I began writing in April 2018 when worsening symptoms of PTSD and depression stopped me working as an ED nurse. Writing is therapy.
I started writing to help manage my PTSD, when I can't write I have a big problem
Writing has been a little slow in the previous week. It’s not that my life or livelihood rely on my writing because I’m a nurse by trade but writing has come to be something quite important to me. It has turned into a sort of self-directed therapy for my PTSD and depression. So when inspiration ebbs, I begin to panic that I won’t be able to handle the heaps of anxiety that shower me daily.
I have never been able to physically speak about the horrible things I witnessed and experienced in my childhood and never had the need to but when this trauma was reawakened a couple of years ago now, writing walked in and gave me a space to channel my negative thoughts and nervous energy.
Since my involvement with mental health services, I have learnt a lot about why my mind and body respond the way they do given certain circumstances. It doesn’t make the relentless anxiety any easier but it is good to know that there is cause and effect for the way I am reacting to life because of my mental ill-health. Lots of health professionals had recommended writing at this point or art or anything that encourages expression but I was too lost in my mind to attempt it.
My silence has been the root cause of a lot of my physical anxiety
I learnt that the severity of my anxiety could be as a result of being so silent about my mental health and what was happening in my mind from day 1 until my first suicide attempt age 27, a year ago now. From a very young age, I had done such a good job of suppressing anything I thought might rock the boat, have people pity or lose respect me because I was utterly determined to grow up tough and independent as a result of my experiences.
This has not only made me reluctant to speak to anyone about my experiences, but it has affected my ability to speak in every way. At times I get so nervous I can barely speak at all or say very little. Since my PTSD symptoms arose, I have developed severe social anxiety which makes everything related to people and interaction much more difficult.
You can imagine this poor communication leads to further problems as I fail to speak up for myself. In hospital this meant I missed out on activities or had to endure treatment regimens/changes because I couldn’t say no or challenge anyone.
As well as talking, I'm trying other things to stay calm
I also learnt that rather than communicating any disappointment I experience, I bury it deep which again, apparently turns into physical anxiety too. This makes a lot of sense to me and I’m working really hard to improve my communication skills in order to speak up for myself, to be able to make conversation without panicking and to be able to access the services that could help me through this difficult patch in my life.
The thing is I’m well aware that this will take time if it happens at all, thus pushing me to look for other things to help manage my PTSD symptoms. I do take medication for this but I find that often this really is not enough to make my life worth living as drastic as it sounds.
Exercise is a useful calming activity, while you're working out
I tried increasing my exercise so started attending a gym as often as my nerves allow, mainly weight lifting with a small amount of cardiovascular exercise – every workout I designed in effort to reduce my anxiety. This worked to some extent whilst I was actively lifting weights, not so much the cardio, that made the physical anxiety worse at times. Then I’d leave the gym and feel exactly the same as before.
I did however believe it’s important to keep going for my general and mental health and that it made a good physical activity to maintain alongside something else less physical like art or writing. I’ve tried painting, sketching, clay sculpting among other things and nothing has really stuck apart from photography which I’ve always done whilst walking or travelling.
Writing was an unexpected gift that I'm very grateful for
Eventually, around about the lowest time of my life, after I quit my job, I spent my time panicking and writing the occasional poem about my situation, thoughts, memories and conversations I wish I could have. To my surprise I was able to focus on the words, sounds, rhymes etc.
The first poem I wrote was a conversation I probably need to have with a relative. It’s strange to say but putting the words/memories on to a page actually stopped them flying around my head at a hundred miles an hour. As if I gained closure for that specific situation or conversation, like putting it to bed.
Admittedly the next flashback, nightmare or intrusive memory continued to feed my anxiety and further crush my spirit but also fed the next poem which has been the way ever since. The images and words that follow me also cause me harm but give me something to write about. The discomfort I experience as a direct result of PTSD is unbearable at times and I really do need to put a lot of work into functioning so if my symptoms spike and I’m not able to write, I don’t have much defence against it all. That’s why panic surrounds writer’s block.
A writing challenge is always appreciated but not as much as ever-absent balance
I received some amazing feedback about my writing which is great but it took a long time for me to accept that positivity in order to start sharing my work and encouraged me to try other things. I have written short stories, journals, political poetry, articles/blogs and reviews. They’re all very different in their style and purpose but fascinating to me all the same. Now that my eyes have opened a little and I am doing so much better, I do like the challenge and having new content too. It’s all distracting and at the end of the day, that’s the best I can hope for.
That being said I would like to maintain some more balance in my life, rather than typing away like a machine one minute and spending the next staring at a blank screen and freaking out about it. I must admit, my life is very much that way right now, maybe it will all settled together and with work, I will find a little balance and even a little peace.