skip to Main Content

PTSD and me

During my late childhood and early teens, I grew up in an abusive situation at home. I felt so alone, like nobody else in the world was going through anything remotely similar and there was no way out without hurting the people I loved and breaking up our family.  

Without going into too much detail the people who were meant to keep me safe were either abusive or suffering so much from their own mental health issues, they were emotionally numb to me and so offered no support in escaping or even living through the situation. 


I didn’t realise this for quite a few years when I finally began talking about what happened to me, that I had been living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for a long time. As I started to learn a bit more about this, I started to put so many things together about how my life had developed so far but more positively I felt less broken, less alone, that my trauma was what happened, and it wasn’t who I was. 

What is PTSD?

Mind describes PTSD as “a mental health problem you may develop after experiencing traumatic events.” It was firstly recognised with war veterans but certainly not isolated to this group alone.  

The word trauma comes from the Greek work meaning ‘wound.’ That is exactly what it does to the brain. It is well documented that trauma changes neurodevelopment, particularly the earlier the trauma occurs in life. The area affected mostly includes the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for recognising stress and the decision maker on how to respond e.g., fight or flight etc. 

The Science Bit

When a traumatic event occurs, the amygdala initiates this exact response, sensory information is stored such as sounds, smells; and then once the event is over the brain should produce calming thoughts to mark the event concluded.  

The problem begins when the amygdala becomes overactive, and this stored sensory information triggers the amygdala that a person is back in that same traumatic event and is in danger. This area of the brain is very primitive and will not take any chances on a perceived threat vs a real one – it will use the info provided and always choose the safest option to keep that person alive. 

Evidently someone living with PTSD and an overactive amygdala can easily develop hypervigilance, anxiety, can be easily startled, and want to avoid any association with the triggers (those sensory memories) that set off this alert system; which can lead to someone becoming withdrawn and isolated leading to further difficult mental health issues. 


The hippocampus is the second area involved, it’s responsible for memory formation. During a traumatic event, this area creates and stores memories, retrieves them afterwards and calms the amygdala circuit. Someone with PTSD may not have fully processed or stored these memories correctly, and so it is not clear to the amygdala that events are not happening in the present, but simply being recalled; and so, it will take the safe option and alert just in case. This can also be the area involved when considering PTSD flashbacks, including all those sensory memories from the time, and providing a ‘re-experiencing’ feeling for the person involved.  

This can lead to feelings of confusion, disorientation, difficulty sleeping and even extremes such as a reduction in the size of the hippocampus.  

The prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain is the third area affected; it is the logical more advanced area, which should be able to override the alert system of the amygdala and is the area called upon when we consider deep breathing exercises, to calm the nervous system for example. Those with PTSD tend to have a less active prefrontal cortex and so can be more irritable, withdrawn, and potentially even more emotionally numb.  

On alert

So that’s the science bit, and I can tell you even just writing about that I can feel myself going dizzy with anxiety, my breathing is shallower, and my heart is racing. To the outside world I have my headphones on, and I am writing a blog. Inside I am having to do a LOT of work to ensure my prefrontal cortex steps in and says, ‘it’s OK,’ ‘this is not happening now,’ ‘you are simply recalling memories from the past’ and ‘you are SAFE.’ Conscious deep breathing is so important to help me with this. 

Thinking about this time in my past isn’t like recalling childhood memories. For me the sensory info is scrambled, random and visceral. It’s like my body feels them before my brain, and it is almost instant the moment a trigger is alerted. My mind takes a short while longer and a lot more active energy to get involved and override being on such alert. 

Other symptoms

Some of the other key symptoms of PTSD in addition to those mentioned above include: 

  • difficulty controlling your emotions 
  • feeling very angry or distrustful towards the world 
  • feeling as if you are permanently damaged or worthless 
  • feeling as if you are completely different to other people 
  • often experiencing dissociative symptoms 
  • physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches 

Controlling emotions was one I hadn’t recognised in myself until I began reading about it and making connections with my past behaviours. Strangely when in quite serious situations I find myself quite calm, on the outside anyway, I am on alert, but I have become accustomed to this state, and I can think quite clearly – almost more comfortably here.

This can be why anxiety creeps in, guessing what is going to go wrong next so I can relax into the feeling of stress, rather than trust myself that I am safe. Something I had to teach myself as an adult as I didn’t have that as a child.  

Emotional regulation

Unsurprisingly I used to do well in exam conditions and ended up working my way through university to a highly stressful career, with toxic environments and people. It was the mirror of the situation I found myself growing up within. 

