‘I have been to the depths of hell’: How one woman overcame post-traumatic stress disorder caused by sexual abuse

Published November 30, 2014 by JS2

Trina Smith suffered from eating disorders and tried to commit suicide after being sexually abused as a four-year-old

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Trina Smith has been to “the depths of hell” while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by years of sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

She was just four years old when the devastating abuse that later triggered years of eating disorders, self-harm and suicide attempts began, turning her life upside down.

“The eating disorders started when I was in my teens, even before I began to get really unwell,” she recalled.

“I had anorexia and bulimia and at one stage, I weighed five and a half stone. I started taking laxatives, which meant my body was trying to purge itself of something that wasn’t there.”

Trina was in and out of hospital from the age of 19 and was misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

“I ended up spending a long time in psychiatric hospitals,” she said. “When I was about 20, I spent a whole year in hospital – it was horrendous.

“I had a lot of treatment, but I was being treated for the wrong thing.”

Her condition worsened when she gave birth to her first son at the age of 24.

“It seemed to go in cycles. I would be unwell and then I would get better for a while, but then I would relapse,” she explained.

Trina and her husband Christian, a sergeant in the RAF, moved to Ammanford in 2010, which provoked another relapse.

She visited the community mental health team, who finally diagnosed her with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Following the diagnosis, Trina was offered eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy.

The treatment, which is approved by NICE and the World Health Organisation, is widely used to help soldiers suffering from the condition formerly known as “shell shock”.

“I was sceptical, but at that point I had suffered for so many years, it was either give it a try or give up,” she said.

“I had been spending five days a week in therapy, but nothing was working.”

Trina was particularly anxious about the impact her condition would have on her two sons – Kyle, who is now 17, Aaron, 10.

“My husband has stuck by me all the way through, but I was feeling guilty, worrying I was going to pass it on to the kids,” she said.

“I decided to give the treatment a go and if it did not work, I did not want to be here. I had already taken many an overdose to try and end it.”

The technique uses side-to-side eye movements to help people recover from traumatic memories. It is thought to help process distressing thoughts in a similar way to rapid eye movement during sleep.

“I thought it seemed a bit weird and I was apprehensive, but they gave me a lot of information and I have never looked back since,” she said.

“When I started the therapy, it was really hard. It lasted for about a year because of the extent of the abuse I had been through as a child.”

The mum-of-two went through every single memory and reprocessed it during the treatment.

“With PTSD, it is like your memories are in the here and now,” she explained. “I had every emotion and every feeling I had felt when I was five years old.

“About six months in, I started to notice a difference. The memories we had worked on were still there, but they were just memories with no emotional effect.”

Trina, who is now 38, is now able to think about the past and cope, without dwelling on it.

“For a couple of days after the session, it was difficult because the memory was at the forefront of my mind,” she recalled.

“But my therapist was always at the end of the phone and generally, I could go along the next week and speak about the memory with no emotional effect.

“We went through the memories one after the other until there were none left.”

Before the treatment, Trina was not able to look at photographs of herself as a child, but now, she can look through an album comfortably.

She also used to avoid seeing her seven-year-old niece.

“She looks so much like I did as a child, it was too painful,” she said.

“But I saw her this summer and I was able to pick her up and hug her. It just felt different.”

Trina is now training as a mental health nurse and is currently completing a placement on an acute ward in Carmarthen.

“I was nursed by so many different people and had some awful experiences, but there were some really good nurses. I want to be like those few who gave me time and wanted to be with me, they helped me and gave me hope,” she said.

“I always felt like I needed a reason for what happened. Now I feel I have found that reason – to be able to help others who have been unwell. It makes so much difference being able to empathise and know I have felt what they are feeling.

“After 15 years of going to the depths of hell, I can finally do something positive.”

For more information, visit emdrassociation.org.uk

Liz Day

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