We Don’t Talk About PTSD, But I Need To.

“You have PTSD, Kaleigh. You’ve probably had it for a while, but being sexually harassed every day over the summer definitely made it worse, brought the trauma of being raped back to the forefront of your mind. And now you have to process all these things that you’ve repressed for so long.” That’s basically what my therapist told me yesterday, as I sat crying in his office after replaying for him the harassment I faced every day this summer (I’m not going to replay that here; I’ve written blog posts about it.

My first thought was: I can’t have PTSD. I’ve never been to war. Other people have it worse.

But then, as I texted two of my very best friends, they said what I knew all along: We’ve known for a while.

I’ve known for a while. When I went to the Psych ER, the Psychiatrist who saw me before I was discharged said: I think you have it, but I don’t know you well enough to make an official diagnosis.

Well, yesterday, I got the official diagnosis. And my world turned upside down, or, actually, right-side up because now my whole life, especially the last 8 months make so much sense.

You see, back in July, I had a flashback at the gym. One minute, I was on the treadmill; the next minute, I was back in eighth grade in the school bathroom, pleading with five guys to get off me.

And it spiraled from there: multiple calls to the suicide hotline, trying to drive into trees, panic attacks at work or at the gym, nightmares and flashbacks.

It got to the point where I couldn’t go to the gym alone without having a panic attack so bad, I became actively suicidal. (Which, apparently, is another symptom of PTSD.) Most times, they were so bad, I had to sit on the bench in the hall because I knew if I got behind the wheel, I’d drive full speed into a tree.

I had to protect myself from myself.

One night, back in late October, I got so suicidal while at the gym, that I disassociated–some how I lost two hours, but it felt like 15 minutes.

And lately, it’s gotten worse.

Lately, my anxiety’s been so high, and I’m on high alert 24/7. I’m triggered more often than I’m not (I know that “triggered” means different things to different people, but let me tell you what it means in the mental health world: it means something that reminds me of my trauma. Sometimes, it’s little things: cologne or a sound. But, it’s also other things: some guy looked at me for too long in the store the other day and all of a sudden, I was suicidal. It explains why I freak out any tome someone walks up behind me. And it may sound ridiculous–and I mean, it sort of does. But here’s the thing: I’m traumatized.)

I’m traumatized more than I let myself believe. And now I have to validate my trauma. I have to say “yes, maybe some people have been through worse, but I’ve been through shit, too. And it’s affected me in profound and deep ways. I can’t invalidate myself anymore.”

I can’t invalidate myself anymore. I can’t just hold everything back. I can’t pretend to be ok. Because I’m not.

I’m not ok, and yesterday, my world was shattered. Because I now have a label, a diagnosis. But also, everything makes sense:

Now I know why being around certain people strikes fear in my heart. I know why sometimes I can’t sleep at night. I understand the Major Depression, the increased Generalized Anxiety, the increased suicidal desires when I have bad panic attacks.

I understand.

But what does this mean?

It means more intense therapy more often. It means I have to do individual therapy every week instead of every two (that’s coupled with the group therapy every week). It means learning what triggers me, what causes me to flashback (even on some unconscious level) to my trauma: certain voices, certain personalities, certain noises.

Also, it means that right now, I cant go to the gym. My friend started going with me a few months back because my panic attacks were so bad. But the fear of being around a lot of guys is way too much for my fragile mind to handle.

Besides, since I can’t cut off contact from humans completely, I have to limit the bad, which means I nix the gym.

Because it’s not just at the gym: it’s at Wegmans. It’s at work. It’s watching certain TV shows.

Some guy stood by the desk for a while having a conversation with one of the Pastors, and I started having a panic attack–something about him reminded me of something I’d rather forget. And I couldn’t handle that.

I can’t stop things like that from happening. I can’t stop myself from panicking every time a dad takes a pick-up-their-child ticket from my outstretched hand. I can’t stop myself from going to Wegmans.

But I can stop going to the gym.

And I’m trying to control what I can. Heal what I can. Feel what I can.

Because right now, I’m feeling so many things, which I suppose is better than feeling nothing.

But right now, 99% of the time, I want to die.

And I’m working through it. Little by little. Trying to take it one step at a time, one breathe at a time, one hour at a time.

I have PTSD, and it sucks, and I’m really really struggling right now.

But there’s so much more to me than 4 little letters.

And there are a whole lot of people out there who have said “hey, we love you and support you, and we’ll help you in any way we can.”

