Harold Hill PTSD sufferer haunted with flashbacks to childhood sex abuse

15:00 03 September 2016

Hazel Gibbons with her therapy dogs Chelsea and Zach

Hazel Gibbons with her therapy dogs Chelsea and Zach


After a chance meeting triggered devastating flashbacks to the abuse she suffered as a child, post-traumatic stress disorder sufferer Hazel Gibbons speaks to Chloe Farand about how her life subsequently spiralled out of control.

In a split second, everything changed for Hazel Gibbons, whose successful work-driven life snapped after a childhood memory came to haunt her.

Hazel, of Harold Hill, 47, was sexually abused for more than 10 years between the age of seven and 18.

But it was only years later, at the age of 35, that the events of her childhood resurfaced, when she met her abuser again.

“Something triggered straight away,” said Hazel.

“I knew it had happened but not in the same sort of way – it was like it was a nightmare before that day. And that day it was real again.”

With the support of her younger brother, she revealed to her parents what had happened to her.

“My mum’s reaction was ‘well it’s happened now get over it’ – she won’t talk about it – whereas my dad was heartbroken,” she said.

From that moment, Hazel started having flashbacks about what had happened to her as a child. She developed post traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD.

“It could be triggered by the slightest little thing. I could be out and I could hear a child scream and it could trigger flashbacks. I get sheer panic, I shiver all through my body. I feel like something awful is about to happen.

“I can’t sit with my back to a door in case someone comes in without me knowing they’re there. It’s quite a hard thing to deal with,” she added.

A couple of months after telling her parents, she was admitted to Mascalls Park mental health hospital, in Brentwood, which has since closed.

She went on to spend a few weeks at a time there over an 18-month period.

“Every time I came out I felt like I was alone again and didn’t have anyone to talk to. As soon as I had those flashbacks, everything spiralled out of control,” she said.

Hazel kept her stays in hospital secret from her parents.

While she was there she tried to commit suicide 22 times in two years. During that time, her supportive father passed away.

The former branch manager of a store in Lakeside stopped working a few months after her time in hospital.

Looking back at her life before the flashbacks started, Hazel says she was a different person.

She remembers a busy childhood, and as a teenager, she was the British champion in Latin American ballroom dancing.

“I didn’t really know any different at the time,” she said. “But I hope by sharing my story, I can help others to come forward and seek help.”

She has surrounded herself with a tight group of friends, her vicar and her hairdresser, who invites her in for chat when she is not feeling well.

But above all, her therapy dogs Zach and Chelsea have helped her on the road to recovery.

“They mean the world to me. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. They are my immediate family,” she said.

If you have an experience of mental health, whether as a patient, carer, relative or friend, and are willing to tell us about it, please contact Chloe Farand at


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