As I mentioned the Baltic Exchange bomb was in 1992. In the immediate aftermath and, in fact, the months following, I was not aware of feeling any bad effects at all. Apart from the extreme fatigue during those first two weeks. In retrospect I know that what I actually did was bury it away in a box and I failed to deal with it at all. I think this happened for two main that predisposed me. One was down to how I had conditioned my self, the other was down to the behaviour of another person at this time. I will talk about both these things another time.
The first indication of PTSD came on the first anniversary. I had not even realised it was the anniversary. At this time I was living in a flat-share. I was pottering about in my bedroom and half listening to the news on the TV. An article came on about the Baltic Exchange and it was like a switch had been flicked. I went into a massive flashback and then I became a jittery sobbing wreck. It was incredibly disorientating as it had come out of the blue.
Even then I kept myself in denial. I dismissed it as not being a problem and something that would sort itself out over time. Over the coming months the symptoms became more and more obvious and intrusive. Repeated and frequent flashbacks, nightmare, lack of sleep and all the other associated symptoms. These all eventually reached an intolerable peak. At this time the relationship I was in was failing badly (although, truthfully, it had never been right) and was seriously abusive (see footnote below). By a coincidence I happened to read an article about a trail for PTSD treatment asking for people to take part. I don’t actually think I knew what PTSD was until I read this and realised it matched what I was going through.
So, I self referred, had an assessment and was diagnosed with PTSD. Then the treatment began. I had a mixture of cognitive therapy and exposure therapy. This was incredibly hard work, particularly the exposure therapy. Over ten sessions it involved building my exposure to memories of the actual incident. From talking about it in great detail, to looking at photographs etc. The sessions were recorded and I had to listen to the tape every day until the next session. This was incredibly hard. Not just because I had to daily go over things. I hate listening to recordings of my voice for a variety of reasons. so the mechanics of the process were hard. Looking back on listening to the tapes it was very apparent that my jester’s mask was still in place. as soon as things became uncomfortable I would joke and mess around and make my therapist laugh. Eventually I went to the scene of the bomb with my therapist and subsequently with a friend.
By the end of this treatment I felt I was much improved. But, again with hindsight, I was not fully repaired. I had a number of relapses of varying severity. For example following the Oklahoma bombing. I also had quite a major setback after my father died but was told this was to be expected. In the end I think all I succeeded in doing was burying it again. And there it stayed. waiting to get me again!
Footnote. I think that as the severity of my PTSD increased the abusiveness of the relationship I was in contributed to how bad I felt. There were lots of punches thrown and quite a few bruises. Culminating in a full-blooded kick to the face, a nose spread across the face and two operations to repair that. Just to clarify, because some people will read this the wrong way round, it was my partner who was doing the punching and kicking. It was a difficult time. It is very hard to defend oneself without actually hurting the other person and I didn’t want to hurt her. After my face was smashed people expressed suprise that I had not retaliated. For a brief moment I nearly did. Considering I had PTSD at the time it is actually quite remarkable that I didn’t. When I went for an appointment with the consultant prior to surgery I explained it had been caused by my partner kicking me in the face. The nurse present said “You must have been really winding her up” I wonder if she would have said that to a woman who had been kicked in the face by a partner. In actual fact I had not been winding her up. I was putting on shoes to walk away from her angry behaviour; something that lit a fuse in her.