Writing about PTSD

I haven’t had much energy to write as many posts as I want to. I want to be able to get out all the shit that’s been in my head. There’s a lot going on, and a lot that will be going on in the next few weeks, as I reach 1,000 days of freedom in April.

A few weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to writer for the APTSDA, the American PTSD Association. While I still write about DID for HealthyPlace, writing about PTSD is different, and I figure it is an opportunity to reach a different group of people.

My first piece published yesterday. It can be found on aptsda.org, or directly through this link: The Flashbacks You Can’t See.

It’s not much. I write so much that sometimes I’m not really sure what to write about, and I get tied up in the thought that maybe my experiences aren’t the “right” ones. Yet the more I write, the more I read from others that they have experienced the same.

I will update with more soon. Hopefully.

Ruined

Research shows that people who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood are four times more likely to work in prostitution than people who have not.

It doesn’t surprise me at all. Because it’s happened to me.

I’ve done things I really shouldn’t have. I didn’t end up on street corners putting myself in danger, but I definitely put myself in situations in which I did things I didn’t need to. Yet it wasn’t just about the money.

People constantly judge, asking how someone could degrade themselves like that. But I was already degraded. I was already ruined. And it wasn’t my choice.

It’s inexplicable just how damaging it is when your first sexual experiences were with your own mother. I had sex before I even knew what sex was. I felt shame before I even knew what shame was.

My mother created a never-ending cycle, a lose-lose situation that I could never, ever win. I was programmed not to say no; saying no got you punished. Yet saying yes meant I was a whore. Any time my mother believed I was being remotely sexual (and I really wasn’t — what seven year-old is), I had to be cleansed of my sins. After a while, I started to wonder what was wrong with me, why the evil hadn’t left me. I’d been burned so many times, I learned not to feel.

It just got worse as I got older. There were constant accusations. I couldn’t stay after school to work on group projects because my mother believed I was having sex. She accused me of posting nude pictures online; I never did. She’d pull these crazy ideas from I don’t know where. Even when I was an adult, she’d accuse me of being in relationships with people at work. She accused me of having sex with my (female) boss; she was just my friend. She’d also accuse me of having sex with several coworkers. When I would stay late at work (to avoid going home), she claimed I was at work having sex. She continually reminded me how much of a sinner I was and what a whore I was.

None of what my mother claimed was ever true. And I knew that, on some level. But I became conditioned to believe that I was a whore. That something inside me made me this way. There was a defect in me that everyone could see but me. After all, normal, pure kids don’t do these things with their own mother. Maybe I made her do it. She always said she was trying to help me, but maybe I was just too damaged from that start.

I never had the chance to form my sexual identity. I grew to fear sex. Unless it involved my mother, it was somehow wrong. Yet in an intellectual way, I knew that if it involved my mother, it WAS wrong. There was no right way. It was all wrong. It was all bad.

Once I was a teenager and really understood sex and sexual identity, I realized that my body, my sense of self, was already ruined. While others my age talked about losing their virginity, I had already lost mine, more than ten years prior, to my own mother. It was never my body; she stole it from me. It was hers. All of it. All of me. It was hers.

The fear of telling someone no overruled my life for years, even after I managed to run away. While my body was no longer being damaged by her, I let it be damaged by others. I was already ruined; there wasn’t much more anyone could do to me to make me hate myself any more than I already did. All those years she called me a whore, it stuck with me. It was like a prophecy that needed to be fulfilled.

Before I left IOP over a month ago, I made a promise to someone very important to me that I wouldn’t engage in that type of shit anymore. I promised I wouldn’t put myself in any kind of situation that would cause that weakness in me. And I haven’t. It was easy to do, a lot easier than I thought it would be. One less thing to worry about.

Except I didn’t account for all the possibilities. I managed to avoid¬† not-so-healthy people who had been involved in my life before, but I forgot about the not-so-healthy people who I couldn’t avoid — the strangers, the acquaintances, the come-and-goers.

