As a public speaker on PTSD, this is one of the questions I am always being asked. Some of the other questions are ‘what makes me an expert? How does PTSD manifest itself in the workplace? What makes a seemingly “normal”, well-adjusted and often “super” salesman/woman suddenly and inexorably crash and burn, often ending up taking their own life and leaving everyone, including their nearest and dearest, scratching their heads.’ I hope that the following article will help you understand these issues.
First thing, let’s try to establish my credentials. I’m not an expert or a trained counsellor — I’m a survivor and I hope the following background will go a long way to explaining why I’m so passionate about making more people aware of the devastating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I was born on the 8 May 1958 and had two loving parents, an older sister and a younger brother. Looking back, I realise to many I had a privileged background. Not that my parents were wealthy, but we lived in a large house, and my mother, was always looking for ways to earn extra money to subsidise my father’s income, and for a time she was one of the bestselling Avon ladies in the business. She then created the first ever mail-order company selling collectables and was seen for many years as the foremost expert in this field. My sister was a gifted student with an excellent memory and became a solicitor.
For the first 14 years of my life I had a great time. Yes, I failed my 11 plus, but wasn’t traumatized, and I was lucky that my parents decided to send me to a private school, and after this closed down, I attended a Secondary Modern. In the first year at this school, I made friends and joined the athletics squad, as I could throw the discus further than most. Then when I returned to school in the September, aged 14, my life turned upside down.
One of the school bullies realised that I was Jewish, and the reaction was a huge shock to me as the year before some of my class had been at my Bar Mitzvah and there hadn’t been an issue! Nevertheless, this discovery led to me being on the receiving end of a daily barrage of name-calling. Unfortunately, Anti-Semitism, along with other forms of religious discrimination was and still is a huge problem.
In addition to this and according to my class mates, I had committed a far worse crime than my religion, which was to have secured a Saturday job at the local hairdressers. I had also stopped throwing a discus, and gave up my paper round and going to football. This all added up in their book to me being gay, which was actually not true, but illustrated how much prejudice there was across the board.
As anyone knows who’s been bullied, once you’ve given up trying to stand up for yourself, you learn to hide your pain and brush off the dirt from your clothes or recover your property, which often would be used instead of a ball in a game of ‘piggy in the middle’. Some of the bullied become jokers, or in some cases become bullies themselves. Those that are bullied find it very hard to let people know the pain they’re in for fear of what will happen if they reveal or stand up to the bullies.
Regardless of our age, we brush ourselves off and stand up, dry our tears and get on with life the best way we can. That’s how the majority survive.
Unfortunately for many, when they leave school and make their way in to the world, they seem to have developed an aura that a bully picks up on. How do I know this? Because it followed me as my working life progressed?
There came a day, shortly after my 39th birthday. As a family, we’d been through a great deal of trauma, and I suddenly became overwhelmed by the pain of my life. I sat in my car looking at a brick wall, trying to decide what speed I needed to reach if I were to drive my car at it so I could stop the pain. I started to write a note, but then I began to think of the ripples that my action would create and shoved the pad in the glove compartment, dried my eyes and went to work.
By this stage, I was on autopilot. My work was suffering, and I was receiving daily encouragement from my bosses to either shape up or shape out. It was only when one of the directors needed to use my car that my half-written letter was found, and the cat was out of the bag. Between them and my wife, I was dragged kicking and screaming into counselling. It was this action that saved my life, as I was forced to face the many demons that had haunted me.
Whilst counselling was the start of the healing process the journey from despair to happiness took many years. There were times when I could have easily slipped back into desolation, but with the encouragement of others I have reached a ‘Happy Place’ knowing that whatever happens in life, it cannot take me back to the where I was. So yes, I feel I am an ‘expert’.
I hope that you now have a better understanding that PTSD is not solely the preserve of the military or emergency services, but it can and does affect far more people than we realise.
So what are the signs we should be looking for as an indicator that someone is having an emotional crisis? The problem is that, as we know, every person is different, and therefore the triggers can be too numerous to fully understand.
However, warning signs can be seen, if you’re prepared to look for them.
- Has the person changed from someone who’s happy to someone who’s going through the motions?
- Does the person display swings in personality?
- Has the person begun to drink slightly more?
- Has the person’s family been involved in any emotional situation — for example, death of a ?loved one (including a pet), an illness or maybe an accident?
- Have they suddenly been confronted with an unexpected bill?
All of these, with the exception of drink, did affect me at one time or another. However, as I’m not a clinician, I can’t list every conceivable situation. ?So what should you do if you become aware of any changes? ?Start by being human. Suggest that you have a coffee together and chat. If they don’t want to or feel they’re unable to discuss what is “going on”, as they can’t articulate why they feel like they do, suggest they speak to a counsellor. If they are a work colleague, speak to your line manager or boss and advise them of your concerns. Make sure you make time to spend a few moments every day with them until they feel ready to confide in you. If and when they do, there are at least three things that you can suggest:
1) Recommend that they see their GP.
2) Direct them to our website, www.the365challenge.org.uk where we have an ever-growing directory of help and advice.
3) Contact the Samaritans tel 116123 or visit their website https://www.samaritans.org.