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When I Realized 'Suck It Up' Logic Doesn't Work for Mental Illness

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Learning to accept I couldn’t control my mental illness and how I reacted to it was probably the hardest part of getting better.

Growing up in a family with four sons and no daughters, and most of us being wrestlers, we really had the “suck it up” idea when it came to anything that hurt. I wrestled knowing I had arthritis and I didn’t quit until I couldn’t walk anymore. We didn’t talk about feelings, and we never admitted anything was wrong.

This set me back so far on my pathway to treatment and, ultimately, recovery.

A few years ago, I was robbed while working alone at my (now previous) job. I was forced to the back of the store and my hands were zip tied and I was left there alone. This completely flipped my world around.

I didn’t leave my house for two weeks after the robbery.

But with my “suck it up” logic, I went back to work after those two weeks. I kept working for a couple months, and this made the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety that came with it so much worse. Eventually I quit because I realized it was making me worse, but I thought that if I just ignored it and pushed on that it would go away… I was dead wrong.

Months later, I am still feeling unsafe no matter where I was, and it was affecting my schooling. I finally convinced myself to go talk to a therapist at school. This was such a hard decision and I never even told anyone, not even my parents, that I had a problem still, or that I was getting help.

I went to him a few times, felt much much better after some behavioral therapy, then decided I could fix the rest on my own. I was mostly correct, but once the one  year anniversary came back around, the PTSD and anxiety came back way worse than before. Instead of replaying the robbery over and over in my head and different ways it could have panned out, I was doing this with everything. Driving a car? My mind would play visions of me getting in terrible accidents. Sitting in my room? My mind would play visions of someone breaking into the house and killing me/my family.

There was always a rational part to my mind that knew these were all irrational thoughts, but my body didn’t care. Physiologically, my body would react to how I was reacting in the visions and this made me angry. I ended up abusing prescription pain medicine because it made my mind go blank. I would self-harm because the physical pain would distract my mind from the irrational thoughts, so it was myself hurting me instead of “nothing.” I didn’t want to accept I wasn’t in control of myself.

A friend convinced me to go back to therapy, and I cannot thank them enough for that. I started doing more behavioral therapy and just generally talking about how I felt and what was going on.

I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I had PTSD at this point, but after doing some tests and explaining my symptoms, my therapist told me I probably do have PTSD. This was a huge relief to a part of me, because now, I knew why I felt the way I did, and I knew that there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. This was when my recovery took a huge turn for the better. She listened to what I said, and was understanding. She helped me realize that it’s “normal” to not have control during episodes and this is what really helped me gain control.

From this point on, it was all uphill for me as far as recovery. It definitely wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I was on my way to getting better.

Over that year and a half after the robbery, I didn’t want to accept there was something wrong and that there was nothing I could do about it. If I had just accepted there was something wrong, I would have realized that it’s OK to not have control, because it’s not your fault. I needed help. I was foolish to think I didn’t need it, and that just made everything worse.

It’s OK to admit something is wrong. It’s OK to admit that at least part of it is out of your control. 

If I had known these two sentences before the night of the robbery, I would have still been traumatized, but it wouldn’t have controlled my life for so long, and I would have gotten the help right away like I needed.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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A Guide to Going to the Gynecologist as a Rape Survivor

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As a rape victim, a gynecologist exam was one of my biggest fears/nightmares. I’ve never been able to find enough information about how to prepare myself to make sure nothing goes wrong. Of course you can find the basic information on how it works, but that just wasn’t enough for me. I’ve written a few tips gathered from my own experiences. I’ve also given the tips to gynecologists and I’d like to share them with you in the hope that everything will go well for you. I’ve had very bad experiences (exam against my will) and not so bad experiences (exam went well, but it will never feel “good” for me).

I’m talking about a routine gynecologist exam, so not one straight after a rape to collect evidence. Of course these were the things that helped me, so if you prefer to do it in a different way that is totally fine.