I was sitting on the bus the other day, on my way home from a doctor’s appointment. I was emotionally drained. There was man on the seat across from me; I’d seen him many times before, but never really engaged much aside from hello. This time, he started telling other passengers that I was his fiance. I told him to shut up, but he didn’t. He just kept saying it. When the bus emptied out a little, his comments got worse. He told me what I could do to him, and all the things he could do to me. I just frozen. As much as I should have told him to fuck off, I couldn’t say anything.

I could feel the nausea kicking in almost instantaneously. I showered as soon as I got home, trying to scrub away the feeling of being dirty. But as much as I washed, I didn’t feel any better. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head. This was my fault. I was a whore. He must have sensed it in me. That’s why he said those things and made those gestures. Somehow he just knew.

I was afraid. Afraid my mother would find out. Afraid I would be punished. I believed his actions were my fault, just like my mother taught me — look what you made me do.¬†

It was always something I did, something I was, something I said. It was never anyone else, and never her. But that was her falsity, not the reality.

One day I want to be able to decipher between the two. One day, I want to tell her, look what you did to me. Look how you ruined me.

Replace

Some nights, when I find myself unable to sleep, I look up old classmates on Facebook. Most of them appear stable. They have successful careers. Many are married with several children. They’re doing things that 30-something year-olds should be doing.

It brings up feelings in me — but not feelings of envy, feelings of grief. I know there are some things I will never be able to have, some things I will never be able to be or to experience.

I didn’t get to have a childhood. I didn’t get to experience the freedom of the teenage years. I spent 29 years of my life in hell. And when I finally got out, I didn’t get to experience the life that I thought I would.

It’s not just the psychological shit. Trauma doesn’t go away just because the environment changes. I knew that would follow me wherever I went. But I wasn’t expecting all of the physical damage to hit me so fast.

I’ve spent the last month hobbling around on crutches. I’ve been in pain for a while. But when you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you learn to shake pain off and deal with it. That’s the safe way, right?

Except it wasn’t. By the time I ended up in the ER last month, my knee was already severely damaged. I had worn all of the cartilage away, to the point where bone was rubbing against bone every time my knee bent, causing pieces of my knee cap to chip away. They recommend a knee replacement. Another surgery.

People don’t understand why I won’t just get the surgery. What’s the big deal? It’s not about the surgery. It’s about everything. Every part of my body is damaged. I have problems that people my age don’t have. People my age aren’t hobbling around on crutches, getting body parts exchanged with metal substitutes. They aren’t sitting in support groups, surrounded by people 40 years older than they are.

Trauma changes people. Not just their minds, but their bodies, too. My emphysema — that isn’t just a fluke. It’s from living in a toxic environment. My heart problem, the dysfunction of my brain and my autonomic nervous system — that isn’t just bad luck. That’s from my brain having to constantly be in overdrive. The poorly healed fractures, the joint problems — that isn’t just the bad genetics of EDS. It’s the result of constant trauma to the body.

Constant reminders of what I went through, courtesy of my body. Constant reminders that I will never be a normal 30-something, just as I had never been a normal child, teenager, or 20-something. Loss after loss after loss.

I deal with the pain. No one really asks about it, so I don’t talk about it. Except for my therapist. He asks me every time we meet. And I brush it off. I tell him I’m used to the pain. Because in my head, I keep telling myself at least I’m not at home, at least I’m not being actively broken. Be grateful for that. In my head, pain is normal. In my head, pain is deserved.

If only they could fix my broken heart like they could fix my spine. Glue the broken pieces back together, then screw in some brackets to hold it in place. Good as new. No darkness any more.

If only they could fix my damaged mind like they could fix my knee. Take out all the broken pieces. Suck out all the bad memories. Take out the whole damn thing. Just replace it with something new, something stronger, something that can’t be damaged.

I’d give anything to erase what’s happened to me, to replace all of the damage that’s been done with parts that cannot be broken. Replace the memories with happy thoughts of what life could have been. Replace the pain with strength. But that’s a hope that can never be fulfilled.

Guilt Dreams

For the past few weeks, I’ve been having the same dream.

I’m not even sure what to call it — a bad dream or a nightmare. It’s not something I’d like to remember. It’s not something I want to keep thinking about. But the fact that it keeps seeping into my sleep consciousness is frustrating to me. It’s easy to push things out of my mind when I’m awake. But when I’m asleep, I have no control of what comes through, and no ability to push it away.

