Post traumatic stress disorder. It’s not all war veterans and shell shock. It’s anybody and everybody. Mental health doesn’t have a type. Stop labelling. Start listening. Maybe we will all make a change together.
Post Traumatic stress disorder is something that has shaded my life for as long as I can remember. As a two year old I screamed the house down when my mam was going out. She had to lie with me in the bed until I fell asleep before she could leave safely and undisturbed. At six years of age I was terrorised with nightmares of being kidnapped. At ten years of age my mother told me when I got a bit older my nightmares would go away. At 14 years of age I had to schedule my alarm for 6am purely to get up and shower before my family woke. My nightmares were so bad at this stage every morning without fail I woke up drenched from head to toe in sweat. I barely slept the night through. I just lay there all night with my duvet covering me in a heap breathing through a little hand made hole in my cocoon. At 15 years of age I developed a sleep disorder. I was in hospital on 1:1 nursing at all times. Yet I stayed up all night reading the same book. The same sentence. Once the sun was up I put my book away and slept for as long as I could. Every night would be the same. If the sun was up and the day was bright I wouldn’t be in the dark. Maybe just maybe I’d be able to convince my brain I was safe. My consultant sat me down one day and asked straight out “Katie what are you afraid of ? What is so bad in your dreams that your afraid to go to sleep” . He’d cracked it. I still couldn’t speak about what it was. At 16 years of age I would wake up screaming. At 18 years of age I would wake up and run to the bathroom. I’d splash water on my face and heave over the toilet so traumatised from what I had to see again. At 19 years of age I woke up crying. Maybe I would cry myself to sleep but I’d still wake myself crying so hard in these dreams. At 20 years of age the sleep paralysis was worse than it ever was. In December I fought for my protection while being held down against my will. In January I went through a sleep paralysis where I was being assaulted against my will and I couldn’t wake up. I couldn’t move my body. I tried to kick my way out of my sleep. I tried to slow and quicken my breathing to let the staff in my room know it was happening again. I woke up and asked her had I been tossing and turning in my sleep. No she answered. I said about the sleep paralysis again. She looked at me like they all look at me when they know they don’t have the words to comfort me. All my life I was told my nightmares would go away. When I got older I’d grow out of them. I’d stop being so scared. I’d grow up. I’m twenty years of age now and they haven’t got any better. As I’ve got older my nightmares have become more violent. More twisted. More life threatening each time. My youth was a blessing in that aspect. I didn’t have the capacity to realise how bad a situation could turn. Or how evil a person could be. Somehow through it all my child like innocence stayed while my mind become that of someone torn between the justice system and the system of morals inside her.
The nightmares are the simplest symptom to explain. Everyone has had a night terror. It kind of makes some bit of sense to them. It’s not totally crazy in their minds. There is a rationale. The avoidance can be fobbed off for something more superficial. Do you want to go to Dublin shopping ? No thank you I’m fine. It’s a little too crowded for me. Granted we will go to Athlone. Anything to do with being crowded ? Nope not at all. Everywhere is too crowded. But I’m trying to live my life. When your stomach is sore and you skip a meal yeah that makes sense. How about when your stomach is sore every day ? Do you skip all your meals ? Nope you do what you have to do to survive. You eat even if your in pain. If your going to be in pain for a day you can bear it out. If your in pain everyday you subject your body to the food and say deal with it. One way or another you’ll get used to it. You have too. One choice. One choice only. So my avoidance would be the same. Do I want to avoid everything. Of course but I can’t because I have to do what I can to survive and going out to get essentials like water and toilet roll is something you have to do to survive. You try anyway possible to be normal. Fit the standards of 20 year old girl. Do your make up and shower and go for a walk just to take a nice Insta photo and show your not what everyone had you labelled as. Untreatable and depressed. You post a funny photo to prove you still have your humour. You post those selfies. I do like them at times. They don’t all make me sick but the agenda is not to get likes and look pretty but to stop everybody running away from me. To not drag everybody down. To answer all the questions with I’m good how’re you or fob off your darkest feelings through humour and memes. It’s funny right. She can’t be serious. Like that’s a joke. We’re all laughing. She has to be too. Right ? No I’m afraid your wrong on that one.