First of all, make sure that you think your current gynecologist is up for it. It was shocking for me to discover how little experience and knowledge most gynecologists have about treating and examining rape victims. They just don’t know how this might affect you and how to take it into account.

So how do you know if this gynecologist is right for you?

It’s important to know you can always refuse the exam and ask for a different gynecologist (for example: I only want females).

1. He/she is calm, understanding and friendly.

2. He/she doesn’t pressure you to do the exam and doesn’t get angry if you’re coming for the 10th time to try but can’t do it yet.

3. He/she doesn’t rush it and plans extra time for you.

4. He/she wants to prepare together before the exam.

5. He/she stops when you want, even if it isn’t finished yet.

With preparation I mean that he/she is willing to answer all your questions before the exam, tells you everything that is going to happen (unless you don’t want to know), makes agreements with you and allows you to tell him/her about the things he/she should or shouldn’t do. For example you can ask if he/she can stop every minute and ask how it’s going. Or you can ask for the door to be locked (sometimes other people walk in) or you can ask for it to be unlocked (because it provides you an escape route). Maybe he/she should not say certain words because your rapist said that to you or maybe you don’t want him/her to touch your knees (the gynecologist might think doing that will comfort you), etc. It is very important to make all of this clear before an exam.

I always want to get to know the gynecologist first, so I don’t do the exam in the first few times I meet her. I always take my partner with me to he holds my hand and ask the gynecologist to stop when he notices I’m frozen. Think about if you want someone else with you and where he/she should stand and what he/she should do during the exam. Do you want to be distracted or do you want to focus on what’s happening in the present? Both might be helpful strategies to prevent flashbacks. Also make sure the gynecologist listens to that other person as well (some doctors only want to listen to the patient and tell me I’m “grown up enough” to tell them myself when I need to stop).

Oh and very important note: a gynecologist shouldn’t force extra people on you: assistants, students etc. without your consent. It’s very difficult for me to say no and I’ve also had bad experiences with some doctors who wouldn’t even ask. I personally think the doctor should not even ask a rape victim to have others in the room.

It’s possible to insert the speculum yourself or to do the exam without laying in the chair/with your legs in the stirrups. If they want to make an echo, they might be able to see enough with an external one (your bladder must be full to do this). A gynecologist can always try doing this first.

A gynecologist exam isn’t a normal situation. If you don’t feel safe, don’t do it. There are other ways to examine if there’s something wrong (for example an MRI or different kinds of self-tests; I’ve done those two as well). It also might not be necessary to do the gynecological exam. I’ve had doctors who wanted to do it just because they always do it. No medical reason.

Last but not least, try to ignore all the people who will say/yell/scream, “you shouldn’t be afraid because the doctor’s used to it.” It’s about you, not the doctor. I wish you a lot of luck, strength and wisdom if you ever decide to do an exam or talk with a gynecologist.

This post was originally posted on Mel’s blog. Follow the journey here.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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How Lady Gaga's Reveal on the 'Today' Show Helped Me With My PTSD

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Lady Gaga is not only known for her songs and her role in the now hit show “American Horror Story,” but for her humanitarian efforts and love for people. She has shown many women, girls, men and boys that it is OK to be yourself and sends body-positive messages.

Recently Lady Gaga came out with the information that she has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while on the “Today” show. I do not think she knew what the implications of her telling the world about this was when she did it, but they’re huge for some of us.

 

When I heard that a successful, kind woman like her has PTSD too, I didn’t feel so alone. I felt like perhaps if Lady Gaga can deal with the effects of something as hard as post-traumatic stress and still be who she is… maybe I can too. Maybe I can achieve my dreams. Maybe this doesn’t have to control my whole life.

I had big dreams for  myself before my PTSD, and I still do, but I have never really, truly thought I could achieve them. I felt hopeless in my trauma and wasn’t sure it would let me do anything good with my life.

Now, I am sure. I can do it.

