Near the end of my PTSD treatment, Dr. Jennifer Wild told me she had been invited to participate in a BBC radio discussion about PTSD. She asked if I would be willing to be interviewed regarding my experience with the tsunami and my PTSD treatment. Despite my mental state having improved as the treatment progressed, my home life, relationships, and career were in tatters.
However, I knew how fortunate I was to have finally received the PTSD treatment that I did, as it had undoubtedly saved my life. I also recognized the harm caused by the constant rejection and dismissal by the NHS. I didn't want others to unnecessarily endure the pain of what I had gone through, so I nervously agreed to participate as it could help raise awareness for those that suffer in silence as I had.
I spoke with the BBC producer or researcher—I can't remember her exact role—but over the phone, she informed me they intended to interview six or seven trauma survivors. Their objective was to feature a short sound bite from each participant.
The journey to BBC House was an epic challenge in itself.
I hadn't really used the underground for over two years because I didn’t want to feel trapped in a confined space whilst having a flashback that I couldn’t manage. Not to mention the other associated social phobias. Getting there was a significant challenge on its own. I had to mentally prepare for days, visualizing completing the 1 hour journey knowing that I had no other way to get there.
I arrived, feeling a bit overwhelmed. The journey on the underground was intense in parts. I felt as if I should have practiced the journey before the actual day of the interview. Although I managed, I certainly didn't arrive in a calm and confident state. Added to that, there were just so many people around, I felt nervous. Having been isolated by my trauma for several years, it felt as though I was being thrust back into society. Obviously, this was all internalized and I didn’t mention anything to Jennifer apart from the train journey being a little unnerving.
While in the elevator on the way up to the studio, the show's presenter mentioned that he had read the entire 40,000-word trauma narrative that I'd written during therapy the night before. I was taken aback. Aside from Jennifer, no one had ever shown interest in my writing.
A pang of embarrassment hit me as I realized I hadn't spell-checked it. I had intentionally turned off spell check while writing my trauma narrative as I didn't want anything to distract me from what I was finding hard enough to convey. Therefore, the narrative was full of embarrassing spelling and grammatical mistakes - I literally guess at grammar, it might as well be kanji to me.
As I was told that they were essentially looking for a 20 to 30-second soundbite from me as they had around six other survivors to interview, I never expected the presenter to bother to read anything, let alone all 40,000 words of my narrative. I felt incredibly exposed; it came as a real shock. I felt paranoid that he knew such intimate details of my psyche. Talking about certain parts of the tsunami was manageable, but discussing my intensely emotional reactions to those events I had only shared in parts with my ex-fiancé in Japan before our return to Europe and with Dr. Jennifer Wild during therapy. I wasn't prepared that essentially a stranger had read 4 months of my therapy writing in one night.
Despite writing my account of the 24 hours of what happened on the island before the Thai military arrived, I had never bothered or wanted to read almost the 40,000 words of trauma in one sitting.
I didn't feel betrayed since I sent the narrative to the researcher. I just assumed that a researcher might give it a quick scan at most. Looking back, it was shortsighted of me to assume they wouldn't conduct thorough research. I was caught off guard before the interview, mistakenly believing my role would be minimal.
The actual interview itself was a blur. I left the studio in a daze, hardly recalling our conversation. I was overwhelmed with the dread that I had embarrassed myself and, worse, Dr. Jennifer Wild.
To my surprise, Dr. Wild didn't see it that way. She said that she was really proud of me. However, I honestly didn't believe her. I thought she was just being nice.
After our goodbyes, I walked out feeling deflated and embarrassed. I wasn't sure but I felt like I had frozen up in the studio, I couldn't gauge how I responded to the questions. I was in shock; I don't know how to describe it. The events leading up to that interview blurred my mind, making the conversation itself feel surreal. It was hard to process everything.
I'd lost the teaching career I adored. My relationship with my ex-fiancé had shattered, there was a gaping void between me and my family. The echoes of the NHS's cold corridors returned, filled with memories of doctors whose arrogance overshadowed their compassion, deaf to my pleas as I spoke of the harrowing search and rescue. My life seemed to have unraveled slowly, right in front of my eyes. Yet, to those closest to me, I was merely a lazy pot smoker, always with an excuse.
