PTSD & SELF-HARM
Updated: Apr 2
In her own words:
Steph Felgate is a drinker of coffee, user of sarcasm, small town lesbian looking to make a difference by sharing her experiences with mental health with the world.
Today, I'm interviewing Steph about her experiences with anxiety, depression and PTSD. She's also opening up about the very real issue of self-harm which has affected her life.
1) Hey Steph, how are you?
I’m alright, a little tired and in dire need of coffee but that’s nothing new!
2) How are you really?
Honestly, I’m not great. This year has been a difficult one for everyone but for me especially. Definitely not looking forward to Christmas this year without my grandparents and my mental health has hit a bit of a wall. Some days are better than others as I’m sure you understand.
3) What made you reach out to share your mental health experiences through this interview?
I think it’s incredibly important to raise awareness about all forms of mental health especially PTSD, anxiety and the lesser mentioned forms of mental health. I run my own blog called TheSarcyLesbian on Wordpress which allows me to talk about my own personal experiences, but I do find conversing with others about your experiences is much more beneficial, almost like a form of mutual therapy without the scary analytical stranger writing down your every thought.
4) What mental health diagnoses and mental health issues you have experienced?
Well, anxiety and depression I have had from a very early age. I was diagnosed at 14 with these and it’s been an ongoing battle mixed with the always lovely suicidal tendencies and self-harm (in various forms). More recently I have been diagnosed with PTSD which became an issue after certain memories that my psyche had blocked out started to come back to me. It actually started with severe night terrors which I used to get as a kid but I thought it was perfectly normal, then due to this year being incredibly stressful it brought those back again and I had to seek a professional opinion.
5) Do you remember what life felt like before experiencing depression?
Unfortunately, I don’t. It sounds horrible to say this but it’s almost like the part of me before I had depression was never real. I don’t really remember very much from my childhood and if I do, the good memories are few and far between. It’s like trying to find someone in really thick fog. I know that part of me is out there somewhere but I haven’t a bloody clue how to find her. The more I search, the more of a headache it becomes.
6) Do you have any coping mechanisms to help you through a day when you are depressed?
Music and art have always been a huge part of my life. Being able to shut myself off from the world and play guitar or bass has helped. Reading also allows me to see things from someone else’s perspective which I think we forget to do a lot of the time. It’s so easy for us to lose ourselves in our own internal battle that we forget the bigger picture. I try to combat this by writing down my experiences in my blog and reading what I write to gain a little perspective on my own circumstances, it also helps me cope when I can go back and read some of the amazing comments that people leave for me and know that I’m bringing comfort to someone else in a time of need. If I can be that voice to someone that I so desperately needed early on in my life, that saves someone or makes them feel at peace, then that’s all I could ask for.
7) How does Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affect your life?
It’s affected my life to various degrees. Sometimes I can go days without anything happening, but stress is a major trigger for me. It feels as though every muscle and nerve in my body is constantly wound tight. I become erratic and can’t control my actions. I constantly run on adrenaline during these periods, like I’m constantly in danger even though nothing out of the ordinary is happening. It’s exhausting sometimes and I find myself unable to breath. On occasion it’s got so bad that I’ve had to lay on the floor and try to concentrate on my breathing just to stop myself fainting. During the worst periods I get flashbacks of things that have happened and it’s like I can feel it happening all over again, not just emotionally but physically. Like muscle memory I can feel those particular touches or hear certain things being said to me even though no one is around.
8) Do you have any particular triggers for your PTSD? And if so, how do you deal with those triggers?
