My Story of PTSD: Fighting the World Against All Odds
Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
Hi, my name is Kate, I’m eighteen and I want to tell you my story. First of all, I have PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD occurs when you face a traumatic event, it doesn’t matter if you’ve just seen the accident that worried you or took part in it. You constantly remember scenes of that traumatic event and continue to feel the emotions that you felt while being traumatized.
My story began when I was three, my dad left our family so I stayed with my mom. At first, I didn’t notice the difference between having dad or not having him, but now I miss all the care that my father could have given me. His visits lasted till I was twelve, at which point I stopped answering his calls. I felt offended that he left me and my mom, so I thought that I didn’t need him at all. I remember the way he looked at me with much love and care and his huge mustache that felt strange, like a fluffy funny animal right in the middle of his face. He is the only family member that makes me feel safe, because my dad never becomes angry with me. My behavior is most similar to my father’s and he therefore understands me. My mom is the complete opposite of me, and I can’t imagine how hard it was to raise the copy of the love that left.
I didn’t feel any need in having my father in my life, until my experience of PTSD. It showed me that, actually, I feel that giant gap in my mind that was created by my father’s absence. That it created a hole in my heart and made me feel lonely. Loneliness is a scary thing. First, you are afraid to confirm that you feel lonely. Second, when you understand that you actually feel that way, you can’t do anything about it. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to fill that hole, with friends or lovers, it just doesn’t go away. The best you can do is to befriend that loneliness and make it a part of you. That way loneliness stops being a scary monster that lives underneath your bed, it becomes your sweet friend that reminds you of reality.
At the age of six, I met my stepfather. He’s quite nice, actually. The problem was, I was a troublesome kid that kept resisting my mother’s strict personality. My mom couldn’t find any solution to deal with my behavior, I was constantly making trouble to receive attention, so she started hitting me. She stopped when I changed from being a headache to become a good girl that follows orders. I became more mature at the age of twelve. The blows never left any traces, it hurt for some time, but I don’t think that was why I was traumatized. The real reason is that I felt so ashamed of myself for making my mom feel angry and sad enough that she would hit me. I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong. I continuously tried to hide my feelings so that my mom wouldn’t be angry with me again.
I always tried to be the best daughter and best friend. The problem is, that was never the real me. I felt like the “me” I once was disappeared and now something else, something better and something that deserved to live, because I didn’t feel that I deserved to, was living my life. The version of myself I invented now got to live my life.
My mom wasn’t the only issue I faced. I had difficulty making friends, possibly because I didn’t attend kindergarten and was raised without much contact with my peers. People kept leaving my life, for instance, girls that I thought were my best friends always preferred some other girl that seemed more interesting. My mom continued to treat me unkindly, meanwhile my elder sister Tanya, who is fourteen years older than me, never argued with anyone in our family.
I felt very lonely. I began to worry that something might be wrong with me, and that that was the reason people kept leaving me. My parents always said that I am not normal, that I won’t achieve anything and that they don’t know how I could behave the ways I do. So, at school, I didn’t have friends and when I got home I experienced anger and physical aggression from my mom for not being “normal.”
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m eighteen now and everything has become pretty okay. It’s not because of some stupid luck, no. It’s because I’ve tried hard to understand myself better and find a way to be more comfortable in an empty room where only I exist. Me and my own mind, nothing else. I study a lot, I have close friends and plans for my future. Suddenly, in January I started feeling very uncomfortable around people. I’ve always grown tired from talking with people and being in a crowd. Do you know the feeling when you are surrounded by people and it’s as if you are about to be squeezed by them to death? That’s how I felt all the time. It’s still hard for me to figure out why I felt that way, but I guess my mind was just too tired of being in control, always thinking of how I have to behave around people and what I should and shouldn’t do.
I became more and more anxious day by day. At some point I understood that I wouldn’t be able to fix it myself, so I went to a psychologist. After a few visits we concluded that I have PTSD and she recommended that I visit a psychiatrist. After all of these meetings I started taking some medications that stop me from random emotional changes and from hurting myself. My self-harm started a bit before I understood that I needed help and visited a psychologist. I still have marks of cuts on my laps.
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As I’ve learned, only after I began doing that mess on my legs, pain helps you raise adrenaline in your blood, so hurting yourself is an unhealthy way to raise that hormone. Why do we need adrenaline at such a moment? Because that hormone is created to reduce stress. So, here comes the unhealthy and really bad way to make more of it—hurting yourself. It’s just a scientist’s point of view, the psychological aspect is really personal for everyone. For me, it was a way to punish myself and to be distracted by pain.
Before I started taking meds, I was panicking and crying all the time. I always felt uncomfortable and wanted to disappear. It was like a nightmare. I was crying longer than I ever had; I couldn’t control my emotions nor behavior. I started smoking in March, not to “relax” or create attention around me, cause, you know, “it’s cool,” but because I wanted to have a bad habit that would make me feel sad so that I could control my sadness on my own. While smoking, I would think about topics that concern me, like: “Who is the real me?,” “Why did I not kill myself?” and “How do I make all the worries go away, except death, of course.” I wanted to have something that my mom wouldn’t like and keep it a secret from her, not because I’m rebellious, but because I wanted to create a safe space from her, something that felt separate from her, that she couldn’t understand and that I chose.
Since childhood, I have enjoyed art as an outlet. As my mental state became worse, I understood that art can actually take a bit of pain away. I play musical instruments, draw and write stories with passion. My family has always been practical and hasn’t appreciated art. The attitude was more like, “you have to drop your hobbies and start learning economics.” I hated this perspective at first because I wished to be noticed for all my hard work in the arts. After some time, I just got used to not being the dream daughter and stopped caring about my family’s opinion. The point is, I am creative and that also means that I’m emotional. My parents suppressed my feelings and didn’t talk with me about my feelings. That is in part why I have trouble accepting people into my life. I also have issues with trust, care and love. These things exist for me only in art, not in real life. Even though I have close friends, our relationship is based on their interest in me, whilst I just don’t care who to be friends with. I never approach people by myself, usually they start trying to be friends with me.
Since my first emotional incident in January four months have passed. I always call it an “emotional incident” because I don’t want to tag it like a panic attack or something else and the reason for this is that all my screaming and crying can’t be stated as any medical terminology. So I just call it an emotional incident—when I can’t control myself, scream, cry and feel completely lost. I started visiting a psychologist in February and we have two meetings a month, which makes it about six visits since we started working together. We only have begun working with my problems, but my meds keep me from accidental emotional outbursts and I try really hard to cope with my PTSD.
I’ve gone through a lot in my short life. There are two incidents that left a mark in my memory. First was a fire in our neighbor’s apartment. My neighbor is one year younger than me and he tried to kill his parents while they were asleep. I was alone in our flat, so when I smelled the smoke and saw a thick cloud of it between our apartments, I thought: “Oh, great, now we have a fire in here, one more problem to deal with.” The second incident is that one grown-up man was stalking me and I had to deal with it on my own, it wasn’t pleasant. I had a fight with my family and even left university to apply again. In spite of what has happened to me, what I now understand is that fighting an illness of the mind is the most difficult thing that has happened so far.
Not long ago, I was planning my funeral, I felt certain that I wouldn’t make it to the age of nineteen. Now I think about these thoughts more like a bug in my mind that keeps whispering that I need to stop it all and just kill myself. I don’t want a little meaningless bug to influence my life so much, so I said to myself: “If you can’t fight with a little bug, then you’ll lose the last thing that you have—your strength.” I might suffer a lot, but I have one thing that keeps me going—the power inside me. No one and nothing can take it from me except myself, so if I leave it, my existence will truly become meaningless.
I still cry a lot. I think about how useless I am and sometimes I feel like I don’t matter at all. But you know what helps me? I still need myself. It doesn’t matter what happens to you, you mean the world to yourself. Don’t ignore it, because if you can understand that you matter to yourself, you can do anything. Don’t be frightened because of what people think, do, or don’t do. Be frightened because of what you think about yourself. When I cry, scream, lose spatial orientation or even lose my understanding of reality, I concentrate on myself. I go into my mind, as deep as I can, and try to find myself in all the mess. Sometimes these emotions and thoughts make me feel drunk. At that moment, I just think about myself and where I am, this helps me to find the ground.
I won’t give you any bits of advice, because everyone is special. You have to find your own path and face struggles by yourself. No one can help you as well as you can help yourself. If you have people that support you and care for you—it’s great. But don’t think that someone will save you, because nobody, except you, can do it. If you think that you don’t want to fight anymore, then remember my story and remember that if you won’t fight, then something a lot weaker than you will win. Your mind is strong, you are strong, only if you make yourself that way. That is the most flexible thing in your mind—you choose to be weak or strong. It’s a choice that you have to make on your own.
I hope that people that read this story can take my message and start fighting. Fight with walls, reality, your mind, or anything that stands in your way. Don’t dare to stop, because if you keep fighting, you’ll become the best man in the world. Strength is the best gift that you can give to yourself.