Today on the blog I have Brittany who is sharing her experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The following post talks about violence and may be triggering. Please ensure that you are in a safe place mentally before continuing.
If you are struggling and need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline: 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636. Alternatively make an appointment to speak with your GP and discuss your options.
My first encounter as a mental health patient, was when I was 4.
I had just undergone extensive testing and was diagnosed with ADHD.
I was assigned a psychiatrist and prescribed Dexamphetamine, which I have now been taking for over 20 years.
I have been diagnosed as severely depressed, several times over the years, but fortunately it has been due to a situation I was living in or an incident and hasn’t dwelled for long.
This is my experience with PTSD.
I moved out of home when I was 19, into the only rental I could afford in Canberra, on my McDonalds wages, which happened to be shared community housing.
The complex comprised of 32 units, each accommodating 4-8 people.
You rented a room, but shared the common areas with the other tenants in your unit.
My room, like all the others, was very reminiscent of a jail cell.
It was 2.5 meters wide, by 3.5 meters long and had white rendered brick walls.
I thought that this would be my first step towards independence as an adult and that it would be a great experience.
Little did i know that I had just literally, stepped into hell and that my room would soon become my jail cell.
Though I had been assured by both a social worker at Centrelink and the housing association’s manager, that the complex was safe and that most of the tenants were workers or students, I quickly found that the tenants actually ranged from drug addicts to drug dealers, ex-cons, thieves and murderers.
A very small percentage were actually decent human beings, trying to live amongst the chaos and ours was the only unit, with tax-paying workers.
My first introduction to hell, started about a week after i moved in.
I awoke one morning, to find a man’s legs obstructing the view through my window.
He had hung himself from his heater, in the room above mine.
Then came the waves of stabbings, shootings, beatings and overdoses.
Despite my surroundings, I still felt relatively safe, as these incidents weren’t random and I kept as far under the radar, as I could.
However, I kept my family in the dark with what was happening and made sure that they didn’t visit.
A couple of months after I moved in, we received a request for a tenant and her boyfriend, to relocate to our unit.
There had just been a nasty stabbing in their unit, she was pregnant and had been in the unit at the time it had happened and now feared for her safety.
We became really good friends and things were looking up.
That was until a few weeks later, when the man who had stabbed the man in their old unit, found out where this couple was now living.
It was then, on the 17th of September, 2006, I experienced my first violent break-in.
The second he kicked in the front door, we scrambled into our rooms and locked the door.
He had brought 3 others with him and were out to harm.
I sat with my back pressed hard up against the door and my feet pushing against my chest of drawers; trying to keep them from breaking through.
I called 000 and begged them to hurry.
I could hear them kicking in every bedroom door, until they came to mine.
Once they found out which rooms weren’t empty, like the other 4, they teamed up and hit my room and the couple’s room, which was directly across the hall.
The solid door bowed with each kick.
I closed my eyes.
The lock broke.
Time sped up and slowed down, everything went black and then the police arrived.
I am a fairly resilient person, so I thought I would be ok.
I would just pick myself up, brush myself off and move forward with life.
But as much as I tried to resist it, I found myself consumed with fear.
A month later, the couple had moved from my unit and I had lost my job.
I was denied Centrelink payments for 16 weeks, so I was forced to live with only 12c in my bank account and 1kg of white rice in my cupboard.
My whole way of thinking changed and I became animalistic.
I locked myself into my 2.5×3.5m cell and only came out once every 3-5 days, to use the shower and toilet.
I found myself unconsciously bracing up against my door or standing in the middle of my room for hours on end, my whole body on high alert.
I tried to sleep for an hour a day, between 5 and 6am, however whenever I shut my eyes, I was overwhelmed with rapid eye movements and pulses and flashes, of light and colour.
I couldn’t watch tv with the sound on or have anything which made a sound on, because I needed to listen for any noises that may be coming.
I would press my ear to the door and window, trying to listen past the thumping pulse in my ears. I even taught myself to slow my breathing to 4 breaths per minute, so I could hear better and so no one could hear me breathe.
Showering was torture.
The white noise of the water was no longer soothing; all I could hear was screaming and banging and yelling.
I was diagnosed with severe PTSD, at my monthly Psychiatrist appointment. I hadn’t spoken to anyone apart from my psychiatrist, in weeks, when I was invited for dinner at the couple’s new apartment, just before Christmas of 2006. They had just had their baby and this was to be a celebration. However celebrations were cut short, when I started pacing their house, listening to the doors and windows and went into a delirious rant.
They called an ambulance and I was sent to the Calvary Mental Unit.
Ward 2N became my home for the next month. I was never told what I was supposed to do while I was there and I wasn’t sought by any of the psychiatrists. I was terrified and exhausted, I didn’t want to talk at that point, I just wanted to stay in bed, and try to get my head together.
Because I hadn’t made any progress by week 2, they thought that it would be reasonable to send me home. I was feeling a little better and I was no longer on-edge, so I left. However, 30 minutes after I arrived home, the building fire alarm went off and I was back to square one.
I called the mental unit and asked to come back. I stayed for the next 2 weeks, but only managed one counselling session, so they sent me home for good.
I would like to say that my problems ended there, but they didn’t.
New people moved in to our unit and things only got worse. For more than a year and a half, I was a prisoner within myself and my room.
I finally fled my unit and Canberra in August of 2008. I moved here to Central Queensland, and was finally able to exhale and relax.
It has been 8 years since the first attack. I still can’t have a shower without hearing banging, yelling and screaming. I still have upwards of 5 panic attacks, most nights before i fall asleep. My whole body goes stiff as a board and I unconsciously hold my breath, in waves of 30 seconds to a minute.
The war is still raging within me, but I have weapons now. I wont back down and wont let it defeat me!
Brittany, I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure all that- I can’t even imagine how awful those experiences were and it makes me so furious that the mental health system has let you down so badly. I hope you are getting the care you need to get well and that the anxiety is leaving you. Sending you a big virtual hug xx
Wow Brittany – what an amazing lady you are. Thanks for sharing your story with us. xxx
To speak with you without hearing this story shows a very different look of your life. And I’m not at all saying you don’t own that part of your life too, it just shows that everyone has their own story and has walked their own path that we will never know if we don’t sit down to listen or ask. Thank you for sharing your experience. xo
Brittany (and Tegan)
I’m glad you’ve (mostly) been able to seek help when you’ve needed it. I’m sure you’re constantly becoming more resilient.
Thanks for sharing.
That’s a terrible story Brittany. I’m glad to hear your resilience is building up again. It must have been a terrifying encounter and I doubt anyone would have been able to brush themselves off and move forward. Thank you for sharing and thank you Tegan for being such a warrior for the cause.
Wow. What a harrowing story! I’m shocked at the poor care you have been given, first by the dept of housing and Centrelink and then by the mental health system. How do places like that community housing building even exist in modern Australia?
I also live with PTSD after having been a victim of crime four times throughout my life but I have been so lucky to be able to afford private treatment.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I really hope you are able to get the care you need to help you turn this around. I know living with that kind of constant fear is excruciating and no one should have to put up with it.
How strong you are to be able to share your story Brittany – gosh what a scary place to live in.
QLD will help with the healing, hope you are able to seek help through sharing – talking is a good thing.
Hope you have family who can also give you love and support xxx