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I Had PTSD for 33 Years Before I Knew What It Was

It can be weeks, months, or years before someone is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In my case it was 33 years before I even knew what I was experiencing was PTSD.

Common symptoms are:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing memories of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
  • Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of any trauma.
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating, being jumpy, and feeling easily irritated and angered.

For a long time, I coped with all of the above. I was extremely young when I experienced trauma, which consisted of physical, mental and emotional abuse from a family member.

I wasn’t officially diagnosed because I hid what was going on from everyone. I was ashamed and felt guilty growing up, that if I did come out and expose what was happening it would affect my family’s careers and people would think less of us.

I also covered up what I was coping with for fear of being criticized, making an abusive situation worse, or people thinking I had “lost my mind.” I eventually had selective amnesia.

Hiding was my coping mechanism all the way into adulthood, and I became good at it. What I didn’t realize though is by hiding, I’d built stress up over a long period. So when further traumas occurred I would attempt to cope with them without considering the depth of my problems making present traumas feel that much worse.

When I was sexually assaulted at the age of 18, I became emotionally numb, feeling like I had no way to process my emotions.

I now realize I was hindering my recovery by hiding because the key to me dealing with PTSD was confronting the emotions and fears it had been generating and facing them head on.

If I had known the key to me feeling free was to actually break the silence and face my emotions, I’m sure I wouldn’t have just coped with the condition for so long.

I hope this inspires someone to know they no longer need to hide.

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 a loved one is affected by domestic violence and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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Thinkstock photo by Liderina