Siobhan Neilland on her PTSD Battle

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I have worked with Siobhan Neilland for the last four years now. Take a glance at her LinkedIn, or résumé and you cannot help but think, WOW. Siobhan is a powerhouse in every sense of the word, she’s a public speaker, senior recruiting consultant for Fortune 100 companies, founder of her own nonprofit, cosmetics company, and, as I wouldn’t quite understand until four years later, included in the 7.8 percent of Americans who will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

Our work relationship is anything but your typical one. She’s my mentor and friend, before she’s my boss, a combination I never expected to encounter in Silicon Valley. Siobhan’s story is unique, jarring, and definitely not what you’d expect, born into a cult run by her father, with drugs, abuse, and trauma heavily dictating her childhood. Yet, Siobhan had somehow risen (in her words, “clawed”) her way to success. Her beautiful San Francisco home, where she’s cooked me dinner after a long day of work, is decorated with a slew of Wonder Woman memorabilia gifted to her by friends. Siobhan has always stated that PTSD was a problem she dealt with, despite her beautiful life, but there seemed to be no reflections of it.

I always saw her as the invincible woman; too strong to topple and too great to fall. However, there would always be one or two times a year, when things would seem to go dark on her end. Siobhan, usually the answering the phone with an enthusiastic, “Hey wild woman!” would instead groggily answer with a “Hey.” From my perspective, she just seemed out of it—unfocused, and oddly struggling… with what I could never quite put my finger on. Sometimes these periods would last for a day or two, but other times for weeks at a time. Not one to pry, I would just do what needed to be done behind-the-scenes of her businesses, letting Siobhan have time to recuperate from whatever stresses were bogging her down. Then one day, I’d hear a “Hey wild woman!” on the other end of the call, and know we were back in business. It was never a roller coaster with Siobhan, rather a wave we both rode together, but I never quite understood.

Following Siobhan’s appearance at the United Nations in New York this year, this dark period was stronger than normal. I could almost tell something had been triggered in her during this trip, sparking another period of PTSD. I wanted to know what to do during these periods in life and to support her, so I decided to ask.

She shared that she had been “stuck” after the United Nations trip triggered a PTSD episode, the effects of which had lingered now for weeks. “During these episodes, I just feel frozen, in all aspects of my life,” she explained, “I want to move, but I just can’t quite do it.”

“I think I’ve had PTSD for most of my life. My life was messy in so many different ways. I carry that today, but it’s more noticeable because my life so healthy, lovely, and beautiful now.” Brought on by her childhood of abuse, Siobhan explained, she had developed PTSD, which went untreated and mistreated for years. Some doctors assumed her episodes were panic attacks, depression, or a slew of diagnoses that never quite fit. Finally she was properly diagnosed and began treatment that would transform her life.

“At first, I used to think if I did all the right things, I could eliminate it from my life,” she recalls, “but I learned PTSD is something you live with forever. Sometimes it’s in remission and sometimes it’s not.” Today, with her team of doctors, therapists, well versed in treating PTSD from childhood abuse, Siobhan is high-functioning and living with PTSD. Unlike the majority of the faces associated with PTSD, she is a woman working in the corporate world. However, PTSD among women is twice that of men. “There are more people than you’d think dealing with PTSD. It is important to ask those you care about, PTSD or not ‘What can I do to support you today?’”

While Siobhan’s battle with PTSD is an ongoing one, she does not allow its presence to loom over her life. Rather, she faces this adversity as the Wonder Woman she is: “I refuse to allow this to interfere with who I am or what I will do in this world. This is what I mean when I say I’m fighting for my joy,” she says, “I will not let PTSD win.”

 

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