By Freddie Cocker
When someone tells you they have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Most people will probably think of someone who has experienced war, bloodshed and bullets.
However, there is so much more to PTSD than just conflict.
Whilst it’s true that thousands of soldiers return from war with PTSD, the condition affects thousands more people who haven’t picked up a gun and served their country in war.
The NHS website describes PTSD as:
“…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.”
It also says that any person who experiences a traumatic event can develop PTSD. These types of events could be:
- Serious road accidents
- Violent personal assaults, such as sexual assault, mugging or robbery
- A traumatic birth.
PTSD can take hold immediately after the event, weeks, months or years later. It might take even longer for the individual to recognise and accept it themselves .
PTSD can also develop in adults if the trauma they experienced took place in early life, the trauma was caused by a parent or carer or if the person was alone whilst they experienced and lived through it.
This can have a massive effect on a child’s development including their behaviour, self-esteem and confidence.
Since being diagnosed with mild to moderate PTSD in May 2020, I have sought to understand the condition better and start the next part of my mental health journey.
The PTSD I have comes as a result of being bullied. The bullying took place over nine years and for the vast majority of it, I was on my own, isolated and received insufficient help and support to cope with what I was going through. I was not protected enough and articulate how I was feeling.
It took me years to realise the different mental scars and anxieties I have are actually symptoms of PTSD.
In order to put some coping mechanisms in place, I first needed to identify each trigger before I tackled them.
For example, I was cyber-bullied at school on social media. An embarrassing picture of me was taken from a 16th birthday party and a Facebook page was created from it with the entire year group being invited to mock and ridicule me.
As a result, now I get anxiety and sometimes have been close to anxiety attacks when friends have tagged me in pictures after a night out on Facebook or Instagram and I do not know what the picture is going to be.
I am also liable to anxiety attacks when someone direct messages me to point out a mistake I have made. It takes several days for me to emotionally reset myself, which I am thankfully getting better at.
The most annoying and arguably biggest trigger of my PTSD is when someone says my full name out loud in a social situation. How can your own name be a mental health trigger you may wonder?
Well, unfortunately, given the toxic masculinity in my school, the immaturity of teenagers and the fact my surname is a slightly funny but proudly Yorkshire name, every time it was said by teachers in class or assemblies it would be followed by a laugh of derision or abuse.
Having that be the case over and over again for 5-6 years was extremely draining and made me try and disassociate from myself, my personality traits and anything which could be associated with me.
I wanted to be a blank canvas so there would be no proverbial, low-hanging fruit to throw at me.
Sometimes if my name was said in a social situation it might have also been followed by physical assaults both individual and group or verbal abuse.
I was therefore constantly looking over my shoulder in school, paranoid that someone would catch me off-guard, try and ‘rush’ me or catch me with a punch I didn’t see.
Now, if I am in a pub or other large public forum and someone says my name whose voice I do not recognise, my mind instinctively look for the exit doors and how I can get out of this imagined potentially dangerous situation, such is the relationship between this and my anxiety over receiving harm.
This example is where I can relate to stories from ex-soldiers about their experiences of PTSD.
I have heard some say that if they hear a bang or loud noise when out in public, they might duck down and find cover out of instinct, as their mind associates it with an explosion or imminent danger.
The part of my PTSD which affects me the most is the nightmares. At it’s peak, I would have about two or three nightmares a week about being back in school.
In these nightmares, I encounter the same people who bullied me, my social group who bullied me too and that same toxic, horrible environment where I was hated and unloved.
Within those nightmares I relive those horrible moments, the rejections, the humiliations and the ostracisation.
What is strange is that in these nightmares I am often placed in different psychological mindsets.
For example, in one nightmare, I might be that exact 15 year old boy, frightened, broken and scared and the human punching bag I was back then.
However, in other nightmares, I might be in the mental state I’m in now but in the body of my younger self; more confident, physically stronger and capable of holding my own and I do in those dreams when I am attacked. There is no set pattern so it’s hard to gauge the underlying reasons behind this juxtaposition.
These dreams only really started becoming more frequent in the last 2-3 years, ironically after I had come out about my mental health issues, accepted them and recognised that I needed support. It doesn’t make them any less easy to deal with though. I’ve reluctantly gotten used to them.
I don’t wake up in cold sweats about them anymore but they are still deeply unpleasant and are things I wish I could live without. Hopefully in time, they become easier and easier to manage.
For the conversation around PTSD to improve, we need to educate people about it and come up with tangible solutions to treating it.
Recently, there have been medical drug trials where psychedelics such as LSD and MDMA have been used to help people with PTSD open up about their mental health experiences, articulate how they’re feeling and help them deal with what they’ve been through. It has even been used to help ex-soldiers.
This may seem radical to some but if these trials have proven to work, we must have open dialogue and conversations about how we can support these treatments if real change is to happen. If we don’t, a generation could be lost to its debilitating effects.
Freddie Cocker is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Vent.