PTSD - Krissie's story
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD after being involved in a car accident where a drunk driver lost control and crashed head on into the car in front of me, causing the car I was in and the car behind me to pile up into the collision. The drunk driver and everyone in the car in front of me died as a result.
I took a long time to get over this and I didn’t do anything about it for a while. I kept having nightmares where I would wake up crying and I was getting little sleep. I didn’t tell people about what I had witnessed or had been experiencing, and the trauma kept building up and up. Losing my friend in a car accident the year before contributed to the trauma as I still hadn’t taken the time to grieve over her death. Once I moved back to England, I was diagnosed with PTSD. By the time I moved to London, I had built up a hatred of vehicles and I ended up being affected by the noises and lights of cars around me. I continued to have nightmares to the point where I would get so worried about going to sleep because I knew what was coming. I would have panic attacks, but not ones where you hyperventilate – the ones where you are paralysed, can’t notice what’s going on around you and can’t talk. I suffered from anxiety, but not an acute fight or flight response, it was a deep feeling in the pit of my stomach. There were times when I would throw up whilst walking to work because I just couldn’t cope with the noises and craziness around me. By the time I acknowledged that I needed help, about a year had already passed from the crash and it was approaching the anniversary of my friend’s accident.
I received medication for my anxiety, and at one point, I had to be signed off work for 6 weeks by the doctor, and I was given strong sleeping tablets to help me get some sleep. I received generic therapy such as CBT and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – a therapy specifically for PTSD. But they were not all that useful to me. Something I have found to be really important for people suffering with mental health is the differences in how much time each person needs. For me, 6 weeks off work was not enough to make me feel better, and because of this, I felt guilty, so I kind of tried to pretend that I was better. The same with therapies where they put a time limit on. One therapy which was 12 weeks – the doctors said that I would feel better after it, and so I felt that pressure to be able to feel better within 12 weeks, and of course I didn’t. I felt guilt about having to go back into the system to ask for more help. Time to recover or feel better is so different for everyone.
My PTSD has had a large impact on my life. At my worst, it made me push away people around me because I was suffering with survivor’s guilt - if the car in front of me hadn’t pulled out, it would have been me instead of them that died. The survivor’s guilt affects my life even now such as thinking that something bad must be around the corner waiting to happen when something in my life is going well. I feel extremely guilty if I make any sort of mistakes as I always feel like the people who died could be doing a better job than me.
The thing that I found helped me the most was joining a support group for PTSD. My biggest recommendation to anyone looking for help with mental health is to search for support groups – it’s the best thing I ever did, and I don’t know how I would have got through everything without the people in it. Everyone in the group acknowledges the experiences you’ve had without diminishing them, even though every trauma is so different. People speak about how they dealt with their trauma - how different therapies and methods helped them or how it hadn’t helped, which is really useful to hear. It wasn’t people taking turns to tell their story, it was more just an informal discussion. Some weeks I just sat there and said nothing and that was completely fine.
Another bit of advice that really helped me was the knowledge that sometimes, when you go through therapy, things get worse before they get better. When I started therapy, I felt like I was reliving the trauma, it forced me to open up about the helplessness I still feel from witnessing people die and the experience of losing a close friend. I started having nightmares more and more and I was scared that the therapy was making me worse. But I was told by my support group to stick with it - because they said sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. This was the most powerful piece of advice I was given and something I wish I was told right at the start of my therapy. Talking therapy has definitely helped me in the long run, it has enabled me to cope with the nightmares when they come and the day-to-day triggers I experience. 2 years ago, I couldn’t even acknowledge what had happened, but therapy has enabled me to talk openly and to allow myself to feel sad or frustrated.
I’m now so much better. Giving myself the time and space to recover has been the major thing. I still have therapy every week and it is based a lot around survivor’s guilt. I also have a few activities I like to do that help my mental health. My main one is ice skating; I have a spinner that imitates a skate that I can spin on at home and that really helps me because I have to concentrate so hard on balancing that I don’t have space to think about anything else!