PTSD survivor backs It's OK to Say campaign and reflects on battle with mental health issues

PUBLISHED: 15:00 24 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:01 06 February 2019

Author of  'Beach Hut', written during a difficult time with PTSD. Picture: Supplied by Catherine Lawless.

Author of 'Beach Hut', written during a difficult time with PTSD. Picture: Supplied by Catherine Lawless.

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An author from Redbourn has opened up about her experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder .

Catherine on  a dog walk with her two Border terriers. Picture: Supplied by Catherine Lawless.Catherine on a dog walk with her two Border terriers. Picture: Supplied by Catherine Lawless.

Catherine Lawless spoke to the Herts Ad about how she has used her trauma to help others through her work.

The 50-year-old, who lives in High Street, had battled with PTSD for many years before she found that writing from a log cabin in her garden was helping her through one of the hardest times of her life.

Faced with extreme agoraphobia as part of her PTSD, her husband, Carl, decided to build her a refuge in their garden. This meant that Catherine was able to leave the house and still feel well and safe.

It was there that Catherine, who was previously a beauty therapist, was inspired to write ‘Beach Hut’, a romantic novel for which a publishing deal was signed just last week.

The Herts Ad has partnered with leading anxiety specialist Stacey Turner on the It’s OK To Say campaign, encouraging people to speak out about mental ill health before it escalates and obtain the support needed to maintain a healthy and happy life.

Catherine is backing the campaign, as she knows first-hand the benefit of speaking out about trauma and anxiety.

She has PTSD as a result of a childhood trauma and it spiralled horribly in 2013: “I feel very passionately about PTSD.

“The book is the result of me writing a wonderful world for myself. A different world from the one I was in.”

“It is a romantic novel with the main character experiencing the same condition I have.

“It was a form of escaping for me.

“I would describe the book as light-hearted and bitter-sweet whilst also covering some hard-hitting issues.”

Catherine explained how she landed a publishing deal: “I went swimming as a form of relaxation - exercise is very good for people with PTSD.

“I was talking about my book to the lady swimming next to me who then said she was a publisher!”

Catherine met with some military people who had become severely unwell with the condition upon leaving the forces.

She explained that she realised how difficult opening up can be, especially for men.

Tom, a St Albans man who has PTSD as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire knows this all too well.

He said: “Talking to friends about my fears was not really an option.

“They would just tell me that I needed to move on and stop dwelling on the past.”

Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Jonathan Hutchins of Hutchins Psychiatric Services in Chequer Street explained how PTSD works.

He said: “The brain gets stuck in a specific moment in time where the trauma memory doesn’t get processed.

“The brain shuts down as it becomes too overwhelmed.

“Whilst rationally a person might know that they are safe, a part of them is stuck feeling in danger.

“This leads to feelings of instability and fear - people might start to avoid work and relationships.”

Dr Hutchins offers Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing therapy which he has used to alleviate the affect of trauma.

He also suggested three techniques which can be used at home.

They are grounding - focusing on the present through self-talk, placing the trauma in an imaginary shipping container and finding a safe space - which evokes positive feelings - through visualisation.

When staff at Women’s Aid read the book they decided to make Catherine a Campaign Champion for dealing with such an important and sensitive topic.

Catherine wants to take the stigma out of talking about mental illness.

She said: “I hope I can do something to reach people so they know there are other people who have gone through what they have. That is my goal for this book.”

Stacey Turner added: “PTSD can occur from a single traumatic event or as the result of a number of events and can affect anyone at any age. It may take days, weeks, months or even years before symptoms manifest.

“One may feel trapped in the consuming presence of PTSD and usually, symptoms of depression and anxiety tag along. Acknowledging feelings and creating calm is important.

Pay attention to the physical symptoms you are experiencing. Even if you can’t leave the house due to physical and mental isolation, you can start by writing down how their feelings, reactions and also sleep patterns, any activity and food to establish if there’s loss of appetite or comfort eating. By doing this, a pattern soon becomes clear. Any treatment can change your life.

“It’s brilliant to see Catherine Lawless be so open and honest about PTSD, providing hope for others. Highlighting PTSD may help someone recognise they have it and inspire them to reach out for help. “She is a hero in my eyes.”

Catherine’s book, Beach Hut, will be available soon from Waterstones, Harpenden Library and Amazon.

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