As some of you may or may not know, for the past 18 months or so I’ve suffered from PTSD. This mental health condition is widely misunderstood, and stereotypes and misinformation in the media and online abound. I’ve come to a point now where I feel like I’m able to talk about it more (a lot of this was inspired, although she may not know it, by my friend Branwen whose blog here details her own struggles with mental health and really gave me confidence to be able to talk about it myself).
PTSD sufferers are often represented as having absolute meltdowns in public at the slightest sudden noise, waking up screaming from nightmares and generally not functioning all that well. Obviously this isn’t the case in real life. Most of the time, you wouldn’t be able to tell I even have it. I’ve learned how to deal with it largely on my own, and have a variety of different coping mechanisms. However, I wasn’t always able to manage it so well.
Towards the end of 2016 and the first few months of 2017, I was having severe panic attacks, nightmares, I was unable to continue working in my old job due to an inability to hold concentration (among other reasons), I would have anxiety attacks in places or around people that reminded me of what happened. I felt really depressed, was behaving in an increasingly self-destructive way, and pretty much felt like I was drowning.
I visited the GP several times, but was put on a 3 year waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and they were unable to offer me support in the meantime. I was left with no choice but to deal with it on my own. I spent hours and hours reading up on the illness online, determined to know as much about it as possible so I could beat it. There is actually no known cure for PTSD as it is a change in the way that your nervous system functions, but it is possible to manage it effectively. I trained as much as I could, was irritatingly responsible about getting my 8 hours sleep, ate super healthily, but I was still deteriorating. PTSD is an anxiety disorder, and this had pretty much taken over my life at that point. I’d religiously plan out my every move, and would feel my world literally crumble around me if I couldn’t give 100% in a training session because I had a cold, or even if a friend changed their plans with me. I was constantly stressed, put on a huge amount of weight, and all the fun was being sucked out of my life.
My first mini-solo trip to Milan was a game changer. Going abroad alone, where anything can change at a moment’s notice, should have been hell and I worried so much about the trip before I went. I planned out a complete trip itinerary for the 4 days before leaving to satisfy my anxiety, but once I was there, it all seemed to melt away. The feeling of being completely alone in a foreign country is addicting, for reasons I can’t totally explain. It feels like being thrown off a boat into the ocean, and your only option is to swim, with nothing but water for miles around you. For some, that sensation is terrifying. But I loved it.
I came back from the trip with my self-confidence through the roof for the first time in months. Two months later, I’d booked flights across the Atlantic for two months Costa Rica, for my first trip outside of Europe. I had never felt so excited about anything in my life.
Now that I’m here, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the best decision I have ever made. Although I have planned out my itinerary for this trip too, I’ve made zero plans for the last month to force myself to ‘go with the flow’- something I would never have managed before. Being abroad, with no obligations and no set plans forces me to slow down, and live in each moment. Last year, I couldn’t enjoy anything because I was just stressing about what was going to come next. I exercise and try new sports and activities constantly, but I don’t obsess over it. I eat healthy local food. I can sleep through the night, even in a crowded hostel.
I didn’t want to become one of those people who is defined by what has happened to them. I wanted to be more than that girl. I wanted to be someone who goes out and sees everything the world has to offer, because honestly I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. 18 months ago, I would not have dreamed in a million years that it was even possible for me to go to the corner shop alone, never mind the other side of the world. But here I am. And instead of catching a flight back to the UK in March like I originally planned, I’m actually flying to San Salvador, then Lima, then Ascension… final destination- Argentina!