One woman’s unique journey from cancer to cancer recovery

Written by By Kara McVeigh, Special to CNN

It is a strange thing to endure psychological torture — and not to have it end in imprisonment or with some kind of punishment.

However, one of the remaining hard facts of life is that many people receive physical punishment, for a mere trifle. But in our case, I was successfully treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

While I was still suffering in some ways from PTSD, there were also significant changes in my mental state. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a symptom of trauma: the fear, nervousness, and flashbacks of the threats you were subjected to.

Related content All about Pat Mayo’s memoir

This condition can impair your thinking, make you feel paranoid and often has a similar feeling to what the patients have said about electroshock therapy.

My trauma started the year before I went back to training and was the result of an accident on the horse-riding trail near my college. I had been riding an unguarded trail when my horse fell down, catching my foot and kicking off my right leg.

In the long process of getting over this, my mental well-being suffered. I started compulsively checking bicycles near our home before I went out — to make sure I was in fact out there in the open. If I saw a police officer near my bike, I would walk on into town, terrified of being found out.

But I was still riding, just hidden. Then when I was on the rebound after some trauma and confusion with my diagnosis and treatment, there were new things that hadn’t occurred to me.

I saw a therapist who had multiple patients with PTSD suffer flashbacks of their traumas — and not all their symptoms are vivid visual — and these individuals suffered from paranoia and self-reproach. Another therapist confided in me the day we met about two of his patients who were afraid of night. For one of them, it was his near-death experiences that had kept him fearful in life.

Related content ‘I don’t always eat vegetables,’ says a famous chef in a dark comedy (and then we die)

These experiences as shared by others and what they’re going through all melted together in my mind and came to life to me. I suddenly wasn’t trusting my own reactions, my reactions to what I was seeing; I was afraid they would affect what I was thinking in this situation.

In the end, I decided to try cognitive rehabilitation. For almost 10 years, I’ve worked with a psychologist in the form of CBT. We address fear, flashbacks, in-depth problem-solving, meditation, and body and mind healing.

These cognitive techniques, it turns out, are exactly what our brains require to remember a painful situation — as well as how to learn and maintain our focus on it. CBT ultimately teaches your brain to avoid the same type of experiences, eventually helping your brain return to its natural and healthy state.

Cognitive rehabilitation is like a learning process that strengthens your memory.

I knew the results wouldn’t show up overnight, and that’s not easy to get. But it is possible — and if that happens, you will have a more balanced brain and you will probably be able to sleep better.

Annie McVeigh is the editor of psychology special projects at BBC News (l, r) Annie McVeigh

The next time I was given a reminder of something I had seen happen in my life, I’d remember it then.

That moment or memory coming back is a reminder that we must give ourselves new goals. We must not take on the same situations over and over again, and change them.

When I told my therapist about my new approach to OCD, she said: “No matter what, don’t panic if you have a flashback now.”

She was right. I didn’t. All I needed to do was make sure I didn’t react in panic. To change, you must accept.

Leave a Comment