Last week was really tough. Probably the toughest week of this entire pandemic. I know many people who struggled. I want to share my experiences in the hope that it might resonate with others, and help anyone who feels isolated to feel less alone.
My PTSD hit me really hard. I struggled to sleep. When I did, I had nightmares. I felt anxious, disconnected, exhausted, overwhelmed. I became even more sensitive to noise than I usually am, noticed I was a more on edge and angry too.
On Wednesday evening, I realised I had to do something quickly. I disconnected from social media. I cancelled my meetings for the next two days. I decided to limit my time online as much as possible and promised myself that even when I was feeling better, I would continue to commit to a reduce number of calls.
There were many reasons last week was tough.
Some of the pressures were connected to my professional or personal life – my final Board meeting in the current role, the return to classroom for my kids after months of home-schooling.
Some of the pressures were bigger than me: broader issues of injustice in our society or in my own media industry that resonated because of my personal or professional experiences.
It also marked a year since the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. For anyone who has ever experienced trauma, anniversaries are particularly potent.
As a journalist, I felt unable to switch off as the world seemed to rail and rage, as the volume of voices seemed to grow and with it the collective disbelief and sadness and anger – a cacophony of conversations of which many were divisive.
The awful news about the uncharacteristic disappearance of Sarah Everard from the streets of London struck a chord with me, as it did with many women. I watched the outpouring on social media, the collective rage and sadness and disbelief from women who had been conditioned to curtail and change their choices to try to protect them from abusers.
I cannot begin to imagine the pain of Sarah’s family. I cannot begin to know the grief that they are going through.
But I do know something of the pain of being attacked and targeted for being a woman, and the sense that we are the liability and the problem, rather than those who chose to abuse, that we are the ones who need to change, rather than society’s attitude to us. I also know something of the pain of suffering with my mental health because my sense of self has been rocked to the core by something outside of me.
I remembered times I had rethought my plans, my routes, reduced my aspirations, changed my clothes, cut short my evenings, carried keys in my hands, walked more quickly, or ran, looked over my shoulder, hoping, hoping. I remembered the times I had blamed myself for the decisions men made to hurt me and how I had kept quiet because I feared people would blame me because of what I had done, not what they had done.
Last week I experienced many moments when I felt a sense of powerlessness, a lack of control. That sense of having insecurity is often a core reaction for those who have experienced trauma, a reminder of that moment when everything changed, when we lost our sense of self because of something that happened to us or because of something someone did to us.
There were triggers that set ablaze the tendrils of some of my past traumas. Fortunately, I have learned a lot in this past year of speaking about my PTSD. I have learned to listen to my body.
Last week, I caught myself before I fell too hard and hurt too badly. This weekend, I took time to listen and keep listening. I made time to escape through reading, sat with my children as they played, a spent time watching wonderful escapist television. I walked and I ran outside.
As a new week dawned this morning, I woke early, breathing in the promise of a sunny spring morning, pulled on my trainers and enjoyed a lovely slow run before breakfast.
My jaw still hurts from grinding my teeth. I may not be able to reply in the affirmative to those who say I hope you recover soon. I nod more easily to those who say I hope you feel better soon. There’s a difference. Recovery from PTSD does not happen quickly and the journey is not linear.
It’s still only Monday and the list of things to do is long, but I am not going to let them overwhelm me. I am determined to slow down, to pace myself. I have prioritised the things I need to do. I will limit the calls I agree to this week. I will build in time to pause and determine what really is pressing.
As it turns out, finding oneself so close to falling, brings a change of perspective. I am fortunate I have learned over time to recognise this, to know when I need to say no and what I need to do in order to do so, in order to build myself back up again. I have learned that I am not alone in feeling this way and that it’s important to be able to share that it really is okay to say you’re not feeling okay.