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PTSD and being unable to talk about what caused it

(71 Posts)
whathasthecatdonenow Thu 02-Aug-12 18:42:39

I have PTSD and severe depression stemming from an incident in my past. I've had counselling and psychotherapy as well as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I've tried lots of ADs. I can't get better because I can't actually say out loud what happened to me. I freaked out badly during the EMDR when I had to relive the incident backwards, and ran away from the psychologist, resulting in the Police coming to find me.

All of the professionals I've seen have given up on me because I can't get better. I try to say it out loud but it is like a physical block and I just throw up. The flashbacks are getting worse and I'm really at the end of my tether. I'm on holiday now, but I'm dreading going back to work in September. I just don't know what to do. It has been three years and I can't see anyway out from this black hole.

Has anyone got any advice?

stargirl1701 Thu 02-Aug-12 18:46:26

Can you write it down? Type it?

My thoughts are with you. Sounds like a nightmare for you and your family.

whathasthecatdonenow Thu 02-Aug-12 19:08:58

Thanks. I have written it down, but everyone I've seen says that I have to be able to talk about it to recover, but I can't talk about it so I'm stuck in PTSD catch-22. The professionals know what it happened because I can talk around it, but because I can't talk directly about the incident I can't get better.

My family know nothing of this. It happened years ago and the PTSD seems to have been triggered when I became stressed about my sister's illness three years ago. I'm in a particularly bad place now - I know it is my own fault it happened, and my own fault I can't get better. I don't know what to do as I'm just stuck and no-one can help me because I don't deserve it.

JeanBodel Thu 02-Aug-12 19:11:33

Are you able to talk about it to yourself in your head?

Could you work on that as a first step? Imagine you're sitting with your therapist & play out the conversation in your head, think of the words you'd use and 'say' it in your mind.

I appreciate this is very very hard - every sympathy.

mosp Thu 02-Aug-12 19:24:22

I don't have the answer, but I can say that you are not alone. I can't physically get the words out either and have just started therapy.
I call it the shopping trolley syndrome - you can speak to a point and then no matter how hard you mentally strain, it won't come out. Like a tesco trolley locking up if you try to push it too far.
Do you also have word phobias?
Hugs x

whathasthecatdonenow Thu 02-Aug-12 19:32:53

I can't say the word for what happened to me at all. I think I caused it, and I feel ashamed that I let it happen, so I can't say it. I can only play it out in my head when I'm in a flashback, the rest of the time it's locked up tight in a box in my head. The EMDR is apparently really good at stopping the flashbacks, but I could only get up to remembering the moments just before and after, I couldn't make myself stay in the room. It was very strange, like somebody else was stropping out of the office and down the stairs with people shouting after them, and I was watching it all from above.

I'm having flashbacks much more regularly now, but because I can't say it I can't access any services other than medication from my GP and that doesn't help.

mosp Thu 02-Aug-12 21:06:29

I was really like you about 2 years ago until less than a year ago. I started therapy but they stopped it because it was too risky.

Have you always had the flashbacks ever since your traumatic incident? How long ago was it? Mine was 15 years ago and I had PTSD which was not treated. If then 'went away' and it was triggered back in full force in 2010.

Was yours re-triggered?

I find it scary that therapy won't work if you can't say certain things.

I really hope you find some way to recover. Hugs

whathasthecatdonenow Thu 02-Aug-12 21:13:01

I had some PTSD symptoms but I was only 17 when it happened so I didn't really understand what was happening and I pretty much shut down about the whole incident. It was triggered again three years ago when I got very stressed and depressed due to my sister's illness. I had a lot of negative feelings and when the doctor asked how long I'd started to feel like that it made me confront it.

I feel so ridiculous. All the doctors and psychologists know what it was, it is so obvious, but I can't say it and if I can't say it I can't get better.

All of this seems to leave me with very little choice. I'm on maximum dose Sertraline, having been on nearly everything else before, and it doesn't even touch the sides.

mosp Thu 02-Aug-12 22:33:56

Really sad for you. I'm grateful because the sertraline seems to keep my anxiety to manageable levels. I asked the therapist last week if she actually already knows what happened to me. She said she did but I still need to say it myself. It's weird - it's not that I fear her knowing; it is literally that I can't say it (or hear it).

Sorry, I'm not being much help here am I?

whathasthecatdonenow Thu 02-Aug-12 22:43:56

You are being a great help. I'm glad (not really, but you know what I mean) to know I'm not the only one who can't physically say the words.

I'm just in such a hellish limbo. I can't get better and I can't ignore it. I can't go on. I've seen four counsellors, two psychologists, god knows how many CPNs but because I can't say the words or allow myself to relive it I'm beyond help and no-one wants to know any more.

I'm starting to think of only one answer and it scares me but comforts me at the same time.

