Last year’s Shattering Stigmas was a great success, but dealt mostly with depression and anxiety, because we’re experts in those. In an effort to provide you with more diversity this time around, we’ve reached out to guest posters in an attempt to fill our blanks. The amazing Rebecca @ Vicariously! has written not one but three posts for me on a variety of topics. Today, she’ll be talking about her experience with PTSD. It’s quite graphic, but gives you an idea of how severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can get — and that it’s not just for those in the military.
TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault/rape
WARNING: This describes some of the night terrors associated with my PTSD in great detail as well as some of the details of my rape and sexual assault. Proceed with caution.
I turn my back for one second. He said he was going to the bathroom. Suddenly I hear my door click. It’s being locked.
Everything is heightened. I feel like there’s no air in the room. I hold my breath and don’t turn around, praying I’m imagining the sound. He was leaving the room to go to the bathroom, he just closed the door behind him. I try to breathe. It’s ok Rebecca.
I hear his zipper being pulled down, hear his pants hitting the floor. It’s deafening.
I turn around preparing to scream when I’m thrown onto my bed, his forearm across my throat, preventing any sound. He pushes my hair off my face with his other hand.
I surge forward and wrap my hands around his throat, squeezing as hard as I can. I hear my name croaked desperately and it doesn’t sound like him.
It sounds like my mom.
A fog lifts and I look at my mother who is prying my hands from her neck.
I was having a night terror and she’d attempted to comfort and wake me up. She didn’t know this wasn’t a good thing to do.
A lot of people associate anxiety with PTSD, however they aren’t the same. I once saw an infographic on Instagram that illustrated the difference I feel between an anxiety attack and my PTSD. It said that anxiety is normally worrying about what may happen, but with PTSD the worst has happened, and you are constantly reliving it and taking steps to avoid triggers or are often triggered intentionally or unintentionally.
PTSD is also called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A lot of people know of PTSD, but are ill informed about it. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that ‘only military people get it’ or ‘omg sexual assault isn’t that traumatic, how dare you compare yourself a soldier who has been through real trauma’ etc. So here’s where I tell you the following (even though I’m not obligated to explain my struggle):
I have been sexually assaulted twice. The first time I don’t remember. I was drugged and woke up to a friend putting my clothes back on where she’d found me in a guest bedroom. I was fourteen. The little bits I do remember are often flashblacks, blurry and brief.
The second time…it was violent, I was twenty-two, and I remember every detail of it. I remember the blood from the places he bit me that are now physical scars that I carry on my body every day. I remember the things he whispered in my ear, I remember feeling like I wasn’t in my own body, feeling like I was on the ceiling watching someone violate me, neck already bruising as tears silently streamed down my face because he didn’t take no for an answer the first two times and used his forearm on to keep me quiet as he threatened me into silence. I remember everywhere he touched, every move he made. I remember him leaving and me laying in my bed, blaming myself for everything, and then just pulling myself together because I did not LET this happen again. No.
I told my friends it was a bad sexual experience. That way they didn’t question why I didn’t answer his calls or text him. It would be two weeks before I’d admit what happened. I was in my therapy session and talking to my therapist about the experience when I just started saying “I said no but he wouldn’t stop” while crying uncontrollably. That session was a blur. Telling my friends I was raped was not a blur and neither were the changes in my behavior. About a year after that session, I had a new psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with PTSD.
PTSD completely changed my life.
If you’d known me as a pre-teen and teenager you would describe me as the most tactile person in the world. I always wanted to hug or cuddle. I could take jokes, scaring me or coming up behind me would just cause me to jump.
The last time someone tried to sneak up behind me, I almost broke their nose. I do not like to walk with people behind me. If there are I’m listening to their conversations and movements. I keep it all in periphery. I’m weird about where I sit. I want to be as far from vulnerable as I can get. This means sitting against the wall so I can see the whole restaurant or theatre, walking at the back of the group so I can monitor everything. I like to lock doors to the rooms I’m in so that if someone comes in I will hear them and I can prepare. I’m constantly hypervigilant and it’s exhausting. But I don’t know how NOT to be.