Because right now those 4 letters feel so heavy, but my community makes me strong.

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“Hey, Writer Girl.”

“Mira a esa hermosa gringa. No te gustaría que fuera nuestra jefa? Lo que me gustaria hacer a ella.”

Oh my god. They don’t know I speak Spanish.

. . .

I don’t know how to describe to you the terror I felt every time I walked into that warehouse; how hard it was for me to concentrate on all the technical writing I had to do, knowing that there were guys on the other side of the building waiting for me to walk through those doors to meet with their foreman.

I don’t know how to describe to you the way my skin crawled when their eyes followed me, the way I would be sent into a near panic anytime one of them walked within five feet of my desk on the way to the HR office, how one of them would “accidentally” brush up against me as we passed each other in the hall, smirking as he looked me up and down.

I don’t know how to describe to you how excited I was to start this job: not only was I using my English degree, but I was also using my background in technology and engineering. This job was going to open so many doors for me to advance in this field.

It opened doors alright: to Psych ERS and panic attacks. To almost driving into trees and flashbacks. To therapy and medication.

. . .

It started out innocently at first: passing glances as I walked into the warehouse, whispering amongst themselves. And then, like the way one falls in love: slowly and then all at once, it escalated: leering as I walked up the stairs in the warehouse to the print shop, making crude jokes, and non-specific threats (well, actually, they were very specific threats. And I’m not going to repeat what they said here, but I can guarantee you whatever you’re thinking, they probably said).

But I will tell you one of their jokes, one of their very favorites: What did the bosses do when the intern told them that some warehouse guys raped her? Nothing because they didn’t believe her.

Yes, yes. Very funny. See the spleen through the split in my side? I’m rolling on the floor laughing over here.

Everything they said, I believed. And it terrified me–as someone who was raped, but more importantly as one of the only females who worked for this company. Anytime I was alone in the warehouse–because my breaks did not line up with theirs–I wondered, is this going to be the time?

And it escalated and escalated, and they got bolder and bolder, and they got more and more crude and terrifying.

I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or defend myself, choosing instead to use humor to deflect their unwanted advances:

Do you want to get coffee sometime? I don’t like coffee.

Do you want to get together some Sunday and watch the Bills’ game? Why, so you can disappoint me, too?

And when I spent a week at one of the other warehouses, the Hispanic workers were the boldest, most arrogant, talking amongst themselves right outside my “borrowed from a boss they haven’t replaced” office, not knowing that I understood every word of the Spanish they spoke.

And then one day,  at 4:45, it was just me and the ringleader in the office, as everybody else had gone home, as I exited the bathroom, away from the view of the lone security camera trained on the office area, he exposed himself to me, and then winked and said, “I’ve never disappointed a woman ever.” And then walked out, leaving me alone to finish the last 15 minutes of my shift.

That was the least productive 15 minutes of my life, let me tell you.

I never knew any of their names. They never knew mine, which is the way I wanted it. They referred to me as “Writer Girl;” I gave them nicknames–Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber; and Senor Mirador (translation: Mr. Watcher). Nameless avatars in a crowded world; my way of keeping my identity a secret, maybe they won’t be able to track me down.

Because as long as they called me, “Hey, Writer Girl,” I could continue to exist as Kaleigh. I could continue to pretend that everything they said was meant for someone else–someone who wasn’t me.

But, the irony lies in the way I viewed myself: I felt like somehow, I deserved everything they said, all the unwanted touches, all of the crude jokes and innuendos.

I felt like I was two people: Me and not me. My sense of self had been so damaged by the years of hurt, by being raped, and now by this, that I felt like I deserved to feel like a terrible person. I felt like I was a terrible person.

And I just became so depressed and so anxious and so terrified of everybody, including myself. And the worst person to be scared of is yourself.

I was so scared of losing control, of losing my mind. I stopped eating again. I started cutting again.

I let those men say whatever they wanted to say; I took it. I didn’t want to make ripples, didn’t want to upset anyone, didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

I preferred being harassed every day to standing up for myself, demanding to be heard.

And therein lies the problem.

. . .

I don’t know how to complete this post. Do I wish I handled things differently? Yes.

Do I wish I reported it sooner? Yes, yes I do. Because I did report it, but it only ended up being about a week before I left that job. Too little; too late (but that’s sort of how I feel about myself. Like, maybe I waited too long to get help for my anxiety and depression).

Did the constant everyday harassment lead me to have that fateful panic attack at the gym in July, which lead me to where I am now? You bet your butt it did.

