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How I Cope When ‘PTSD Me’ Is Terrified and Angry

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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.

The beginning of May was the anniversary of my trauma, and with that being said, I’m more terrified and more anxious than ever before.  Since my trauma, I have been terrified all the time.

• What is PTSD?

In the days following the attack, I deep-cleaned my entire house, trying to forget what had happened. I had a panic attack when I returned to work and have been off ever since. I am terrified of being watched and pursued, since my attacker had told me others were watching me. I changed the locks on my doors, had a male friend move in with me and my husband for seven months — extra security for my peace of mind — and have not been in a grocery store since the day of the attack.

Throughout the months, with therapy and psychotherapy, I have gotten better, a little stronger, a little braver, but I still need someone to accompany me if we’re going into a building.  I can’t attend my son’s school programs unless one or both of his grandmothers are there, and even then, they can’t enter the building without me; otherwise, I won’t be able to go in.

When you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s almost like you have two different people living in your head. You have “Real Me,” who knows I’m safe and secure, and what happened to me was an isolated incident. “Real Me” tends to use logic and reasoning and calls “PTSD Me” out when she knows she’s being overwhelmed by absolutely nothing. “Real Me” is the person I was before this man came at me.

“Real Me” is the person who had a foundation of being “built to last” and considered herself strong, capable, independent, open-minded and filled with the urge to travel and live life to its fullest. That’s who “Real Me” was…

“PTSD Me” is scared. She’s terrified all of the time; she’s greatly fearful of even just answering her front door. She can only go four places on her own, minus family and friends’ houses — piano practice, Dollar General, Casey’s and McDonald’s — but only if it’s not busy and only if the three seats, from which are the best to see the majority of the building, are available. If I go anywhere else, I must be catered to. Friends or family will request a corner booth or table so I feel safe and don’t have to worry about someone coming up behind me. They go out of their way to hold my hand when they see my hand begin to tremor because of the anxiety pulsing through my veins. My husband has had to remind me on multiple different occasions to breathe because sometimes, I would stop and not even realize it.

My therapist says that “Real Me” may never return.

“Real Me” has experienced a significant trauma she may not fully recover from. “Real Me” may be gone forever, and “Real Me” is actually quite terrified of that. “Real Me” loved “Real Me.” We had nearly 29 years to get to know each other and make our mark in our circle of friends and family. We knew our place. “PTSD Me” does not know where she belongs.

“PTSD Me” is equal parts angry and disappointed.

She feels ashamed to have a mental illness as debilitating as it is. She questions who her support system truly consists of regularly, even if they have proven themselves over and over again. She apologizes to her husband and son for absolutely nothing, just because she feels like she needs to apologize for having a mental illness. “PTSD Me” is angry because she couldn’t conceive a baby when she had planned to again, since the medications her doctors have her on would hurt the fetus. House hunting became a pipe dream since she had no viable income. Enjoying life by regularly taking trips to different places became a nightmare filled with anxiety, rather than a dream filled with promise and adventure. “PTSD Me” is not who I want to be, or who I want to become.

But, nonetheless, I cope. I cope with “PTSD Me” because if that’s who I am going to be for the time being. or even for the rest of my life, then I have to figure out a way to cope. I have to try and live my best possible life, despite how terrified and angry I am, and how much I overthink things because of “PTSD Me.”

I cope by going to piano class. Music has always soothed my soul; I was one of the top soloists at my church for about eight years, and I took piano lessons in high school for about two years. About six months after my trauma, I began taking piano lessons again, and whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious or depressed, I either turn up the volume on my wonder-boom or I sit down at the piano and practice my songs.

Right now, I’m even learning how to play just by listening to a piece, which my instructor says most people can’t do until years after lessons, so basically he thinks I’m amazing; it helps that I was a soloist, took lessons before, and was in choir for a total of five years in junior high and high school. I can read music very well, and remember most of the lingo.  It definitely helps.

I cope by reading books. I’m currently learning history from the Native American side of the story, rather than the settlers’ side. It’s interesting to see how welcoming the Native Americans were and yet the settlers just overpowered them anyway. I recently read a Jodi Picoult book, which inspired me to learn a few more things about pro-life and pro-choice. It was very intriguing. I somehow spoke my husband into going to Barnes and Noble one afternoon while we were visiting family for a holiday, and he ended up buying me nearly $200 worth of new books to read. I regretted it after I saw my credit card statement, and I still haven’t even gotten through half the books that were given to me just a couple of Christmases ago.

Nonetheless, I will read because diving into other people’s stories helps me to forget my own, and that’s another way I cope.

I cope by cleaning. Not the kitchen — it overwhelms me — but the rests of the house, I can handle. I pick up each room every day, dust, sweep and mop each room at least twice a week, and my husband and I take turns doing litter-boxes twice a week. I reorganize my office area at least once a month, and I’m actually happy when I see a mess in my son’s room while he’s at school because it gives me something to do. Cleaning helps me clear my mind, especially if
I have music playing in the background.

And I cope by writing. Obviously, this piece is bringing up a lot of anxiety and fear and depression because of the topic, but I need to share my story so others like me don’t feel alone. I write about movies and books and holidays and my dogs. I write about my son, about health awareness months, about piano and music. I write about my friends and my family and the unbelievable things we all somehow get ourselves into. I cope by writing; it’s always been my coping mechanism, even before I found all my other coping strategies.

However, I also cope by talking. I talk to my therapist once a week, my psychotherapist once a month, my husband every two or three days, a friend going through similar issues once or twice a week, and another friend who understands things because she has such an open mind at least twice a week, if not more. I talk to my mom. I explain it to her so she can understand better. And she really, truly tries. I talk to my cousin, who has been there since day two. Talking helps. It may not fully heal, but it helps.

I am terrified every time I walk out my front door, every time I leave my car and every time I exit or enter any kind of building, whether it’s a business or a house. I am terrified all of the time, at home, with my husband, in therapy, with my therapist, around my family in a controlled environment and around friends in my own home. I am terrified all of the time. I went through trauma nearly a year ago, and the flashbacks, the nightmares, the anxiety, the depression all haunts me every second of every minute of every hour of every day. I am haunted by this one day, this one person, this one event. And because I am haunted, I am terrified.

I have post-traumatic stress disorder, and I am terrified. All. The. Time.

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Originally published: July 16, 2019
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