Trigger warning: discussion of suicide, child abuse, sexual assault, & PTSD flashback
Today is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day and I wanted to share the ways this condition has impacted my family and me in order to change what people picture when they imagine someone with this disorder.
I learned about PTSD the hard way after losing my uncle to suicide. At the time we didn’t know that was what caused him to leave our family so abruptly, but know that we know the signs and his experiences, a posthumous PTSD diagnosis makes complete sense. He was a veteran of the Marines and served in Vietnam.
I grew up in a military family and most of my uncles fought in wars. I became well aware of issues vets face once they return to civilian life. Most of my uncles never talk about their experiences with anyone else other than each other or their brothers in battle who are still living.
What most of my family members didn’t know was that I was fighting a battle of my own. Being the product of the abusive marriage meant I was born into drama and abuse. I was the constant reminder of my mother’s abuser once they had divorced and he was sent off to a prison thousands of miles away. She took all her anger and frustration out on me physically and verbally and made me an extension of her. Anything good that I did was a reflection of her, not because of my hard work.
I always realized I was different from other kids because of my anxiety and shyness, but it wasn’t until I got into the relationship I am in know that I realized how messed up my upbringing was. Even more unexpected was how it was continuing to impact my life. I get immense jealousy when I see daughters getting along with their mothers.
It wasn’t until seeing a therapist who specializes in ADHD did someone finally label my experiences as what they are – trauma. It was then that I finally felt like I had the permission to view myself as a victim and survivor.
On top of my childhood, I experienced a traumatic incident in which I was sexually assaulted by a guy I was dating because he viewed kissing as consent. I’m a petite 24 year-old petite woman who most people didn’t realize had depression, let alone PTSD. I never considered these things to be trauma because I was taught to believe I didn’t survive anything “major”. I didn’t serve our country in battle. I wasn’t raped by some vile monster who was a stranger like you’d see in Law and Order: SVU.
I was abused by the woman who gave birth to me and was supposed to my biggest supporter in life. I was violated by someone I had trusted. My therapist said that I never realized I had been experiencing trauma because I was constantly being traumatized for so many years that I didn’t have the opportunity to analyze it/label it for what it was. She was also disgusted by the fact that I brought this up to other therapists and no one had even considered my experiences to be trauma or the fact that I have the symptoms of complex PTSD.
I hadn’t realized that I had experienced a lot of the more subtle symptoms of PTSD for quite some time, but it was one day this year when my boyfriend has mentioned something (I can’t remember what it was at this point), I had an episode where I was mentally in an altercation with my mother. It was so terrifying and it felt like it wouldn’t stop. It was as if someone simultaneously hacked my brain to watch the memory and time was rewound to when I was back in that moment. It was my first flashback epsiode and I luckily haven’t had one since.
It’s so weird to add another diagnosis to the roster, but I’ll do whatever it takes to work on myself, even if it means my health chart is expanding a bit. Once I’m done with school and get settled in with a job, I will take this more seriously and hopefully start EMDR therapy and/or other treatments that are forms of trauma-informed care.
Please note that PTSD and other conditions are not a joke and that things like “being triggered” shouldn’t be mocked as it is when someone experiences immense psychological distress a the result of a trigger.