Saying that, however, it will be the smallest thing that will send me into a complete outburst. I may drop a glass or something relatively small, but it will be enough to trigger me into either a complete outrage, distress and feeling totally alone; or to completely depress into myself, curl into a ball and let it sit on me, feeling the heavy weight of shame, abandonment, and all the pain from the past. Just like it happened yesterday.

To clarify, it was at least 20 years ago now since the worst of the traumas occurred, but PTSD follows me around and keeps it feeling just as fresh as then.  


Dissociation is an interesting one. I had no idea this was a thing and simply took it as the obvious way to navigate through very difficult, suffocating, and inescapable times. When you cannot leave the situation physically, you find a way to leave it mentally. I used to see myself as if from the ceiling, like I’d fallen out of my body and was just floating around. 

In addition, numbing yourself to feeling, for me this was necessary at home during those years, I would take myself to my room and live in a complete fantasy world. Using music as a real weapon to keep my head in the clouds, I wrote as well to keep finding ways to fulfil the fantasies I threw myself into and upon leaving my bedroom I would immediately cement the shield of numbness around me to avoid any potential encounters (or at least avoid feeling them).  

The problem being, this doesn’t even work, every encounter still tweaks at your gut, it pulls at your insides to say, ‘this is still having an impact.’ For me it just wasn’t safe to do otherwise. So, I would find a way to push it down further and continue to avoid feeling as much as possible. 

Coping of sorts

Ironically, this was not the case for me at school. School was actually a safe place for me to flourish, and logically I saw the end game of going to Uni as a chance to escape of my own accord. I worked really hard at my studies, had really good friendship groups who I cherished and shared with (everything except for what was going on at home). The mask was on firmly and developed with me as I worked through my further education and into the world of work.  

Only at times of emotional distress, usually coming from triggers attacking at that dissociative shield and finding ways to burst out, would I realise there’s something bubbling under.  

During my early working years, alcohol was a big thing and heavily encouraged in the industry I worked in for bonding, reward, and false confidence. This was a big coping mechanism for me as I am naturally quite introverted, but the mask I wear needs me to seem otherwise and I couldn’t risk anyone getting underneath and finding all the sludge it felt I was heaving around with me.  

Anyone who has had a few too many knows though, alcohol can in fact locate those emotional repressions quite nicely and bring them right up in front of everyone to enjoy. I don’t tend to cringe at those memories so much now I’ve been able to start healing but at the time it was mortifying. 

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms are very disconcerting. For me I tend to experience these when triggered, and only really started when I began exploring my past and was ready to feel (or at least my mind decided I was ready) and the dissociation became more a case of emotional outbursts and trouble controlling them instead. I felt it all at once and had difficult regulating. 

When I was finally ready to start addressing and possibly even sharing what had happened to me when I was younger, something my younger self had made a self-promise to never reveal, because what good could it do, and the shame was too great to even consider that. After the death of a very close loved one, a trigger beyond triggers, I was unable to switch off my emotions anymore. I couldn’t push it all down and just forget about it again. By this time, I was 27, so a while after the events, but as mentioned above it all felt so right now.  

My anxiety started to get really physical, to the point I started to think something was wrong. Mostly it was the intense dizziness, huge bouts of vertigo that would render me unable to walk – where I’d had to hold the nearest wall to steady myself. 

Getting help for PTSD

I went to GPs, had numerous blood tests, paid for private ones, bought magnesium tablets, vitamin b3 in case I was anemic, ate way better than I had before, drank loads of water but nothing. The GP told me that with the dizziness, headaches and heart palpitations combined, it sounded like stress or possibly Generalised Anxiety Disorder and perhaps I should consider CBT.  

I could feel the mask slipping and I was terrified, was I really about to unearth all of this?  

The first step isn’t always right

The answer was no, not yet. I did undertake the CBT and made the first slightest mention that my childhood ACE scores were not too favourable. However, it was more like an online system and the counsellor I caught up with each week wasn’t very helpful for me.  

I felt a judgmental tone which was likely the anxiety trying to self-protect. So, I did what I did through school, conducted all the right homework, and then completed it. I was the best I could be at therapy, isn’t that what it’s all about? 

The symptoms worsened, I found out more information about my past and it was all getting too much.  

I only actually ended up disclosing to my partner when it got to a point, when I was nearly physically sick thinking about it each night. It was like my body was desperately trying to rid me of this knowledge.

Telling them was the only option and it was from there my healing journey began. 

What is Complex PTSD?

Complex PTSD is the kind I live with. This is because I not only experienced trauma at an early age, but it also lasted over a long time. 