And now, here I am. Taking medication for the depression and anxiety I didn’t get help for because I didn’t let myself ask, couldn’t admit to myself how much I was hurting.

Here I am: going to group therapy every week, and individual therapy every 10-14 days. Here I am: still struggling with suicidal thoughts and panic attacks and depression and anxiety, having panic attacks everytime I go to the gym by myself because I don’t trust a single guy I see there.

Here I am: working at the church I grew up in, at a place that makes me feel safe and confident and encourages me, with people that support me through my brokenness.

Here I am: on Monday, every time a father signed out their child when their hand touched mine as I handed him the “a-ok to pick up your child” ticket, my anxiety would start to rise, little mini panic attacks every five minutes.

Here I am: talking about something I never ever thought I would talk about it.

But that’s what I’m trying to do right now:: be honest and vulnerable, despite how much it hurts. Because one thing I’ve learned over this long process of healing is that it has to hurt before it gets better.

And I’m hurting so much, but if you don’t think I won’t continue to carpe the diem as many days as I can, you’re wrong. I won’t let my fears and struggles stop me.

Because despite all the pain, despite all the hurt, despite my doubts and insecurities, there are people who never left my side, people who have encouraged me along the way, and for them, I am so so thankful.

I’m still struggling as much as I was three, four, even five months ago. But it’s a different kind of struggling. Because a few months ago, I didn’t know who I was–“Not Me” was struggling while not having an identity. Today, I know who I am.
 
It’s easier to struggle in your own house than it is in a stranger’s.
Here I am: I am home.

Dear Anonymous

 

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You left me this comment on my most vulnerable blog yet–the post in which I describe, in detail, how you raped me. You left it nine years to the day that you raped me, and the problem is, I don’t know which one of you left it. I have my theories because I’ve been keeping tabs on all of you. A few years ago, I even messaged one of you saying I forgive you, to which you replied, “I’m sorry.”

Over the years, I’ve seen you in stores; I’ve watched you pop up into my Facebook feed as a mutual friend of ours comments on something you post; I’ve watched you pop into my life at the worst moments, and I’ve had many sleepless nights because of what you did.

But here’s the thing: I’m not bitter. I don’t hate you. I hope God works in your life the way God has worked in mine.

You see, for years I struggled with my self-worth. I struggled with self-harm and an eating disorder. But God stepped in and showed me how much I was worth. He’s rescued me. He saved me from myself when I attempted suicide, and He carries me when my depression gets so bad that I feel like I can’t move.

Two months ago, I saw one of you in Target, and by ‘saw’ I mean, “ran into,” literally. I ran into you so hard that you dropped everything you were holding. I stopped to help you pick it up, like God stopped to help me pick up the pieces of myself that you left on that bathroom floor nine years ago.

I hope one day you help someone else pick up their broken pieces. We’re all broken; we all need healing, and we all need those who can help us carry our burdens.

When I first got that comment, it didn’t bother me, but it chipped away at me over the hours before I went to bed that night. It resulted in a long, sleepless night filled with panic attacks and what ifsWhat if you find out where I live? What if you show up? What if it happens again? What if nobody ever loves me because of what you did to me?

And then, what if it doesn’t matter?

It doesn’t matter because I’m not scared of you anymore. I’m especially not scared of someone who can’t even post their name. I’m not scared because God loves me despite what I’ve been through, despite what will happen in my future. He loves me even if no one else ever will.

Two months ago, a few days after I ran into you in Target, a few days after I looked into your hazel eyes and memories came flooding back, and I felt like I was on that bathroom floor all over again, a few days after I wrote that blog post you felt the need to comment on, I was in church.

One minute, I was singing some songs, and the next instant, in the blink of an eye, I was sobbing at the prayer rail, my dad’s hand in mine. All the pain and shame and worthlessness I’ve felt over the years came flooding over me. In the next instant, it was all gone, and a voice said to me, “You’ll be ok. I’ve got this.” In that instant, an overwhelming peace came over me, and I sensed God in a way I hadn’t felt Him in years.

I wish I could describe that feeling better for you. I hope one day you can experience it. And I don’t know if you believe in God or even want anything to do with God, but I hope He moves in your life like He’s moved in mine.

I know one day you’ll see this, because I can block you on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but I know you still read my blog. You keep tabs on me like I keep tabs on you, sometimes.

Since you read my blog, dear anonymous, I hope you read this too: I forgive you, not because people told me to, but because I’m called to. I’m praying for you. I hope one day you’ll understand what love really means. I hope one day you’ll find God.