There is one thing about post traumatic stress disorder that people can never grasp. The trigger phrases. We all have them. Say suicide I’ll cry. Say rape and I will swallow down my sick. But they aren’t all that graphic. You try to help. One example is on Thursday night. My staff member sitting with me said to me the sentence. “Show them your a big girl”. In hospital trying to drink all my prep for surgery the following morning. I spent the night crying my heart out. To you that was the most innocent comment. To me insulting. Childish and detrimental. See that’s the thing. It made me feel like a child again. See this was said to me a few times in very wrong situations but you don’t know that do you. See people that suffered long-term in an abusive situation there is things said to us. But these things destroy us again and again sometimes unknowns to ourselves. Same words. Same reoccurring mental traumas. Just a different person saying it. When I was 11 I stopped eating. For quite a long time. My grandmother had always said to me when I ate that I was a fine big girl. Big girl made me sick. Sick to the point of bulimia. Sick enough to tick all the boxes and scales of a long term eating disorder. Not sick enough to look like it was getting to me. Not sick enough on surface for it too stop. To her a typical Irish granny this was a compliment. To be this was being called fat over and over again. The girls in school said it. And my mind tortured me with it every minute of everyday. I become the daze beneath my eyes. A blank stare. Inside a calculator of calories. They didn’t know this. My family didn’t know this. But they kept saying it. Silly eh.
I went into surgery not having much confidence. Doctors were touching me and trying to soothe my worries. People I don’t know trying to have any contact with me makes me sick. He had his hand on my shoulder telling me it was going to be okay. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t say anything only shy so obviously away from his touch and hope he got the message. They started talking to me about the procedure and about having an oxygen mask on while being put to sleep. I don’t remember what happened after that. When I came around I was coughing and choking on my tears. I was on the theatre bed with everyone around me talking about whatever just happened. All these strange faces. A gown couldn’t cover me from the vulnerability I had on display. I had no recollection of what had just happened. My bed felt soiled and I was exposed. I was exposed and I didn’t have the recollection to tell myself it was all okay. My head started spinning and the scenarios started seeping from my tears. I’ve been in that situation far more times than any of them could imagine. Drugs involved ? I don’t think the idiots were smart enough for that back then but I blocked everything out to the point any physical pain I could gain control over. I didn’t show it. Only alone would my bed once again become drenched in tears and my pillow a suffocation of my screams.
The same when someone asks you a question and you say no. They ask are you sure. Of course I’m sure I just said no. It always makes me so angry. In my head I go back to the garda station wondering how many times does someone have to say no until it’s an accepted answer. I throw back in their faces I just said no but to them their just trying to help. To me their him. There a few people. And I’m saying no and their not listening and I’m back voiceless and lifeless again.. I’m screaming in my head. I’m pleading again. On surface I just get angrier with you. But your just trying to help. Right then and there your destroying me and I can’t look at you like before. Hypervigilance sets it. I’ve to be careful. Your not taking no for an answer and the fight or flight starts. You become a threat. I’m waiting for your outburst. The violent rage. I just did wrong. I said no. Here it all goes downhill. It’s starting. And I’m just waiting. See the thing I have to teach myself and tell myself is that I’ve a right to say no. Not everybody that hears no is going to become a threat. It’s not life or death. And I need to stop waiting for the nightmare to start all over again. It’s not. Your a person just trying to help me. Begging me to take the help. I’m saying no but you are just trying to help me. The threat is always there in my brain. That’s post traumatic stress disorder. Life has changed and situations have changed. I have to learn to Rewire my Brain. (Side note to myself to learn how to spell while looking at all them red lines. Side note to reader. I hope you can spell better than me). I will rewire my brain. Not today or not tomorrow. Right now my aim is to give you an insight to brains suffering through this flight or fight wiring.