If you have Complex PTSD, you may be particularly likely to experience ’emotional flashbacks’, in which you have intense feelings that you originally felt during the trauma, such as fear, shame, sadness or despair. You might react to events in the present as if they are causing these feelings, without realising that you are having a flashback.  

Examples of the types of traumatic events that can cause complex PTSD include: 

  • childhood abuse, neglect, or abandonment 
  • ongoing domestic violence or abuse 
  • repeatedly witnessing violence or abuse 
  • being forced or manipulated into prostitution (trading sex) 
  • torture, kidnapping or slavery 
  • being a prisoner of war. 

WHY does this happen?

You are more likely to develop Complex PTSD if: 

  • you experienced trauma at an early age 
  • the trauma lasted for a long time 
  • escape or rescue were unlikely or impossible 
  • you have experienced multiple traumas 
  • you were harmed by someone close to you. 

So, HOW can it be treated?


Treatments for PTSD vary wildly and can be expensive. Personally, I started by reading. So much reading. Some may say maybe intellectualising the trauma rather than feeling it – however it was what I needed to do first. Learning and knowledge have always been my best weapons.  

I’ve also had ongoing talk therapy – working through the events of the past, the people involved, the situation in which I found myself and into the real nitty-gritty of how this impacts me in the present.  

Learn to Emotionally Regulate

Additionally, I’ve been on a ‘Regulate Your Emotions’ course, which was insightful in learning how to feel, how to identify feelings and not be them and recognising your window of tolerance before you go into hyperarousal (fight and flight) or hyperarousal (depression).  


As previously mentioned, I did receive CBT however this short course wasn’t really for me in the style in which it was delivered, mostly online learning and one week catch ups with a counsellor. It was useful though in that I have remembered a lot of the techniques and because I love to learn it helps me understand more about why I can think, feel, and behave the way I do. 


One therapy I’d love to explore, money allowing, would be EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).  

“The goal of EMDR is to allow the person to achieve a complete state of emotional and mental health – they should be able to recall or discuss the event without having a response that results in a debilitating reaction.” 

It’s expensive and you need it regularly in close bouts for as long as your therapist deems it necessary. However, it is heavily backed on providing a much better quality of life for those living with PTSD.  


“EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) or ‘tapping’ combines ancient wisdom about the body with current understanding of the psychology of trauma and the lasting damage it does. And one of the conditions for which it is proving most valuable is trauma and its aftereffects. 

This one really follows the body keeps the score idealism, whereby the trauma is stored in your body for the mind to relive when triggered. Great evidence is held to believe this untreated could go on to develop into diseases in a very physiological way. EFT, much like EMDR, allows the body to experience the triggers and to reprocess them and its stress response, thinking back to the amygdala. 

Other treatment

Many treatments for PTSD lie simply in getting people back into their bodies as a safe place to be in the now. This could be art therapy, yoga, breathwork, journalling, movement, music, drama and can often be done with peers; anything to get people expressing themselves, building their confidence, living presently, and learning to breathe and regulate with their feelings and emotions. 

WHEN should you get help?

It’s normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but most people improve naturally over a few weeks. 

Please do not suffer in silence. No matter what shame you may be feeling it is ALWAYS better to talk about it to someone you trust. 

You should visit your GP if you or your child are still having problems for about four weeks after the traumatic experience, or if the symptoms are particularly troublesome. 

If necessary, your GP can refer you to mental health specialists for further assessment and treatment. 

PTSD shouldn’t define you

My journey has been long and will not doubt continue, perhaps I may never be fully over what happened to me however I have learnt PTSD is something I live with, it doesn’t define me. I do fully believe that one day I will be less triggered, I will be able to regulate myself better, I will learn to love myself and my body, to respect my intellect and how it saved me. I can already see just how far I have come from being that young person in trouble, feeling completely alone. You are not alone in this either. The stats say it all and so please continue to treat everyone with kindness, empathy and understanding.

You never know what someone is going through behind their mask.

PTSD/Trauma Resources:

The first step towards support is through your GP, they will be able to signpost you to appropriate support, including Steps 2 Wellbeing and further statutory support. If you’re a young person, CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Support) can help you – but there might be a wait for this. 

Locally, STARS Dorset is a pan-Dorset charity that offers free one-to-one support. They support people of any age or gender who live, work or study in Dorset and have experienced any form of sexual violence at any time in their life. 

Nationally, PTSD UK is an excellent resource for information and support. 

If you need emotional support, Samaritans are there for you 24/7. Call them on 116 123. 

Related News

Please support our work

Dorset Mind is a self-funded local charity that helps people in Dorset experiencing mental health problems access the vital support they need. The charity is at the very heart of our communities shaping futures, changing and in some cases literally saving lives.

Back To Top