Home   Lifestyle   Article

Daily battle in coming to terms with trauma of abuse

By Rosemary Lowne

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Since moving to Inverness, Laura Collins has become a volunteer with HUG and gives presentations to help educate people on her disorder.
Since moving to Inverness, Laura Collins has become a volunteer with HUG and gives presentations to help educate people on her disorder.

Since moving to Inverness, Laura Collins has become a volunteer with HUG and gives presentations to help educate people on her disorder.

WITH her cracking sense of humour and kind demeanour, Laura Collins certainly brightens up the room.

Although she appears to be just like any other woman, she lives with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition which arises after a series of traumas such as severe neglect or abuse as an adult or a child or severe repeated violence or abuse as an adult.

Sitting pensively while practising origami, 47-year-old Miss Collins has decided to speak out in an attempt to stop others going through what she has endured and to challenge the stigma attached to mental health.

Growing up in a suburb outside London, she recalls a painful childhood. "I grew up with my mum who had a mental health issue and it had gone untreated for several years," said Miss Collins, who now lives in Inverness.

"She had issues with me as a daughter from quite a young age and that led to me having feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem.

"It was both physical and emotional abuse. At a younger age my life had been put at risk."

So unhappy was Miss Collins at home, she said going to school was like a release. "I had been robbed of my childhood really," she added. "I didn’t learn to swim or ride a bicycle.

"I had one party when I was 13 and for quite a long time I was dressed as a boy and my mother cut my hair off."

Throughout her childhood, she relied on her father to protect her so, when he died when she was 16, she left home.

"When my dad died he had two large scars on his chest from an operation he had undergone," she said.

"She blamed me for the scars so she used to keep me up all night and she would sit there with carving knives.

"My mother blamed me for his death and she felt I should be dead.

"I had very few social skills for friendship and when I say that I mean I was vulnerable to people abusing my friendship."

Miss Collins stayed in an adolescent unit for a short time before living in a hostel.

As she was under the age of 18, she was assigned to a social worker who advised her to be admitted to a mental health hospital.

But due to the stigma surrounding mental health, and a need to distance herself from what she had experienced from an early age, she declined and moved into a hostel.

"I had coping strategies, I drank in my late teens and early 20s and I would have constant flashbacks and be jumpy and hypervigilant and I thought everyone had flashbacks," explained Miss Collins.

Meanwhile, her mother was sectioned and put into a hospital but was discharged and stopped taking her medication.

Determined to get her life together, Miss Collins held down permanent jobs and started dating.

However, still struggling to cope with her past as well as being in an abusive relationship, she took an overdose in her early 20s.

When she fell pregnant at 25, everything changed. "I had been in an abusive relationship and realised that for both me and my baby to survive I had to remove myself from the situation," she explained.

Forced to give up smoking and drinking, which she used to suppress her feelings, she says the fear and emotions came flooding back.

"I was diagnosed with reactive depression and I took the medication," she said. "I took medication religiously because I didn’t want my son growing up in the same kind of house that I grew up in.

"So my son grew up in a house with a parent who was medicated."

Giving her son the childhood that she never had, Miss Collins supported him to go on a trip to Uganda when he was 13 and, now in his 20s, he is making his own way in life.

"My son was very understanding and when flashbacks got stronger as he got older he found it difficult to cope with," said Miss Collins. "We’re building on our relationship."

On reaching her late 30s, Miss Collins was eventually diagnosed as having Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"What should have been happening was counselling and trauma therapy," she said. "The first point of call for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is de-briefing and being able to work through the situation.

"The first point of call should not be medication as it just suppresses your feelings and that’s what happened with me."

Since moving to Inverness last year, she has become a volunteer with HUG, an organisation in the Highlands which represents the interests of users of mental health services.

"The work I do for HUG is amazing and the support is incredible," added Miss Collins.

"It’s a mutual respect for what we face, we don’t all have the same mental health issues but we are all united that we don’t want the things that have happened to us to happen to other people.

"It’s helped me to socialise full stop, on so many levels."

Striving to banish the stigma which often surrounds such conditions, Miss Collins now gives presentations to doctors, solicitors, social workers to educate them on her disorder.

"I feel its important, if somebody experiences something that is life threatening, to speak out about it to friends or family," she added.

"It is vital to get support. The offshoots for not getting support can be a breakdown in family."

Miss Collins also goes into schools to talk to children about speaking out and sharing their feelings with people.

Today, she is an accomplished writer and painter with her work featuring in an art exhibition at The Bike Shed, in Merkinch, a follow-on from the exhibition held last year.

Acknowledging she still has a way to go with therapy, Miss Collins is now undergoing Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, a technique which uses eye movements to help the brain to process flashbacks and to make sense of the traumatic experience.

"The work we do now is vital to make a difference," said Miss Collins. "The face of mental health is changing."

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More