MHA Week 2022 – Seeing the Whole Person – Matthew who uses Northamptonshire Floating Support Service on Experience of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Posted on 12, May 2022
Content warning – Violence, self-harm and suicidal thoughts
Our theme for MHA 2022 is Seeing the Whole Person looking at ways our staff work with people with complex circumstances that can contribute to mental distress they’ve experienced or impact the support they receive. We felt this theme would provide us with an opportunity to raise awareness and demonstrate the way our staff work alongside people who use our services. We aim to ensure we always consider every aspect of an individual’s experience, including mental, physical and social factors as we work alongside the people who use our services to lead their own care and support.
To look more at that theme of complex circumstances we spoke to Matthew who uses Together’s Northamptonshire Floating Support Service and Louise Robinson who is his support worker. Matthew experienced a traumatic event and has been struggling with the impact that has had on his life and the anxiety and distress it caused. Dealing with that had made it difficult for Matthew to feel comfortable leaving his house and he has been working together with Louise to get towards regaining independence and to engage with different parts of life that are central to that like seeking employment.
Content warning – Violence, self-harm and suicidal thoughts – Matthew’s account contains description of a violent assault he was a victim of and references to self-harm and suicidal thoughts which some may find distressing
Matthew shares his lived experience of that and how Louise has supported him below:
My Mental Health issues began 5 years ago. I had been attacked while walking through an alley and had a knife held to my throat. I reacted and actually managed to get hold of the knife and threw that over into a garden. After that though, I was punched and fell to the ground where I was kicked in the head.
I remember I managed to get back to my feet, which was down to adrenaline I guess, but then I was just punched back to the ground and kicked again sustaining multiple blows to my head. This must have gone on until someone saw or heard what was happening. The police arrived and the people who had assaulted me ran away. I was taken to hospital by the police and I passed out and came to in a hospital bed. They took an x-ray of skull to make sure all was well and cleaned up my face because I was covered in blood. I was then sent home to rest.
After the incident, over years as time passed, without even noticing really, I had stopped everything doing everything social. So that included going to clubs, pubs, football. Anything that involved socialising really I stopped. I drove friends away until I had nothing but work going on in the outside world.
Anger took over for a while as a way for me to deal with things and that made it a struggle to hold down jobs. I would hurt myself to stop myself getting to angry with other people. The pain would disable the anger to a point for me. I broke or fractured my hand a few times punching a wall or a locker and I would hit my head on wall or punch myself in head.
Eventually it got to be too much and turned into me not being able to control my heart rate. I got to the point where I would feel like I couldn’t breathe and would think I’d lost all control. I was in pure panic. Sometimes if I could get to some quiet place like a stairwell and listen to some low tempo music that meant I could get control of my breathing and slow my heart rate. I could sometimes manage the worst effects and just about get through a job interview or universal credit meeting but the only thing I could really think about was whether people would notice me trying not to lose it.
Then Covid came, the world shut down and so did I. I spent years alone just in my room. I gave up speaking to my family or interacting with people online on my Xbox. I just tried to distract myself as much as possible with Xbox games and Amazon TV. All the time I tried to stay as calm as possible to stop my heart rate and breathing losing control. After a while though, the distractions didn’t work.
Depression set in and thoughts of suicide took over. I didn’t eat well, my sleep most of the time was broken and I was constantly on edge and quick to anger with family. I found myself writing a suicide note because I felt I had no idea in myself if I would do it or not. But, in end crisis team was sent out to see me and there was a change made to the medication I was being prescribed. It was at that point that I was put in contact with Together for Mental Wellbeing and with Louise Robinson, my support worker.
Since then, we have slowly started getting me going back out in public. I started by walking to the car and back and then to the end of the street and back with my dog Lexi or at least we’d get out into the garden. Then we tried some car trips to places like Delapré Abbey and lake, Billing Aquadrome and Marina Lake. We chose calm places but ones that were in public around some people so I could get some confidence being outside and around others.
In time I managed to start attending face to face appointments for my Universal Credit for the first time in years and also to attend my Restart Jobs22 meeting with Louise. Louise also helped me with making phone calls to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Programme about accessing therapy that I’m waiting to hear from. She also helped with Universal Credit if I needed to change any appointments or anything like that. When I had to isolate because of Covid, Louise kept in contact over the phone to make sure I was OK. Since being put in contact with Together for Mental Wellbeing and Louise it’s been months since I had any suicidal thoughts and gradually I’m working my way back out into the world.
Together Support Worker Louise Robinson also provided a description of the way she has worked alongside Matthew and the progress he has made:
Matthew was attacked at knifepoint 5 years ago and has suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety ever since. He moved back into his parent’s home and become very reclusive. He had only managed to leave the house a couple of times since the attack, each time with his parents, but this caused him extreme distress and led to him experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Our support started in January 2022 and I have been slowly helping him with gradual exposure to the outside world. We started with walking together from the front door to my car and back. Then we walked to the end of his road with the family dog for company and then did the same without the dog. We then went out in my car together, just to drive around the area. I encouraged Matthew to go out in his garden and I set him a goal to do this daily.
We progressed to visiting quiet locations. We walked around a lake and Delapré Abbey visiting cafés in these places to build some confidence and I prompted Matthew to converse with the staff. Next we went into town and went to Matthew’s bank to have a meeting about his account which was something he had wanted to do for ages. I just sat in the background and prompted him to talk through what he wanted to change. We then visited a busy pub and had a coffee but with him going up to the counter.
We have continued to visit busier places like supermarkets and cafes and I’ve continued to try and push him out of his comfort zone to interact with people. Recently we have attended job centre appointments together and each time I step back more and more to allow him to gain confidence.
Our next step is Matthew looking to walk to Delapré Abbey on his own from his house and to meet me in the carpark, which is about a 15 minute walk. For that, I will stay on the phone with him while he’s walking. I am working towards him meeting me in town. He still has bad days sometimes but he tries really hard and I’m so proud of him!
Matthew has achieved so much in the time I have been supporting him. His final goal is to attend a West Ham football match with his brothers, which was something he used to do before the attack.
Thank you to Matthew for sharing his story with us and to Louise for explaining about the way she has worked with him.