And I hope that one day, you’ll forgive yourself.

 

 

Trigger Warnings and Safe Spaces in the age of Donald Trump 

It’s really hard being a rape victim when Donald Trump opens his mouth and says what he says about women.

——–

As I’m writing this, it’s 12:39 AM. And I’m having a panic attack–it’s not the first one I’ve had in the past few months, but it’s certainly been the worst.

It started because of a video I saw on the news, but it didn’t start right away (they almost never do). They develop over time, like a romantic crush: all of a sudden it hits you, and you’re like, “Oh, no.”

It started because of a video about Donald Trump. You know the one. The one he dubs “locker-room talk,” a “chat between guys.” But, in reality, it was more like the opening sequence of a sexual assault scene.

Which, unfortunately, is almost exactly like how my rape played out.

Picture this: a guy grabs an unsuspecting girl from behind while she’s washing her hands and punishes her for daring to reject him.

Don’t want to picture it? Yeah, neither did I.

But I had no real warning, no way to prepare myself. One minute, I was watching coverage on Hurricane Matthew, and the next I’m listening to Donald Trump make a lewd, rapey comment. The only warning was “Next tonight, we have an audio tape of a conversation Donald Trump had about a woman,” which I guess in hindsight should have been enough.

It’s now 1 AM, and I’m still fighting the waning panic that came from the unexpected audio clip.

Two hours ago, the hour-long panic was a lot worse than it is now. Now it’s a dull ache, then it was a roaring freight train. It was feeling heavy and light all at the same time–like two wings trying to carry a boulder weighing a ton. And I know that doesn’t really make sense, but imagine how you feel when you have a fever, simultaneously feeling hot and cold at the same time. It was like that, but it was like my person was trying to fly, but my body was weighing it down. My mind was in the past but my body was in the present, and the disconnect between the two created a whole body tingling sensation underneath my skin of cement.

And I was anxious and achy and dizzy and teary, and a million other things at once that I don’t have words for, but I wish I did.

I wish I could convey to you how it feels to have a panic attack, especially if you don’t understand, especially if you constantly bemoan the “sensitive millennials and their need for safe spaces and trigger warnings.”

To those of you like that: I pray to God that someone you love never goes through something so traumatic it changes the way they interact with society.

I wish I could adequately explain to you how it feels to have a panic attack because they’re exhausting, and they make sleep impossible and coming back to reality is an ordeal in itself.

And, oh my gosh, how I wanted to self-harm so badly last night. Because the sensation of a razor would have provided more physical pressure than tracing “I’m ok” over and over again with my finger. But trace away I did–130 times.

And when that didn’t work, I wrapped myself up tightly in my blanket, arms wrapped across my chest, knees bent, rocking back and forth, humming to myself, like a stereotypical old-timey insane asylum resident.

But I’m not crazy. I need something to ground me in the now. To remind my time-traveling mind that it’s safe with my body in the present.

Oftentimes the added pressure does the trick, which is why I like hugs. But if the pressure fails, I look in the mirror as the last resort because nothing draws my mind back to the present like a staring contest with yourself.

It’s 1:38 AM. Three and a half hours later, the panic is gone. Three and a half hours that I’ll never get back, where I could’ve been sleeping.

It could’ve maybe been prevented. Maybe not completely, but I could’ve been warned, could’ve prepared myself.

“The media’s not going to warn you if they’re going to discuss something like this.” They warn people when they’re going to show graphic videos or images where there’s blood or gunfire.

Why is this different?

Safe spaces and trigger warnings aren’t to stop us from talking about tough things, being challenged, being uncomfortable, and engaging in society. They exist to save us from ourselves.

You can’t be challenged if you don’t feel safe.

I want to be challenged. But I’m scared to be challenged if people are quick to dismiss the racial and gender issues in the country just because they aren’t part of them.

“There’s no race issue.” Says the white man.

“There’s no rape culture.” Says the man.

Donald Trump is rape culture personified. He can say whatever he wants and do whatever he wants when it concerns women because he’s a wealthy man.

Rape Culture is thinking women owe you something for being nice to them or being a man or being beautiful.

Rape Culture is grading women on their waist and bust size.

Rape Culture is calling women you don’t like “pigs and slobs.”

Rape Culture is ascribing worth to a woman based on how attractive they are.

Rape Culture is being jailed for six months after committing a sexual assault because “he has a bright future ahead of him.”

