fixated with checking various things, including checking locks on doors, both in my own place and when using bathrooms on campus, and sometimes this checking can go on for minutes. On a particularly bad day, I’ll go to check multiple times an hour, or wake up and check because I’m so anxious about whatever it is I’m checking. I also like to have certain items arranged in a certain way; the hangers on my clothes rails are often rearranged every night for fear of ‘ruined’ clothes. I am always worried about things breaking because I didn’t put them away properly, so jewellery is often checked and put back, and my alarms set, reset, checked, set, reset, checked…you get the idea. It’s strange. Thing is, I know these things aren’t actually useful, but at the time, checking things is the only way to rid myself of the anxiety. It’s complex, because the more you check, the more you find it difficult to not check. My therapist described these behaviours as coping strategies, as they help me to feel like I’ve regained control, even if it’s just momentarily. And even though I know my door locks as soon as you close it, it just isn’t enough. It’s like my irrational thoughts, and my unhelpful assumptions; I know it isn’t really helpful, but in that moment, and at that time, that’s all I can do to alleviate my worry.
Undoing these things will take time, and will have to be done step-by-step, but for now I’m feeling positive, and I’m hoping to get the most out of my sessions. I have another on Tuesday, and hopefully my progress will continue.
It feels good to be sharing my progress with you. This is a good way for me to see how far I’ve come, and hopefully I’ll be able to look back at these posts and feel proud. I haven’t always been upfront about things, particularly the OCD, and it’s time to just accept it and learn how to deal with it. Mostly I’m sorry that I hadn’t told Drew, or at least not enough. Hopefully I’ve rectified that.
It’s fairly stressful over this way, but as always, I’ll find a way.
Hope you’re doing well and look after yourself.
Heather x
ps: here is the link to the NHS page regarding CBT if it’s of any use:nhs.uk/Conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx