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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual or domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling  1-800-799-7233.

It’s 5 a.m and I am thinking about the eyes of the man who raped me. Such cold, sunken eyes that follow me everywhere I go. As I lie in bed, I check over my partner, scanning his face for similarities. Do they have the same eyes? Nose? The way his beard is grown out right now makes them look identical. I can’t ask him to trim it again, can I? Yet, I know I have to.

I leave my partner in bed while I go downstairs to perform some memory checks. I sit on the sofa, arms and legs wrapped in tight. I slow my breathing and tell myself there is no cause for concern. They look nothing alike. They really don’t. But it’s not enough. I need absolute certainty so I open up my laptop and search for him on Twitter. My stomach twists with a pang of guilt. Bile rises to my throat as I force myself to study the face of the man who raped me: his eyes, his hair, his beard, his hands even. I take a deep breath and remind myself they look nothing alike, but in the exact same moment, I close the page and delete my history to save my laptop from feeling contaminated. It starts up again. They look identical, my mind pushes.

It isn’t my laptop that is contaminated. It is me — my mind, my body, my memory. We dated for two years and in that time, he abused me physically, emotionally, mentally and finally, sexually. I was controlled by him in every sense of the word. Almost 10 years have passed and he is still controlling me.

I often become so confused as I watch my partner’s face turn into some warped version of my abuser. I close my eyes and beg my mind to let me live in peace, but it doesn’t. When I open my eyes, there he is and I am no longer able to convince myself it is a hallucination. Gone is my caring, loving partner, replaced instead by the man I had to flee a country to get away from.

At the time, I waited until he was at work and then got into a taxi and headed straight for the airport. I’ll never look back at this, I thought. But 10 years on, I am forced to see him every day. I hear his voice before I fall asleep. He never left me. I don’t know if he ever will.

I’ve learned that being raped didn’t happen once. Instead, I am made to endure that person forcing himself on to me time and time again. It happens when I wake, when I am are holding my partner’s hand or enjoying a beautiful sunset. It feels as if he has never stopped violating me.

A few days ago, my partner broke down in tears and I could not comfort him. As a person living with depression, he cries often and each time I am thrown into the memory of the many times my abuser played with my emotions to manipulate me into staying with him. His tears were never genuine and they very quickly turned to rage if I ignored him. This rage never left me. It is there whenever my partner is curled up on the floor, sobbing into his knees, begging me for the affection and comfort he deserves. I want to go to him, but my body is frozen. Next comes rage, my mind nudges. Of course, my partner does not stand up from the floor and hurt me, but he does burst into a choir of confusion and in that confusion, there is a hint of anger. Anger because I won’t hug him. Later, he explains his anger is merely self-doubt and fear. He is worried I don’t love him and I get it, I really do, but once your mind has made a connection, it is difficult to unravel, especially when the result is trauma.

Back to the here and now, and my partner is not yet awake. As I sit here writing this, I am filled with anxiety, fear and a strong sense of foreboding for the moment he comes downstairs and kisses me because I know it will feel… wrong somehow. I know I will be thinking of the man who raped me, even though I want nothing less. I know I will be scanning his eyes, his nose, his beard for a thread of similarity — not because I want to find it, but because I am absolutely terrified to.

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

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

These are six misconceptions about living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

1. All wounds are visible.

It sounds so simple, we have all heard it over and over again, but people don’t seem to get it. Just because someone is not missing a limb, or does not have a seven-inch scar across their face, does not mean they are not suffering the same if not more than someone with a physical wound. A broken leg will heal over time, a wounded soul will not as easily, and like a broken leg, needs attention to the wound or it will not heal correctly. 

2. There is an “easy” cure. 

I wish there was. We did not ask for PTSD, we did not deserve it or want it.  PTSD is manageable and the symptoms can lessen, but it doesn’t just go away. So if you have someone in your life with PTSD, give them space when they need it and encouragement. There is such a thing as post-traumatic growth. PTSD is not the end of someone’s life, it’s just a new normal and you can grow from it.

3. Everyone with PTSD is overmedicated.

While many of us with PTSD take a variety of medications, not everyone with PTSD is a walking pharmacy.

 

4. PTSD is a sign of weakness.

Some say you get PTSD from being too strong for too long, the reality is it’s a normal reaction to a trauma.

5. People with PTSD are a threat to others and themselves.

Hollywood gets it wrong way more often than they get it right when it comes to
people who have PTSD. PTSD does not mean you can’t function, hold a job or be in a loving relationship. It may mean you just need to work harder.

6. Only men get PTSD/PTSD is just a military disorder.

Anyone can get PTSD from a car accident, near drowning, dog bite, an attack or mugging, being a victim of domestic violence, being a corrections officer, being a first responder, a sexual assault victim, burn victim, bullying and about 1,000 other ways. PTSD does not discriminate against anyone, male or female.

To find more stories like this, visit PTSD Journal.

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6 Misconceptions About Living With PTSD

While not everyone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has the same triggers, for those who have a sensitivity to loud noise, holidays like the Fourth of July can be difficult, to say the least. With fireworks going off at events, barbecues and sometimes just randomly all across the nation, it can be hard to avoid the loud sudden crack even if you stay home.

But people with PTSD or just noise sensitivity in general shouldn’t have to suffer through the holiday. To find out how to help, we asked people in our mental health community who have PTSD to tell us one thing they need, or one thing they do, on the Fourth of July to make the holiday more bearable. We wanted to compile their answers and provide some ideas for anyone who wants to be helpful to a friend of family member with PTSD this year.

Not everyone with PTSD will need the same thing, so make sure you talk to your loved one before making any assumptions. Or, for those with PTSD who are nervous for this holiday, these ideas might help you start the conversation. Please don’t be afraid to express your needs.

Here are some ideas for making The Fourth more inclusive for people with PTSD:

1. If you can, find out when the fireworks are, and let the person know.

Loud noises can be bad enough — loud noises without warning are even worse. If you’re at a public event, or hosting something at your home, let the person know ahead of time when the fireworks will be going off so they have time to prepare — or so they can leave early if necessary.

“Take this into account when taking me/inviting me to events where [you are] aware there are fireworks… Being able to be prepared (such as taking earmuffs or leaving the facility prior to) allows me to keep in control and take charge. I therefore don’t have to feel ashamed, like it’s a joke for others to watch my reaction to the noises.” — Keryn D.

“If I’m at a fireworks show and I know what time it starts, it’s not as bad. I get startled for a minute, but then I settle back down after telling myself, “It’s OK, I’m OK, I’m safe.” Plus looking at my kids’ smiles at the colors and seeing their amazement is very calming for me… But, when I’m sitting at home inside my house and fireworks go off outside I’m not expecting, it can really make me panic very easily. I’ve got to investigate what it is, where it’s coming from and confirm. Only then can I go back inside and distract myself by either music, movies or by talking to company/hubby/kids.” — Courtney N.

2. Establish a safe space.

Whether this is in the car (because you’re at the beach), or a room in a house at a barbecue, establishing a “safe place” where the person who has PTSD can go during the fireworks, means they can still be involved in the festivities, but know exactly where to go before the fireworks start or when they feel overwhelmed.

“Don’t have PTSD myself, but a few years ago there was a guest at our Fourth of July party and we knew it would trigger him, so we set up a little hideout downstairs (we had a finished basement) so we put on a good movie, cranked up the volume and checked on him periodically through the fireworks show.” — Karly E.

“I LOOOOOOVE building pillow forts with my friends! Cloth, cotton and other fabric absorbs the sound — human friends, furry friends — the right friends will be there for you! Trust me! They’re out there! You just have to be daring enough to find them.” — Stacey L.

3. Ear plugs, headphones and music.

If your loved one doesn’t want to or need to leave during the fireworks, wearing noise canceling headphones can be a great way to lessen the impact. Or even wearing regular headphones and blasting a favorite song can make the noises less jarring.

“I need to have ear plugs and I need my security blanket. Without those I’d be a total mess. That or I need my security blanket and headphones with music. Music is something that always soothes me and keeps me calm from things that may trigger other problems and issues.” — Cherokee N.

“I’d definitely say noise canceling headphones are a must. And, not just for people who [have] PTSD either.” — Susan E.

4. Celebrate in a different way.

If fireworks are tough for your friends, there are other ways to celebrate the Fourth of July! See a movie, go camping and get away from areas where you know there will be a lot of celebration. Ask your friend if there’s a different way you can celebrate.

“I don’t have PTSD, but fireworks still give me panic attacks. I go to the movie theater — the loud movie and thick walls drown out even the loudest fireworks.” — Jackie M.

“I’m staying home and watching the fireworks on TV. I can control the volume from my home!” — Rebecca G.

“[Find] someone who is willing to stay inside and watch a movie or do something distracting and calming with me.” — Kari L.

5. Don’t judge your friend’s decision to leave early, or shame him/her for reacting in a strong way.

Please, don’t judge how someone needs to celebrate. If they can’t show up, have to leave early or react strongly when the fireworks start, be understanding of their situation and let them know you’re there for them. That support could go a lot way.

“My family forces me to go to firework shows with them, but having someone there for me who knows what’s going through my mind helps a lot.” — Lillian H.

“If I’m with my husband, I know I’m safe. He helps me remember where I am and ‘when’ I am.” — Courtney H.

6. Be respectful of your neighbors.

If no one you know has PTSD, that doesn’t mean there’s not someone in your close vicinity who needs to know when fireworks will start. Letting your neighbors know when you are setting off fireworks (with a friendly note in their mailbox or flier in front of your house) could go a long way for someone who needs to know.

“Considerate neighbors. Advanced warning.” — Tania B.

What would you add?


Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

When I was a child, I was told I was smart — affirmed by teachers and programs. I was told I was pretty, if I were thin — affirmed by boys and indirect family commentary. When I was a teen, I was told I was vain, selfish and prideful — affirmed by scripture and dissection of my actions. I was told my pussy was unlike any other — affirmed by countless men and abusers who had an insatiable appetite for parts of me. Like Post-It notes, experiences, words and people placed labels on me. Ingredients, things I was made of — things I became.

Now I am told different things. I am told now I have major depressive disorder. I am told I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and present symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD). I have new signs hung around my neck. As I work through each label, I see some of the adhesive has now cemented itself on my skin — in my pores.

So, who am I? What do I agree with? What do I feel? What does it matter what others say? Even as I write that, I scoff. I believe it does matter once it’s out there, once it’s presented to the world.

The “I Am” Sweater I created is a self-proclamation. The survivor can self-identify. The sweater tears away the labels, the Post-Its and stitches the words you need, desire and are working toward. They are strategically placed so you can be reminded of them in a discrete manner. Words and labels and diagnoses can sometimes box us in which, as a person who has anxiety attacks — being boxed in, literally or figuratively, is not an option.

I am web

Follow this journey here.

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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

People have told me I shouldn’t keep talking and writing about my past as a survivor — that by doing so, I keep holding on to it. I’m “playing the victim” too much and I’m not letting it go and moving on. But they see this all wrong. I write and talk about my experiences because I can’t let it go, not when I can still see the impact my past has on my present day life.

I wouldn’t want anything more than to be able to keep the past in the past. I’ve had so many instances in which I thought, “I’ve finally reached the finish line. Now I’ve done this, talked about that, accepted this part of it, I can let it go. Now I can move on.” Sometimes it does feel like that’s the case, but it keeps coming back. It keeps affecting me; how I feel, how I react to things and what choices I make.

This is hard to admit because it’s not what people want to hear. People want stories of victories and strength. People love it when survivors decide to put the past behind them and move on without any problems. What they don’t see as strength is a survivor who keeps “whining” about something that happened years ago. I could decide not to talk about it and this would be much more comfortable for everyone. This way, I would create the illusion of a strong woman who put everything behind her and looks towards the future. I wouldn’t make people uncomfortable anymore and wouldn’t bother them with all those difficult subjects nobody wants to think about anyway.

