When will they stop…

I used a hand sanitiser in a train station the other day. It was one of those super strong types that you find in hospitals. As soon as it hit my skin I was whisked back in time. For a second or two I was somewhere else. Somewhere I didn’t want to be.

The cold sensation drifted through my body. A zoetrope of mixed up images spun in my head. Blurry flashes conjured by the clinical scent. I felt dizzy. I sat down, took some deep breaths. It passed. I was grateful.

Blurry spinning image of trees & sky

It wasn’t entirely gone. That night the whirl of disjointed scenes dipped in & out of my dreams. Random words have jarred memories. My mind has wandered mid thought or conversation. I have felt the panic rising. Spells of forcing my head to connect with my physical reality have emerged. Struggling to focus on what I can actually see, hear, smell in this moment. Ignoring the feelings climbing my throat.

Tonight in the shower I couldn’t shake the feeling that the hot water streaming down my legs was blood. I couldn’t wipe the hospital aroma from my nostrils. Nor soothe the ache that spread from my back to my thighs. The hand sanitiser has triggered a reaction. My body is recalling the trauma stored deep within. It’s a phenomenon associated with PTSD known as body memories.

I haven’t experienced this symptom in quite some time. It lies dormant; rising unpredictably. Sometimes reacting to obvious & painful stimuli. Or, like this week, triggered by a tiny insignificant detail. My olfactory senses seem particularly attuned to old wounds.

New born baby feet with words birth trauma Association

This time it’s the initial loss. I feel my body failing. I know it isn’t happening. I have learned how to pull myself back to the here & now. Still, those moments when I’m dragged to the past feel completely real. I am not just thinking about unpleasant events. I am feeling them. My flesh & nerves & senses are reacting to something that happened 20 years ago.

Body memories are excruciating. It becomes a battle between what you know & what you feel. Fighting strong emotions is a challenge. When you add physical sensations grounding yourself is an onerous task. I have experienced these episodes replicating the sensations I felt during miscarriages & pregnancy. At times these physical memories are accompanied by flashbacks & other PTSD symptoms. Other times they occur in isolation. They mirror my actual experience so completely that I’ve found myself taking multiple pregnancy tests when I knew it was almost impossible for me to have conceived.

Sands logo

It’s another aspect of PTSD that I rarely see discussed in the mainstream. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not only (or even mainly) associated with combat trauma. Yet, it’s the link most people draw. The violent outbursts in media portrayals of the illness are not accurate. New studies are highlighting how prevalent PTSD is in women who have experienced baby loss & birth trauma. For most of us, managing PTSD is an internal process. Distress may leak out, but the grind is with yourself. Accessing the right help, surviving that help (trauma therapy can be brutal), learning to manage symptoms, accepting the parts you can never fix & the impact they will have on your life.

It’s painful & exhausting & many of us never completely recover. To stand any chance of healing specialised therapy is essential. There are so many barriers to reaching that help. It can take years to obtain any psychological intervention without the resources to pay privately. Even longer to receive the specialised therapy that can actually help. So many people can’t afford to wait.

This month I’m supporting The Birth Trauma Association and Sands. Both organisations support families who have experienced trauma surrounding baby loss & birth. Please join me if you can.

Don’t forget to shout…

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s a wet, grey day & my mood is bleak, so it seems like an apt day to talk about suicide. Although, to be honest I want you to do more than talk about it.

Suicidal ideation impacts the lives of more people than you would imagine (1 in 5). It’s not rare for a person to reach a point where they are so desperate that they just don’t want to continue. In my experience those thoughts are insidious. Once you have seriously considered ending your life, it enters the sphere of available options. So, whilst I absolutely do not want to die; I can’t deny that occasionally at really bad times ‘kill myself’ would be the last entry on my list of possibilities. What makes it a remote last resort rather than an actual risk is a combination of factors. People love me, I love them, there is joy & purpose in my life. The only reason I can recognise & enjoy those factors is years of intensive support from mental health professionals. I am grateful for the people who stood by & helped me access the treatment I needed because without that professional intervention, I would certainly be dead.

World suicide prevention day

So, yes, I do want to us all to talk about this. I want to break the taboo. I want people suffering to not be silenced by shame. It is important that you listen to loved ones in trouble. It matters that you care, but what is even more important is that there are effective mental health services to seek help from. Talking & listening isn’t going to save anyone unless it’s backed up by solid treatment. In short, we need better mental health services.

There is no point in asking people to reach out for help when none is available. A cup of tea & chat with a friend is nice, but it will not solve the underlying issues that lead to suicide. We need to be able to offer people more than a 6 month waiting list for a hand full of CBT sessions. When your loved ones tells you they want to die, you should be able to take them to a dr & get them immediate help. Instead the current response is often no beds & here’s a crisis team number.

I want you talk about suicide. I want you talk about mental illness. I also want you to do more. Don’t vote for people who will continue to decimate the NHS. Find out how the mental health services are performing in your area. Write to your Mp/Msp about provision of those mental health services. Sign petitions. Write to newspapers. Share your experiences. Do everything within your power to raise the profile of mental health services. We are failing really vulnerable people everyday. We beg them to ask for help & then tell them none is available. If you really want to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts, you have to do more than talk. We have to fight to give them another credible way to end their pain.

Actions speak louder than words

Find your MP here.

Find your MSP here.

Check your MP’s voting record here.