I know everybody has suffered and everybody has gone through hard times. All I do is walk down the street and look at someone’s eyes and I see this. I see it everyday. But when you go through a trauma and it doesn’t later effect you are you stronger? Not necessarily. Strength can’t be measured. But because you came out of it with out the 20 years of nightmares and the constant vigilance or fear does not validate my anxiety as silly.
Post traumatic stress disorder is terrifying. And terrifyingly common at that too. It’s not something you can just let go off. If that was the case I’d be the little granddad in the kids movie up letting go of all his balloons. Your can’t etch a memory into air and let it fly away. You can’t look in the mirror and displace the damage with the person you want to see. Maybe in time. But not right now. Not when stuck in a time machine jammed on rewind.
Post traumatic stress disorder has me in constant pain. My chest sore from palpitations. My head and jaw sore from biting down on my teeth. My body breaking every time I lie on that bed. Irrational fears and mistrust in everything or everyone. It darkens my soul. The kindest people have the possibility to turn. It’s not about evidence. Evidence and logic doesn’t live in a brain still stuck in this disorder. I have all the times in my head knowing you didn’t hurt me. That possibility is what kills me. The guarantee that I can’t guarantee it’s going to be okay. Your going to be okay.
I used to have a very bad fear of men. I believed men didn’t have feelings. They were incapable of love. Sounds crazy doesn’t it. It was crazy. But to me it was the most logical thing in my fucked up world. It was never personal. It was generalization. Ruling out a sex based on their anatomy. That’s anxiety too it’s finest. Black and white thinking. Assumptions. Fears. Shutting down. I don’t hold that opinion anymore. My core beliefs have swayed from the locked box they were pressed into. I now know that was my anxiety and the trauma I lived through. My therapy is on going. I first sat with a counsellor at eleven years of age. I’m twenty now. Best thing is I’ve had breakthroughs. I’ve had lessons in life. I fell in love with the most beautiful man and while were not together anymore I can never thank him. He changed my life for he too me was the man I always needed to meet. I trusted him over anybody. Suddenly sexes weren’t opposite. We were all humans. And men weren’t a race of their own. I have such good men in my life. I didn’t have them growing up. I have them now. And I trust them and love them. I’ve male staff who talk about their little ones in such a way I hold back tears. I smile and my soul inside me shines the light it never could have before. I admire these men for everything they are. I could never tell them that when I go to my room I sob my heart out. I sob my heart out for the love they have inside them. For their daughters because I know when they turn 13 their daddies will be uncool but they will never know just how much their daddies love them. I cry for the love I never recieved and the protection I never had. And I cry with happiness and safety in my trust for mankind. I cry because finally I know that I’ve overcome some aspects of my past. I may have had it really bad but it wasn’t right and I know that now. I wasn’t a cry baby or just sensitive as my mam always told me. I grew up in some horrendous situations and faced battles no child should ever battle but it was wrong and that’s what makes it right for me now. I can move on knowing that it shouldn’t have happened and it’s not normal. I can sleep knowing not every two year old screams the house down out of fear. Not every four year old wets the bed because of the monsters in her room and not every fourteen year old struggling will try take their life. That’s what makes it okay. My faith in humanity has been restored and out of everything that will help you get over post traumatic stress disorder this is what helped me the most.
Not everyone will hurt me. It’s not a given that it will happen again. I’ve lived through it and physically I’m out of my trauma years. Mentally it will take time. I will get there. I used to think being abused was the worst thing that could happen me. It did happen me. Over and over again. And I was terrified because it broke me mentally. What you have to remember is you here reading this your alive and your heart is beating. If your heart is beating you’ll find away to get through it. You have one life and it’s yours. Those people took everything from me. I’d question if I had it to begin with but that’s beside the point. They didn’t take my life and they don’t get too. Don’t let them take yours too.
Your heart is beating and your purpose alive inside you. Your mind will find it’s way. It lies within you. And you’ll find it. Just keep breathing.
One day at a time.
Lots of love