The beginning is always the same. I’m in a car. My father is driving. My mother is in the passenger seat. We’re driving through some neighborhood I can’t recognize. There are lots of bare trees. Small houses. Everything is quiet. It’s not the nighttime, but the sky is gray.

No one speaks. My father keeps driving. After a few blocks, he turns a corner and stops in front of a house. My mother gets out of the car. I watch as she steps up to the front door and walks right in. The light in the house is on. I can see a few small beds in what I would have otherwise assumed was the living room. Two children run up to my mother, and she grabs one and lifts her up.

I turn and ask my father what’s going on. He tells me this is where she works now; she takes care of the children. My father continues to drive, repeating the same line over and over again. I want to scream, but I’m frozen.

I always wake up at that point, experiencing the same panic as I imagine I would be experiencing in the dream. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get angry. Most times, I lay in bed physically frozen as my mind races between the dream and my reality.

It’s something I thought I would be over by now. The guilt for leaving. Not just leaving, but leaving my mother behind. Leaving her to hurt other children. Leaving without saying a word about what she had done to me and others.

I didn’t press charges. I didn’t call the cops. I didn’t have her put in jail. I let her remain free. Free to hurt others. Free to get away with all she had done.

In the dream, I could have spoken up, but I didn’t. I could have told my father to stop the car, to turn back and save those children before it was too late, but I didn’t. I froze. I said nothing. I did nothing.

The guilt hangs over me. I don’t recognize it all the time, but it’s there. I feel like I can’t move forward with the knowledge (and lack thereof) of what I’ve left behind. I can’t save anyone from her. I chose to be selfish and save myself.

Last week, my therapist asked me what it would take to make me feel accomplished. I told him my expectations were entirely unrealistic. I didn’t tell him what they were — my grandiose goal of making sure no child is ever abused by their mother. That can never happen, and surely not by anything in my power.

Today, my therapist asked a similar question, but this time he focused on what would make me feel complete or purposeful. It was in that moment that I realized it wasn’t about my impossible expectations; that’s not what was bothering me at all. I started to cry, but I couldn’t find the words to tell him what was in my head. I couldn’t tell him how badly I beat myself up over leaving my brother behind. I couldn’t tell him I was too weak to stand up against her. I couldn’t tell him about the guilt that was eating away at me for years.

I couldn’t tell him that I would never feel complete until I knew my mother could not hurt another person ever again.

All I could do was cry.

And the guilt stays with me, even in my dreams.

960

I’m not sure who I am anymore.

What I’m doing anymore.

Why I exist anymore.

Too lost.

Too emotional.

Too much of a mess.

When Reality Hits

For as long as I’ve spent in therapy (thousands of hours at this point), I can count on my fingers the number of difficult sessions I’ve had.

It’s not that my sessions don’t involve difficult topics. While most of my early therapy experiences focused on tackling surface issues unrelated to trauma, the last nearly three years have been all about my trauma. Even then, I found myself able to detach from emotions a lot of the time.

Just a week before this latest session, I told my therapist about an incident from my teenage years. I was triggered a few days prior when the dog had split her nail and bled on the carpet. It almost instantaneously led to a flashback from when I was stabbed in the abdomen and left the same marks. When it happened, I was lost in all the same emotions. I felt like it was happening all over again. But when I told my therapist about it, I was void of emotion. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel anything.

I thought I could do the same thing in our next session. Don’t cry. Don’t feel. Just get it all over with. Instead I cried, and I felt more than I ever wanted to feel. I was unprepared for that.

My therapist was concerned. And I knew it wasn’t just her concern. It was the treatment team’s concern. And as much I tried to deny it, it was my concern, too. My symptoms were getting worse. Not only in the last week, but in the last few months. I had been getting increasingly lethargic. No matter how well I sleep, I’m exhausted. Some days, I can barely climb the stairs without feeling like my heart is going to explode. My legs and feet swell, the right side worse than the left. Some days, it feels like I’m dragging 100-pound weights on each leg. Just moving around puts my heart into overdrive. Several times I found myself leaving group because of chest pains.

