Does My PTSD Label Help Me or Stop Me From Getting the Help I Need?
I was about to set off to meet a friend, super early to allow for 'anything' happening. And anything did. I mislaid my Oyster card and that was a trigger. First a panic attack, then a flashback, then a second panic attack, then something like a terrifying mental paralysis, like being trapped in a crashed burning car and trying to escape whilst feeling numb in the legs and not having enough strength in the arms. Over the years I've had various courses of CBT so I have tools to deal with some of this. I can tell myself: it's only a travel card, it's instant to replace, it's a panic attack, it will pass, breathe, breathe, breathe. CBT isn't enough to get me through, but it's something.
At my grim NHS assessment where two non-therapists evaluated my situation I was asked what outcome I hoped for, and if I had a treatment in mind. I said EMDR, based on my research, talking to PTSD sufferers who had recovered, and given that CBT had helped me over the decades, yet here I am.
'You seem fixated on this particular treatment,' said one of the women, the stern one who was a nurse. The smiley one a funky bright leather jacket moved things on. She wasn't a therapist and I didn't catch her label, but at least she smiled. Whenever she asked a question that made her feel uncomfortable she laughed nervously ('So, sorry to ask this, but the questions are standard, do you ever think you're somebody else, like Jesus? Hahaha.'). I was asked to describe what happens to me and I did my best to go through what happens. Sometimes, I said, I don't get panic attacks and flashbacks, but just images of me in the past being frightened and then sad. I'm paralysed by the sadness.
'Well that doesn't make sense,' said the stern nurse. I can't make sense of this myself, and given that I know a lot about therapy and psychology and the healing process, I know I've been clear in articulating my experience. I'm angry. I feel inappropriately criticised. But of course here I am being assessed so I can't express anger. I was supposed to be assessed by a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. I want to ask why this isn't the case.
I waited weeks for this assessment and I've been waiting weeks for the result. I've found a therapist I would really like to work with and even took the step of approaching and asking if she has fees on a sliding scale as I can't afford what she charges at the moment. Whatever treatment is available on the NHS will be short-term, and I want to think long-term. On the basis of my NHS assessment I don't feel hopeful that I will be offered something that I'll feel confident in. For this reason I want to be prepared to say no -- and have a backup plan for my recovery. This therapist's response was caring and encouraging. She said reaching out for help was positive and the first significant step in recovery. Before we discuss further, I await the NHS assessment results. I've called four times and dealt with rude receptionists so I'm not going to call again.
I'm angry, because without the PTSD label I could have been seen by the counsellor at the GP surgery who has seen me before and has been of enormous benefit over the years. That benefit translates as a saving to the taxpayer. I've always worked.
For some insane reason the system refers the PTSD sufferer for a clinical assessment as well as a separate department for CBT or psychotherapy. I've been contacted several times by the therapy department who can't arrange for me to see someone because of the 'specialist' PTSD label which requires assessment. Why don't they contact the specialist department direct? Why don't they liaise? Without the label PTSD I would have had an avenue of help and support that could have followed on from some interim counselling at my GP surgery. The result is that I end up living with trauma circulating in my head feeling unheard, and feeling angry with the system. I saw a young GP who looked confused and said there is nothing they can do.
Well I may have PTSD but I still have my intelligence and bloody-mindedness and I'm going to use these to make a formal complaint.
Meanwhile I wait and wait, and carry on with life, prepared for 'anything' to happen.