To the Man Who Zipped Up My Coat, From a Woman With Severe PTSD
Editor’s note: This piece discusses sexual assault and violence and may be triggering to fellow survivors. If you need help right now, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673
To the man who zipped up my coat,
Thank you for noticing my physical limitations and being willing to help a stranger. While you saw a young woman with her arm in a sling, you didn’t see my invisible limitations.
I have severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This means while we were in a church surrounded by people (a scene most would consider safe), I was on edge. All night I had been scared and fighting back memories from when church stopped being my safe haven. I haven’t told anyone about Christmas Eve three years ago when my ex-husband threatened to kill me after I survived his first attempt. When the police questioned him about the violation of the protection order, he admitted to violating it.
Church became a prison for me. I couldn’t close my eyes to pray. I couldn’t sit in the front of the chapel. I lived in constant fear that he was lurking somewhere in the crowd. I stopped going to church for years. The memories haunted me day and night. But you can’t see that looking at me.
What you didn’t see while helping me was how difficult tonight was. You see, as a result of the fear and other reactions that come from living with PTSD, I stopped doing anything that could possibly draw any amount of attention to myself. Tonight was the first time in five years I have had the courage to stand in front of an audience to sing.
When you looked at me struggling with my zipper, you didn’t see my struggle with physical touch. You couldn’t tell that a year ago a friend raped me while I slept on his couch. You see, while you saw an innocent act of helping a stranger zip up her coat, I saw something different. I saw my ex-friend reach for my pants. When your hand grabbed my coat I felt the blood drain from my face. I screamed but my mouth wouldn’t open. I tried to punch, but my body was frozen. I was no longer surrounded by hundreds of people in a church. My mind transported me back to the couch I laid on a year ago.
You asked me, “Is that OK?” after the act was done. I desperately wanted to scream “No!” and run away. I knew there was no point in saying it because the damage was already done.
While you went home as if nothing had happened, I went home to a war with my mind. I fought to contain memories that have been locked away for years. I fought thoughts of harming myself. I fought to swallow the panic that rose in my throat. I spent hours tonight treading the waters of anxiety. I felt like I as drowning, gasping for air.
Please, sir, don’t take this the wrong way. I appreciate the help to zip up my coat.
But, please, next time you offer your services ask before you help.
The young woman with PTSD and an injured arm struggling to zip up her coat.
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. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
Thinkstock photo by dragana991