Please be aware this piece contains references to abuse, mental illness, self-harm, suicide attempts and addiction, which some people may find distressing.
No one chooses to be unwell or suffer poor mental health or a disability. Women like me face a daily struggle – PTSD is a lifelong condition that needs constant managing. Unfortunately, it’s here to stay whether I like or not. Whether people can accept me or not.
Before becoming unwell I was a happy go lucky girl with my whole life in front of me. Despite this, I suffered sexual abuse as a young child, watched domestic violence whilst growing up, faced daily racism at school and bullied for the colour of my skin and my religious beliefs.
No one chooses to be abused as an adult, go through a failed marriage after suffering six years of domestic violence and be bullied for not bearing children. My self-worth was so low I no longer knew who I was anymore.
I sofa surfed at a friends house before staying in a domestic violence refuge. I had been studying for a science degree but I had to quit my studies. I had no mental health support. When I attended the jobcentre they turned me away even though they were clearly able to see I wasn’t well.
In the end, I became homeless and isolated. I didn’t know it but I was suffering from the effects of trauma. At one point my mental health was so bad I thought I would be better off ending my own life. Despite this, I didn’t get a diagnosis from the doctor.
During this time, a number of BAME services gave me shelter. Services like these are now at breaking point. So I ask you ‘How can any woman go through what I’ve gone through, get help and get to safety if there is no longer anywhere for them to go?
Finally, I was placed in a one-bed housing association property. It had rotten broken windows, damp to the point my belongings were going mouldy, slugs up the walls, and the floor sinking into the cellar below.
You imagine living like this, in isolation, with no friends, no support worker, ill-health and suffering the effects of trauma. Suffering flashbacks and hypervigilance every day and when going outside. I would forget to eat for days until I would start shaking. Added to this the fact I had £10 left after paying bills and living expenses to buy food for the rest of the week.
For people that don’t know how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) manifests itself – you are no longer able to function. Every day things such as washing, eating, cooking, sleeping, friendships, relationships, paying bills, housework. And the ability to hold down a job all go to the wall.
PTSD has no known medication so I was prescribed different things to lessen the anxiety and depression that comes before or after a PTSD attack. None of them worked but only made me worse.
A girl I knew at one of the hostels I stayed helped me sign up with Crisis in Birmingham and I finally started getting help. Crisis also got me a place at Anawim, a recovery college in Birmingham. Finally, I had a safe place to help me learn new life skills and be around women who had also suffered trauma. This was the starting point for managing my PTSD condition. I did a women’s group course which deals specifically with childhood abuse, domestic violence, trauma and addiction. It was life-changing. Sadly their funding for this course has ended now. Centres being able to run these courses are badly needed.
I did an EMDR course of treatment, that means Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It’s used to treat PTSD using rapid eye movement to overwrite old memories. I used to have verbal flashbacks, and every treatment I tried would not work. But since EMDR treatment half of those flashbacks have gone.
I now work a paid part-time job in peer support, I am a qualified gardener and a support worker last year helped me move into a better home last July. I’m taking driving lessons and I’m actually supporting other women to get their life back on track as I have.
I’ve written an article for the Huffington Post, I’ve presented at events and have spoken about my lived experience on Radio 4. I still have a long way to go in my journey but I will get there one day.