That my past keeps affecting me is also hard to admit because it’s not something I want for myself. I don’t want to walk around with this sadness and grief, just below the surface, waiting to appear. I don’t want to be depressed time and time again. I don’t want to fear unexpected sounds in the streets, or be afraid someone’s manipulating me. I don’t want to have a negative world view. I don’t want to tense up when I am touched a certain way. I don’t want to be triggered for days, after hearing a rape joke. I don’t want to have to try to suppress feelings of guilt. I don’t want to feel like I lost a part of myself. I don’t want this to be a daily reality for me. If I were able to let it all go, I would.

I’ve decided to stop expecting I will “get over it.” This will only bring disappointment and a negative self-image. It is a part of me and I need to accept that, even when others don’t. This isn’t their healing journey, but mine. Of course I’ll keep moving forward and I’ve already achieved so much. I don’t see myself as a victim. Everybody has had events in their life that changed them. It’s “normal” for the past to still play a part in your present day life. To look at this with honesty — now that’s strength.

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.

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This piece was written by Jamie Berube a Thought Catalog contributor.

One of my fears in talking about my mental health condition is knowing that some people might treat me differently because of it. The thought of someone interacting with me in a way that was shaped by their own personal prejudices or ideas about what a person with a mental illness looks like is hard for me — mainly because I once maintained similar prejudices and uninformed notions about what mental illness meant and looked like, too. In my ignorance, I assumed you could really only be clinically depressed if you lost your job or family or had a disease like cancer. I assumed schizophrenia was reserved for the “real crazies” who “hear voices” and “see things” and thought you could only have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if you were a war veteran, rape victim or had survived something catastrophic event like Hurricane Katrina or the 9/11 terrorists attacks. And if your experience didn’t fit in one of those boxes, it would be hard to convince me you were struggling from something with a clinical diagnosis.

But then a wild, terrible, chaotic and strangely beautiful thing happened to me — something that I liken to having your ship wrecked by the destructive force of a rogue wave that you didn’t see coming, nor received any warning about while out at sea. I was diagnosed with a mental illness. Post-traumatic stress disorder, to be exact, due to the tragic death of my father at a young age and a childhood of abuse and neglect. I knew I would never again look at or view mental illness in the same way when this happened. And I also knew by admission of my diagnosis, I, in turn, would never be looked at the same way even by those I love dearly. This scared me and made me want to hide from everybody in my life. But I realized I can’t remove the ignorance and misinformation that has surrounded the mental health conversation in our country and within my own generation. What I can do, however, is help those who don’t know very much about it learn to see it as something that does not make someone any less of a person, or “different” in the ways one might assume.

It is very easy to allow our opinions to be guided by our prejudices and ignorance — things we may not be aware have clouded our perceptions. And these opinions often dictate how we treat those who struggle. One of the most significant and potentially detrimental parts of this treatment is in how we talk to those who have mental illness. Our words have the power to hurt and destroy or help and heal, and even neutral words may be misconstrued and come across as belittling when the person struggling is in a vulnerable place. Furthermore, the words we choose to use can also perpetuate the negative, toxic stigmas around mental health issues, and these stigmas can stifle truth and imprison people into believing the lie that they are not like everyone else, never will be and have nothing good to offer.

For this reason, it’s crucial to educate yourself about what things to say or not say. It is as serious as the difference between healing and hurting.

Here are 10 examples of things you should not say to someone struggling with a mental health condition:

1. “It could be worse.”

This is true. For every single human being alive right now. Lost your job and your family and wrecked your car? Well, so-and-so did too and was diagnosed with cancer and accidentally ran over their cat. So don’t be sad because that didn’t happen to you and it could have.

See what I’m getting at here?

The intention behind these words is not what I question, it’s the thought process behind it (if there is one at all). Because other people’s problems are worse than mine does not make my own easier to live with. And the idea that I am complaining when “there are people who have it so much harder” than me, makes me feel guilty for feeling anything in the first place. 

2. “It’s just a season of life that we all go through.”

We all go through this? Does that mean you already have? So you know what it feels like to not be able to trust your own mind and not want to get out of bed or be around people or take meds that make you feel weird sometimes? You know how it feels to believe your life maybe isn’t worth living? If so, tell me more about that… because maybe you know a way to get through it that I haven’t already thought about.

3. “You need to let it go.”

