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How I Found Writing Actually Helped With My PTSD

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Writing came as something of a surprise, admittedly when I needed it most. I have had a difficult 18 months since a triggering event re-sparked my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which gained depression for company due to a lack of appropriate treatment. Eventually, I began to question my position as an emergency department nurse, sought refuge with my grandparents (who had raised me since the age of 5) and finally accept the help I desperately needed.

• What is PTSD?

I’ve always been one of the strongest and resilient people I knew so this was really tough — to stop working and rely on people. At this point, however, it was this or suicide. Having just enough insight into the profound effect this would have on my dearest, I knew deep down — despite the desperation to be rid of the discomfort generously dished out by the PTSD and persistent low mood — I had to give recovery maximum effort.

I’d never considered writing, regardless of the times it was recommended as a sensible and safe coping mechanism. It was always for other people, not me. I’ve never entertained anything I cannot learn quickly nor do naturally; luckily, I tend to be a “jack of all trades, master of none,” good enough for me most of the time. But diaries for mood, sleep or activities always seemed a waste of time, and writing stories and poems, I thought you needed the skill to do that.

I vaguely remember some high school teacher saying I had a gift for English that was totally lost due to my “bad behavior.” This was occasionally supported with well-won arguments with teachers, based on a quick and sharp tongue. I believed this to be strong-mindedness rather than possession of any linguistic skill.

The last time I thought I might have a “gift” for writing was when I got received my GCSE results. I was predicted U grades across the board, I might add, so very nearly didn’t sit the exams at all. Turns out I passed every single subject, mostly Bs and Cs but an A in English literature. Obviously, both the teaching staff and I were totally astounded. I had to make a last-minute application for a sixth-form college as not to waste my newfound academic ability.

Luckily, I was accepted and went on to complete A-Levels in biology, chemistry and geology. Not English — never English or anything too arty, as that wasn’t me and I just loved science at that time, still do. Hence why nursing is such a delight to me, to help whilst applying scientific understanding at an almost engineering level in order to fix people.

I first noticed my mental health taking a significant dip following a triggering event involving my abusive father and neglectful mother in February 2018, I immediately began to isolate and became incapable of anything that had kept me busy in the past. With relentless flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, hypervigilance and physical discomfort as a result of the anxiety, I lost love for both listening to and playing music, reading, walking and being around people, etc.

I felt like I had lost everything almost overnight and couldn’t even remember what I was like before my life turned this way. I had a huge issue with grounding, self-soothing and just being. I grew to hate myself and my behavior very quickly and with great intensity.

On my occasional days off from work, I found myself pacing or lying still under a blanket with a rapid movement in one or both of my feet. Life was exhausting and unpleasant and the thoughts of suicide were becoming an increasing feature of my internal polylogue. This resulted in a serious attempt in April 2018, after which I spent three nights in ICU and narrowly missed psychiatric admission.

After a month off work, I returned to picking up extra to stay busy but continued to not enjoy anything, maintaining dangerous levels of anxiety. Work was the only thing my broken mind would let me do. Overworking and avoidance continued for a year until I decided, in January, my suicide was imminent.

One day in early February 2019, I found myself in Leeds, Yorkshire, where I had grown up — a six-hour drive minimum from my home in Cornwall. I still have no idea why or how, but I did. My subconscious was obviously looking for safety and found it there. I went to Europe for a few days with my sisters, which was nice, but I plagued by PTSD and depression, regardless of my great efforts for this not to be the case. Luckily my sister is amazing, supportive and gets it.

Upon returning, I worked a few agency shifts in the emergency room until I felt I was unsafe to work as a nurse, leaving me nothing but resting and seeing my grandparents’ GP. I was quickly referred to the crisis team who attended the following day, and I was seen by an intensive care service team of doctors and nurses the day after that. These regular appointments just highlighted to me how difficult I found it to physically speak and how unwell I was.

I wrote my first poem on March 31, after things about my complicated relationship with my mum were spinning around my head and keeping me anxious. I can’t say the writing made me feel better but I felt like I’d been through a process or progress of some description, and it sounded cool when reading aloud too. I sent it to a few very close friends and read it aloud to my cousin, who was seriously impressed.

The praise spurred me on to come up with something else. At this time, all my ideas and dribblings of rhymes were stored in a “Google Keep” app on my phone, and that’s where they stayed until I realized I had written maybe 10 or so and I was growing confidence with each one. So, I decided to type them up into a Word document, with the name “Sic(k)” — a double use of the slang term and a poke of fun at my psychological illness.

Once this happened, I was writing every single day, at least one poem per day, often about my incessant struggle with my condition and regarding conversations I was unable to have with people, particularly family members and the community psychiatric team. My frustration with myself grew and I was admitted to a psychiatric ward.

This collection grew to 50 within a few weeks, with more insight into me and my mind than I could ever say. The psychiatric consultant here even had a look and it helped him understand me despite my absence of words. I have since completed a further 50 piece collection called “Still Sic(k)” and am currently writing a further collection called “Illest.” I don’t reread my work but have recorded some in spoken word format and added music to create beat poetry. Throughout the poetry writing, I have also completed a diary since admission and have a weekly poetry slot on a mental health support page.

I can honestly say now, writing helps.

Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

Originally published: November 7, 2019
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