sad girl crying alone on couch in despair hugging knees

The Truth About Flashbacks and What It's Like to Be Hugged During One

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

“What does it mean to show love or to be loved while managing your or a loved one’s diagnosis?”

I sat against the wall, shaking and crying. I was used to having flashbacks before, not uncommonly for hours at a time, but I never had a flashback like this. For the first time in months, I contemplated going back to the hospital (my last hospitalization for medication management occurred months previously) but I honestly was not sure if I would be admitted, because I was not suicidal. As I continued to shake and cry, I turned to my boyfriend for support. My boyfriend during this time was a genuinely positive, gentle soul. He never ceased to help me when I was going through symptoms, and always showed me the greatest degree of compassion and understanding. He sat down next to me and hugged me while I was breaking down, which helped me to feel safer and more secure. However, when I turned to look at his face for reassurance, I became engulfed in horror: the face of the person who sexually assaulted me was there instead. I screamed. “I think your fear is overwhelming your love for me,” he observed softly. I nodded my head in agreement. I almost begged him to take me to the hospital, but by a great miracle, my flashbacks began to subside at this moment. My next memory is of my boyfriend sitting against the couch, with my head in his lap. He’s stroking my hair while speaking soft and encouraging words. “See, baby? All of that took us 30 minutes. If we can get through that, we can do anything.” He then broke up with me months later because the power of my flashbacks was overwhelming our relationship.

Loving another person while enduring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not easy if the symptoms are strong and pervasive. For one, it is difficult to become emotionally close to someone and be able to trust them. Even when my boyfriend and I were laying next to each other, I sometimes felt as though there was a space between us because he did not understand my level of dissociation. My mood — mood in the general sense of the word, not related to bipolar disorder — was often highly volatile and unstable, to the point that my boyfriend often said that he “did not know how I was going to react to things” because I was so unpredictable in my responses. Plus, there were the flashbacks: the relentless flashbacks of terror and trauma, which distorted my sense of reality and rocked me to the core.

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People often throw around the term “flashbacks” as if they’re referencing negative memories, which are usually in context mild and non-traumatic. They do not know that flashbacks bend your perception of reality to make you feel as though you are literally in the time and place of trauma. They do not know that flashbacks can cause vivid recreations of traumatic places and people right in front of you. They do not know how flashbacks feel: that flashbacks cause your blood to freeze; your muscles to tense and ache; and your heart to beat wildly. Flashbacks can cause you to numb out and shut down internally in avoidance, or they can overpower your senses so that sometimes you have no choice but to dip your hands in ice. In essence, flashbacks — in severe forms — cause you to question not only your reality but your sense of self. Are you a person who is doomed to always have flashbacks? Wouldn’t it be easier to just kill yourself to avoid living this way, forever? These are not questions which can be answered in the affirmative, but they are questions which have run through my mind.

Therefore, it can be incredibly difficult to be in a relationship with someone who is constantly having flashbacks. I can and will attest to that. I was not in a relationship with myself, of course, but I know my symptoms were not easy for my boyfriend to deal with, and they were personally extremely difficult for me to live with. I was not suicidal in my relationship, but the instability of my emotions did catch him off guard. Although, to this day, I am not sure if this instability was in response to symptoms, because of symptoms, or due to a medication side effect. During our relationship, I was prescribed a medication by doctors in a psychiatric hospital that was supposed to improve my mania symptoms (which it may have), but ended up worsening nearly all my other symptoms: this medication, which I will not name, caused “increased fear, depression and suicidal thoughts.” Increased fear, I found out, meant increased flashbacks: flashbacks that increase not only in frequency but in strength. My flashbacks became so vivid that they almost had qualities of hallucinations, and occurred so frequently that they robbed me of internal peace for over a year. Overall, the combination made it extremely difficult to maintain mental, emotional and physical health, let alone be a good partner to my dear friend.

My ex-boyfriend tried his best to love me throughout all my ups and downs, as I did for him, but eventually, I could tell the relationship was wearing him down. He could not be there for me every time I was having a flashback. He could not be there for me to encourage me to take showers when I lacked self-care. He could not cook for me when I was too distracted to perform complicated chores. He could not be there for me every time I needed him — this factor wore down our relationship, both on his end and on mine. I was too unhealthy to live independently, and he was too well-functioning to understand why I needed his constant presence to feel safe within my own mind.

