I’m scared of my husband. He’s a sweet, gentle man, but sometimes when I see him, my body falls to the ground. I huddle in a ball on the floor protecting my neck.
Intellectually, I know — or at least part of my brain knows — he would never hurt me. But, my body doesn’t know that.
My body is stuck in a moment, over 10 years ago, when someone that I was in a relationship with — someone I cared about — raped me.
Now, my brain sees my husband as a threat — as a potential rapist. And I live with him. This means I live in fear.
Let me be very clear: my husband never raped me. But post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a strange thing. Because my husband is a man that I am in a relationship with — and someone I care about — my brain sees him as someone who might be potentially dangerous.
PTSD has created a disconnect between my brain and body that is maddening.
I want to get past my trauma. I really do. But PTSD, which is as real as a towering brick wall, stands in my way. Here’s why I can’t just “get over” it:
1. My brain is injured.
When I broke my foot several years ago, no one thought that I would just “get over it.” I wore a pink cast and used crutches. I had a loud rolling knee scooter. Everyone knew I was struggling and offered to help out. PTSD is an invisible monster. No one can see it so they don’t know to help. But my brain is truly injured. Like my broken foot, my brain can heal, but it needs time.
2. My world is constantly ending.
My injured brain sees the world through “PTSD glasses.” As much as I want to, I can’t just take off the glasses, not until my brain heals. These glasses are constantly scanning for danger. All. The. Time. Again, no one can see it. To me, everyone and everything — every day, even in my dreams — is out to get me. What is most confusing is that, with the glasses on, I can’t tell fact from fiction. That, of course, adds fear on top of the fear.
3. I think I am a horrible person.
My injured brain tells myself negative messages this all day long. I know it’s the PTSD glasses talking. But it feels real. And it is so hard to move forward when you feel like you don’t deserve to take up space. I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, I sometimes look at the books I’ve written about personal growth and wonder where in the world that person went! Because, when PTSD takes over, I don’t feel like someone who has a lived a life worth writing about. I feel like a monster.
4. I am enraged.
PTSD drives me to do things completely against my core values and beliefs. I worry that even my friends in my PTSD support group won’t understand my outbursts, as many don’t experience this type of anger at all. Worse yet, I am afraid that I will remind them of their abusers. In fits of rage, I become my biggest nightmare. Sometimes I think I’d rather be in a terrifying nightmare than constantly be living in a real one.
5. I am exhausted.
The PTSD glasses don’t even come off at night. Sleeping is quite a challenge when I’m always on alert towards impending danger. And, when sleep does happen, it is only to be interrupted by sweating and screaming. I wake up in a panic — exhausted from drowning (again), being chased by snipers, and from riding in runaway trains and cars. This all makes me so, so tired.
6. I have flashbacks.
And then there are the flashbacks: how can I be re-living a part of my life that happened years ago — over and over again? Somehow my brain will not let it go.
7. I am sad.
I have been hopeless before in my life, but this depth of hopelessness is new to even me. Sometimes, I cry like someone might cry after losing a child — a pain I have never even known.
8. I have no idea who I am right now.
The former me, the one who wrote those books, knew how to navigate life, but that version of me seems all but gone. I am trying to pick up the pieces of myself and put them back together. With an injured brain and PTSD glasses, this is very difficult.
9. Sometimes I am not even in my body.
It is hard to explain what this is like. I can be yelling at my husband, but I’m not really there in the moment. It feels like I am watching myself do it. I am just above and to the right of my body, as if detached and floating. “Who is that person?” I question. I realize it is me, but I am so confused inside.
10. I am so ashamed.
Shame is heavy. It is hard to move even an inch sometimes when weighed down by shame. The reasons I feel shame stretch far and wide. I am ashamed of what PTSD drives me to say and do. I am also ashamed that I experienced this trauma. I feel guilty — like it was my fault — even though I have been told by plenty of people it wasn’t. Again, this is the PTSD glasses, the injured brain. I need time to heal.
Thankfully, I took the time that I needed to get better. With professional help and support from loved ones, I overcame all of the above. I overcame these horrible things that made me want to die — these horrible things that I thought might kill me.
I once thought being dead would be better than living with PTSD. But I refused to continue living like this — living a life ruled by fear. Thankfully, I made it.
My marriage was unable to survive PTSD, though. My marriage was the casualty. I have deeply and fully grieved that loss.
Writing this today feels surreal. It took time (lots of it) but I was finally able to take the glasses off. I am now able to breathe. I sleep. I feel joy again. My brain healed and I found my body again. I found me. I now realize that the trauma wasn’t my fault. However, to heal, I needed to become accountable for my actions. My job was to take steps to break down that PTSD wall.
What makes me most happy now is that I’m no longer afraid.
Jenni Schaefer is a bestselling author, popular speaker, and a National Recovery Advocate for Eating Recovery Center’s Family Institute. In partnership with Insight Behavioral Health Centers (877-737-7391), Eating Recovery Center (877-957-6575) provides specialized treatment for eating disorders as well as related disorders, including PTSD.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM).
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 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.
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