If Lady Gaga found a way to work through her trauma to become who she is today, I can too. I will open my restaurant and my church group with my husband. I will help LGBTQIA youth and the homeless with those things. I can get there.

So if by chance you ever ready this, thank you, Lady Gaga. Thank you for inspiring me and I’m sure many others. Thank you for being you and using your platform for good. I am very grateful.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Eric Garcetti 

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I’m the Girl Who Wants to Forget but Can’t

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I was sitting on the couch in between two girls, and one grabbed my arm to get me to move over. The fear and panic arose. I couldn’t think straight. “What’s going on!?” my mind screamed.

I looked around me and could vaguely see others watching me. Maybe they saw fear on my face as I tried pulling away and snapped at her to let me go. Maybe they saw me struggling to breathe as I felt like I was being suffocated to death.

Can’t breathe.

I look for an exit but feel suffocated, boxed in, with nowhere to run or hide. I don’t know where I am. Everything is dark. All I know in this moment is fear, panic and pain.

I was standing around in a group of young adults just talking and one girl, who I barely knew, walked over to me. She got in my face, staring me down. When I was finally able to walk away, I felt so upset and agitated. Her intent gaze felt like a violation of my personal space, space that people violate to assault me.

Run!

Hide!

Scratch your skin.

Try and get the feel of their touch out of your memory.

Yet, it’s not their touch. It’s not their fault. It’s the stranger on the street. It’s the classmate on the playground. It’s the shadow walking toward you on the street. It’s the disappearing stranger in the heart of your neighborhood.

I tried taking a break from playing games when a guy came over to me and grabbed my wrist to pull me into the new game. I pulled away using self-defense techniques. My head was spinning. I had to run and hide.

Don’t let anyone touch me.

Still, I didn’t truly notice the deep effects of this act until bedtime when I tried sleeping. I had that nightmare again. I was being chased by a guy who was trying to hurt me. I woke up the next day hoping to just forget about it. Then, that night, it happened again. He grabbed me again, and I was back in that dream, every night for weeks at a time. I suddenly had no desire to sleep. If I did, then I would just spend it running from those who wish to hurt me.

No, can’t sleep.

Can’t breathe.

Can’t think.

Run!

Hide!

Don’t speak.

Don’t move.

Don’t trust anyone.

Someone is behind you.

Oh right, it’s just your shadow.

No, someone is behind you.

You’re in danger.

I’m safe, but my body and mind can’t see it. How could it? I might know I’m in a safe environment, but my mind feels trapped. It can’t forget. No matter how hard I try, and I really do try.

Some days, I think I’m free. Then, someone inadvertently triggers another episode. I’m being hit for no reason. I’m being called names, told I’m worthless or that no one cares about me. I wonder why I even exist.

I’m back in that dark spot where suicide feels like the best possible solution to my pain. I decide to reach out for help instead. Then, I wonder why I didn’t just end my life, as the ridicule begins.

“You’re so selfish.”

“You’re a coward.”

No, I was the face of a victim. I was a victim. I felt weak, powerless and helpless. The demons may still have me at times, but I’m not that girl anymore. I might be broken, but I’m not a victim, weak, powerless or helpless.

I’m strong.

My scars are internal. Invisible. To some, they don’t exist. To me, they changed my world.

I’m not just a girl. I’m a survivor. I’m a fighter. I’m a girl who wants to forget but can’t. I’m a girl who feels guilty because her pain doesn’t seem as bad as the pain of others.

No, I’m a girl who needs to know and remember that her pain matters. Her trauma is real. Her trauma deserves acceptance.

I’m that girl who

Can’t sleep.

Can’t breathe.

Can’t think.

I’m the girl whose mind screams at her to

Run!

Hide!

I’m the girl whose mind says,

Don’t speak.

Don’t move.

It’s in these seemingly small actions that the pain comes crashing in like huge tidal waves. Uncontrollable. Uncontainable at times.

