Part 7: PTSD Relapse & Recovery

Hi friends,

Thank you for tuning in to Part 7: PTSD Relapse & Recovery. This blog entry will cover my most recent PTSD relapse – being retriggered by trauma and the recovery steps that I’ve taken to get back on track with my mental health. This post is a raw and real account that demonstrates that even though I’ve left the Police Service and I am no longer in immediate risk of experiencing primary trauma, I still live with and can experience the effects and overwhelm associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at any given time. If being triggered and the symptoms of re-experiencing trauma have happened to you or someone you know and love, you are not alone. We are not alone.

As mentioned in a previous blog, ‘Part 5‘, for those who experience PTSD and other mental health conditions, this particular blog entry has a content and trigger warning. I will be recalling instances of trauma and the triggers that instantly transport me back to the emotions, thoughts and behaviours associated with these traumas. I understand and commend you on your journey if you are not able to read this particular blog entry. You do you.

Relapse

I sit here writing this on a Saturday afternoon, after reflecting on the week that was. As of this week, I am officially back in counselling – I once again require the professional assistance of a psychologist. However this time, I know that I’m not weak and I feel no shame or embarrassment in sharing this publicly.

I am strong in knowing that I will benefit dramatically from the support and expertise of a mental health professional.

My most recent mental health relapse came about through sheer exhaustion and fatigue as well as vicariously reliving the experience of other Police Officers and Emergency Service Personel who took a courageous leap of trust and shared their deeply personal stories with me.

Last weekend I had planned to run a marathon distance in training, attend to a number of ‘life admin’ tasks and catch up with friends. Instead, I spent most of the weekend frozen from exhaustion and the crippling weight of anxiety, watching the complete new season of Jessica Jones on Netflix (If you haven’t checked out the various Marvel series on Netflix they are seriously all amazing. Well, apart from ‘The Iron Fist’ – you could probably go ahead and skip that one! Also, Jessica Jones is an interesting portrayal of someone living with the symptoms associated with PTSD!)  The guilt associated with being ‘couch-bound’ and not meeting any of my tasks compounded and intensified the anxiety I was experiencing.

The fatigue issue is three-fold – physical, mental and emotional fatigue. The physical element I have the specific knowledge to understand. With the ‘Fire and Ice’ 250KM ultramarathon in Iceland under 6 months away, the training volume has increased significantly. This started three weeks ago – the challenge of running 20KM every day for 5 days, two weeks ago –  a 30KM ruck march carrying a 30KG pack AND multiple half marathons (21.1KM) and also this week – a 10KM mid to short distance run, a half marathon and a full marathon (42.2KM). The running volume has occurred with the addition of barbell strength training sessions and yoga mobility sessions. There is also the challenge of running 103KM straight (at night and into the next morning) with a collective 9000-metre elevation in two weeks time during the Kathmandu and the Australian Himalayan Foundation’s ‘Neverest Challenge‘. This is a huge landmark in my ultramarathon training and because of the training leading up to this event, my Central Nervous System (CNS) is absolutely fried.

Essentially the CNS is part of the body’s nervous system and is made up of the spine, brain and optic nerves and amongst many other important roles, the CNS is responsible for generating muscular contractions during exercise. When the CNS is fatigued you experience significant issues with activating specific muscles and a reduction in force production during a workout. CNS fatigue also manifests in mood swings & irritability, a decrease in training capacity and an overwhelming feeling of fatigue, being drained and lacking energy.  With proper training, rest, and nutrition protocols I’m restoring my CNS, but it has caused me to feel pretty physically vulnerable and overall pretty shattered!

The mental fatigue is in part due to the physical strain of CNS fatigue but also due to the long hours spent working at The Fit Project. We run an amazing functional training facility that through physical training helps every day people relearn, reimagine and re-centre not just their bodies but their lives.

The past couple of weeks have been exceptionally eventful at The Fit Project.  In addition to the coaching services offered each week, last Thursday we hosted an important discussion – ‘Coping, Coaching, Speaking: an open forum’ for the members of our TFP community. This forum was an important, judgment-free and supportive space to discuss mental health, over thinking, fatigue and stress. We were fortunate to be joined by two very special guest speakers who shared their stories, experience and expertise in transforming our internal monologues, mindset, self-care strategies and empowering us to ‘get out of our own way’. This truly was a powerful and remarkable session. We have also been busily recording and editing the first episode of The Fit Project Podcast (Episode 0 will be released in the first week of April 2018 – stayed tuned!). The onsite and at home hours associated with work over the past couple of weeks have been intense but absolutely worth the investment!

The emotional fatigue stems from reading the accounts of trauma shared to me by many (I’m grateful to read these stories and to keep the powerful dialogue of mental health support and awareness alive) and also furthering my knowledge on PTSD, trauma and mental health by reading clinical material and biographies, listening to podcasts and watching academic presentations produced by mental health authorities. Each account of trauma brought on re-experiencing symptoms and the heightened arousal and hypervigilance of being a Police Officer. My amygdala was firing and I regularly felt the adrenaline surge running through my body as I readied my fight, flight or freeze response to trauma.

It’s so frustrating when you think about it – objectively I know that I’m not at risk of harm as I sit here on my laptop and the same applies for when I attempt to read and further educate myself on trauma.

Still, the symptoms were real. Over the past month, I had actual physical, emotional and guttural responses when remembering and being retriggered to investigations of sexual offences committed against children and viewing hard drives upon hard drives of child pornography, the numbness I felt while pulling deceased people from fatal car crashes and the surge of adrenaline and stress hormones experienced when you are first on the scene to a ‘hot job’ – murders, high-speed pursuits, street brawls, domestic violence incidents and drawing your firearm on armed offenders.

