Remember, Remember, The Fifth Of November…
I don’t think I will ever forget Saturday 5th November 2011, the day so much of my life changed.
To begin with it was a normal Saturday working at a local Health Spa as a Therapist, all was going well until I was getting ready for my first client after lunch. I went into the treatment room to make sure all was ready and slipped over, hitting my head on the floor and I briefly lost consciousness.
When I came to, I was laying on a wet floor with my head spinning and the product trolley half fallen over where I must have hit it on my way down. My head was fuzzy, I was in pain and the slightest movement was agony. I had no idea how long I had been there for. I struggled to pull myself into a sitting position and screamed as I did from the pain. When I put my hand on the floor it was wet and I didn’t know what it was, I was in so much pain that I thought it was blood. I put my left hand up to my head and I felt the metal doorstop that was sticking out of the floor, it was only a hands width from my head. Had I hit that? I continued to call out for someone, I thought there must have been someone in one of the three other treatment rooms to hear me but no one came. It felt like an eternity until a colleague found me on their way back from lunch, they ran to get help from the staff in the Gym. When she came back with someone, they lifted me on to the treatment couch in the room and laid me flat. They said the floor was slippery and called a manager who phoned for a paramedic on their way to me.
I was asked several times what happened, but I didn’t really know. All I could remember was walking into the room and then waking up on the floor, it turned out that someone who had previously been in the room had spilt massage oil and not cleaned it up, so that area of the floor was like an ice rink and I was the unlucky skater.
The paramedic quickly arrived and could see the pain I was in when they tried to move my head. I remember them calling for an ambulance and saying ‘C3 is out of place’. I knew what C3 was, it’s the third cervical bone in your neck, fear set in there. Had I broken my neck? Is that why I was in so much pain?
The ambulance arrived and I was carefully moved on to a stretcher with a head and neck brace and full inflatable body brace, because the lift was too small they had to carry me down the stairs to the trolley; I had a panic attack, I was sure they were going to drop me. I couldn’t relax, which caused more pain and more screaming.
I don’t remember much of the journey to the hospital, only arriving and finding my family waiting for me. I was seen quickly and sent for scans. I was extremely lucky in the fact that nothing was broken, but I had concussion and soft tissue damage to my spine and neck which would need physiotherapy to heal. I was sent home to rest and to get in touch with my Doctor on the Monday.
I didn’t realise that because of today my life would not be the same as it was before.
The nightmares started straight away, however it wasn’t until I had my first meeting at work to discuss my recovery that I started having panic attacks and flashbacks to the accident. I spoke to the Doctor about it and he said that I was suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so referred me for counselling and prescribed anti-depressants.
I waited for an appointment and in the meantime started physiotherapy. At my first session I was asked what happened and struggled to go through it, telling him the Doctor had diagnosed PTSD. I was immediately faced with an inquiring look as he believed only members of the armed forces could be affected by it, and seemed to dismiss anyone else being affected. I was shocked that someone who worked within the NHS could be so clueless, but maybe it was another taboo subject for Mental Health.
For anyone not sure what exactly PTSD is, the NHS state “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt. They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult. These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.”
It really impacted my life, I struggled to walk a distance before I felt dizzy and unstable on my feet from the concussion and the pain I had in my back was hard to bare. Mentally I was a wreck, the nightmares came every time I tried to sleep. When I slipped in my dream I would physically jump and this would wake me up in agony from my back.
At that first meeting at work I saw the computer diary for the spa and my column was filled with ‘She’s ill again!!!!’, this caused a panic attack. I have struggled with anxiety since being bullied at school and to see this when I was vulnerable just made me feel worse. How could a company allow their staff to put a comment like this on a screen that can been seen by all departments? I felt like my colleagues had been told that I was off with a cold or something mediocre, not that I’d had an accident.
That was the last time I was able to walk in to the building, I tried to attend further meetings but I’d have a panic attack at the thought, my head would flash back to the accident and I couldn’t breathe.
