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I don’t think I would still be here now if it wasn’t for CBT…
I knew I hadn’t dealt with my trauma and I knew that it affected lots of my thoughts and many of my actions, but I had no idea of the extent to which it was stopping me from leading a normal life. I reached rock bottom before I accepted that I needed help and starting that process was the most difficult thing to bring myself to do.
I didn’t want to tell anyone what had happened, I didn’t want to verbalise the flashbacks, I didn’t want to admit to all the night terrors and I was scared that if I started talking about it, that it might make it worse. I didn’t know where to start, I didn’t know who I could trust and I didn’t believe that it was ever going to make a difference – how was anything ever going to take away what had happened? I believed that my constant anxiety was protecting me, that my irrational thoughts were perfectly plausible and that my fear, my pain and my guilt would never go away. I also felt that I didn’t deserve help.
Now I look back at myself before therapy and I can see how far I’ve come. I feel like a different person, living a new life and with the ability to look forward and actually see a future.
My therapy was very intense, with weekly sessions lasting between 1.5 – 2hrs each time but consuming my thoughts for most of my waking hours in between sessions too. The therapy started slowly and I felt that for weeks I wasn’t making any progress, we seemed to be talking generically about what PTSD was, how it affects people, the reasons it has these impacts on so many aspects of life, but I didn’t feel that was relevant. I wanted someone to tell me what was wrong with me and to fix it straight away.
As the sessions progressed we began working through the memories and I found this incredibly difficult. I was trying to learn techniques that were completely new to me whilst reliving the hardest memories I owned. The memories were there, some more hidden than others, and this was certainly frightening – not knowing what the next memory would drag up, but the process of dealing with these memories didn’t change from one to the next and this made it easier.
Soon those strategies and techniques began to feel more natural and the process seemed to speed up. All of a sudden, I was working through memories with ease and was able to complete some of the tasks between sessions, making me feel like my recovery was being accelerated. Each week I began to feel stronger, each week I began to see a brighter light at the end of the tunnel and this gave me confidence.
With confidence came hope and that hope seemed to ignite my determination. The doubts that had shrouded my ability to think clearly were lifting and all the information that had seemed so generic in those first few weeks suddenly seemed crystal clear, they gave context and clarity to my problems and this helped me to feel more normal. I understood why I found certain things difficult, I was able to challenge my own thoughts and I slowly became able to gently push myself towards overcoming my fears.
I underestimated the correlation between my thoughts and emotions and my physical reactions/feelings. At the start of each session when I spoke about my week, I realised that the good days were becoming better and the bad days becoming less frequent and certainly less traumatic. As I worked through the worst memories, they became less vivid, the physical reactions were less intense and less frequent and I seemed to develop a greater resilience. Day to day events that would previously have knocked me off kilter were having less of an effect on me and situations that I would’ve previously avoided were seemingly less frightening and more achievable.
I generally began to feel more ‘normal’. I had someone who not only told me that my reactions, my feelings and my thoughts were normal but who made me feel the same way. I had gone from being broken, a shell, physically present but emotionally empty and distant to feeling more connected, more in the ‘present’ and able to focus so much more on what was happening around me.
I couldn’t say that the journey was easy or enjoyable as it was intense and draining and there were times when I felt I couldn’t take anymore, but I am overwhelmed with the progress I have made and never believed I could feel as well as I do now. I still have the odd bad day but they are bearable and are far outweighed by the other days when I wake up feeling happy and optimistic. They are also overshadowed by the euphoric days when I achieve something I never believed I could or I realise how long it has been since I thought about those events or felt anxious.
I was asked at the start of therapy to write down 3 things I hoped for from the therapy and I can honestly say that I have achieved those 3 things and so much more. If you had told me then, that I would feel as good as I do now, I simply wouldn’t have believed you.
I just hope you read this and believe that this could be you. Go for it, after all… what have you got to lose?