Sitting on the couch last weekend about to begin episode 13 of Jessica Jones I had a moment of clarity. It makes absolute sense that I’m frozen in a state of anxiety and fatigue – it’s been a really big couple of weeks! It’s ok to feel the need to recover and practice self-care. However, I wasn’t truly practising self-care by binge-watching 13 hours of Jessica Jones. For me, self-care involves moving my body in any form – running, strength training, walking, yoga – as long as I’m moving with purpose, eating tasty, fresh and nutrient-rich food, being out in nature and connecting with my loved ones. I didn’t feel motivated to do any of these activities and being quite reflective and self-aware, I knew this was an issue. So before I watched the season finale, I opened my laptop and booked an appointment with my GP.

IMG_0589
There’s something quite beautiful and restorative about being active in nature. Definitely one of my favourite self-care activities!

 Recovery

On Tuesday morning this week, I visited my GP. He assisted by writing a Mental Health Treatment Plan and referring me to a mental health specialist (Mental Health Social Worker, Psychologist, Counsellor, Occupational Therapist, Psychiatrist etc.) The process of navigating the mental health treatment system is outlined in my fourth blog post, ‘Part 4: My Toolkit – Resources for PTSD Survivors & Their Families‘ and by utilising the referral and Mental Health Treatment Plan you are able to receive a number of FREE or subsidized treatments with a mental health specialist.

I met with my psychologist on Wednesday morning. Over the next 6, possibly 10 sessions, we will work together using a range of therapeutic approaches, to proactively address my most recent relapse and the underlying causes. I have 4 main goals to address and achieve as part of this therapeutic treatment process:

  1. To continue Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to process and transition through my PTSD re-experiencing symptoms.
  2. To remain psychologically secure whilst continuing my mental health advocacy work (I am incredibly passionate about continuing the work required to assist others suffering from PTSD to transition through their experiences and be empowered to receive the much-needed support to recover. I am also passionate about improving the institutionalised response to PTSD and mental health in general.)
  3. To stay psychologically secure whilst undertaking further formal study in psychology and mental health counselling to offer professional mental health services as a mental health specialist (stay tuned for developments on this front!) in addition to my current physical training services.
  4. To achieve balance in work and training to reduce instances of fatigue and complete overwhelm.

In 2013, the very first time I walked into a Psychologist office, I felt vulnerable, weak and ashamed. In 2018, walking back in to confront my past and work on strategies to bullet-proof my future, I felt relief and comfort in knowing that there is strength in seeking assistance. I was also inspired by a sense of confidence that I can better my mental health and continue to perform the work required the help others theirs, by seeking the guidance of a professional.

I’ve reframed my mental health diagnosis from one that ‘broke’ me, into one that ‘made me’ who I am today. There is great power in flipping the perspective on your own mental health. Just by taking proactive steps and visiting a GP, obtaining a treatment plan, booking a psychologist appointment and looking to the future aspirations of being able to better serve those with issues of mental health, my own outlook has dramatically improved.

The reason for sharing this post is to hopefully inspire others to take charge of their own situation and to seek the assistance required to recover and transition through their mental health relapses. It’s ok to have set-backs and it’s human to be fundamentally flawed. You are not alone in feeling alone, depressed, anxious and fatigued. There are others, myself included, who fight their mental health demons and win every day. Sometimes we are unable to do this by ourselves and that’s ok! There is great strength in unity and tremendous courage in asking for help. I would like to encourage you to be brave and take a leap of trust and reach out for help necessary to move forward with your health and your life.

Even though I experienced a recent mental health setback, I now have the essential supports in place and intend to keep this valuable conversation going. If you wish, if you or someone you know and love experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I invite you to get in touch via email or leave a comment below. I would love to continue to serve and help however I can.

Additionally, if you know someone who is experiencing mental health difficulties, be the support that they need to open up and start a meaningful conversation about their mental health. Actively listen with no judgement, offer assistance where you can and encourage them to seek the assistance of a mental health professional who can help them recover. There is great courage and compassion in supporting someone through mental health difficulties.

Let’s continue the conversation and end the mental health stigma!

As always,  here are a range of emergency contacts who can assist if you are experiencing immediate difficulties with your mental health –

Seeking Help for PTSD

Credit: Black Dog Institute

If your life is in danger call emergency services:

  • Australia – 000
  • New Zealand – 111

Lifeline Counselling (24 /7)

  • Australia – 13 1114
  • New Zealand – 0800 543 354

Men’s Line Australia – 1300 78 99 78
Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800
Suicide call back service – 1300 659 467

You can also: talk to someone you trust, visit a hospital emergency department, contact your GP, a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

How To Show Your Support

If you are reading this blog and engaging with the content I’m sharing, thank you. Your subscription to this forum is incredibly humbling and I definitely appreciate your time and energy. If you feel inclined to do so, I ask that you continue to support this forum by one of the options below.

  1. Help me in my goal of raising awareness of PTSD and support options and my journey by subscribing to this blog, sharing it with your friends and social media platforms.
  2. If you know of someone who is going through a tough time, have the empathy and the courage to start a meaningful conversation that could truly change or save their life.
  3. If you wish to support my participation in my ultra-marathon event you can do so by making a donation through my ‘mycause’ page www.mycause.com.au/page/162984 until 1 August 2018. Funds raised through this platform will help to offset the significant preparation costs in representing Australia on the world stage as I run to raise the profile of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  4. Pledge a donation to Phoenix Australia: Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health via my ‘mycause’ page www.mycause.com.au/page/162984 as well. Your support means more than you realise, not only myself but to others who endure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Thank you for reading and for being an integral part of changing the face of mental health.

Yours in health,

James

2 Replies to “Part 7: PTSD Relapse & Recovery”

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