The weight of the past pressed down on me until I was numb. I had lost so much; I don't even remember the journey home. My last vivid memory was of standing amidst the hustle of central London, lighting a cigarette, lost in thought, feeling alone amid the bustling crowd.
It was several weeks later when the podcast was finally released.
Despite having feedback from Jennifer that the BBC were really impressed with my interview, I still had no idea what to expect and what soundbite they might use.
When it aired, I was beyond shocked. There were no other survivor stories; they exclusively used my interview as the emotional core of the episode. Listening to it, I couldn't recall discussing any of the details during the actual recording. It almost didn't feel real, after the hell that I had endured at the hands of the NHS, my life was being played back to me framed as an extreme PTSD case, interwoven with commentary from Dr. Jennifer Wild and Professor Sir Simon Wessely.
It felt like an out-of-body experience, listening to Prof Sir Simon Wessely discuss how the term PTSD has been overused by society to describe everyday life problems and how crucial it is for those who have experienced serious trauma such as returning military to be accurately diagnosed as trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy can be beneficial.
For years it felt like I was experiencing something like the reverse of "stolen valor". Where NHS doctors didn't even seem to believe me or if they did believe me about the actual tsunami, they dismissed PTSD without even assessing me using NHS protocol. And, now my life is being used as an example of unquestionable extreme trauma and the resulting PTSD. I felt equal parts relieved as I did despair.
And then, for Professor Sir Simon Wessely to literally say, “When you talk to people who have worked in places and cultures like Rwanda, Sri Lanka, or Cambodia, which have experienced trauma on an incalculable scale…”
I'd never met Professor Wessely, and he certainly didn't know me or my family background when he recorded his interview. He had no idea that Galle, one of the worst-hit areas in the tsunami, was my mother's hometown in Sri Lanka, and where so many of our relatives still live. He didn't know that I returned home to London only to find out some of my distant relatives had died in Sri Lanka, and that many of my close family's homes and livelihoods were destroyed. All of which compounded my survivor's guilt and made opening up about the trauma of Thailand difficult when my family was still coming to terms with the death and devastation in Sri Lanka. It felt overwhelming to process the podcast's 18 minutes of trauma.
Despite the whirlwind of emotions, there was a glimmer of validation. Being featured alongside the top NHS PTSD experts in the country gave me a sense of vindication. It also served as a painful reminder: none of the struggles I faced since returning from Japan would have occurred had I been given an NHS PTSD assessment 5 years ago when I first opened up about the trauma of the search and rescue.
The podcast wrapped up with the story of my return to Thailand. Unexpectedly, they ended the segment with a track from The XX. This resonated deeply with me because The XX was one of the last UK-based bands I'd immersed myself in before music became too emotionally triggering for me.
In the midst of my struggles, the BBC podcast unexpectedly became a beacon of light, offering me both a platform and a voice. Their choice to end with a track from The XX felt like a gentle touch to my wounded soul, transporting me back to a time when music was my sanctuary.
Life has a curious way of coming full circle, offering unexpected moments of closure and understanding. The podcast episode wasn’t about my personal journey; but rather it highlighted the resilience inherent in all of us and emphasized the profound need for empathy and connection.
Every individual's story, regardless of its perceived magnitude, holds an entire universe of emotions: pain, love, loss, and hope. While I’ve faced numerous setbacks, I’ve also discovered resilience in the most unforeseen places. The power of sharing our experiences cannot be understated, as it is through these shared narratives that we find solidarity, healing, and the courage to push forward.
To anyone feeling overshadowed or dismissed, remember: your story holds significance. Each challenge you face only adds depth to your journey. Let’s find strength in our collective stories and be constantly reminded of our inherent resilience, the importance of our connections, and the boundless hope the future holds.
The following link is to the BBC radio podcast that I participated in with Dr. Jennifer Wild
I hope by listening to the podcast you better understand my journey