I have a few triggers. When I was younger, I used to have a real issue with strangers touching me, especially the opposite sex. I always felt like they meant harm even if it was an accident. As a result, I was unable to go out for a long time and to this day there are very few people I will allow to touch or even hug me without feeling sick or anxious. Another major one is the sound of breaking glass. If I were out somewhere and someone dropped a tray of drinks or whatever, I would completely freeze up. The sound seemed to go on forever, becoming more and more high pitched, like ringing in my ears. I wouldn’t be able to hear anything else around me except that sound. Over time I have slowly forced myself to have contact with these triggers bit by bit. A lot of it is down to trust. The trust I put in my friends for instance, when I’m out, is a major thing. I need to know I’m safe and that if anything happened, I would be able to get out of there quickly. I also have a habit of making note of all the doors in a pub, bar or restaurant and the quickest route out if I need it. I’m constantly checking and analysing my surroundings without anyone being aware of this. One day I might actually be able to drink a pint at the same pace as my mates without having to map out full-blown mental blueprints in my head before taking a sip!
9) Is there anything anyone else could do to help you to manage your PTSD?
The thing with PTSD is that is can be an incredibly isolating and debilitating condition. Understanding and patience is key when dealing with someone with PTSD. You have to remember that if someone chooses to leave early it may be down to something like this, in which case let them leave. Don’t try and force them to stay longer. At the same time it may also stop them going out at all. As some of my friends know, I can be incredibly stubborn about going out sometimes but it’s not because I don’t want to go, it’s because I’m afraid. Sometimes I just need a gentle nudge and to know that I’m going to be safe. Being able to come home at night is a big part of it for me. If I can’t get back to my own space once the evening is over then that will definitely affect my decision as to whether I go out or not. So in a nutshell, a lot of it I have to manage myself but patience, persistence in the right circumstances and understanding are things others need to remember.
10) What is the most challenging part of PTSD for you?
I’m someone who plans out every aspect of their life. I need to have control and know what’s going to happen in my day otherwise I get uneasy. I have been working on this recently to allow myself a little spontaneity, but PTSD really puts a spanner in the works when it comes to knowing what’s going to happen next. The biggest challenge is never knowing when or how it’s going to get triggered. I could be anywhere and doing anything when it happens, but I can’t live my life in fear of being caught off guard.
11) How has anxiety impacted your life?
Anxiety is a bitch. Plain and simple. I get anxiety about absolutely anything, all it takes is for me to misread someone’s text message and it sends me into a downward spiral. “What do they mean by that?” “Have I done something wrong?” “Maybe I’ve really annoyed them?” Then it turns into “I reckon they mean this.” “I’ve definitely done something.” “Oh yeah, no I’ve really pissed them off.” And the text could be as simple as “Yeah, no Probs.” Literally, I’ve had entire days ruined by stupid replies like this. It’s nothing they’ve done, I just start overthinking and it spirals so fast that I don’t even realise it’s happening. I’m always second guessing myself or retyping the same message over and over, rewording what I’m going to say to someone in my head- do I bring it up and ask them if I’ve done something or do I just leave it alone? But if I leave it alone is it going to upset them more and make them think I’m a right ass? It’s never ending!
12) You’ve mentioned to me previously that you have struggled with mild insomnia, would you say any of your mental health diagnoses are linked to the insomnia? If so, how?
It’s hard to say really which one is linked to my insomnia but I reckon my PTSD is definitely a contributor. My insomnia comes in waves and I’m fortunate enough to only rarely get it as I know others can go months without sleeping. When I do get it, it lasts for a few days at most and usually comes off the back of a PTSD episode. When I get stressed out, it not only causes flashbacks but night terrors, these night terrors can feel so real it’s like the person is in the room with me again. In turn, this causes me not to want to sleep. Even though it’s not real, I’d give anything to not have to go through it again.
13) Can you tell me what kind of thoughts have gone through your mind when you have self-harmed?
For me, it’s like turning a pressure valve. All this blackness just bubbles up under the surface, it gets hard to breath and it’s like someone’s tightening a vice around my heart. When I self-harmed, it allowed me to release that build up but it also allowed me to feel anything but what I felt inside. I focused on what I was doing, focused on the pain or the intoxication and just allowed myself to be consumed by something new and different. The problem with self-harm is it’s like an addiction. The more you do it the more desensitised you become to it. What worked before suddenly stops working so well and you strive to find harsher and more punishing ways to turn that valve again.
14) Do you have ways of coping with the feeling of wanting to harm yourself?
