TRIGGER WARNING - sexual assault ⚠️
For 6 years I couldn’t understand why I was the way I was. Something was wrong, and no matter how hard I tried to put a pin on the problem, I could never grasp it. It was only when I was 17 that I could remember: I had been raped.
I can’t remember the exact moment when everything came flooding back to me, but after going to a psychologist for a few months before any recollection dawned, I finally remembered what had happened. For years my brain had blocked out the trauma as a defence mechanism in order to cope. I was 11, and it has affected me in more ways that I could ever imagine possible.
Nearly every night I would wake up with physical symptoms of trauma from the dream I’d had. This for me was the worst. The dreams were so vivid that my reality began to merge into a blend of the dreams I’d had and the real world around me. I’d go to bed each night terrified of what was to come. I constantly felt as if I wasn’t alive and I was simply watching my life go by through a TV screen. Reality didn’t seem to exist. I’d see what was happening around me and feel the physical touch of others on my body, but I felt completely disassociated from it all. Only many years later did I find out the problem: I had developed PTSD as a result of the trauma.
My self-worth had plummeted, and the happy energetic girl I was once before had vanished. I hated how I looked and the way I acted. I’d stare in the mirror for long periods of time hating what was looking back at me. After nearly every sentence I spoke to the people around me, I’d wish I hadn’t said a thing at all. A concoction of anxiety, depression and PTSD was part of my everyday life. I’d constantly question the reason I was alive and became extremely unmotivated in anything I did. Especially the things I used to enjoy doing most. My parents constantly made comments about how much I’d changed for the worst, which only increased the lack of self-worth I felt. I didn’t understand why I felt this way and hid myself from my family through my ex-boyfriend. I felt that I needed the validation of men in order to be worthy, and so stayed in an abusive relationship for 4 years.
Whenever I felt a moment of happiness, a memory would pass through my head from the incident and I’d instantly feel a wave of deep sadness and despair. All I wanted was to run. I couldn’t get out of it, and felt I was in a never-ending spiral of negative emotions that would play over and over in my head from the moment I fell asleep to the second I woke up. I’d often panic in most ever-day situations I encountered. Whether in the bedroom, reading about any form of sexual assault, or being alone with a man, I would feel this sense of complete and utter dread. I felt I owed sexual intimacy to each man I was with, since in my head it was all I was good for. No matter how ill-treated I was in every relationship I had with men, I couldn’t escape because of the extreme negative emotions I had of myself and the deep fear of dealing with these emotions alone. Alcohol seemed like the only form of escape I could find, which tended to only make the mental pain I was feeling worse. I’d wake up each day living in my past.
I felt embarrassed and didn’t want to believe the truth about that moment of my childhood. Even though I had a vague understanding of the source of my emotions, I couldn’t come to terms with the actual incident and the effect it had on my mental health. Why I was the way I was, why I felt the way I did about so many things in life, and why I seemed to have such a misconception about men were questions that bounced back and forth in my mind. Talking about it was incredibly hard, and something I felt was almost impossible. But, what I’m here to say is that it gets better. Even the most intense and unbearable emotions you feel will pass, and nothing lasts forever. No matter what, the way you feel is valid and deserves just as much care and attention as it does to anyone else. So many times, I wanted to hide again and not deal with all the emotions that I felt. I would’ve given anything to rid myself of PTSD, but I realised that nothing was going to change if I kept living the way I was. Your emotions are your own, and the one thing that I couldn’t do anymore was hide from myself.
No matter what you go through, you can get through it. If you ever feel some of what I’ve mentioned above, or have experienced something similar, please don’t be afraid to speak out and get help. There is nothing to be ashamed of for feeling the way you feel, and even though emotions can be complicated at times, you can always work through them. Seeking help is not a weakness, it is a strength.
PTSD can affect people in different ways, from different triggers. Here are some tips on how to cope when your symptoms arise:
1. When you feel like you’re in a situation that could possibly trigger or cause you to panic, close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths until you feel calmer.
2. Obviously medication, although not for everyone, has helped me immensely deal with it.
3. Surround myself with people who make me feel confident and positive, so that it’s easier to not manifest negative thoughts and dive into flashbacks.
4. When I feel an episode coming or have had a nightmare, I take a moment to assure myself that this moment is temporary and will pass, which usually allows me to calm down.
P.S. I want to thank everyone in my life that has stuck with me through thick and thin, and helped me learn how to deal with the intricate complexities of what it is to be human. To everyone out there reading this, you can survive anything thrown your way.