In university, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was one of the many psychological disorders that intrigued me. I couldn’t read enough research about the ruthless impact trauma has on our emotions and our behaviour. It fascinated me how our brains and neurochemistry could completely change due to trauma.
However… no amount of reading and research could help me when I needed it the most – when I was forever changed by PTSD.
If you’re reading this, you may not even know what PTSD is and that is absolutely okay. In some ways, I wish that I didn’t know what it was either. I wish that I was still caught up reading and reading about it, not living with it.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating mental illness that affects some us after exposure to trauma. Despite contrary belief, PTSD does not only impact soldiers, but average human beings as well. Any one who has experienced colossal trauma (natural disaster, abuse, neglect, life-threatening illness or car accident) is at risk of developing PTSD. And, unfortunately, I was one of those “average human beings” who was diagnosed with PTSD.
Side note: *My list of trauma is not a definitive. *
I was officially diagnosed in mid-January 2017 after months and months of severe, incapacitating symptoms. I am far… far… f a r from recovered, but I felt obliged to share my experience with PTSD as it is often overlooked. Few people know what PTSD is and the excruciating impact it can have on it’s victims.
Like all disorders, PTSD manifests differently person to person. My experience may be different from yours and that is okay. All of our experiences are valid.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has crippled me with:
This began shortly after I was removed from the abusive relationship that I found myself in. I returned home… well maybe, my body did… my mind was somewhere else. I couldn’t feel anything. My body shut down. I couldn’t process what the hell just happened. I couldn’t even remember what had happened… my brain wouldn’t let me. I felt absolutely nothing. I couldn’t remember words. I had no thoughts. I simply couldn’t function. I spent days on end staring blankly at the wall, unable to do much at all. I felt completely gone. So far gone without return. This emotional numbness carried on for a couple of days. I felt as though he had taken my soul from me. I felt like nothing.
As time went on, I was able to feel again. Like a light switch, I went from numb to frantic. For days, I felt nothing and now I was feeling absolutely everything. I continue to have days where the pain takes over and I shut down. Gone, yet again. Each time, wondering how much longer things will be this way.
Avoidance and Isolation
At around the same time that I became emotionally numb, I began to isolate myself. If you know me personally, you know that I am an extreme extrovert. I love parties, social gatherings and meeting new people. However, something in me changed. I began to fear people – even those I have known for a very long time. I questioned everyone’s motives and intentions. I began to label others as bad – inherently evil. He became everything that I saw. I saw negative qualities in others that may not have existed at all. My memory of him and his malevolence flooded my life. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to see anyone. I just couldn’t. I wouldn’t let myself.
After much persuasion from my family and my therapist, I pushed myself to go out – but not without significant anxiety. I flinched walking past men on the streets. I could literally feel my skin crawl. I held my breath as I walked past strangers afraid of what they may do. I was conditioned to expect violence.
Leaving the house was exhausting. I was sore physically and mentally. However, with exposure, things have gotten much easier; though I still isolation myself more than your average person. I rarely attend parties or social gatherings anymore. The way that I see it is if I don’t interact with humans, no one can hurt me. And no, I’m not being rude, I am protecting myself. I’m working on rebuilding my self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance. Please give me time.
I honestly didn’t know what hypervigilance meant until I was diagnosed with PTSD. For me, hypervigilance is constantly being on edge. When I’m out and about alone, I’m continuously checking over my shoulders. It’s like living life through a constant stream of anxiety. It’s pure torture and I despise it.
Negative beliefs about the world
All men are evil.
All men are abusive.
All men are incapable of empathy and love.
All men are to be feared.
People are inherently bad.
Our world is corrupt.
Trust me, I never used to feel this way – but it’s what trauma can do to a person. It can change your whole perspective of the world – in the blink of an eye.
Negative feelings towards self
Often times, my mind decides to replay all of the awful things he said to me. After hearing these words relentlessly, you start to believe them.
You deserved this.
You let this happen.
Maybe if you didn’t…
Maybe if you would have…
I am subjected to graphic night terrors that throw me into full fledged panic. They are often painful scenes that I have been desperately trying to forget. Some are real memories and occurrences while others are just a fabrication made by my mind – both equally agonizing. I usually wake up crying in a drenching sweat. I have to check my surroundings around 20 times before I can finally allow myself to relax. I have to tell myself that I am safe and that I am okay. I think the most treacherous thing about my nightmares is that every single night I fight the urge to sleep as I am so terrified of what memory will come back to haunt me. Thankfully, as of now, I’m down to about two nightmares a week. This is major progress as they used to be a nightly occurrence.
Flashbacks are utterly crippling as they take you by surprise and bring you right back to the traumatic moment in seconds. You don’t know when they will creep up on you; you can’t always know all of your triggers. My flashbacks come in hot and heavy distorting my reality and suffocating me.
I can still remember the nights he abused me perfectly. I can remember the clothes I was wearing the nights he hit me. I can remember the exact locations in our apartment. I remember the exact words and phrases I cried as I begged him to stop. I can remember the sound of my skull striking the floor. I can remember the pure horror. Sometimes these sounds and images flood my mind and I can’t escape them… feeling as though I am right back there. Helpless.
Disgust in Intimacy
The thought of another human touching my skin makes me queasy. No, thank you.
Sometimes it feels as though things will never get better. That things will forever be this way and I will never be free. It’s as if this excruciating pain will cloak me for the rest of my life. I hope that one day it will finally leave me alone, but sometimes it feels like that day will never come. And, I have to accept that.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy ending to this post. Most of the time, positive and encouraging words flow out of me like a waterfall. But, nothing positive has come out of having PTSD.
Maybe still being here to be able to write this article is enough.
Keep on shining.