What Does A Major PTSD Relapse Look Like?

CW: Heavy Mental Health, PTSD, Hospitals, Dissociation, Panic Attacks, Suicide Attempts

Me in Hospital Jan ’22

It’s a demon that can lurk in a box for years then consume your life with little warning. A PTSD relapse is something uncommon that happens to those with PTSD or C-PTSD where a small trigger or a flashback can snowball and reduce your mental health to being in “crisis” mode as if one of the major traumas happened again freshly.

For me the initial trigger was small, I was re-joining the local pup play social groups in March ’21 after a two year break, but trauma from the few individuals that hurt me last time flashed-back and snowballed. Within a week I was depressed, in tears for no reason for most of the day with flashbacks from all through my life and dissociate the rest of the day away. Within a few weeks I was getting caught saying goodbye to my puppy, writing final letters to friends and trying to hang myself; and this is when hospital stays and seeking professional help started to get involved.

My mind was a hurricane in a teacup, my sensory processing went into high overdrive where my dog barking would trigger a panic attack and I would need to hide in a dark quiet room for most of the day. My mind would relive traumas from childhood to the most recent ones, without me wishing or needing to think about them and my partner would regularly find me screaming either in terror or in pain from sheer overwhelmedness.

When a panic attack would overwhelm me, no friend, partner, nurse or specialist could help me out, I’d become a crying ball on the ground with no awareness of my surroundings and usually hit the worst when I start punching myself in the head with them lasting 20mins – 3 hours.

I’d go without food for weeks at a time and sometimes sleep 20 hours one day then not sleep for 5 days. No routines of homelife, creative hobbies or work left in my life with only partner and my closest friends to hold my hand to remind me that we will get through all of this together.

I’d dissociate so bad and disconnect from myself it would be as if I would sleepwalk and try to escape the house at night, which usually ended up with me having a fall as the ‘zoned out’ didn’t use my mobility equipment. This meant I had to be locked up at night with location tracking on just for my basic safety.

Chronic nightmares turned into night terrors where I would take a quiet nap in the afternoon and once my partner comes back from walking the dog, im screaming and thrashing around on the bed with a look of terror on my face. Terrified to go to sleep for night terrors, and scared to be awake from flashbacks and triggers.

I was lucky to find an EMDR therapist by June ’21 and begin the process of working through past traumas while I was regularly in and out of hospital. For anyone with trauma, big or small, I can’t recommend EMDR enough; I was sceptical of it at first, it’s a moving blinking light and you don’t talk much but after personally trying it as we crack the shell that contains my past, I would recommend it for anyone it’s suited for. Not only does it help ‘greyscale’ traumatic memories in a was you can process them without the emotional strings attached, but it’s helped me uncover my childhood and its garbled set of memories, I’m coming out of it as a more complete and understood person for myself, which is a win for anyone to achieve.

Walking Stick

July came around with good news, one of the treatments I started was CBD oil. This was an unexpected boost to my mobility. Beforehand I would have to use crutches around the house and the wheelchair when out and about. Now I can walk an entire kilometre assisted and my pain tolerance has improved drastically. This means if there’s a small trip out of the house to a single store, I can choose to walk with my stick and braces! It’s not only just wheelchair-bound for me anymore.

Learn more about the walking stick by clicking here.

November’s hospital admission was the worst of the worst, we had found a private psychiatrist to help me out, but instead of focusing on trauma, he focused on my sporadic weed consumption and without telling me put me in the addictions psych unit which I left after a week of the psychiatrist triggering the worst panic attacks in my life. Shortly after, with a mix of exhaustion from not being listened to and my therapist helping me reveal hidden forgotten childhood traumas, I lost my voice and my body decided to become nonverbal.