I started my NHS counselling but all the counsellor wanted to do was focus on the bullying I had experienced years before, I couldn’t understand why this was the focus of the sessions and how it had anything to do with the PTSD I was suffering now? When we did eventually get back on to the reason why I was there he said that immersion therapy would be the way to go, I didn’t know anything about it but was willing to try anything. We agreed to meet for my next session outside my place of work. I got there and planned to walk home to get some fresh air afterwards and my Physio said walking would be good exercise for my back, to say it didn’t go well was an understatement. I couldn’t get close to the building and ended up finishing the session early to get away, I felt like I was drowning. I started to make my journey home on my own but I had another panic attack, my chest felt like it was being crushed, I’d never felt pain in my chest like it, I couldn’t breathe. I tried to call someone but my phone decided at that crucial point to reject it’s SIM card, I tried to make an emergency call as it gave me that option but it wouldn’t work. I had to continue to walk on my own, terrified as the pain in my chest was getting worse and where I was hyperventilating my hands had gone blue and I couldn’t move them.
It turned out because I was taking so long to get back my Mum had made several phone calls to try and find out where I was as she obviously couldn’t get hold of me and she had then got in the car to drive round and find me as no-one had heard from or seen me. She found me five minutes from home, she got me in the car and tried to calm me down. It didn’t work. She called my cousin to come round and she in-turn phoned an ambulance as I lost consciousness twice while she was there. The pains in my chest wouldn’t go and now my arms were turning blue too. The paramedics arrived and assessed me, I was having a very severe panic attack. After an hour they had managed to calm me down and moved me on to the sofa with my feet raised and plied me with sugary drinks and toast to try to help me feel better. That was the last time I did immersion therapy.
I continued with my further sessions of counselling. Before each session you are sent a questionnaire to fill in, this is then used to assess your symptoms and how well you are managing. Obviously this is meant to improve as the sessions go on but not in this case, mine were worse when I finished the final session than when I started. I remember getting a phone call from the service provider after the sessions where the woman was worried I would do something silly. Effectively I was on suicide watch, this led to my Dr calling me several times too, to offer me further counselling but I had hit rock bottom and didn’t want it from the NHS as the sessions I had been given had made me worse, because they focused on everything in my past not just the accident. It was too much.
Years passed, I didn’t go out much, I lost myself, and became a recluse to an extent, until I was fortunately referred to The Priory for private treatment in 2014. I was assessed and made appointments to see a psychiatrist and a counsellor. On the first sessions of each, a plan was made for treatment and I cannot thank them enough for the help I received. I was given EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) and we focused solely on the accident and events afterwards, it was really hard work and such a struggle to get started as I had lost my faith in the process but by the end of our sessions I had begun to feel close to being myself again, which was something I didn’t think I would be able to do. The nightmares were less frequent and the flashbacks weren’t triggered very easily, I was able to stop associating my day to day life with the accident.
I was given coping strategies, similar to those I mentioned in my previous post for when I would feel a panic attack coming on. The one that I used each time I was at a session when it got too much, and I still use now, is to mentally go to my ‘safe place’, somewhere I felt happy and relaxed. This for me is my childhood home, a small holding in the countryside with amazing panoramic views towards the coast. I would imagine sitting on our lawn, watching the dogs running around and seeing the outbuildings while feeling a breeze on my face. It always works to distract me and help me re-focus.
There are two things now that I still struggle with, one is that I still struggle to go to my old place of work. The last time I did was when I handed in my notice, I felt free but I really struggled to be there and couldn’t wait for it to be over. I have no reason to go there any more so to be honest I don’t try to push that one. The other thing I struggle with is shiny floors and any flooring where it wouldn’t be visible if there was a spill. At first I would do anything I could to avoid them but I was told to distract myself somehow, so I started to tap my fingers together, I have found this to help.
On reflection, the care from the NHS wasn’t wonderful when it came to my counselling until it was too late, purely because the counsellor I was given didn’t seem to want to focus on the main reason I was their and dragged up the past as well as throwing me completely in the deep end with the immersion therapy. In hindsight I should have spoken up straight away that I wasn’t getting on well but with waiting times I was worried I wouldn’t been seen again for ages. Finding the right counsellor really is the key them it comes to therapy.
Above all it’s so important to talk, if you are struggling with anything there are charities you can talk to. I have link some below.
Thank you for reading my Journey through PTSD, it has been hard to bring the accident back to the forefront of my mind and I have had a couple of dreams about it in the process but I have been able to use my coping strategies to make sure I was able to let it go back to where I am at peace with it.