19 months after a traumatic response to arthritis medication led to PTSD (which I wrote about briefly last year), I finally moved back into my bedroom. The space where at 2.30am I awoke experiencing severe broncho-spasms and dramatic hallucinations. Breathing felt impossible and I was so scared that I thought ‘this is it’. Dogs’ faces and human teeth circled round in black and white when my eyes were closed. When I opened them, the horrible images vanished, so I quickly realised they weren’t real. But the breathing difficulties were very real and utterly terrifying. I ended up spending 2 days in hospital which allowed enough time for the drug to leave my system. A while later I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and started cognitive behavioural therapy which included ‘exposure therapy’.
One aspect of Exposure Therapy involved listening to a recording of my voice recounting the events of that night again and again to try and make sense of each stage (guided by the therapist each time). Exposure therapy was difficult but revisiting that night helped me to see what happened in a different way. When I thought I was dying, I was actually experiencing a severe (and luckily very rare) reaction to an RD drug.The CBT has been effective to a certain extent (i.e. I am not having panic attacks any more – I was having them several times a week at the start). However, I had been unable to move back into the bedroom until this week.
I decided to create new memories of the bedroom to separate it from ‘that night’. I have rearranged the furniture so the space looks and feels different. But actually moving back in and trying to sleep was harder than I’d anticipated. I’m still finding it hard to relax and to get to sleep. My therapist said that this was due to ‘Situationally Accessible Memories’ that were triggered by being back in the environment where the severe reaction to medication happened. Then because I feel anxious and have chest pain recalling the memories of that night, I feel I must be in danger. He pointed out just because it feels bad, doesn’t mean it is bad. So my chest pain is likely to be musculoskeletal pain associated with my rheumatoid disease and/or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome than my heart (which has been checked recently). The most useful piece of advice he gave me was ‘Don’t believe everything you think’ which is spot-on. I’ve still got some way to go but moving back into the bedroom after sleeping in the study for 19 months is a huge milestone.