It’s not something someone can just choose to do, it makes a golf ball feeling in your throat and any attempt at talking with your vocal cords just hits a roadblock or stutters too much to have any kind of conversation. The doctors think this is another symptom linked to my traumas and not permanent; My partner and I have spent a few months having to adjust to this new way of life and I’ve grown some quick fingers to type as fast as I can on my phone to reply to people so I can still have conversations. This started in mid November and it’s already early February and its still daily hurdles, it’s made me a much better listener but I still miss every day being able to communicate as much as I used to.

Learn more about my experiences of being nonverbal by clicking here.

More Routines, $150/month worth

By December and January hospital admissions, this time I had been in hospital 6 times already for my mental health to either keep me safe or to monitor me with new medication regimes. Things started to turn around, not only with progress with therapy but I finally found a trauma-informed and trained psychiatrist willing to treat me for the situation I’m in. With his help and working with my therapist, we found a new medication routine for me, not just to help with depression but also to help nightmares, sleeping and dissociation issues.

I am now doing better though, with the major crisis issues managed, a support network of friends and professional supports. I can’t keep pretending how my past traumas have impacted me on a daily basis anymore and my therapist is working hard helping me learn a way of going through life with what I know now. This has been my third and worst PTSD relapse I’ve had in my life but I am much more prepared into what’s next and to make sure if I have another relapse, I’ll have a support network ready to jump in to help.

Hauraki, My Tokotoko; A Story

Despite my cPTSD crisis this year, getting access to CBD oil medicinally during it has helped my mobility a LOT!

I started from an ability to walk slow and painfully only with crutches and multiple braces for maybe 100 meters (110 yd) a day and my mobility.

Within the space of a month, I achieved to improve my mobility (maybe 250 meters / 273 yd a day in total, covid lockdown meant I wasn’t leaving home 99% of the time anyway) before I was in hospital for my mental health again (they still don’t allow prescribed CBD oil in hospital settings here in Australia), it got to the point that I started small shopping trips without the wheelchair so long the walking was short with pauses for my fatigue as well. I do still have to use the wheelchair most of the time when leaving the house and for the “bad days” when symptoms flare up.

Everything we do, wear and use can be a tool of self expression.
Not our opinions.

This made crutches, bulky and not necessarily needed every time im upright. When suggested, I was originally very anti-walking stick. You know the usual social stigma around them and how people with them are approached; I know ableism very well with 4 years so far using the wheelchair.

When something can end up becoming part of my identity, just like how people used to describe me as “that guy in the wheelchair with the mohawk” I know I want it to express my identity while being something for me above all, everything we do, wear and use can be a tool of self expression and that includes a walking stick and my friends know much i enjoy diversity and everyone to have the right to express themselves.

A tokotoko is a traditional walking stick in New Zealand. This one was carved by a hobbyist named Ted Hatchwell from the Waikato region, the same region I was born and spent my first eight years as a country kid.

The tekoteko (the person carved on the stick) is a human-like figure most commonly placed on the gable of a house or gateway, and is there to ward away evil spirits. I named this guardian Hauraki after the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland for a very special childhood memory.

When I was 10, I was sent by the school’s health nurse for a whole school term to “Health Camp” in Eastern Auckland area, which I later found out in adulthood was for vulnerable at-risk youth; as I was under heavy depression issues from home life and unable to make friends at school. The Maori cultural teacher became my go-to therapist with the rapport we built while I was there.

To watch the Taniwha under the cloud shadows cross the Hauraki Gulf, feeling them work their way around the island Motukorea to find their way back to land to find whatever person or place they feel need guarding.

I used to sit on top of the playing field every chance the weather allowed and watched the clouds roll over the Hauraki Gulf and over the land. She enjoyed how I would make up stories, merging maori mythology with my own creative ideas, and to this day her words of “if you were here before Europeans, you would be considered a great story teller.” After this experience, this is when I started journal keeping, took a leap and got into creative writing. I don’t remember her name but she was the first person ever to help me believe in my own abilities of telling stories and encouraging my passion in Maori culture.