You may think that it’s strange for an ordained minister to be open and honest about their mental health struggles but I am not ashamed or scared to be vulnerable, I live life with C-PTSD. When I first heard PTSD, my response was that’s something people in the armed forces get isn’t it? My therapist turned to me and said no Claire, anyone who has experienced trauma in their life can have PTSD. It was like a light bulb moment for me, finally I could put a name to all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that would pulsate through my body at the most inconvenient moments. I could understand why my sleep patterns were messed up, why I was exhausted all the time even if I hadn’t been busy, I was living life in fight or flight mode. Adrenaline flowed through my body, keeping me on alert basically all the time. The slightest noise startled me, new surroundings or recurrent physical illness made me anxious and stressed, even normal everyday smells that reminded me of the tough times made my stomach do somersaults. I became a shadow of the person I once was. I couldn’t find my voice or my words, I struggled to identify what was going on within me, I would sit in silence at times when asked a question. I would avoid eye contact and to a certain degree I became withdrawn, life was passing by but for me it was just about surviving from one day to the next.
As I have learned more about C-PTSD I realised that I could begin to rebuild my life again, nothing was off limits. For so long I felt that I never was going to be able to live a fulfilling, enriching life, it seemed like a dream. Fast forward to now, as I have learned to manage my C-PTSD I have been able to achieve things that previously I would have been scared to even think about. I attained my Masters of Theology, was ordained and began to do some training in Mental Health. I’m able to use my new found voice to sit on a mental health work stream for the Western Trust and share my story with others to show them that recovery is possible.
Life maybe looks a little different than I had imagined, but that’s ok. I have found that I thrive on routine, there are times when I just need space to rest and restore my body and mind. Through my recovery journey I have learned coping mechanisms, and various techniques that help me manage my C-PTSD. No longer does it have that strong firm grip it once had on me, I have my strong grip on it. I am able to show others that it is possible to have a life, an enriching, fulfilling and rewarding life where hopes and dreams no longer seem so far away, they are just around the corner.
Written by Rev Claire Henderson (Derry and Raphoe)
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