LastMangoInParis Thu 02-Aug-12 22:51:42

whathasthecatdonenow - I'm not sure that I've got anything useful to say, but I want to say this anyway.
Firstly, to send you good thoughts and best wishes, but secondly to question the idea that you should feel obliged to put into words what happened.
I say this because I worked with a counsellor a few years ago who was very keen to get me to talk 'directly' about specific things that had happened in my past. She wanted me to describe actual events and I couldn't do this. I felt like I was failing and sabotaging her and myself by being weak. Similarly to you, perhaps, I was able to talk around them, not to recount them directly. When she effectively asked me to do so - she would say "You haven't actually said what happened" as if I was somehow stymying my own progress and making her job harder by not doing so - my instant reaction was that if I went there then I'd start vomiting there and then, make a terrible mess of her consulting room, make her angry, humiliate myself, etc. (I'd actually look around for the nearest place to throw up: waste paper bin, windows, corner by door - I knew I wouldn't make it to the toilet and would get really worried about this.)
I then worked with a therapist who never 'prodded' me to disclose anything directly. She understood the complexities of the effects of what I'd gone through. It helped a great deal, because she wasn't putting me under pressure and I didn't feeling that I was 'failing' or being difficult, lazy or selfish in not supplying her with the gory details.
Things aren't perfect for me now, but they're much better.
I think the belief that someone is failing to manage or some to terms with traumatic events if they don't describe it in detail in quite prevalent, but I think it's wrong.
I don't know if that's helpful, but I feel quite strongly about it.

NanaNina Thu 02-Aug-12 23:49:42

Me too so sorry cat - can't remember your long nickname! I don't think it's at all unusual to have this kind of block about past trauma. I have a friend who is saying exactly the same thing as you and she has had 3 sessions of therapy and is unable to "get the words out of her mouth" but the therapist says it doesn't matter how long it takes, she will get there in the end.

I do worry a little that you say you "think you caused the incident, you are ashamed about it, and shouldn't have let it happen" - this too is quite a common reaction to the trauma, but completely unfounded in the vast majority of cases. I think by now most of us know what this word is that you can't say but that is no help to you I know.

The only thing I can suggest which you haven't tried is art therapy or music therapy. I have a close friend who is an art therapist and works with people with mental illness, many with the kind of post trauma that you are suffering from. She doesn't ever go into detail about her work, as she sees it (quite rightly) as private in the sense of being between her and the client. I have no idea whether it would ease things up for you a little, but maybe worth a try. My friend works in Bristol at a place called "The Studio Upstairs" and clients do pay for the therapy but not a great deal, because they have always been funded by the LA but they are cutting the funding due to budget problems.

You could google art therapists in your area. I know nothing about music therapy either, but my friend talks of her colleague being a music therapist. You don't have to be able to draw or paint for art therapy as it is all very non directive - no one would put pressure on you at all - of that I am sure.

Do hope you find a way of finding some relief from the emotional pain, which in my view is so much worse than physical pain.

hellymelly Fri 03-Aug-12 00:12:57

I don't think you need to say it out loud to get better. You have written it down, you know in your own head what happened, and I think that is enough. I had a similar thing, and I still don't like saying it out loud, if I do talk about it I get nightmares again and feel more panicky, but I feel as though the help I had for my PTSD did work, in that it doesn't have much impact on my life now.
There is the attitude now that you have to get everything out in the open and talk about it for things to improve, and I can see that talking can sometimes diminish things and take away the huge weight they can have, put them into the past where they belong. But equally there is a lot to be said for just getting on with living, you will never be the person to whom nothing bad happened, and at some point you have to put a lid on that a bit to survive. Many men came back from WW2 and never spoke to their families about what they had been through, but still lived happy lives, had children, were loved.
When I was treated for my PTSD there was something I couldn't say out loud, I was asked to write it down, and I did, but actually that wasn't what helped particularly. Having someone be kind and tell me that I would feel better with time was the thing that helped, not her reading this small bit of information, which on paper (literally!) wasn't the worst thing that had happened, but was the thing that preyed on my mind the most.

Sometimes it just takes time for things to get into their proper place and really feel like part of the past, you grow older and change, and it just becomes less and less part of your daily thoughts. I have a bad nightmare maybe once or twice a year now, and the triggers are predictable. Some things will always frighten me, and I am more of an anxious person than I think I would have been, but other than that it isn't an issue.
I had Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it is very practical and not focused on raking up the past at all, just dealing with how you feel now, have you been offered this? I was treated at the PTSD clinic in Charlotte St, London. If it is still there (I was treated about 15 years ago) then ask to be referred by your GP, or call the clinic and ask them.
Things can get better, really, you don't have to be defined by this for ever.
<hug>

