Tracie tells of trauma's dark demons

THE lowest moment for Tracie Johnson came when her depression and anxiety sparked her first panic attack.

“Seriously, you think you’re about to die. That bit of you kicks in to say ‘I don’t want to die’,” she said.

“Then you realise the chest pains are going too long, I should be dead but I’m not. Then you figure out it’s a panic attack.

“Then you have to find a way to control those and they’re not fun. I know when they’re coming on now.

“The worst ones are the nocturnal ones that wake you from your sleep because they’re already fully fledged.

“They’re happening, the heart is out of the body, you’re hanging off the roof sweating. You don’t know what’s going on.”

Panic attacks were a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder that Ms Johnson, 49, first suffered in 2008 and has had to manage since.

The illness took a hold of the mother-of-three after a lengthy court case in 2007, in which one of her sons was involved as a victim.

She told her story to The Standard this week in the hope of ending the stigma attached to PTSD and those who suffer it.

Joining her in that cause is the Grassmere Cricket Association, where Ms Johnson is an administrator and her husband Steve, 49, an umpire.

The GCA has dedicated its round of matches this weekend to raising awareness of depression and support organisation beyondblue.

“If you’re first going into (PTSD), you don’t realise what’s going on. You seriously think you’re losing the plot,” Ms Johnson said.

“But once you’ve sought help and you get a name of what’s going on and you start to investigate why it’s going on, you can learn to manage it.

“It comes down to a couple of glands in the brain, which is fascinating on one hand and horrible on the other.”

She is not alone. Statistics from beyondblue say one million Australians will suffer PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in a single year.

Collectively, 12 per cent of the population — about 2.7 million people — will battle the illness in their lifetime.

Symptoms include flashbacks to traumatic events, feeling emotionally numb and being anxious or jumpy for no reason.

Sufferers also avoid putting themselves in situations that remind them of the trauma and what they went through. Ms Johnson occasionally feels uneasy at Purnim, an area central to the court case. Being in a crowd can also trigger her anxiety.

She has been suicidal, although she has become accustomed to dealing with those thoughts through research and counselling.

Steve has been rock solid beside her throughout the journey, despite his own feelings of helplessness.

“It’s the male nature to fix and help and make better. In these situations you can’t fix and help and make better,” she said.

Steve agreed. But he now knows better.

“I’ve learnt that one, we can’t fix everything,” he said.

The couple fell in love in 2009 and have gone through more than most in the five years they have been together. “I was thrown in the deep end but when you fall in love with someone it doesn’t really matter,” he said.

“(Being supportive) is just something you do. I’ve basically been a shoulder to cry on, someone that will listen.”

“You learn to bite your lip a little bit. You know what Tracie is going through. You let her have a vent and a rage,” he said.

But if there is a silver lining to her story, it’s that his wife has been proactive in understanding herself and her PTSD.

Ms Johnson has strategies to deal with whenever her brain turns on herself, rather than letting the symptoms take hold of her.

The compartments of her brain used to be allies. 

Now their relationship is based on mutual understanding.

Fortnightly appointments with a psychologist and medication, which she is taking less and less these days, have helped.

“One thing I have learnt and am really good at is organising. That’s me purely trying to manage all the risks that could occur,” she said.

Ms Johnson has one message for those suffering from PTSD, and also the people around them — family, colleagues, friends.

“If you see a mate that’s down, say ‘are you OK?’ He’s probably going to say ‘yes’ because you are picky with who you talk to,” she said.

“But if you can, encourage them to see a doctor or a psychologist. 

“Just let them know there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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