Eventually, our relationship did end, but in the months afterward my symptoms have improved tremendously with the right medication. I no longer experience flashbacks or mood episodes; I am able to take showers every day, cook meals for myself and even hold down a job. He and I do not communicate anymore, but I still miss him every day and only think of him as a positive, kind influence in my life. Although we are no longer dating, I would like to tell him that I will always love him and that I thank him tremendously for being so selfless and patient during our relationship. It was not always easy for him to love somebody with incredibly symptomatic PTSD, but he did so thoughtfully and tenderly. I would like to tell him that I am doing significantly better now, but I have never forgotten the impact of his love — I have never forgotten the day he hugged me during a flashback.

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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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem

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The Brutal Reality of PTSD: Restless Sleep and a Black Eye

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I woke up this morning with a black eye. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. One symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that I struggle with is nightmares. Because of them, my sleep is never restful and sometimes violent.

I’m not sharing this for pity. I don’t need or want it. I’m sharing this to show the realities of living with a mental illness.

For those of us with PTSD, we relive our trauma over and over, whether in our dreams or in flashbacks. Something I call a “side effect of being me” is that I tend to fight back during these times. I think it comes from when I did kickboxing. My instinct is to fight. While I’m on that topic, that is also why you should never, ever sneak up on me. I have almost punched several people who startled me without meaning to. It’s just my first instinct.

Thankfully, as I have progressed in my therapy and treatment, these instances are becoming fewer. I haven’t had a black eye in months, but I did almost break my hand a couple of weeks ago when I punched a steel door during a flashback.

This is just my reality. It’s not beautiful, it’s not glamorous, but it’s my life — my life which I’m learning to love and learning to live.

I have accepted what happened to me. I have accepted the challenges that come from it. I have accepted that some of those challenges may never go away. I grieved for the life I used to have and the life I always dreamed of. Once I was able to do that and accept who I am, I started to see all the wonderful things I have made myself into because of this struggle.

I don’t know why I woke up with a black eye again today after months of not having one. I don’t know when my next flashback will happen. What I do know is that I’ll deal with it and I will survive.

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

Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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How Owning My Bisexuality Helped Me Heal From My PTSD

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It’s hard to believe we are already two weeks into the month of June! The weather is getting sunnier, the days are getting longer, BBQ season is back (Hurray!) and the leaves are starting to bud on my Crabtree! I love this time of the year, especially after six months of grey skies and 12-foot snowbanks. I’m born to love the cold, but I can’t help but appreciate the summer as well.

But June is also an amazing month for another reason: it’s Pride Month!

It’s a beautiful time of the year where local businesses hang rainbow flags, city hall has painted the rainbow crosswalks again, friends decorate their social medias with their own coming out stories and we can now use Facebook’s new “Pride” reaction button to spread a little more color — and a lot more love — throughout the world.

Love is love is love, and it is so inspiring to see so many of my own friends spreading the love and supporting equal rights.

And for me? It’s the perfect time to reflect on how owning my sexuality helped me battle — and eventually heal — from my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

That’s right, everyone. My name is Amanda Wilson and I am a bisexual woman.

For me, there was no big coming out story. There were big shows of support and compassion or celebrations either. In my experience, my world didn’t crash and burn, but I didn’t really make a big deal of it either. I didn’t come out of the closet so much as I fell out and just kinda laid there, neither terrified or excited.

I knew who I was so why did I care? (Even though at the time I cared a lot more than I let on.)

I came out to my fiancé (then boyfriend) one lazy weekend a few years back. I was standing in front of my mirror doing my makeup as he read UFO stuff on his laptop. (Yes, the love of my life loves aliens and big foot news!). I had dropped hints forever, but I finally decided it was time to lay it all out on the table.

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The conversation went simply like this:

“You know I like girls too, right?” I said.

“Yeah, I figured that out already,” he replied.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“…Is that OK?” I asked.

“You love me right?” He asked.

“Of course!”

“Then what do I care?” He said.

And that was it. No big epiphanies, no hurt feelings, no fights — just simple, pure acceptance. Sure, over the years, we have both made inappropriate jokes about my bisexuality at my expense, but it was never meant in a negative way. I can fangirl over how dreamy Tom Hiddleston is but also agree with my fiancé with how freaking beautiful Jennifer Lawrence is, and he never gets offended.

Has the “threesome joke” been made maybe one too many times? Yes, but to me, it seems like that is something most bisexual people have experienced.

And maybe part of the reason my coming out experience was never made a big deal was because it was simply brushed under the rug by most of my family and friends. It was a fact that many didn’t know what to do with so they simply said, “OK” and moved on. I am a bisexual woman in a heterosexual relationship. I have been with my fiancé for almost seven years, and maybe that’s why many of the people close to me have just called it a “phase” when I was secretly exploring my sexuality. No one really has accepted this part of my life (or at least no one has ever told me they have), but I expected this long before I came out, so I tried to not let it bother me. Yet most bisexuals have these similar experiences, so I take some comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

But that’s a whole other topic for another day.

