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The Trauma Symptom That Causes Me to Think You Might Kill Me

Do I really think you might kill me?

Yes.

Wait, what? Perhaps I’d better explain. I am a person who has experienced trauma. I identify as someone who has complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

I’m always mindful of not wanting to harm others with my story, and so I only share what I feel is necessary. In that spirit, I will say just a little about this background, which I think is needed to explain the title of this writing. Please take care of yourself if this is hard for you to read.

I experienced persistent sexual abuse in my growing-up years. I didn’t know it was abuse at the time; I didn’t have the vocabulary or ability to express it to anyone who may have helped me. It wasn’t until I turned 20 that I really recognized what had happened was abuse. This has had an enduring negative effect on my view of self and my overall mental health.

In my mid-20s I had another unfortunate experience where boundaries were crossed. A man tried to force himself on me. That day, I quickly escaped without coming to physical harm. I did not escape without mental harm. After this happened I reached out to the police and other authority figures to help me, but nothing was done. Disappointingly this became an additional part of my trauma. This all impacted me deeply, and as you can imagine was especially difficult for me to process due to the abuse I experienced previously.

Do I really think you might kill me?

Maybe.

After this attempted assault, I developed a C-PTSD symptom that I had not experienced before, or at least not in this specific way.

My view of the world changed. 

This change is one of the symptoms you’ll find listed, which can occur with C-PTSD. The psychology jargon they use is:  “a loss of systems of meanings.” This shift in worldview combined forces with hypervigilance, and yes, this meant I thought someone might kill me. Well… maybe.

I found that I was continually on edge. I became convinced that most people could not be trusted. Instead of seeing the world as a generally good place, my mind experienced a shift that said to me, in fact: you are better off assuming everyone is out to get you.

I would actually describe it not so much as specific thoughts, but more an overall feeling. This fear was largely focused on people I didn’t know or know very well, so it didn’t seriously impact my daily relationships. Regardless, my mind was an unpleasant place to be, to say the least.

In those days I regularly got around by walking, and that’s when a lot of these fears surfaced. I became an expert on clocking exit routes, speed-walking to my destinations, eyeing up suspicious-looking vehicles, and having an acute awareness of who else was on the sidewalk. I would keep my head down just enough to avoid eye contact, in case anyone should see the fear in me. Sadly I don’t think anyone who knew me was aware my mind had spun this out of control, and equally unfortunate was that I did not seek out therapy at this time.

As is often true with trauma, there was a small kernel of truth around this changed view. I did have plenty of reasons to fear what the individual in question might be capable of, and it was wise for me to make sure we wouldn’t cross paths again. Likewise, it opened my eyes to some missteps I had mistakenly made around my own safety. Yet when the brain experiences trauma, it can take that kernel of truth and blast it into hyperdrive, which is exactly what happened. My brain got stuck on “keep this human safe,” in a way it thought was helpful for my continued survival, but which was indeed not beneficial to this extreme.

So, do I really think you might kill me?

Probably not
.

That level of fear lived within me for nearly a year. Then I moved to a different city, and that change settled my mind down significantly. As tends to happen with my trauma recovery, I shifted to experiencing and exploring other symptoms and walking the path of working through those. I also reentered into therapy again at this time, which was significantly important. I can now say I’ve been in therapy for almost 15 years, which combined with medication has been key to my healing.

So, do I really think you might kill me?

No (but possibly).

It’s frustrating that the qualifier “possibly” still makes an appearance, instead of a certain and definite “no.” Yet the truth remains that I know this is as a place my mind can go. I wish I could say that since the year I just described, I’ve been able to keep my mind off that road entirely, but that is not the case. I can say though that I’ve only gotten better at dealing with it when my mind starts going that way.

A few years ago, when a certain president (who will remain nameless) was elected, I was thrown into this terror again. I saw my therapist; I believe it was the very next day. I had to tell her that as I was walking over to her office I was evaluating the people on the street to consider if they were on a mission to harm me. With time and support, I moved forward much quicker from that concern — in months, not a year.

In contrast, somewhat recently, some local issues triggered me, and again these safety fears crept back in again. I spoke with my therapist right away. This time, within a week I was back to my usual self. I now have the skills and support I needed way back when, though of course I’m not perfect.

Understandably I do continue to have things that I find triggering, and some of these can center on my perceived safety.  Sometimes, I need to remember that these internal warning bells are coming from a place inside me that is doing what it thinks is best to keep me safe. I can thank my warning system for looking out for me, and let it know everything is OK.  Other times, I need to remind myself that some concern over safety is healthy and wise.

I’ve also learned it’s OK to ask folks to help me out if I need it. I’ve learned it’s OK if I need to ask people to not block a door, especially in a situation where I feel vulnerable. I’ve also learned that it’s OK to listen to that feeling of fear, and to evaluate where that feeling is coming from, if it’s reasonable, and if something specific needs to change. If you have a story like mine, you can learn these things too.

This part of my psyche isn’t easy for me to share. Interestingly enough, if you track down any of my other Mighty stories or my Instagram, you’ll find I’m pretty freewheeling when it comes to talking and writing about other aspects of my mental health. I struggle to be as open on this topic, which usually is centered on my dread of judgment.

Yet nearly every time I make the choice to speak on the difficult parts, the reward is obvious to me. Another small part of the unspeakable is spoken, and through that I become more free. In speaking I also hope to help others find the words they may not yet have, to be a reminder to folks that they are not alone, and to be a source of optimism that things can get better.

If you enjoyed this article, please take a moment to check out some of my other articles here on The Mighty. If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.

Photo by Fernand De Canne on Unsplash