Thank you for visiting PTSD At Work. Many of you are either experiencing PTSD, or think that you might be. Not one person’s experience of PTSD is the same, so I would like to share mine and how it lead me to create this charity.
Mental health and the workplace is in the spotlight more than ever before. The environment that I once thrived in, became a confusing and challenging place for me. I felt that I was alone and had no idea how to get the support that I needed, so I created a charity to proactively take steps to change this.
I want my story to be open and honest, to ensure that it is helpful to anyone who may be going through something similar.
For over 10 years, my career within the travel industry had gone from strength to strength. I have worked in various roles and been fortunate enough to travel the world. I was ambitious, confident and wanted to progress. PTSD made me feel like I should give up on what I had worked so hard to achieve. I felt that I was alone and was too embarrassed to discuss my feelings with anyone. Once I started my road to recovery, I began to see things clearly again.
I decided, I was going to ensure that no one went through the same thing alone.
Here is my story:
On Saturday 4th November 2017, I was assaulted.
It was truly the most terrifying experience of my life and I thought I was going to die. 11 months later, I was diagnosed with PTSD.
During the assault, I remember my heart pounding so hard, like it was going to burst out of my chest. I was shaking and felt sick and cold, like all the blood had drained from my body, I felt helpless.
Once it was over, my initial reaction to the trauma was uncontrollable crying, to the point that I could hardly breathe. Eventually, this passed and I could feel myself starting to return to a more relaxed state. Once calmer, I started to feel a lot better – which made me think that, although I had just experienced a traumatic event, it was now over and I was going to be ok.
The following day was a Sunday, so I did not have to attend work and I was able to recover at home and tried to push the thought of the assault out of my mind. Although I thought about it from time to time, I was looking forward to going back to work on Monday and moving forward. At this point, I had only informed a few people about what had happened, with minimal discussion about the details – I felt embarrassed that I had been in this situation and that I had not been able to do anything.
Monday came and during my journey to work, I noticed that I felt very on edge and kept thinking I could see my attackers everywhere. People wearing similar colours to what they were wearing, made me feel physically sick and like every nerve in my body had been touched by an electric current. But I powered through and tried to play down what had happened to me, so as not to make a big deal of it. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, so I limited the information to what I felt comfortable saying.
Over the next few weeks, as I processed what had happened to me, I thought about the assault often. I did start to feel that I was slowly getting over it, but by Christmas, I found myself starting to feel different.
I was starting to feel anxious, out of nowhere and for no real reason. Christmas Day left me feeling sad, anxious, distant and tearful. Because I had no explanation for these feelings, I never associated them with the trauma.
The new year began and the anxiety was still affecting me. Over the next 10 months, I went into my shell, distanced myself from friends and family and developed imposter syndrome which affected my work as a senior manager. I felt that I was a fraud and should not be doing the job I had, fearing that someday, somebody would figure out that I was no good and I would lose my job. I stayed quiet in meetings, avoided making decisions of any kind, started smoking and lost my temper at the smallest thing. I suffered from concentration issues and dissociation, often avoiding parts of my own job. I would then get mad and have angry outbursts at colleagues if someone else took on one of my responsibilities. I felt like everyone was out to get me in the workplace.
At home, I would often cry at night due to the constant anxiety, guilt and shame that I was feeling. I had developed a rash on the one side of my face which had spread around my eye and down onto my cheek. I know now, that this was due to the excess cortisol that my body was producing due to the PTSD. I had to change my skincare products to avoid my skin reacting and after many months of trying different treatments, a dermatology consultant finally prescribed an ointment that worked to keep the rash at bay.
In May 2018, my symptoms began to worsen. Although I had been having severe anxiety up to this point, I had not experienced flashbacks. I had thought about the assault from time to time, but nothing that had ever caused me any great concern.