Finally admitting out loud and on social media that I am a bisexual woman has been more than just taking a stand with my fellow LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. It’s been more than fighting “the man” and working for the equal rights for everyone. Love is love is love is love — you can’t convince me otherwise.

But for me, coming to accept my sexuality has played a big role with helping me accept and heal with regards to my PTSD.

When I finally admitted out loud that I was bisexual, I was in the worst year of battling my PTSD. I was suicidal, I was attending weekly therapy sessions, I was taking antidepressants and anxiety medication. I hated every little detail about myself — my looks, my figure, my brain — and yes, my undisclosed sexuality. I was so twisted by my demons that I felt numb — lifeless. I felt I was merely a physical body existing enough to survive.

I had dubbed 2013 a total “write off” year because it had definitely been one of the worst years with living with PTSD. I only had a handful of good days during that year, spending months and months in deep, depressive episodes plagued with PTSD episodes and flashbacks. For me, 2013 was a total nightmare.

But creeping into 2014, I was making a lot of headway with my healing. I was slowly coming to accept the fact that my PTSD was something that wouldn’t go away after a few months of treatment. My PTSD was something that was going to be with me for the rest of my life — for me, this was a large figurative pill to swallow.

But learning to accept my PTSD has helped me move mountains. Yes, I had serious self-esteem issues and had virtually no confidence in myself — things I still work on to this day — but learning to accept myself wholly and completely has been my greatest struggle.

Therapy taught me I had to accept myself for who I was; mental illness or not, I was still the same person I was before my diagnosis. Yes, I was going through some huge mental battles, but I was still me. And no matter how painful and bad my PTSD was, there were parts of me my mental illness couldn’t change — things the demons couldn’t hold against me. That included my sexuality.

I was a very in-tune kid with my body and I knew I was bisexual before I even knew there was a word for it. I was attracted to both boys and girls since I was in junior high. I had crushes on just as many girls as I did boys. I fantasized about both sexes. This was nothing new to me, but coming to accept it out in the open — to let that private part of my life be exposed — was hard to accept.

I remember during one therapy session being physically ill at the thought of coming out. We had been talking about the debilitating doubt I had with my PTSD. At the time, I believed that eventually everyone in my life, including my fiancé, would walk away. In the first two years of fighting my PTSD, I lost a lot of friends, so it was only easy to assume that eventually he would leave, too. My mental illness had me convinced I was a waste of space, and I thought no one would accept my illness entirely.

And then the discussion moved to my bisexuality and she asked me why I had never told anyone, ever, that I was bisexual.

And I had my reasons.

But in the midst of battling a mental illness, I was virtually broken over this fact. I was ashamed that I had lied about being bisexual. I remember telling her I was afraid of losing more friends. I was afraid my family would disown me — when my father’s side of the family had already cut all ties — I was not prepared to lose the last few people who cared about it. And part of me was afraid of their reactions, a family that was conservative with certain religious beliefs — and I was the oddball out. I knew I would blindside them. Can you imagine how terrifying that was?

“Hey. I have PTSD and I’m bisexual. Surprise.”

I was not ready to see or hear the reactions that would come from that loaded sentence.

And then there was my fiancé (then boyfriend). I was afraid that admitting it to him would destroy our relationship. I was afraid he would never trust me again because I believe bisexuality has just as much stigma as living with a mental health issues does. I was afraid he would leave me, or always doubt my love for him. I already doubted myself, so I couldn’t handle his doubts either.

And to this day, I couldn’t tell you which fact was harder to accept. My PTSD or my bisexuality. Both two important factors in my life that could either make me or break me.

I struggled for a long time.

But fast forward a year later, and a few months after my “lackluster” coming out story, I was finally learning to love myself again. I wasn’t suicidal anymore. I was liking the girl I saw in the mirror again. I was proud of how far I was coming. I had moved mountains to find the good days again. I was finally winning the war.

And in fighting through my PTSD, I had also learned to accept everything about myself, including my sexuality. Creating normalcy was a priority when I started healing and I realized to be completely and entirely true to myself, I had to have all my cards out on the table. I didn’t want to hide anything about myself anymore. I am who I am, and over six long years, I learned the ones who truly cared, the ones who truly mattered, wouldn’t care if I found Jennifer Lawrence sexy.

I didn’t need a big celebration for finally admitting to my sexuality, so over the years I just slowly started telling people in subtle ways and dropping hints. People eventually caught on. And as time wore on, I eventually starting stating it blatantly as I did my mental illness.

