To help raise awareness on World Mental Health Day, Neil Winnington has kindly agreed to share his experience of post-traumatic stress disorder following his daughter’s abduction.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a set of reactions that can occur after someone has been through a traumatic event. These can include flashbacks, nightmares, intense physical reactions when reminded of the event (pounding heart, nausea, sweating) and panic attacks.
It’s considered to be a psychological injury rather than a mental illness and it can happen to anyone. According to the charity PTSD UK, an estimated 1 in 10 people develop PTSD. However, it’s believed that around 70% of sufferers in the UK don’t receive any professional help.
In the below interview, Neil tells us what it’s like living with PTSD and shares some of his coping techniques.
KF: What triggered your PTSD?
NW: I’d had a hellish marriage with someone who was never happy. I suspected that she might be having an affair, and a few days before our daughter Emily’s second birthday, she confessed she was seeing a soldier. She started making threats to take my daughter abroad and stop me seeing her ever again unless I let the affair keep going.
Whenever the boyfriend came home on leave, my wife would go stay with him and Emily would stay with me. She didn’t understand and would bring her shoes to me in tears, wanting to go and pick up her mum.
My wife stopped spending money on food for the family and my wages just about covered rent and utilities. I borrowed to buy food for Emily and often went without. All the time I was trying to block her leaving the country with Emily in an unsympathetic court, while my wife stopped me sleeping and her boyfriend would send threatening text messages. I’d find my car tyres let down and other nasties.
A few months after my wife took Emily away, my mother died of cancer. I was already having a massive breakdown over what had happened. Then, a few months later, I was made redundant and my landlord aggressively sought to evict me. I lost almost all my possessions.
KF: How did you realise that you had PTSD?
NW: I would get flashbacks to Emily in tears holding her shoes every time I heard a small child cry. I still do. I suspected from the flashbacks that I might have something like PTSD, but I thought it was something only soldiers got.
I knew I’d had a massive, massive breakdown. I’d been suicidal after losing the house, in massive debt and no hope of seeing Emily or the government lifting a finger to help, but it was four years before I was referred to a psychologist who tested and diagnosed me.
KF: How did you start getting your life back?
NW: I had to learn to stop blaming myself for failing to stop Emily’s abduction and not being able to afford lawyers to keep fighting. I also started taking an antidepressant, which has helped massively with my anxiety/depression. The rest is learning to live with and recognise the illness when I hit rough patches.
I’m in a good place now. I’m really loving the new business that I’ve set up with my father making 3D-printed drones and model trains as well as my YouTube channel for car enthusiasts called Enwin’s Motors.
KF: How can you tell when you’re hitting a rough patch?
NW: It’s hard to explain how I recognise the symptoms. I get certain spikes. I can be extremely affected by a child crying, or I can notice myself feeling more nervous. I sense myself being more affected by aggression or comments by other people. I dwell and replay the conversation and get feelings of anxiety.
KF: What are some of your coping techniques?
NW: Watching comedy – Billy Connolly, Lee Evans, Faulty Towers – keeps me in a good place or gives me a lift. Spending time in the countryside. Keeping away from people, crowds. I never read business or personal emails after certain hours. This way I don’t stress over them overnight. I never watch horror films.
KF: What advice would you give to someone who thinks they may have PTSD?
NW: First go to your GP. Even if your self-diagnosis is not correct, just recognising you need help is a massive first step. Your GP will be able to arrange counselling or the psychological help you may need. There are now help lines too. But whatever you do, seek help. That is the first step.
World Mental Health Day takes place on 10 October every year.