I have to keep busy. Whatever it takes to not let myself fall for it. A lot of the time I leave the house completely and just walk until I'm exhausted. I’ll take photos and go through them when I get home. I take my time to examine the images and edit them so by the time I’m finished I’m too tired to even consider moving. I probably shouldn’t say this but a glass of whisky also helps, everything in moderation is how I tend to live, obviously this doesn’t work for everyone.
15) If anyone is reading this today and is struggling with self-harming, what would you like to say to them?
I know how it feels. That’s the most important thing to remember is you are not the only one who feels the way you do and although it is terrifying and bewildering, you can pull through this. You don’t know how strong you are until strength is the only thing you have left. All you need to do is find the strength to reach out and someone will be there ready to pull you to safety. You don’t have to go through this alone. One day, you will look back at those dark moments and the marks you bare, and on that day I want you to look at those marks as medals and remember those dark times as obstacles you overcame and remember, you survived the hardest battle of all.
16) Tell me about yourself, without referring to your mental health diagnoses or issues…
Now this question really threw me! I spend a large portion of my life thinking about myself as someone who suffers with my mental health, and I spend a lot less time thinking about the rest of me. In a nutshell I am a bit of jack of all trades. I have my blog, and a new podcast which is doing very well for itself called Turn It Up to 11 (Spotify, Anchor.FM, Facebook, Instagram). In the new year I am also looking to start my own podcast based off of the blogs I have been writing for a year. I’m compiling a book of poetry that I have written over the years, and rewriting some bits (which were, in all honestly, god awful). I’m looking to start writing music again and would love to start being able to play with others once all this pandemic bullshit is over! I also mentioned previously that I like to take photos quite often, so for anyone interested I have a photography profile on Picfair under the name ArCaneArts.
17) How easy or difficult do you find it to reach out for help?
Oh, I’m an absolute nightmare at reaching out for help. It’s definitely not something that comes naturally to me no matter how hard someone tries to get it out of me. One friend does check in regularly hoping that one day I might actually talk to him about what’s going on. I think he may have a heart attack on the day that happens.
18) For someone who has never experienced depression, how would you explain it to try to help them to understand what it’s like?
It feels like you are stuck on this island in the middle of the pitch-black ocean at night. In the distance you can see a tiny rowboat with a lantern and someone placing the oars into the water. You know if you could just get their attention you could be saved. You focus all your energy on that tiny flicker of light and shout across to get their attention, but the more you shout the further away your salvation gets. The further away the light gets until, eventually, the light is gone completely and you are consumed by darkness.
19) What is your personal goal mental health wise?
My goal is to accept myself as a whole person. Not as two separate versions on myself. The version that is healthy, free and happy, and the darker side which I struggle to keep a lid on. I shouldn’t have to keep a part of myself caged up to feel more human. This is who I am, but more importantly I deserve to be happy. I want to be happy one day and stop being so afraid of something bad going wrong the moment things are good. I’m very good a self-sabotage and that needs to stop.
20) How do you feel after answering these questions today?
I feel a sense of accomplishment that I was able to talk about certain aspects of myself a little more. Even in my blog I struggle to write about certain things, but I feel a sense of relief for finally being able to get it out in the open. I just hope that this reaches someone who truly needs it, and it helps others to gain a better understanding.
Thank you so much Steph for sharing such personal experiences with us today. I have no doubt this will reach someone who needs it. I'm really proud of you for sharing these aspects of your life to raise more awareness, and I hope you are too. Look after you, you're important.
Check out more of Steph's work here...
I recently did an interview with Steph on her blog about my mental health experiences, you can check that out via this link!... https://thesarcylesbian.home.blog/2020/11/22/the-sarcy-les-interviews/?fbclid=IwAR3c9-WtBOP4QgYF1Q17N-WPNMl1lcIz8kbvIL4l2WMAfTTg66OehH60rY4
If you're reading this today and you're struggling with your mental health in any way, please REACH OUT! Speak to someone you trust, see a doctor, or you can go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find some useful contacts.
There is help out there for you and you are worth helping.