“I have PTSD.” I would say.

“Oh wow.”

“And I’m bisexual.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Damn…That’s awesome!”

And then a year ago, on June 12th 2016, the Orlando nightclub shooting took place.

And I was devastated.

I cried for days and spent so much time looking up the victims and learning their stories and reading about their lives. It was a tragedy too hard for words. A senseless act of violence against the LGBTQ+ community — against people like me.

So I decided to finally be more vocal about my bisexuality. Much like sharing my story living with mental illness, I became more open about my sexuality, becoming more firm with standing up for equal rights. Like most people from my generation, I used my social media to express my outrage and hurt. Because I had a voice and I was damn well gonna use it.

But despite all this, I realize I have come a long way. To be able to sit here and write this blog post, to simply say “I have PTSD and I’m bisexual” has been some of the proudest moments in my life. Accepting these simple, but huge, parts of my life have been the biggest steps to getting better.

Accepting my PTSD had helped me become brave enough to admit out loud that I am bisexual. And in turn, owning my bisexuality and using it as a positive in my life has helped me fight the demons of my PTSD.

Yes, my PTSD has changed me but it did not take everything away from me either. It has made me strong, it helped me be brave and despite all the lies it convinced me were true, it has helped me bloom into a better person — a person who is more grateful for this beautiful life, for every aspect of my life.

Because love is love is love is — and I finally love me again, every part of me. And there isn’t enough hate in the world that could ever take that away from me.

So let me say it again. My name is Amanda Wilson and I’m a bisexual woman in a heterosexual relationship living with PTSD.

If you’re feeling suicidal, or just needs a safe place to talk, you can call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.

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Thinkstock photo via nito100.

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If They Gave Merit Badges for PTSD – These 7 Would Be Amongst the Most Coveted

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This article was written by Christian Benedetto Jr. for the PTSD Journal.

Much like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, where you earn badges, it would be interesting if we did the same for those of us with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I know I would have a few hundred badges by now, but let’s just cover seven of the more important badges you could get.  To folks without PTSD, you may find these ridiculous; to those with PTSD or a loved one with PTSD, you know how hard these would be to earn.

1. The “I Got Out of Bed This Morning Before 10 a.m.” Badge.

Note: if you can do this seven days in a row, you get a gold rim on your badge.

2. The “I Showered Today” Badge.

Seems simple enough, right? Wrong. If you have PTSD you have a pretty good shot at also having fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Studies show that it actually hurts to shower if you have fibromyalgia. Imagine you’re in a state of mental distress, your whole body aches and a warm shower hurts you. Again note — if you can do this seven days in a row, you get a gold rim on your badge.

 3. The “I Drove Someplace in Rush Hour Traffic and Didn’t Have a Panic Attack or Feel Panicked” Badge.

Much like a unicorn or Bigfoot, we are still waiting on physical proof this one exists.

4. The “I Did Something Nice Today for Someone” Badge.

Also known as the “I Gave a Shit Today About Anybody but Myself” badge (IGASHABM badge), this seems like something easy enough to do. Wrong again; you hurt mentally, emotionally and physically. Being nice left the building with Elvis.

5. The “Stable Relationship” Badge.

Sure, we were maybe in love with someone before we got PTSD from a traumatic event. That was then; we are not the same person from before. So, if you find yourself lucky enough to love the new you…

6. The “I Went to a Dark Crowded Place” Badge.

Movies, concerts, malls, shopping centers or public transportation can all earn you this highly-cherished badge.

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7. The “Panic Attack Survival” Badge.

This is one of the first badges you get, and arguably the hardest. Kidney stones and giving birth are two of the hardest things in the body, physically and emotionally; a full blown panic attack is a close third place.

To find more stories like this, visit PTSD Journal.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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3 Ways PTSD Has Made My Life Difficult

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This article was written by Christian Benedetto Jr. for the PTSD Journal.

My post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) requires so much energy and planning to manage on a daily basis. But who am I kidding? It’s often hourly and sometimes minute by minute. For me, it’s basically a full-time job with no benefits, lousy hours and no overtime pay — but plenty of overtime, and an asshole for a boss.

1. PTSD robs me of any type of security of peace.

When a person with PTSD is sitting safely alone in their living room, fireworks could go off and trigger them. Or it might instead be a smell from a neighbor’s kitchen, picking up a book or magazine with a cover on it that triggers their trauma. Forget turning on the TV, that is often a disaster waiting to happen. For me, there is nothing worse than watching a game show on TV, falling asleep and hearing a sound that triggers me. It feels like I’ve become a prisoner. PTSD can feel like a life sentence, but routines can make things go by faster and can help. I survive doing whatever I feel I must, and I’m not always proud of those things. I’m a recovering alcoholic, I’ve been a lousy friend, bad boyfriend and worse husband. At least I got being a dad right. PTSD is at the root of all these things in my life.

