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Hope Graduate Shares Wellbeing Journey

A brave Liverpool Hope University graduate has told how she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after an isolated incident of domestic abuse.   

And Gemma Margerison is using her experience to raise awareness that PTSD isn’t just reserved for those in the military - it can happen to anyone. 

At a low-ebb in her life, Gemma sought solace and comfort in a seemingly mild-mannered ex-boyfriend. 

The weekend did not go as planned. 

After two days of psychological and physical distress, Gemma returned home and her life began to unravel. 

The PTSD manifested as excruciating headaches, flashbacks and nightmares, and eventually uncontrollable shaking. 

Gemma’s deteriorating mental state saw her seconds away from stepping out onto a busy road to end her life. 

But through a process of recovery, partly aided by an official PTSD diagnosis, Gemma has turned her life around to the point where she’s now a ‘resilience coach’ committed to helping others. 

And Gemma will this week - Weds Dec 9th, 7pm - share her resilience advice with students to offer hope to others. To join the free online webinar, head here and enter the passcode: 892161

gemma margerison wellbeing

The 32-year-old explains: “There are recognised links between domestic abuse and PTSD but many people I’ve spoken with don’t feel like they don’t actually deserve a PTSD diagnosis.

“And by speaking out about my own experiences I can hopefully change that. 

“The way it was explained to me was with the following analogy: If you drop a plate on the floor, it’s going to smash. If you throw a plate out a ten storey window, it’s also going to smash. It’s not the size of the impact, it’s the fact it has an impact at all. 

“Some sufferers think that if they’ve not been in the military, or if they haven’t been through really horrendous experiences, they don’t merit a PTSD diagnosis as it’s not fair on others who have.

“And that isn’t helping them in their recovery.”

Gemma had always been fiercely independent, working as a journalist in New Zealand and also travelling to Uganda as part of a humanitarian aid response.

That led to her studying for a Masters at Hope in International Relations between 2014 and 2017. 

And it’s during this time the incident that changed her life occurred. 

While she anxiously awaited the result of a biopsy on two troublesome moles which had been removed, Gemma was also involved in a minor car accident. 

Feeling low, she reached out to an ex she’d connected with briefly in the past. 

And all it took was one weekend to bring her world tumbling down. 

Gemma, from Preston, Lancs, explains: “There had been no obvious red flags in our relationship prior to this. 

“But that weekend, to say that he was nasty with me is an understatement. 

“He was… rough. I ended up feeling very scared. He told me I’d made him angry, and that it was my fault. I carried that with me for a long time. I didn’t tell anybody what happened. I didn’t contact the police. In my head I thought, ‘Well, maybe I did deserve it?’

“That was one of the worst things - living with that voice that this was all my fault.”

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Slowly, the PTSD began to manifest. 

Gemma says: “It began with constant, horrendous headaches. 

“I had flashbacks, nightmares, incredibly vivid dreams about very mundane things. I really struggled with noise, especially crowds. I couldn’t even watch television because the noise made me feel as if I was suffocating. 

“And it got to the point where I was physically shaking pretty much constantly. That’s when I decided I needed to go and get some help because I just wasn’t able to live life any more.”

A GP recognised the signs of PTSD and recommended Gemma undergo counselling as well as take anti-depressants. But with the drugs making Gemma feel ‘numb’ to the world, by October 2015 she was suffering suicidal ideations. “I decided that if this was what life was going to look like for me going forward then I didn’t want it.”

She found herself standing at a set of traffic lights, waiting to step out into the onrushing flow of cars. At the time she’d been working part-time with Lancashire County Council on  schemes to support veterans and young people into work.

Gemma reveals: “While standing there, I bumped into someone I worked with. He smiled. I smiled back, just to be polite. And he started talking to me, saying, ‘You’re Gemma, aren’t you?’

“He just started chatting at me, asking all of these questions. The next minute he was like, ‘Anyway, have a nice day’... and we were at the door to work. I hadn’t even realised we’d walked all the way through town. 

“It got me to realise the project I was working on was going to make a positive difference to people, and that gave me something to hold on to. I got into work and thought, ‘That guy has just saved my life’. It was incredible.”

What followed was a prolonged period of recovery as Gemma grappled to find herself again. Remarkably, that came in 2018… with the simple process of buying a necklace. 

Speaking about that item, a pendant in the shape of a jigsaw puzzle piece, she says: “My counsellor said to me, ‘What is it going to take for you to draw a line under this?’

“Originally I’d wanted to meet up with my ex-boyfriend. I thought if I could look him in the eye and realise he was just a person, not a monster, then I didn’t have to be afraid of anything. 

“But my counsellor was of the opinion this wasn’t a good idea. You can never predict the way someone is going to respond, and you open yourself up to further manipulation. 

“Instead, I instinctively said I wanted to find my missing piece. 

“I went and bought a necklace… It sounds so silly, but this was the point where everything started to change for me. It was a really powerful symbol of recovery.”

Gemma is now studying part time for a Doctorate in Coaching and Mentoring at Oxford Brookes University, while also setting up her own resilience coaching enterprise. 

The resilience coaching, she says, is designed to occupy the often neglected middle ground between counselling and personal independence. 

Gemma, who says she’s seen a 50 per cent increase in resilience enquiries since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, explains: “When I was diagnosed, I went through several rounds of counselling and then I reached a point where I didn’t feel the need to continue to talk about things that had happened. 

“But what I needed was someone to help me do the things that I wanted to do in order to live what I consider a normal life. 

“I hadn’t been able to get back on a plane, I hadn’t been to the cinema, I was unsteady about driving a car - and I felt like all of that independence I’d gathered had been taken away from me because I couldn’t do anything like that anymore. 

“That’s where resilience coaching can help. It’s not about talking about past experiences, it’s about how to move forward from that experience. 

“It’s understanding yourself, accepting yourself, and making the best decisions for you. 

“That’s what I want to achieve with my coaching.”

As well as her coaching Gemma also runs an online PTSD support group every Thursday night from 7-8pm. 


** To listen to Gemma talk resilience join this week's wellbeing webinar on Weds December 9, 7pm. 

Click here and enter the passcode: 892161


Published on 08/12/2020