PTSD Recovery Case Study

How Harry overcame PTSD

Reading about somebody else’s journey of overcoming PTSD may be useful to help you understand some of the feelings you might currently be feeling if you have experienced a traumatic event in your own life.

Below, Harry recounts his feelings after he survived a serious house fire at his home. The months which followed were defined by the PTSD which he suffered as a result of the trauma.

Hopefully, Harry’s story inspires you with the knowledge that recovery from PTSD is possible and worth the dedication to the healing process.

After The Trauma

After I had survived the actual trauma. I thought it was all over – but it was then when it all really began. For many months I was unable to get the images of the fire out of my mind. It was as if everyday parts of the trauma were happening again. I wanted to forget it, to put it behind me, to move on with my life, but it was as if the trauma wouldn’t let me. Worse still, not only were my days filled with terrifying reminders of what had happened to me but even when I tried to get some rest from it through sleep at night it wouldn’t leave me, I was haunted by repeated recurring nightmares which seemed so real that I often woke up screaming and crying, convinced it was happening all over again. I experienced terrifying body sensations, such as feeling the heat from the fire, the smell of the burning, choking and being unable to breathe. Even though it was all over, I felt as if I was still in it. Whatever I did it felt at the time that I just couldn’t move forward but was totally trapped by the trauma. It all felt so real that I was convinced that I was going mad.

A familiar Stress Response

Many people have the same, or very similar reactions and fears as Harry. People’s responses after trauma are often strong and overwhelming. It can feel very hard for people to get the trauma out of their head and they may ruminate or dwell on the different aspects of their experience over and over again. It might feel as if the traumatic event has taken over and this can be so distressing that it is quite common for people to feel that ‘they are going mad’ or ‘losing complete control over their life’.

Sometimes these thoughts and the overwhelming nature of the sensations related to the trauma can be so unbearable that people start isolating themselves from others more and more. They may feel very alone with their distress and no longer feel able to take part in their life as they had done before.

Such reactions are common and understandable responses to trauma. They are a sign that your autonomic nervous system is still stuck on ‘red alert’, as a result of being activated by the traumatic events. You may be relieved that you are not alone in experiencing these feelings. These are understandable reactions in the face of trauma and there are ways in which you can recover and heal.

Healing from PTSD

To overcome the effects of trauma it is necessary to examine and work through the experiences or events that still affect you in order to be able to change the distressing responses related to this. To cope with what has happened you need to understand your reactions, their very important role in ensuring your survival at the time and how the experiences are affecting you now. This may take some time to achieve, as it is very important that first of all you gain sufficient resources that will help your nervous system stabilise and enable you to feel safer again in the-here-and-now. Once this is achieved you can then start to face up to memories, thoughts, feelings and body sensations which may have been deeply buried in response to the trauma and now may be blocking your healthy functioning in life.

Working through a trauma can take many forms. Some people are able to do this by themselves, but many may benefit from specialist trauma therapy. There are no hard and fast rules. What works best for one person may not work for another. A specialist trauma assessment would be able to help you work out together with your therapist what might work best for you.

The one factor that is common to all recovery from trauma is that as you start to regain control and feel more regulated again internally, the trauma will gradually loosen its grip and it will start to feel easier for you to cope with life again.

Harry sought specialist trauma therapy and describes, below, how he experienced moving through the different stages of his recovery process.

At the Beginning of the Recovery Process

“It was as if the trauma had made me fall into a very deep waterless well. It felt very dark and lonely while I was down there and it took me a long time before I developed the courage to start climbing up its sides to get out of it. When I first started the climb I felt that I had no knowledge of what was waiting for me at the top. The higher I was able to climb, the more I feared that something at the top might make me fall down to the bottom again. It was as if I had lost all trust in my ability to cope with what was out there for me in the world. Sometimes, this fear even made me want to climb back towards the bottom of the well again. This was because I knew that if it came to another fall it would not be quite as deep to go down. At the same time, I knew that I had to continue ascending because the thought of staying at the bottom of this well and continuing my life in the grip of trauma, as it had been, was unbearable. The very supportive, understanding and encouraging relationship with my therapist helped me to keep going.”

During the Recovery Process

“It felt as if I was now a fair way up from the bottom of this well. I had come to a kind of resting place, from where, for the first time since the trauma, I could gather some strength again. From here I could start to see the sky above me and there were even days when I saw some brightness and could feel the pleasant warmth from the rays of the sun. I had by now acquired a number of really helpful resources during my therapy which I could apply to my daily life. I know that this gave me the strength to continue with the climb out of this well. I still didn’t know what was waiting for me out there once I reached the top of this well. I imagined that it might be like a huge roundabout with several roads radiating from it. At this stage, I was unsure which one of these would be the ‘right one’ for me to take.”

Towards the End of the Recovery Process

“I am now sitting on the edge of the well and the choice of roads available for me outside the well are only three. It does not feel as overwhelming as I thought it would be. I am now starting to feel more inner strength and confident enough to explore and travel along one of these roads. Before doing this, however, I decided to cover up the well. I felt I had come out of it and I now felt strong enough to live outside the well. I knew I was travelling along a totally different road compared to the one I had travelled on before the trauma. This was because the trauma had changed me, but this was not a negative change. In many ways, it felt better. I found that I had become a much more understanding and tolerant person. I had stopped taking life for granted, my life seemed much more meaningful and of value to me now. I realised that although I would never have wished to have experienced this trauma, the process of recovering from it helped me understand myself much better and made me feel internally stronger and more connected to who I feel I truly am. I feel more settled and happier in myself. I have become more aware of how precious life really is and I have a better sense now about the things that really matter to me in life. I will never forget the trauma, but it no longer hurts me to think about it nor does it occupy my daily life. Sometimes, I even feel that, however awful it was at the time, in the end, it helped me to find a different and better meaning for my life.”

Moving Forward from PTSD

Harry recovered from his trauma. The process of achieving this took him over a year from the date of the initial trauma. In his therapy, Harry was helped to use many different tools, strategies and resources to build the framework which allowed him to revisit his trauma in an emotionally safe and structured way. This allowed him to assimilate his experiences and find renewed positivity and purpose within his life.

Psychotherapies such as EMDR and Trauma-Focussed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) are both widely recognised as effective treatments to help recovery from PTSD. These are often most effective when combined with a range of body-centric techniques including Sensorimotor, CRM (Comprehensive Resource Model), Somatic Experiencing, Yoga and Mindfulness.

You can learn more about PTSD symptoms, how PTSD occurs and PTSD treatment options by following the links to our other PTSD resource centre pages below.

Overcoming Traumatic Stress 2nd Edition - dealing with how ptsd occurs, symptoms of ptsd, ptsd case study and ptsd treatments

These PTSD resource pages were drawn from The British Medical Book Awards commended, ‘Overcoming Traumatic Stress: A Self Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques, 2nd Edition’

If you are interested in going deeper into the topic of trauma recovery you can find out more about the book here: