Originally Shared on Rethink Stigma
I was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 20 years old. I didn’t feel like I had “earned” this diagnosis, though. I wasn’t a war veteran, nor had I been beaten or life-threateningly injured. But I had been dealing with constant nightmares and debilitating panic attacks regarding a certain day of my life.
The day I was raped.
It wasn’t as violent as films portrayed – perhaps because cinema relies on visuals to portray the pain. I resigned, submitted, and silently cried. Even now, trying to recall moments I’m comfortable enough describing, my heart races. Everything around me narrows. Trying to go back to those moments is like running into a burning building. If I know I’m going back for a specific item, and I know just where it is, I can zip in and out while only dealing with the heat for a moment. But if I wander in, looking around at everything, the fire starts to nip at me. It burns.
The man who did this to me had been around since I was 14. He was a trusted family friend. He started texting me every day starting when I was 16. He took my virginity when I was 17. He raped me when I was 18.
I dealt with nightmares starting about six months later. Almost a year after the fact, I finally admitted to one other person what had happened. Their response was to hold me close, make me feel protected and safe. It made me feel like talking might not be so bad. Still, it took another calendar year and some change for me to open up to any other friends. With their support, I went to seek therapy for the first time and was diagnosed with PTSD. Unfortunately, I didn’t continue therapy as I was too busy at college to focus on my mental health.
When I was 21, I made a police report. I was aware that the statute of limitations in my state was running out, and realized that I wanted my report in the system to be absolutely sure that if he did this again there would be a paper trail. I struggled to write a coherent report, but submitted one nonetheless.
That report was the catalyst to my breakdown. I started having a different breed of panic attacks. Sounds were split up and amplified – I could hear them all at once and at the highest volume. Time slowed and I could note every single detail of everything around me. I searched faces in crowds, convinced he was there. I struggled to sleep every night – I shook, I cried, but sleeping brought nightmares and nightmares brought back his face.
A month after I submitted my report, it had become too much. I thought about killing myself every day, and talked about it casually. I wanted an escape, but I also knew logically that I still had things to live for even if I didn’t feel that way. I wrote a suicide note, but there was still a hesitation. I didn’t know what else to do so I admitted myself to a hospital, and from there was sent to a well-known psychiatric hospital (with previous residents such as Sylvia Plath and the author of Girl, Interrupted).
That place changed my life. I am still in contact with a handful of residents I met there. I found a place where I was heard, where I wasn’t alone. I went to group therapies where I learned about stressors and the best ways to cope. I was further diagnosed with depression and anxiety. They also started me on some psychiatric meds at a low dosage. My assigned doctor, who had previously appeared on Oprah (just a fun fact), explained to me that the dose was not so much as to fog up my world, but rather give me a foundation to build off of. Instead of trying to rebuild my mental health on rubble, I now had this.
I won’t lie, it wasn’t immediately easy when I left. Finding the right therapist for me took a little while. College ended, and I was no longer in close contact with the support systems that had helped keep me together while I was wilting.
For months afterwards, I spoke with police and was given updates. He was confronted by officers, and immediately called for a lawyer. The lawyer gave a statement on his behalf. The detective on my case told me he would be charged at the highest degree possible.
When I was 22, I got a phone call from my detective. The district attorney had thrown out our case for “conflicting testimonies” – essentially a he said/she said. He maintained his innocence and is a free man to this day. When I got the call, I took an early lunch break, and bought my first pack of cigarettes. I sat on the sidewalk outside my office, chain smoking and sobbing.
Today, I am 27. While I found solidarity in the #MeToo movement that quickly followed my own journey, I still have not publicly shared the name of my abuser. I’m not sure how it would torpedo my own life if I did. I don’t think I want that kind of attention. I do hope that my report served as a warning to him, and scared him from ever doing it again. I finished my Nicorette patches this week and plan to live nicotine-free post quarantine.
I’ve struggled for a while to find my place in this world. I do sometimes feel like he has robbed me of something I was supposed to have and can never have back. I am not who I was. But the journey I have been on is not at all abnormal. The pain I have felt is actually quite common. 6.8% of Americans develop PTSD in their lifetime.
Life is hard. It gets hard for every one of us, at one time or another. But life is also beautiful.
If I had died the day I wrote my suicide note, I would have never gotten married. I would have never adopted my dog. I would have never become lead singer of a rock band. I would have never made an album. I would never have made any of my webseries appearances, nor podcast appearances. I wouldn’t have become a Rethink advocate to speak to you now.
It is a roller coaster of ups and downs, but you can survive this. Things in your life will change, you can’t change that. What you can control is your reaction to the world, the way you treat yourself, and your passion for the change you want to see.