LastMangoInParis Fri 03-Aug-12 00:24:54

Really well said, hellymelly - and so true.
We're all much more than the sum of our parts, and helpful as therapists can be, I think they sometimes overlook this unless they're very, very exceptional and gifted. hellymelly's example of WW2 survivors is a really good one, and much as therapists can be lifesavers, they also often work to a 'programme' which can be overly prescriptive and a bit academic. Formal therapy can be of huge value, but also make me think "There are more things in heaven and earth... than your philosophy..." (or however it goes).

chocolatecrispies Fri 03-Aug-12 07:54:36

I am a trauma therapist. You don't need necessarily to say what happened to you, this is not a magic solution. Your description of EMDR doesn't sound quite right to me - was the person you saw accredited? Also, writing can and does help enormously, have a look at Pennebaker's website on writing to heal. You need to write things down repeatedly though, not just once. Hth.

MsGee Fri 03-Aug-12 08:04:45

I had human givens therapy and it helped me a lot. I'd previously been told I'd failed at counselling because of my refusal to talk about what happened to me.

Human givens therapy was great - I didn't need to talk about it at all, we just worked through simple steps to sort of desensitise it. Am happy to send more details if you want.

NaturalWinningNaturesTeamGB Fri 03-Aug-12 09:01:36

Hello, I have been having therapy for a trauma and have never said it out loud, my therapist has asked but I can't do it.

I have written it, I have said it almost so people know the general gist but I doubt I'll be able to say it

I have done art therapy and use music alot. I also use exercise as a way to channel the more extreme emotions

I also use a lot of "grounding" techniques too which really help

The whole combination together seems to be working but it's taken about 3years

Hang in there

timetomoveon Fri 03-Aug-12 13:32:25

I had PTSD following childbirth. I had brainspotting therapy and didn't have to 'say out loud' the details of what happened. It was only after I'd finished the treatment that my therapist asked 'would you like to tell me exactly what happened?' and I could.

If you google 'brain spotting therapists', I'm pretty certain that there is 1 or maybe 2 in the UK (assuming that you're in the UK).

timetomoveon Fri 03-Aug-12 13:33:36

I meant to add - one of the things that stopped me from getting help for over 2 years after the birth was the idea that I would have to talk about it every week. I knew there was no possible way that I could do that.

BabsJansen Fri 03-Aug-12 15:00:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

whathasthecatdonenow Fri 03-Aug-12 15:15:37

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reply. I have a GP appointment this evening as I feel on the edge of doing something stupid, so I will see if I can get back into the system.

The EMDR was with a psychologist from the Occupational Health Service of my work, so I assume he was fully accredited. I had it for an hour each Wednesday morning before work. I had to start remember either side of the event, then work up to remembering the actual incident backwards. This was the point I flipped out and did a runner. Then I had the police looking for me because of concern for my welfare. I felt the psychologist was very impatient with me, constantly wanting me to rate how distressing the memories were on a scale of 1-10 and if it didn't go down he got frustrated.

That's how I feel about all the therapies I've had - that basically the counsellor/psychologist gets frustrated and bored with me after about 5 sessions because I can't go further. I have had CBT, but again was discharged because I couldn't make the leap into believing that the 'negative' thoughts weren't true. I even typed out a list of my failures to try to prove how awful I am.

mosp Fri 03-Aug-12 17:38:52

Oh it's a horrible feeling when you think they're getting impatient. I briefly saw a university counsellor and she was nearly tearing her hair out and shouting "IT WASN'T YOUR FAULT" at me. And that was when I could manage to tell what happened. It is in the years that have passed since then that the 'mutism' developed.
Please keep posting if it helps. I am really hoping you get the right therapy that works for you.

yellowraincoat Fri 03-Aug-12 17:44:52

Any therapist who makes you feel that you have somehow "failed" at therapy isn't really doing their job properly in my opinion. Humans aren't machines, it's not like trauma happens, get therapy, human automatically repaired.

I hope you keep trying to find therapy that's right for you and helps you a little.

whathasthecatdonenow Fri 03-Aug-12 18:56:02

No hope at all now. GP says he can refer again but outcome will be the same if I can't make the leap. Just got to keep taking the sertraline and hope that this will help with the overwhelming panic that just thinking about thinking about the incident brings on. Only other option he can offer me is to try to get me admitted to hospital.

I am struggling right now to see any point in continuing this existence, because this isn't living. There is no way I can go back to work after the holidays like this, and work is all I have.

mosp Fri 03-Aug-12 19:25:10

It's hard for me to say it because what you are saying is so familiar, but there is a point for you to exist, and there is hope for you.
Maybe worth explaining to your GP that there are alternative therapies out there, such as the ones described on this thread.
It is draining having to keep asking and asking, but I reckon it is the only way to eventually get the right help for you.
I have also been seen by numerous professionals and the latest one is the only one I feel positive about. I don't even know why.
Is there anyone who can go with you to an appointment to give you moral support? X

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