Wait, I have the power to let this go and be better? My doctor never told me that! OK, I will just let it go… now how exactly does one do that? Do I close my eyes? Write my feelings on a piece of paper of throw it into the ocean? Do a dance?

No really, I would love to know how exactly anybody can “let go” of a mental illness so if you have ever advocated for this advice, I’d love to be enlightened.

4. “Go treat yourself and take your mind off it!”

AKA: Go self-medicate your pain! Numb your feelings so you don’t feel them anymore! And if they come back, well, self-medicate some more!

This is always terrible advice.

5. “You have so much to be happy about, why can’t you just focus on those things?”

This drives me “crazy.” Those who struggle with a mental health issue are not “ungrateful” or “not thankful for what they have.” This is because mental illnesses such as depression are not about attitude. They’re about a brain disorder. Depression, for example, makes it hard to feel any pleasure. There is actually a scientific term for it, anhedonia — which literally means the inability to feel pleasure. So while thankfulness and gratitude are good things, they are not cures for mental ailments.

Though I certainly wish they were.

6. “But you always seem so happy, how could you be struggling so much?”

Yes, and that is because I am terrified of what people will think if they know what feelings I have deep down inside and what is going on in my head. For me, wearing a mask is easier than being real. Just because I smile and laugh a lot and tell stupid jokes doesn’t mean I am not internally struggling.

7. “If God leads you to it, He will lead you through it.”

When advice or statements about someone’s mental state is cloaked in flowery, cliché religious language of the sort, I believe people will be less likely to take you seriously. The truth is comments like this make many people with mental illness feel ashamed or like God, or the universe in general, is punishing them for something they did wrong. I believe it’s not helpful to chalk up someone’s mental health concerns to being a part of “God’s plan.” For someone who may be struggling with their faith or spirituality, this might actually push them further away.

8. “It’s the devil that’s doing this to you.”

I don’t intend to specifically attack the attempts at encouragement that come from those who go to church and believe in God (as I do), but sometimes the advice seems really presumptuous and hyperbolic and off-base. Like telling someone the devil is the cause of their problems. I do not think the intention is bad, but ultimately, it all boils down to this: how will telling someone the devil is wreaking havoc in their life make them feel better? The answer is it probably won’t. It doesn’t make the pain go away or hurt any less.

9. “You need a new hobby.”

Great idea. Because despite how draining my emotions are and the symptoms of my condition can be at times, I totally have the energy to start knitting or playing the guitar. Who knew getting over a mental illness could be so easy?

Remember: it is difficult for some people struggling to feel pleasure, even in things they once did before. Telling them what they “need” to do likely won’t help. They probably have heard it before from someone else.

10. “It’s because you’re on medication, you should stop taking those pills.”

This statement is the most difficult for me to address because it makes me the angriest. The subject of medication and mental health is one that is as complex and dynamic as it is misunderstood and stigmatized. I have yet to tackle this giant in a longer post, but have plans on doing so. For now, though, please understand if you have ever shamed someone or criticized or questioned someone’s use of medication for mental illness, you have likely contributed to their inner turmoil and angst. Unless you are someone’s doctor, spouse, parent or maybe a close enough best friend, you have no right to know or try and modify someone’s medication usage. The hard truth is, despite what you see in the news about people who abuse pain killers and barbiturates — of which there are millions — there are people who literally cannot get through the day without taking medicine, and would not be alive right now without it. Like anything, it can be abused. And yes, doctors do overprescribe sometimes. But to think that someone’s mental health condition can be reduced to simply being a matter of what pills they are taking is ignorant at best.

If you suspect someone may be taking medicine that they shouldn’t, if you are close enough with the person, find a safe and comfortable way to talk about it with them. But be careful not to assume that their medications are “bad” or “not working,” because unless you are a doctor, you absolutely cannot know that.

Those who struggle with a mental illness are not people who deserve to be treated differently or with scrutiny or judgment or pity. We deserve to be treated and talked to like everyone else, even in moments of weakness. Because at the end of the day, we are people with hearts and minds and dreams and hopes that matter and are important and worthy of being noticed on their own, separate from the things that are going on internally, and recognized with love and respect. And that just may be the very thing that can make more of a difference for someone who is struggling than anything else.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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