Sandra Bullock: ‘If I don’t pull it together, I’m gonna die’ – star’s severe PTSD symptoms
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The star, who can be seen in 1994 classic Speed tonight on ITV4, shared a few years ago that a series of stressful situations in her life took their toll physically on her body, leaving the star fearing that she was going to die. Speaking as part of a discussion with Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, and Adrienne Banfield Norris, Bullock said that she “wasn’t the same” after a stalker broke into her home, the final-straw in a series of unfortunate events.
In the build-up to the break-in, Bullock explained that the first stressful situation involved her son Louis, who suffered from a grand mal seizure, leaving her worrying for his life.
A grand mal seizure, also known as a tonic-clonic seizure is what some people associate with an epileptic fit. However, sometimes this type of seizure can be triggered by other health problems such as:
- Low blood sugar
- High fever
These types of seizures tend to happen in two stages, the first known as the “tonic” stage and the latter the “clonic” stage. During the first stage individuals tend to lose consciousness. The body goes stiff and individuals may fall to the floor.
During the second stage, individuals’ limbs tend to jerk about. They may lose control of their bladder or bowel and have difficulty breathing. Seizures tend to last for a few minutes, leaving individuals confused, tired or having difficulty remembering what happened.
Following her young son’s traumatic episode, Bullock was left on-edge. However, things were to go from bad to worse as a few days later she was bitten by a poisonous spider and her hair started to fall out in clumps.
The actress recalled: “I was looking at my body, and I said it’s going to break. It was not responding well to what was happening.
“My hair starts falling out. I have alopecia spots everywhere. I’m by the tub, laying out hair [counting] ‘one, two …’
“I literally had to take inventory: ‘If I don’t pull it together, I’m gonna die. Something is going to happen to my body that I can’t control,’ and I can control almost everything.”
Along with her alopecia, Bullock developed “extreme anxiety” and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the intrusion into her home whilst she hid in the closet.
“My house was broken into while I was in it,” the actress emotionally retold. “I’m in the closet going, ‘This doesn’t end well.’ I’m in the closet, [which is] not gonna help. It was the one night that Louis wasn’t with me.
“It was the one night that our nanny goes, ‘Let me just take him to my apartment which is up the street because you’re going to be out late.’ Had he been home, I would’ve run to the closet, which is now my official closet but that was his bedroom, and it would have changed our destiny forever.”
Describing herself as “unravelling” after the incident it was after this that the actress sought help from therapy, specifically eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing therapy (EMDR).
EMDR involves using side to side eye movements combined with talk therapy to help individuals navigate images, emotions, beliefs and body sensations associated with traumatic memories contributing to a range of mental health problems.
Dr Justin Havens, an EMDR consultant, explained: “There can be a dramatic transformation from someone who is constantly reminded of a traumatic memory and all of the negative symptoms, to feeling like it is behind them and not of significance anymore.
“EMDR is a way of kickstarting your natural healing and recovery process after your trauma. Your therapist is walking alongside you as you heal from the inside out.”
This type of therapy worked for Bullock, who was able to work through her PTSD and relieve herself of the extreme level of stress which was contributing to her alopecia.
For individuals suffering from PTSD, their biological response to extreme stress or fear is long-lasting rather than a short-lived response to immediate danger or fear.
This means that the body sends hormonal messages to shut down non-essential functions (such as skin repair, hair growth and digestion) so that energy can be directed towards actioning our instinctive responses to danger, even when there isn’t a threat. For some individuals this can explain why they experience hair loss after being diagnosed with PTSD.
When treating PTSD, for those experiencing hair loss it is also important to treat the scalp gently and avoid overheating hair with appliances or harsh chemicals. A dermatologist can provide advice on effective scalp treatments, especially if you have bald patches which are problematic and sensitive.
Other common symptoms of PTSD include the following:
- Nightmares, flashbacks
- Avoiding certain people or places
- Feeling on-edge (hyperarousal)
- Stomach pains.
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