So, I smile. I laugh with you. I may even joke with you, but I may never forget. I’m a survivor of trauma, and I live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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The Hardest Part of Holiday Shopping With a Psychological Disorder

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After Thanksgiving dinner, many people immediately start thinking about all the deals they can snag for Black Friday. And about what stores are going to have exactly what they are looking for, specifically for their loved ones. For some of us, though, especially those with anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sensory issues, holiday shopping can be hell. As opposed to the best in-store deals, we often look for who has the best shipping deals. Who has all-night hours. And the fastest route in and out of stores.

My husband and I both have PTSD, his from combat in the army, mine from years of abuse and bullying from my schoolmates. Come early- to mid-November, we start looking on different sites. We figure out shipping times. We look for stores that are open 24 hours. And we look for stores that offer site-to-store.

On top of both of us having PTSD, we both also struggle with an anxiety disorder. Crowds terrify us. Neither one of us like people (that we don’t know) getting physically close to us. We even stay basically glued to each other while we’re at the store.

When you’re at the store and you see someone with headphones on, or you see someone high-tailing it down the aisle, I believe nine times out of 10, they aren’t trying to be rude. They could have anxiety or PTSD. They could have sensory sensitivities. Or they might just be a**holes. But you really have no way of knowing.

Yes, there are medications we can take to help ease the anxiety of busy shopping centers. However, just like with any medication, there can be side effects. And many of them are far from pleasant. In my experience, one of the biggest side effects of many anxiety meds is they can make you groggy — which is possibly one of the worst side effects when you’re in a crowded place, when there are plenty of unknown people who may want to try and take advantage of or steal from those who they view as “easy targets.”

This holiday season, please think of your friends and family members with psychological and sensory issues. Offer to either go with them, or go for them. Help them do their online searches. Be a shoulder for them after a stressful shopping trip, even if you live far away from them. While you may enjoy holiday shopping, remember there are some people who dread shopping during the holiday season.

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This Is What PTSD Looks Like

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On July 4, 2016, I attend an annual beach party at a family friend’s house, complete with the obligatory barbeque and fireworks show on the beach. I’ve always disliked fireworks, and my startle response has gotten increasingly heightened in recent years. Because of this, I arrive more than fashionably late (so that my car won’t get blocked into the one-lane driveway) and have every intention of leaving before the fireworks show begins. The 10-minute warning is called, and I put my half-finished burger down to say goodbye and head to my car.

Confidently walking toward my car, proud of myself for going to the party even though I didn’t want to, my stomach drops and my body numbs when I discover I am blocked in, trapped, without any way out.

Boom.

Crackle.

My heart skips a beat as the fireworks begin. I fumble for my car keys and finally shut the door behind me. Shaking, I blast the music at full volume, hoping Mumford and Sons might drown out the fear. It doesn’t. I spend the next hour hunched over, shaking, sobbing and scratching my skin until I bleed.

This is what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) looks like.

Recently, more information has become widely available about war veterans with PTSD. So when I tell people after the summer holiday I hate fireworks, I sarcastically get asked, “Why? You didn’t fight in a war.” To which I can say nothing but shrug and accept that though I may not be the expectation of what trauma looks like, I am still a face of PTSD. (This is not to say the experience of a war veteran with PTSD is somehow less valid, but simply that there are other reasons folks develop trauma disorders as well.)

This is what PTSD looks like.

My partner calls me after being aggressively hit on by a customer at her work place. She is scared to walk to the bus stop alone, for fear of being followed. I promise to stay on the line. I ask for her location. I promise to call 9-1-1 if we get disconnected. We both know it’s unlikely that anything would happen. Yet it could, and it has in the past. She feels powerless. I can’t let her know I do, too.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m on the ferry when the boat blows its horn. I know the sound is coming, but I still cower in fear.

This is what PTSD looks like.

