*Trigger Warning: Topics include domestic abuse and the effects*
I was 13 when my step-dad beat my mom and I for the first time. I will never get the way that the night air smelled or how soft my jacket felt when I put it on.
There were many moments like this throughout my childhood. All of these circumstances culminated in my leaving my home when I was 16 and living with a friend. Years later, I went to a psychiatrist because I had been experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression. My psychiatrist told me that these symptoms, in addition to a few others, pointed to me having PTSD. I was crushed when I found out. I felt weak. I felt scared. I’ve had to make a lot of changes to my life and here’s what I have learned:
What is PTSD?
First and foremost, we should talk about what PTSD is and how it affects people. The American Psychiatric Association describes PTSD (or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as, “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.” This means that many people re-experience their traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, or even just through their emotions. Some people can experience PTSD in many ways. It can be as dramatic as blacking out and having a flashback to the event or just feeling overwhelming emotions in the place where an event occurred. There is no way to predict when or where PTSD will affect you. It also doesn’t happen just because you have experienced an event, it can also happen indirectly by someone describing a traumatic event in detail.
Just as with many other mental illnesses, many people consider PTSD a weakness. I know I did for the longest time. When I was at my worst, I would have flashbacks multiple times a day that would leave me in a sobbing ball for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and I would never know what had set me off. Sometimes it would be something on TV. Other times, it could just be the way my boyfriend would raise his hands. I had a very hard time feeling empowered. I had a hard time calling myself a feminist. How could I be strong when I was so vulnerable, so often? Through help from my psychiatrist and therapist, I have slowly but surely come to conquer my PTSD.
Receiving Help and Coping Mechanisms
My psychiatrist helped by prescribing me medicines that helped me sleep at night so that I could get better rest. He also gave me medicine to take when I felt an attack coming on or if I was going to be in a situation that might trigger an attack. It helped a lot to know that I had a backup plan if any of my coping mechanisms failed.
My psychologist helped me to develop some ways to pre-emptively stop an attack. The first thing that she advised that I do is become very aware of my senses, and not just when I was having an attack. She told me to take several times throughout my day to take in the way my clothing felt against my skin or the way a certain place smelled. This way, she explained, my brain would be much more grounded in reality so that an attack was less likely to happen. She also told me to “indulge in the mundane”, and create memories that are positive out of even the smallest thing. She said, “Even if you’re just enjoying a chocolate bar, embrace every part of eating that chocolate bar. Take in the crinkle of the packaging, the way it snaps when you take a bite, every bit of it.” She told me this, because my PTSD was affecting the way that I would remember things, if I would remember them at all. This helped me to create new memories that I really cherish and it’s also helped in my relationship as well. I revel in the mundane things that we do together such as just going to the grocery store or getting dog food.
My Support System
Another thing that has helped me a lot is to find a single person to trust that knows what I’ve been through and about my PTSD. That person is my fiancée. He helps me by just being someone I can talk to when I’m having a particularly bad day with my symptoms. He also always knows where my medicine is, if I ever black out and need to take any. He also keeps me accountable for ensuring that I do the things I can to make it better. He has seen me through many attacks and has helped me overcome them.
The most important thing that I learned to do is be patient with myself. I can’t expect myself to be better overnight and neither should you. It’s okay if your healing time is months or even several years. You also don’t have to forgive your abuser right away or even ever, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to be selfish. It’s okay to say that you don’t want to go to a family function because your abuser will be there. It’s okay to avoid going somewhere because it reminds you of trauma you’ve experienced. There is nothing wrong with making decisions for your own well being, even if they affect others.
There is nothing wrong with making decisions for your own well being, even if they affect others.
It took me a long time before I learned to deal with my PTSD and feel like a powerful woman again. But now, I feel stronger. Not because I have overcome my PTSD, but rather because I haven’t. Now, I am more empathetic of other women who have been through trauma. I’m able to offer advice and support to women who have had to go what I’ve been through. I truly hope that someday, abuse is completely eradicated and no other woman has to go through this trauma. But, until that day arrives, I know how to better navigate this world and I know how to help other women navigate it. So don’t be afraid to tell your story, because there is bound to be another woman who needs your story and needs to know that she isn’t alone. You are not weak because of your trauma. You are a unicorn because you’ve survived.
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