Friday, January 19, 2018

PTSD and Me

When most people think of PTSD, they think of soldiers coming back from war or war torn areas. While this is very much a real thing, there are so many more of us who deal with it. In fact, according to the Nebraska Department of Veterans' Affairs, 5.2 million Americans suffer from it in any given year. That's a lot of folks, folks!

As always, I'm not really here though to talk about anyone else's experiences. I can only speak to mine and since I had something trigger recently, I thought that maybe it might be a good time to tell all of you about it.

According to one doctor, I've had PTSD since I was approximately 3 years old. Yep, you read that right. Three years old. That comes out to about 38 years of PTSD and for me, while that one traumatic incident started it, others just added to it over the years. Let's start at the beginning though...

When I was about three, I was sent to my father's house for some sort of visitation. He left me alone with his girlfriend while he went to work. As the tale goes, this girlfriend had her own children taken away by the courts and was a very jealous type. For whatever reason, she beat me. That sounds ...somehow more than a description and yet not enough of one... She returned me to my grandparent's house covered in bruises, including perfectly circular ones that went up my spine. I had to be taken after hours to see my pediatrician where, at the age of about three, I had to be examined to make sure I hadn't been raped. Imagine your child having to go through all of that and having no idea what they'd done.

I can tell you now what it is that I think I did. I existed. That's all that it took. For years, I had nightmares and after a lot of time, I can tell you what I think happened to me. At some point, I was locked in a closet because she didn't want to see me. I was almost potty trained and at some point, I had an accident and peed my pants. I was slapped or hit repeatedly across my vagina. I was given a scalding hot bath and held under the water while she screamed at me. Then, I was dropped on my grandparents' porch and she drove away. My father lost all but supervised visitation after that.

That's when the nightmares started. I should say nightmare because it was always the same one. I once asked my grandmother about it and her response was, "Oh god, we'd hoped you wouldn't remember." I was an adult with children of my own by this time and she'd had no idea about the nightmares because I'd never told anyone.

That's where the PTSD started and if I were to write out full descriptions of what added to it, we'd be here all day, so I'm just going to do a list:
1. Parental Abandonment
2. Emotional and sometimes physical abuse by my mother
3. Loss of a child (17 weeks pregnant) followed by emotional abuse by his father
4. Divorce
5. Rape

There may be other things, but honestly, how many do we need, right? I mean, that's a lot for any person.

Over the years, I've struggled to move past some of these things but I know that they've molded me. How my parents treated me has directly affected how I treat my own children. I won't thank them, but they were a very good example of how not to parent. Perhaps, in some sadly ironic way, they've made me into a better parent than I may have been otherwise.

There have been other consequences, of course. I don't trust easily and while I'm an open book if asked, I don't open up easily otherwise. It's very hard sometimes for me to believe that anyone really likes me and if people don't make those first moves, I automatically assume it's because they don't like me. It doesn't occur to me that maybe they're waiting just like I am.

Relationships....all I can say is ouch. I left my divorce having no idea who I am and eleven years later, I'm just at the point where I can say, "Yeah, I'm finding parts of myself and it's good." I've had a couple of pretty intense relationships in that time and the problem was that at least one of them was a case of two broken people which never goes well. My last relationship left me damaged in other ways
and added to the PTSD. My current relationship? We've been together for about 2.5 years and I'm lucky that he honestly believes that I'm not hard to love. As for me, he's forced me to grow and get stronger. He doesn't believe in rewarding my insecure behavior and more than once I've been left with the decision of leaving the relationship or dealing with whatever issue is buzzing in my head.

Why am I sharing this with all of you? As with everything that I write about here, I want you to realize that if this is something that you deal with, you're not alone. For those who don't, I want you to realize that others around you may be dealing with things that you have no idea about. PTSD can be one of those silent illnesses that you don't even know is there unless someone tells you.

For example, when something triggers me, I don't get violent (the stereotype with this disorder). In fact, about the opposite happens. I'm more likely to curl into myself. I'm more likely to sit and stare into space. Someone once told me that I was the stillest person they had ever seen. I had fled to their house to get away from the world after someone that I trusted and loved essentially stabbed me through the heart and then turned their back on me. The friend didn't really have furniture in their living room so I spent the weekend sitting on his hard wood floor and just surviving. Every person handles things differently and their survival mode may be different.

Up above, I posted some of the symptoms of PTSD. Short of one or two, I've probably dealt with all of them. I'm happy to say that the recurring nightmare from childhood is a rare occurrence these days but I'm still hyper alert to certain behaviors. It's for this reason, I've had to walk away from some friendships and some people. Their behavior is a trigger for me and while they may realize it, they don't feel the need to change it. See? I told you that on some level, all of these posts were interconnected!

So, one blog post later, I don't know if anything I've written here has helped anyone but perhaps it's a reminder to be kind to one another because we never know what someone else is dealing with in their lives. A bit of kindness costs nothing  but can be worth all the gold in the world to someone who needs it.



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