We argue over the dirty dishes in the sink. I am angry, but I’m not allowed to be angry. Anger, I’ve learned, is dangerous. So I shut down. I cry. I can’t speak. She’s never hurt me, but still I’m scared of getting hurt. I whimper. I apologize. I hide.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m incredibly lucky to be with a woman who makes me feel so safe. In the three years we’ve been together, she’s taught me that love is gentle, consensual and kind. Yet my body doesn’t always remember that.

Suddenly, her lips are not hers. The tongue in my mouth is foreign and forceful. The hands on my breasts morph from loving to violent, and I am scared. It’s no longer 2016, nor Chicago, nor her. I don’t know where I am and I can barely breathe. She rubs my back, whispering to me that I am safe. I open my eyes, and it is 2016. It’s Chicago. She is safe, but I didn’t know that 20 minutes ago.

This is what PTSD looks like.

The sex is great, until her tongue does that thing or her hands move that way and suddenly I am back in that hot, sticky bedroom, too drunk to speak and no way out. I hear the AC running in the living room, and the dog’s pitter-patter on the floor. I come back to the “now,” but I am still scared.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m talking to my therapist and become overwhelmed. I curl up. I cry. Their voices get louder, and I swear they’re living inside me. I punch my head to make it stop. Anything at all to make it stop! Yet they only get louder with every bang. My therapist grabs my hands. She doesn’t let me hurt myself. She tells me I’m safe. That it isn’t happening anymore. That there aren’t any hurts here. Yet I don’t believe her, and I still don’t feel safe.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m leaving work after dark. As I walk to the train, I’m certain the shadow behind me is my perpetrator, following me, planning to hurt me once more. I turn around and the only shadow is mine. My heart is racing, and I call a cab. I don’t feel safe in my own neighborhood.

This is what PTSD looks like.

I’m taking a shower, and my shampoo gets in my eyes. I wipe it clear and realize it’s Wednesday, but the last memory I have was Sunday morning. Where did the time go? I worry. I wonder. I go to bed. I come to at school. It’s Friday. Where did Thursday go? Where is the lost time?

This is what PTSD looks like.

People always seem to think I’m making it up, that my memory can’t be so badly affected by something that isn’t happening in the present moment. I start to believe them. I start to believe I’m making it up, that it’s all in my head and I’m being dramatic. That my trauma is just drama and that’s why I chose a career in theater. Yet the more I tell myself I’m making it up, the louder the flashbacks and body memories become.

This is what PTSD looks like.

It’s 3 a.m. and my thrashing body wakes me. I’m drenched in sweat as I scream out for help. I flip over to my stomach, and my head smacks against the hotel headboard. I’m dizzy, and I’m scared. I wonder where I am. I turn on the lights and reach for my glasses, and I know once more it is 2016 and I am safe. Even so, I can’t shake the feeling of fear the next day.

This is what PTSD looks like.

The bruise on my forehead isn’t just an indication of klutziness (as many might believe). It is yet another physical representation of how invasive PTSD really is. PTSD doesn’t only show up when loud noises happen. It doesn’t only affect me for one hour a week and then go away until I see my therapist once more. PTSD affects me every damn day.

It changes my perception, my relationships, my ability to trust, my sex life, my memory and the list goes on. PTSD is what I live with every day. It is the pills I take to keep the nightmares at bay, the fidget toys I carry to keep anxiety from taking over. PTSD is the monthly expenses that are half of what I make and the medical bills that are more than I can pay. It’s the insurance reviews that cause undue stress and the days when just getting out of bed feels impossible. It is the scars on my arm from scratching my skin and the period cramps that remind me of their bodies inside mine.

I’m not a war veteran, and explaining to people that I struggle with this disorder is difficult, especially when I don’t look like the person who’s expected to be diagnosed. I may not be who you expect to have PTSD, but that doesn’t mean I don’t. I am the one in five women who have been raped, and I am one of more than five million faces of PTSD.

This is what PTSD looks like.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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