(I used to think I had a bright future ahead of me. Now I wonder if my past will ever stop blocking the sun.)

Rape Victim is 1 in 4.

Rape Victim is someone you know.

Rape Victim is afraid to go out in public because “not all guys” but enough do.

Rape Victim is scrolling through Twitter realizing how many people there are just like her.

Rape Victim knows that there’s more to being safe than having access to guns. And right now, we don’t feel safe because our past continues to slap us in the face whenever Trump speaks.

And all we want to do is move healthily into the future without being reminded of our past.

There’s a Light

Darkness has surrounded me recently. Depression has shrouded me in a cloak of insecurity and doubt so thick, so heavy I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe normally, without this heaviness in my chest. It’s like I’m walking through a maze, and the deeper I go, the darker it gets, the closer the walls seem to be. And to top it all off, it’s raining in this maze. It’s been raining long and hard for days, and the maze has standing water–not enough for normal people to be concerned with, but enough that I’m starting to feel anxious.

And I know that probably none of this makes sense, but hear me out.

My two biggest phobias in life are small spaces and drowning, but they didn’t use to be. Once upon a time, the bottom of the pool was my best friend, and I could play hide and seek in the closet for hours. Once upon a time, I was more scared of heights than anything, but I’m not afraid of jumping anymore (at least not most of the time). As we grow up, we change, and I hope one day I will grow out of these two fears, out of the memories they bring. Right now, they’re things I carry with me.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I can tell you the exact moment this all became luggage on my life trip.

It was a school bathroom, late afternoon, one day in the middle of May, almost eight years ago. I was alone, until I wasn’t. There were suddenly too many people, too many hands, too many demands. As the room started to close in, I felt too big, too small, too everything at once. And I wish I didn’t remember what happened next. I wish I could tell you I don’t remember any of it, but I remember most of it.(As I’m sitting here writing this, it’s playing over and over and over in my head. I wish it would stop, but I know the only way to make that happen is to keep writing, get the words out.)  And if you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. My world became so much smaller that day. They were everywhere. If they weren’t, they could’ve been around the next corner, or the next one, or the next one.

So, no. I don’t like closed spaces–they remind me of that time when the room I was in suddenly became too small for the memories it carries.

But what does water have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. I can still hear the drip, drip, drip of the bathroom sink I didn’t have time to shut all the way off. (Good thing I didn’t because when it was all done, I cleaned myself up that much faster. Ironic, right?) And I know you’re thinking, “What about the drowning?” So am I. This is a more of a “fill-in-the-blank association” than a direct correlation.

You know how people get you to open your mouth when you don’t want to? They pinch your nose closed.

And I tried, I tried so hard to keep breathing with my mouth closed and my nose pinched. But things started swirling and spinning and fading, and my lungs were begging for air. So, I opened my mouth and started gasping for air, which is exactly what they wanted. (But this isn’t really the time to discuss that.)

So my brain did the math and concluded that “gasping for air” plus “struggling” plus “water dripping” must be what drowning feels like. I became a fish out of water: the Little Mermaid never wanting to go back in the sea, never wanting to feel that feeling again. Even though I know it’s irrational because a) I wasn’t drowning and b) I’m a good swimmer. But, hey, there’s nothing rational about any of this.

I’ve tried so hard to not let my past define me, become me, influence me, but it’s so hard when so much in your life since that day has been directly or indirectly affected by it. It’s so hard to cut ties with the thing that is pulling you down on your bad days when it’s also the thing that allows you to fly on your good days. Because on my bad days, the pain in my chest, my racing heart when I remember this day remind me I’m still alive.

I know none of this makes sense. But I also know that none of this is permanent: this pain, this life, these memories.

I went on a road trip this weekend. And twelve hours in the car gives you a lot of time to look out the window and think. It also gives you a lot of time to compare unfamiliar places in the dark and in the light.

Unfamiliar places are a lot less creepy during the day, they’re a lot more beautiful. But there’s also something about the night that is just as beautiful. 12983928_10209209651944281_5671617332364340475_o

I took this photo as we were driving over the Ohio River, the lights of some city in Pennsylvania can be seen clearly.

This is what is so beautiful about the dark: it’s the light that can be seen shining through at a distance.

I may be in a dark place now, but this is not unfamiliar territory. I’ve walked this road before; I’ve sailed these seas; I’ve made my way out of this maze too many times to count.

I can see the light up ahead, and with God’s help, I’ll make it through this.