I’ve never slept well. I’ve been insomnia’s bitch for the better my life. I don’t sleep much now either. Even with Xanax and sleeping pills, night terrors destroy me. Whether I wake up screaming or gasping for air because I think he’s choking me, I won’t go back to sleep. However, if I have sleeping pills I may not wake up from the night terror…and waking up is always preferable to reliving it over and over again. Sometimes I just lay down and put on Grey’s Anatomy or FRIENDS (shows I binge watched for a year after I was raped that I could go to sleep to because they made me feel safe) and just chill. Other times I feel like I can’t get clean enough, like I’m dirty, like it just happened all over again, and someone will find me clawing at my skin because it doesn’t feel like it’s mine or see me come out of the shower rubbed raw trying to be ‘clean.’ Trying to wake me up at all is risky. I tell people to call my name or throw pillows at me, but not to touch me. Sometimes it works. No one can touch me when I’m like this. If I still feel like it’s happening I may be volatile. You have to ask me questions and sometimes I may be so in my head I don’t hear you.
I don’t really hug anymore. There are friends I’m tactile with, but it’s not often and everyone else asks. My own mother has to ask me if she can hug me and a lot of times I just don’t want to be touched. I can’t sleep with anyone else in my bed. When Joel (my co-blogger) lived with me for a few months in 2015 he’d wake up to me sleeping on the couch or doing things around the house. When he’d ask me why I’d explain that he breathed on me in my sleep and it woke me up or he touched me with his foot. I would sleep partially off the side of the bed so that he’d be comfortable and there would be less of a chance of him accidentally touching me. I did not want to be touched. He’s one of the only people who can hold me during a night terror and has done so on more than one occasion.
I was going to see the new Ghostbusters with two of my friends and there was a trailer. It showed military men standing at attention and fireworks going off in the background. My friends both laughed a bit and didn’t think anything of it. But I winced.
All I could think about was that some of those soldiers probably had PTSD and hearing the fireworks going off was triggering them. I was thinking how hard it is to be stoic when you’re triggered and how easily that can happen. One of my favorite shows is Criminal Minds and I can’t watch a specific episode in the first season. It took me six months to be able to watch Criminal Minds after watching that episodes. Rape scenes are visceral to me. Whether they’re in a book or TV or in a movie, some I can stoically sit through, but others I have to get away.
PTSD doesn’t just effect my behavior and day to day life. It effects my future. Wherever or whoever I live after I leave my parent’s house will have to deal with me waking up screaming, which keeps a lot of apartment complexes from accepting my applications because I’d be one constant noise violation. I have to keep in mind that I can be triggered by a lot of small everyday things that happen at a job. I don’t know if I’ll feel safe being intimate with anyone again or if anyone will be patient enough with me to be. I don’t really think I’ll be able to date at all. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go to the gynecologist alone. When I go on trips I don’t know how I’m going to handle staying somewhere overnight. The concerts I love to go to, I may end up in a hospital because someone wouldn’t take no for an answer.
You can tell me over and over again that it’s happened and it’s not happening again, but while I logically know that? My mind is telling me something else. My mind is back on the ceiling of my old room. My body is telling me he is still hurting me, that he is still ignoring me saying no.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try to push through. Sometimes I can push through and have an amazing experience, but a lot of the time I can’t. It took a very long time for me to start being blunt about what I needed when my PTSD sent me down a winding, awful road. It’s been almost four years and I’m still fighting to take my mind and body back. I don’t know when I’ll be able to do that. I’m still working through a lot of what happened and what was said after the fact, but that’s another conversation for another time.
I would like to take a moment to emphasize that my experience with PTSD isn’t how everyone experiences PTSD, I’m speaking from my personal experience and everyone’s mental illness is unique to them.
If you, or someone you know is suffering from PTSD or any mental illness I encourage you to educate yourself, to seek out perspective and get help.
For more information please check out this site for information and resources if you are suffering from PTSD or other MI’s. NAMI
Thank you for listening and thank you to Inge for allowing me to write this.