The Mighty Logo

When You're the 'High-Functioning' Traumatized Kid With Complex PTSD

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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.

You know, it is daunting when the cursor just blinks on a blank page. It blinks slower than my heartbeat and ticks away slower than the time passing on the clock sitting near my bed. The cursor is only aggravating because I have a lot of trauma to share and I want to explain what happened in order to help at least one other person.

• What is PTSD?

I didn’t know that I “had trauma” or that I was a “trauma survivor” until I was about 19 or 20 years old. I didn’t know such things because I was raised in an environment where everything was “hush-hush” and everything “was fine.”

No one knew the real home-life of Alex in middle school and high school because I was a straight-A student, an elite athlete, on student council and volunteering 20 hours per week. I’m not bragging, I’m just pointing out that sometimes the kids who do the most, struggle the most.

It was normal to wake up in a sweat because I knew it would only be hours or minutes until a family member would stand over my bed, undressed. It was normal to sleep in the closet because it gave me more time to react. It was normal to sleep with a baseball bat because the word “no” never meant “no.” As a defenseless 5-year-old, saying “no” never had any power.

So, what did I go through? Can you relate?

At the age of 3, I learned that my family couldn’t have me and I was put up for adoption. By the age of 5, a distant family member attempted kidnapping. By the age of 6, I was told that a family member who was Black was gunned down by a white male. By the age of 7, a family member gave me my first concussion. By the age of 8, I learned that brushing my teeth and taking showers were not safe. By the age of 9, I learned that I’d never sleep with both eyes closed and by the age of 10, I questioned my virginity.

At the age of 13, my brother attempted suicide and by the age of 14, I had been touched by someone I thought was a friend. By the age of 15, my birth mom was murdered, and by the age of 16, I was locked in a trunk and I don’t remember what happened. By the age of 17, one of my good friends killed herself and between 17 and 18 years old, I was stalked by a classmate and needed a bodyguard.

Shortly after, my celebrity role model whose music got me through everything was gunned down. At the age of 20, my roommate died in a car crash and at the age of 23, I was taken advantage of by someone I thought I would marry. When I was 24, my friend died over only a few months from cancer.

And here I still stand. I made it.

Remember, like other Mighty contributors, I don’t share this for sympathy, I share this to open the door for others who relate and to come forward and feel less alone.

What was normal coping? What does coping look like now? Though I was a “high-functioning” traumatized kid who did well in school, I also engaged in risky behavior. I resorted to graffiti, skipping class, lying around the block, shop-lifting, speeding, self-harm, using alcohol, abusing prescription meds and trespassing after hours. What does it look like now? I go to therapy two times per week and have a very supportive health team. I am in multiple recovery programs and have some time sober. I’ve been to residential treatment to address disordered eating and trauma. I love to paint, run, learn languages, write and play with my cat. I’m learning to cook, how to play the guitar and to process the emotions. I have made life-long friends who loved me until I could love myself.

Is it easy having severe Complex PTSD? No. Does it get better? Yes. No matter how difficult processing can be, I’ve learned to suit up and show up and not to leave before the miracle happens. I’m not through it, I’m still going through it. It’s one day at a time, and today, I’m here and that’s all that matters.

Photo by Caique Silva on Unsplash

Originally published: August 26, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home