It was other things, too. Signs of heart failure. I knew it all too well. I watched my father go through it. I didn’t want to watch myself go through it.

I couldn’t avoid it any longer. If you don’t make an appointment with your cardiologist by tomorrow morning, you cannot return to program. An ultimatum with no option for negotiation. A crisis I could no longer avoid.

This session was different. My therapist wasn’t softening reality at all. She wasn’t letting me get away with avoiding the pertinent shit in my life. Not this time.

You know what, yes, you likely do have heart failure. Not going to the doctor isn’t going to change that. She was right. But there’s a difference to me, in suspecting something to be true and then actually having it confirmed. The latter is unchangeable. At least with not knowing for sure, there is just enough room for a small possibility of change, a small chance of it not being true.

Yes, you’re going to be sick for the rest of your life. And I will never understand how that feels, how you feel. It’s frustrating. It makes me angry, for many reasons. I’ll never know what it’s like to feel normal, to not be sick, for just one day. But my mother knows that. She’s not suffering. She’s living longer than I will likely live, more healthy than I have ever been and will ever be. Where is the fairness in that? I lost the genetic lottery big time.

But it can be treated. Yes. Just like my emphysema is treated. Treated, but not cured. Another diagnosis to be added to the list. Another health issue I didn’t need in my 30s. Another illness I don’t deserve.

Is it just about not wanting the diagnosis, or is it more than that? Is it another indirect way to be suicidal? It’s like she knows me. The same reasons why I still smoke with emphysema. It kills me faster, and no one really sees it as a slow suicide; they just see it as being stupid. The longer my heart goes untreated, the sooner I’ll die. Why prolong a life that’s destined to be minimal?

I didn’t tell her that, of course. I told her it was just about the diagnosis. I thought that would put a stop to the difficult conversation, but she just shifted to something even more difficult: the purpose of my life.

You may very well never be able to work again. You may not be able to get through all the schooling you want to. She was direct, in a way she had never been before. We’ve always thrown around the idea that I could eventually start working again, that my heart condition would get better and I could be normal again. But that didn’t seem like a realistic option anymore, at least not in the sense that I wanted to be normal. As far as school goes, I missed the deadline for my doctorate application because I was inpatient when the application was due. So any plans I had for getting my doctorate next year went out the window. And maybe that was meant to be, since I can barely get through the last few courses I have for my masters. Not for lack of knowledge, but for lack of energy.

But maybe you were meant for something different. Maybe you can’t be a therapist, or go into research. But maybe you can help others in a different way. She read the letter I wrote to the hospital. Another example of my never-ending drive to correct wrongs. I told her about the director’s response, how they were going to look into how they can change. See, think about the people you’ve helped just by doing this. You may likely cause this hospital system to change their ways.

I knew she was right, but it still didn’t seem like enough. I needed more. Maybe you can start an organization. I told her I already did. I told her what my dream was for PAFPAC, what I wanted to do when I first started it. But then my health (mental and physical) took a turn and I haven’t had the energy to make it what I wanted it to be. You’re still helping people.

But not as many as I wanted. I admitted to her that my life goal was an impossible one, and that’s where I’ve gone wrong. I wanted to stop mothers from abusing their children; I wanted to prevent people from hurting. And I know, logically, that will never happen.

You can still affect change. You’ve already started. Your actions help people. Your writing helps people. You give a voice to those who can’t speak. You’re going to have really bad days. That’s inevitable. But some days, some days are going to be okay. And it’s those days that you can really be you.

The dreams I had when I first ran away are now gone. My hopes of being a professional, of living a long life, of helping the world, are just not possible. The universe has given me this life of constant struggles. It has taken away too much from me. I’m just not sure if what I am left with is enough for me.

My Words Were Heard

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to address something with the hospital I was admitted to several times in the year before I ran away.

I was admitted to the voluntary psychiatric unit three times, and each time, the hospital provided my mother with information and direct access to me. I felt extremely frustrated about it, but didn’t have the strength or the energy to fight back at that time.

I know it’s too late for me, but I’ve continually thought about how this needs to change, how victims of abuse and domestic violence need extra protection, how they need to feel safe in a place where they should be able to feel safe.

