PTSD, Trust, and the Importance of Being Honest

I realize it has been a while since I have written anything, and there is truly no other reason except I just haven’t. I haven’t written because I haven’t been trying to take care of myself. I haven’t been trying to take care of myself because when I get overwhelmed with everyone else’s life stuff, my life stuff gets put on the back burner. instead of working harder to make sure I don’t shut down, I preemptively shut down all things “me”. I begin to fall farther and farther into my fantasy land of gaming and movies, pulling any plugs from their outlets of healing and light and attempt to rest in the darkness and ignore the ache.

I have not done a good job of speaking up for myself. I have not been good at it, but neither have I practiced it. When your spouse tells you over and over to be honest about how you feel-“even if it is going to hurt me”-and you still find yourself holding back, you are only hurting yourself. I have no one to blame but myself for where I am.

So, where am I? I had a very severe panic attack this week. One of those that attacks like a vicious wolf- bringing along spasms and flashbacks and darkness. There were many moments, when I was brought back to those woods again, that I wanted to scream out-but I was mute, as usual. Only able to utter small groans and sighs.

I learned something about myself this week: I am still angry. I am not entirely thrilled to be on this journey-to be who I am; who God is shaping me to be. I am not saying I am angry with Him, but I am angry that things are not how I expected them to be. It is hard to look in the mirror and still be able to see the scars in the back of my mind. I know how deeply I have been wounded, but I long to be scarless and have all things forgotten. I know this will never be so, as how can the pain and scarring be used for His glory if they are not visible? This is where the trust comes into play. I know He has allowed the pain for my good and His glory. I know that my story is not for me alone, and I have already seen Him use it to encourage others. I am blessed to be a part of His kingdom building. That doesn’t mean that it is easy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have rough days, or weeks, or months. But I must always remember to trust my heavenly Father to carry me through it all.

I am incredibly thankful for the brothers and sisters I have walking alongside me on this journey. They have been there to, quite literally, lift me up when I could walk no further. They remind me that I am not alone and urge me forward instead of letting me fall by the wayside. The body of Christ at work is amazing to watch. I am so blessed to be a small part of it.

The hard part about living with PTSD, for me, is being fully honest. With myself, with my husband, and with those who I am accountable to. I have always, always been one who downplays my struggles and tries to focus on other’s needs before my own. But as the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Self-care is vital. Paying attention to my emotional and mental health is¬†vital. I have to be honest with myself and those around me if I need help-when I need help dealing with things. Life isn’t going to be easy. We have to work hard at being better, doing better, and living better.

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My Story: Part One

The following is a part of my story. While I try to be truthful without being explicit, there are things in my story which cannot, and should not, be altered for a softer read. Please feel free to comment with your own story or ask any questions you may have. Let’s start a conversation.

High school. Senior year. Some say high school was the best years of their life. I never aspired to that, as I knew adulthood would be much better. Had to be. The previous three years hadn’t been terribly special. I didn’t expect my senior year to be much different.

Well, it was quite different. We started off with a new schedule: block scheduling. Four classes a day for two semesters-each semester with completely different classes. I liked it because most teachers didn’t want to lecture for the whole hour and a half, so we got time to work on homework. I spent a lot of time writing that year, as I either finished my homework quickly or simply didn’t do it. I wasn’t playing volleyball or basketball anymore because I had injured my left foot over the summer and couldn’t run on it yet. Some days I wonder if things would have been better if I had been able to play…

Then the attacks on September, 11th happened. ¬†Everyone was an emotional mess for several weeks afterward. I don’t know how many in the school were truly impacted, but we readjusted as things settled down. A few of the guys and girls in my class were talking about joining the military after graduation; we wondered if President Bush would reinstate the draft.

By the time December arrived, I had gotten into my groove and was looking forward to all the activity the month had coming. My eighteenth birthday was going to fall on Homecoming and my friends from church had a surprise planned. Then, the choir and drama classes were putting on A Christmas Carol. This was going to be the biggest production I had been a part of, and I had a lot of roles, both on and offstage. They were all small, but that’s what I liked, so it worked.

I was preparing for the play, painting a mask for one of my costumes. There had been a group of us, and technically, I was supposed to be at lunch with the rest of them. I had decided to work through lunch-I really couldn’t tell you why. Maybe I was just that into making it perfect, who knows? So, I’m sitting in the hallway in front of the choir room. The choir room was at the end of a hallway which also had the upstairs bathrooms and the civics and biology classroom on it. Our canvas was situated pretty much in front of the bathrooms, too, so anyone going to use them had to walk right by. I’m sitting on the floor, minding my own business, working on my mask. One of the eighth grade boys walked by and headed into the restroom. When he came back out, he just stood there leaning against the wall. At first, I didn’t even notice he was still there, but then I looked up at him. He had unzipped his pants and was holding his penis, smirking at me. He probably said something to me, but my ears had started ringing and I couldn’t move or speak. He walked over to me and pushed himself on my cheek and tried to move toward my mouth. I was able to lean away from him, but I couldn’t make myself get up or speak or scream. He kept trying and I could tell he was talking to me, but I didn’t hear him. I began to feel numb and my mind was screaming, “Get away!!” but I couldn’t do anything. Thankfully, someone began to come down the hallway and he darted back into the restroom, then returned to class. The teacher of the class he was supposed to be in came and stood at the end of the hall with him a bit later and asked if I had needed his help. All I could do was shake my head. I wanted to scream, to jump up and run to her and tell her what had happened. But I was still numb, and all I could do was shake my head.

