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To the Unlikely Doctor Who Acknowledged My Trauma

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I went to you, not for my trauma, but for my seizures. You are not a psychiatrist or a mental health worker. But, you still showed me that I am human, too.

• What is PTSD?

We drove four hours to see you, the very best in your field. After meeting for the first time, we went over my medical history. You saw the file from my psychiatrist and the laundry list of medicines we’ve tried over the past eight years. You saw the extensive list of my mental health diagnoses, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Then, you flat out asked why I had all of these problems — why I had PTSD.

I froze. My body started to quiver; I slid down in my chair. But, you seemed genuine; you exuded a sense of security. You started asking questions I couldn’t muster the strength to answer out loud. With tears welling in my eyes, my head hung low, I tried to answer with just a nod of my head. Yes, I was sexually abused as a child. Yes, I knew my abuser. No, it didn’t happen just once…it went on for years. As I answered your questions of the who, what and when you became visibly upset. But, I understood you were not upset with me. You became increasingly upset and gritted your teeth because you knew the effects of my childhood abuse had taken control of my life. You apologized I had been through hell, and that I hadn’t come back yet.

You also explained that my physical symptoms were not all in my head. There are types of seizures associated with PTSD. You know that my trauma could very well be the medical reason I’ve been in so much pain. You knew I had wounds that would never go away. But, I felt it — you cared. You were upset with my abuser. You, a person, a doctor, treated me like a human being and not just a case. You made me feel as though what I went through was not mine to be ashamed of. The shame goes to the monster who did this to me.

It was difficult for me to find my words again; you got up and got me tissues. I told you I only wanted one thing: I just wanted my life back. You asked about school. I told you I just couldn’t handle the stress of trying to deal with my trauma, mental and physical illness and the stress of school. I was trying to keep my head above water, trying to take control over my own life. You said I would make a great social worker and that you knew I was trying as best I could. You acknowledged that leaving school was for my mental health and not because I was lazy or incompetent. After all this time, you, a stranger didn’t just skate over my trauma.

And for the first time since I broke my silence, I didn’t feel the need to skate over it, either. I didn’t say “it’s OK”; I didn’t say “thank you.” You didn’t make me dwell on it. When I finally got home, I realized the true impact of the words you said, and importantly, the words you didn’t say. I finally felt free to be upset, angry, to cry and scream because something awful did happen to me. It was freeing. You don’t know, but you opened the flood gates that let me free my emotions. I feel the sharpness of my pain, but I’m finally starting to crawl out from under the numbing blanket I’ve been hiding under. In 45 minutes you made a huge impact, and turned the page for me to start a new chapter in my story.

If you or a loved one are affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call theNational Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-0656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Originally published: February 12, 2016
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