During a short break to Canada, I had my first panic attack. I had no idea what was happening at the time. I felt terrified and thought that I was going to either be sick in public, or pass out. Eventually this passed, but, possibly due to being in a new environment, I was consumed by fear everywhere I went. Hypervigilance had kicked in.
I was on edge from the second I left the airport and found it extremely difficult to leave the hotel room. When I did, I felt constantly sick with worry. I lost weight on the trip because I was hardly able to eat.
The car journey home from the airport was exhausting. From the front passenger seat, every car that passed, terrified me. By the time I got home, I had marks on my fingers from holding on to the door handle so tight.
The night that I returned home from Canada was the worst night that I can remember. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and I felt like I was in a daze and full of anxiety. I experienced my first real flashback that night, followed by constant intrusive thoughts. It was so bad that I hardly slept. I was so scared and the intrusive thoughts and flashbacks of my assault haunted me for most of the night, they felt so real, like I was there reliving it over and over again.
Over the next few months, I was living with all the symptoms of PTSD and trying to make it through each day in work, with, what I felt was little success. I was hardly sleeping, finding it harder to leave the house and I started to drink and smoke more. I cancelled an upcoming holiday because I couldn’t face going, starting becoming obsessive compulsive and I became more and more distant from my family and friends. No one understood what was wrong and as I had played down the assault, no one suspected that it was trauma related.
I had only been able to discuss how I was feeling with one person. I found comfort in the fact that I had someone to talk to and was surprised by how good it made me feel, but I was worried that others would not understand what I was feeling, so I kept quiet.
Eventually, my company director arranged to have a meeting with me. The discussion was centred around how I didn’t seem to be showing much emotion and appeared closed off. I was also told that I had become extremely distant at work. I was asked if I was ok.
I dismissed these points and said that I was fine, but following the meeting I began to think about the points raised. I had forgotten a time when I felt capable and wasn’t plagued with anxiety and had started to believe that I had always been this way. But I was now being told that my behaviour had noticeably changed. Could this really be true?
A week later, in October 2018, I took a week of annual leave and finally went to see a doctor about my symptoms, which were starting to take their toll on me. I finally started to accept that there may be a link between my symptoms and the assault and I broke down to the doctor when I started to explain what had happened. I was told that I had all the symptoms of PTSD and I was referred for counselling and given some links to mental health websites.
Being told that I had PTSD, was actually a huge relief. It meant that there was finally an explanation for what I had been experiencing.
Although I found it hard to accept the diagnosis at first, I used my week off work to research and understand the condition.
I had to wait 3 months to begin counselling and started my sessions in January 2019, where I was given an official diagnosis of PTSD. Over the course of the next 7 weeks, I made great progress and learnt techniques to help control my anxiety. Talking about the assault in detail for the first time was upsetting, but extremely helpful. I revisited details that I had not thought about in over a year and was finally able to put them to rest. I began to understand that the assault had not been my fault and that there was nothing I could have done differently.
Towards the end of my counselling sessions, I felt a strong urge to share my story.
I wanted to help someone else who was going through what I went through, but I couldn’t find the right platform. A couple of weeks later, I had the idea of creating a charity to help fund training for UK businesses, so that they could understand what PTSD is and how they could help employees suffering from the condition. I also wanted to implement standard measures across UK businesses, to ensure a positive mental health culture.
It took another 3 months after I finished counselling before I started to feel more like myself again.
During this time, I had established the board of trustees for PTSD At Work and submitted an application to the Charity Commission, to become a registered charity.
Creating PTSD At Work really helped with my recovery. It helped to increase my confidence and made me realise that the ambitious person I used to be, still exists.
I am still recovering and have good days and bad days. I will probably always encounter PTSD related issues from time to time, but I now know how to handle them. I almost feel like the old me, before the trauma. This experience, as awful as it was, has made such a difference to my life.
I’m still the same person, but I am most definitely changed because of it.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, please donate to PTSD At Work and help us support the UK workforce.