I went the rest of the day on autopilot, barely speaking to anyone. I was just ready to get away from that place. After my last class, I practically ran to my truck. But as I got there, he was already there. “What the hell?!” I thought. I thought about going back inside, but I was just ready to get out of there, so I got into the driver’s side and prayed I had remembered to lock both doors. I hadn’t. He got into the passenger side and started talking and unzipping his pants. I began to hyperventilate as he grabbed my letterman jacket and covered himself. He grabbed my hand and all I could do was lean forward onto the steering wheel as he held my had on his penis. Just as I thought I was going to pass out, my friend Jess tapped on the window. That jolted me enough to jump out of the truck and hoarsely whisper, “Get him the fuck out of my truck.” She ran around to the other side and yanked him out as I sank back into the driver’s seat. I was shaking, hard, but I was determined to get out of there. She climbed in next to me and I drove her home.

She was the only person I was able to tell about it. She wanted me to tell someone else, but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t explain why. I was scared out of my mind, I started having nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. The strange thing was, it didn’t seem to be connected to the incident. It was something else altogether, and that scared me even more.

It was the beginning of March when she finally convinced me to tell someone. She knew what was going on in my mind and we thought maybe I would get some relief if I talked about it. So, I approached the teacher who had asked me about needing his help back in December. She didn’t recall the day, but she listened to what I had to say about it. I don’t remember how long it took between me talking to her and the guidance counselor coming to see me at the softball game, but I don’t think it was the same day. We were watching the game when she came and pulled me aside and asked to hear “my side of the story.” Anxiously, I recounted what had happened. She listened very quietly, and took a deep breath before she spoke. She told me she was very sorry, but there was nothing they could do. It was my word against his. I don’t recall how I responded, but I know that moment was when I gave up altogether. They didn’t believe me and nothing was going to be done.

My suicide attempt was a cry for help. Which I got while I attended the adolescent day program for five weeks. Turns out, I was having flashbacks of being raped at ten years old. Figuring that out turned out to be a setback, as I then decided I would rather stroll through traffic than deal with the emotional repercussions. So I spent a week on the impatient unit, getting to know kids who had a lot of problems. I started realizing how blessed I was to have a stable home and an environment where I could heal.

Once I got back to school, I was just ready to be done with high school. There were, of course, rumors about why I had missed five weeks of school, but I really didn’t care what anyone thought. I knew what had happened to me, and I finally had some answers to why my mind was driving me crazy. I thought once I got out of high school, things would get easier, but they don’t really tell you what it takes to grow up, do they?

Reflections on St. Patrick’s Day

Two days ago was St. Patrick’s day. I usually just let the holiday go by like any other over-commercialized, not sure why we celebrate it, just another day to have a party and don’t forget about the parade, holiday. But two days ago also marked 15 years.

Fifteen years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, I tried to kill myself. I was a senior in high school and I was tired. I was physically tired, mentally tired, and emotionally tired. I was done with no one understanding, no one seemingly being on my side. I couldn’t handle the unexplainable nightmares, the panic attacks, the exhaustion and I just didn’t care anymore. Looking back, I probably didn’t truly want to die or I probably would have made a better attempt than a bottle of ibuprofen. But in the moment, I just knew I needed to do something drastic, something that would make sure someone knew I needed more help than I was getting. My parents knew something was going on with me because they had started sending me to a therapist. But I didn’t like her. I felt like she was a bit patronizing and I never felt comfortable talking to her. I remember my mom being super mad at her for not alerting her to how bad off I was. But it really wasn’t her fault; I never really opened up too much to her.

Turns out, I was a pretty messed up teenager. Really, I was just wrestling with things I was not emotionally prepared to deal with. I had been assaulted by a boy at school earlier that year and it affected me very deeply. I hadn’t been able to talk about it and I had reached the breaking point. Finally talking about it opened up a mental and emotional can of worms that I still use as fishing bait to this day. I spent five weeks attending an outpatient day program for adolescents who were struggling with all kinds of things, from drug abuse to mental health issues. One of those weeks I spent on the impatient unit because sometimes, things get worse before they get better. I began to uncover a lot of things about myself, some good, most terrifying and awful. With the help of the therapists, I began to try and decipher the flashbacks I had been having. Turns out, I had been assaulted before-and much worse. I still can’t put together all of the pieces and most days I’d rather not try. I still grieve for my ten year old self, even though I don’t really have a lot of memory of my childhood. I feel sad for the pain and burden she was asked to carry so young.

Looking back, 15 years later, there are still a lot of things I am dealing with. But I am no longer an angry, emotional teenager, and I have a much deeper and more trusting relationship with my Heavenly Father. I have very dear and trustworthy friends who listen to me to be able to help me instead of using my pain against me. I am strong in my fight against depression and anxiety, even though they plague me more often than not. I go months between panic attacks rather than days. But most of all, I know that God has a plan for my story. He has set my life on the path it is on for His greater purpose and glory. I know that my story may be unique, but my trials and tragedies are not. There are other voices in the world who cannot speak because of fear or shame and I have been called to awaken in their spirit a confidence and knowledge that they are not alone in their fight. Childhood sexual assault is an ugly reality for many. Too many. Depression and anxiety afflict more and more every day. Flashbacks, PTSD, childhood trauma and abuse, being a Christian who struggles with homosexuality, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, cutting and self-harm; all of these things are things I have and do fight with. But healing can be obtained. Hang around and I’ll share with you my story.