“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.
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.