2. PTSD makes dignity feel like a thing of the past for me.

Let’s skip passed the semi-embarrassing things like having a panic attack in front of my family and friends. I had a world class embarrassing occurrence at my niece’s college graduation a few years ago, and ended up vomiting in a men’s room for 45 minutes while my whole family waited for me. My brother-in-law kept checking in on me often — he is a saint. Let’s move on to a really embarrassing loss of dignity moment right before Easter this year. I reconnected with a buddy I served in combat with. I had not spoked to him since 1992, and we talked about some things I had not thought about in years — maybe in decades. That day was a Tuesday, and my nightmares got worse on that night and the following one. Then Thursday night, I woke up in a cold sweat, the pillows, sheets and blankets were soaked. It was 3:27 a.m., though not “normal” for me, it’s not unusual. This happens to me a few times a month. I had been up 90 minutes before that with a nightmare, but no serious night sweats. I went into my bathroom – my IBS goes hand in hand with PTSD — and as I pull up my underwear they are soaked. While I was asleep, I had an accident — that’s how bad my nightmares were. It had been 10 plus years since that happened. I’m 50 and this is my night. I mention this not because I’m proud of it, but to let others know they are not alone. I miss my dignity and am working on getting it back. I believe I have to own my PTSD or it will own me.

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3. PTSD affects my capacity for empathy, compassion and “normalcy.”

For me, because my peace of mind and dignity feel like they’ve gone, you would think I would have some empathy and compassion to make up for it. For me, this hasn’t been the case. My PTSD depleted any sense of “normalcy” I feel. After the stock market and economy crashed in 2008, a few year later, we heard about the “new normal.” It seemed like companies “right sized themselves,” rather than firing people. I like to call life after PTSD the “new abnormal.” Everything is the same to the rest of the world, but not a single thing in my life is the same. It’s like I’ve had my identity stolen by my PTSD. I might look the same, talk the same and walk the same, but my ability for feel anything other than numb is gone. For me this manifests as not really caring about how anyone else feels. I am numb, so I assume everyone else is.

The only Latin I remember is “ Illegitimi non carborundum,” meaning “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” For me this is a helpful reminder when I’m struggling. I may have mental health scares from PTSD, but it means I am harder and tougher than what tried to break me.

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.

To find more stories like this, visit PTSD Journal.

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Unsplash photo via James Garcia.

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Why I Designed a Clothing Line for People Who've Been Through Trauma

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It was only this last year that I realized I struggle with mental illness. As a precocious child, I was inundated with programs and institutions that had very rigid guidelines and standards. That, combined with a long stint in a cult, caused me to spend most of formidable developmental years developing a warped sense of self and life. I am also a survivor of multiple traumas. As a “high-functioning” person, I never gave my trauma too much attention. I didn’t see the connections between my challenges with incongruence and “normal” day-to-day functioning. But, after an incident at work, I had a break in the middle of Grand Central Station. After figuratively, “throwing it all up,” on my supervisor, she strongly suggested medical leave, which I heeded.

Upon taking leave and making new appointments with my therapist, I began to look at and accept that I had moved past things without recognizing their impact on me, my behavior, my emotions, anger and relationships. I am now 37 years old, and just scratching the surface of self-acceptance with mental illness.

As a senior level marketing communications executive, I know the importance of branding. My outward appearance suffered. I was no longer “presentable” by many “outside standards.” I was, and believed I looked, depressed. Without wanting to leave my couch, I googled clothes for depressed people, and found nothing. In my pain, I began drawing again; a passion I gave up because some “conventional standards” say that drawing is not a lucrative career path. What I began to draw were sketches of clothes that I could wear that left me feeling safe and secure, with empowering personal messages, and components to assist someone during a panic attack or sensory overload.

All of sudden, I had an entire line of clothing for trauma survivors. Traumattire was conceived.

Every piece of clothing has a subtle message, intentional fabric and color selection, and researched additions to assist survivors. Being a single mom living with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder can be really hard. But, I now know that I do not have a sign that says, “I’m a victim,” but rather; a story that has me personally connected, invested and knowledgeable about a niche population that has a very real need.

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a drawing of traumattire clothing a drawing of traumattire clothing

Follow this journey here.

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 Image provided by the author. 

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