I finally sat down last night and wrote what was on my mind for awhile now. I sent it in an email to the hospital.

I didn’t expect an answer back. I was sitting on the couch an hour ago, and heard my phone ring. It was a number from my old town. My immediate reaction was one of fear; I wanted to deny the call, fearing it was someone from my family. I wasn’t even thinking about the letter I had just sent.

Hesitantly, I answered the phone. It was the director of patient services. He wanted to let me know that he received my letter and was taking it seriously. He is launching an investigation into my particular experience and forwarding the matter to the board. He will be contacting me again, and wanted me to know that I was heard.

I couldn’t believe it. I can only hope something comes from this. Even if nothing happens, I know that I was able to speak, and for a brief moment, I was heard.

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Crystalie. I was a patient at * many times throughout my life. I am writing today to share my experience with several of my last hospitalizations there, in hopes that changes will be made to protect future patients.

In November 2014, December 2014, and February 2015, I was a patient in your voluntary psychiatric unit at *. The first stay, I was sent by my doctor after I revealed abuse that was going on that contributed to my suicidal thoughts. My doctor thought it best to send me to the hospital to keep me safe — not only from myself, but from my abuser. Despite multiple attempts by my abuser, the doctor refused to give out any of my information about where I was. Somehow, my abuser contacted * and had it confirmed not only that I was admitted to the hospital, but what unit and floor I was on. This allowed my abuser to contact me countless times via phone throughout my stay. My abuser also requested information via the MHAs and was provided updates about my care. I never gave approval for this person to receive any information about me. This person was not listed as an emergency contact. This person had no right to any of my information, yet she was given all of the information she needed to keep me under her watch.

I was discharged a few weeks later, back to the home of my abuser, who believed that I informed people of what she had done. I had indeed informed the treatment team, including my social worker, about the abuse that happened, but because I was an adult, not much could be done. I found myself in an unsafe situation at home, so I checked myself into the hospital just a couple weeks later to keep myself safe from her. I wasn’t suicidal as much as I needed somewhere to hide and be safe. As I waited in the emergency room for a bed to be open, I saw my abuser walking down the ER hall, right towards me. The front desk had confirmed I was there, and told her what room I could be found in. Once again, I had not revealed any of this information to her. She found me, most likely by chance, because * was the hospital most local to me at that time. She was not listed as my emergency contact. I did not okay anyone to visit me or to contact me. At this point, the hospital had it on record from my prior stay that this person was abusive. Yet she was allowed to have access to me once again. I was too afraid to tell the aide to ask my abuser to leave, for fear of what my abuser would then do to me. There was no safe way to go about it. I suffered once again, and received retributive punishment after I was discharged back into my abuser’s home.

There are multiple points where the system failed me. The system allowed a known abuser to contact me, to physically find me in a place that should have protected me, should have been a safe spot for me. My health information is supposed to be private; that information should include my general status as a patient, and should not be disclosed to anyone without my approval. It’s a violation of HIPAA. I realize it’s difficult to monitor who comes in to visit. But there needs to be some procedures in place to keep victims safe. I am not the only one. And while it’s too late to change what happened to me, it’s not too late for other victims of abuse and domestic violence. Victims of abuse rarely confront their abusers in public because of the fear. I know that was why I was unable to tell hospital staff once my abuser was there. What if there was a safe way to go about this?

My abuser was my mother. I think that’s what made it so easy for the hospital to share my information. Most people don’t expect family members to be abusive. But the truth is, they are. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, partners — no one is immune. I know for me, it was difficult to tell people that I was in hiding from my mother; I had faced a lot of disbelief when I did. I know, in speaking to other victims of similar abuse, that there was a similar hesitance. But that fear and difficulty doesn’t mean we don’t deserve privacy and protection. I need to know that the hospital has changed how it shares information. I need to know that there’s a way victims of violence can protect themselves from their abusers while in medical settings. I couldn’t fight the wrongs that were done to me back then; I wasn’t safe enough to do so. I realize it’s late for me now, but I need to take a stand for others. What can we do to keep this from happening again?

Please contact me. I have provided my phone number and e-mail address.

Thank you for your time.