For the sake of simplifying this post when speaking of PTSD I'm specifically talking about C-PTSD or Complex Trauma Disorder
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of: domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
I’m not even sure how to start on this topic. I don’t even know where to begin to talk about my trauma. I don’t know how to describe what it’s like to live with PTSD. I’ve been sitting on this topic for awhile now for a few reasons. I feel like it’s such an abstract concept. It’s just something I have to live with. It’s not an event or a fact that I can pin down and break apart and analyze for the general population. How do I explain to someone who doesn’t have my trauma what it’s like to carry that weight. How do I explain what having PTSD is like to someone who doesn’t have it? I don’t know how to write about this without sounding like I’m crazy. Writing about this also scares me because for the most part everyone who knows me thinks I have my shit together.
To be fair, for the most part I do.
I’ve been working through the creative process to get to the point of sitting down and writing. Here I am and I’m still struggling. I can’t begin to tell you about the tears I’ve shed just writing down my notes and thoughts on this topic. I feel embarrassed and ashamed. Which seems to be the common concept on my feelings surrounding foster care. Right now I also feel more publicly vulnerable than I’ve ever felt before. It’s also forcing me to relive some of the things I try hard to shut out and move past.
Trauma is weird to say the least. Sometimes you don’t even realize the shit you’re repressing. It’s buried so deep you don’t even know what you’re hiding from yourself. Until one day you’re driving down the freeway just like any other day on your way to work. Then all of a sudden the sound of your blinker clicking brings you back to that time when you were scared for your life. There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop the memory from flooding back to you.
I’m 11 years old again and it’s 3 in the morning and I’m dead asleep until I hear the creak of the stairs leading up to my bedroom. My heart starts to race and I immediately jump out of bed to lock the deadbolt on my bedroom door. There is a pounding on the door and it’s loud and angry and matches up perfectly with the sound of my blinker. My door handle is turning and the door is shaking as someone is trying to break in. His voice comes through the other side. Screaming at me to let him in. He’s calling me every dirty name under the rainbow and threatening to kill me if I don’t let him in. It’s one of my parents friends who was living with us at the time. I know he’s either high or drunk out of his mind and probably won’t even remember this in the morning. I go sit in my closet and close the door and fold myself up as small as possible and cry. Praying to God that the door holds and that he goes away and leaves me alone. The pounding and screaming go on for what feels like an hour and eventually he admits defeat and leaves. I’m thankful in that moment that I have a deadbolt on my door and that I’m safe and unharmed.
Then I’m back in my car and my blinker is off and I've pull into a random parking lot and turned my car off. I’m hyperventilating and quietly sobbing. I try to compose myself enough to drive the rest of the way to work. Once I calm down enough, I fix my makeup and resume life as normal. Like it never happened. I walk into work and say good morning to everyone, pour my coffee, and turn on my computer. Calm and collected like it’s just another day.
PTSD is like a switch that once it’s turned on I can’t just turn it off. I have to ride the wave until it hits shore and it can happen at any moment.
I can be doing the same thing I do day in and day out. When I was around 15 I was hanging out my my adoptive brother while he was was playing this zombie game. I wasn’t much of a video game person but I enjoyed spending time with him so I’d sit in the basement for hours watching him play. I’m not sure what it was about this particular day but the sound of the guns going off and the temperature of the basement sent me straight back in time.
I was living at home with my parents and the house felt more hectic than normal. The air felt heavy and had the sickly sweet smell of cooked meth. My back and shoulders were tense like they would always get right before someone was about to yell at me or a fight was about to break out. I was standing in front of the fridge with the door open blanking staring in past the jugs of yellow liquid. I was questioning why this had to be my life. Did normal people keep jars of pee in their fridge? One of my parents friends came stomping up the stairs from the basement. His eyes looked wild and it felt like he was trying to see through me. His face was beat red and I could tell he was mad about something. He grabbed my arm and pulled me down to the basement and brought me over to a closet where my two cats were locked in. He was screaming incoherently in my ear and pulled a gun out. I was convinced I had done something to piss him off and I was going to die. I knew I should be scared but I was numb and auto pilot had kicked in. I open my mouth to ask what was going on but before I could get the words out he opened fire and shot my cats right before my eyes. I couldn’t process what happened. He let go of my arm like he was throwing my own dead weight at me. I turned around and walked up the stairs and out the back door of the house.
Abruptly I’m back in my new home walking up the stairs to my bedroom. I lay down in bed in complete numbness. I don’t tell my adoptive mom what I just remembered for weeks. Until it’s to the point of eating me alive.I can nail down my triggers for what will make my anxiety flare up. I have tons of skills to cope with anxiety too. PTSD episodes are like something from a whole other world. I have no idea what will cause a flash back and I haven’t a single clue how to bring myself out of it once I’m in the depths of reliving it.
I’ve come to accept that it’s just the way my life it going to be living with trauma. Its creeps up out of nowhere and slams into me so hard I have no way to prevent it from completely taking over. How do I work through the shit that I can’t even remember happening? Before that day in my car I never even knew that night happened. Before that day in the basement with my brother I always thought my cats ran away or one of the randoms that lived with us stole them.
Sometimes I question if these memories that come flooding back are even real. How is it possible to completely block out memories like that? Is there just so much bad shit that I only remember the worst of it? Or is it possible that there is worse shit that I’m not remembering at all? How can I recover and process through things I don’t remember happening to me until I’m in a full blown panic.
Dylan has come home to find me curled up in a ball in our bedroom closet crying. We joke about it now because looking back on it, it seems silly. I couldn’t even tell you what set me off that time. I honestly don’t remember. Sometimes the memories come back and before I can come back to my senses they are gone again.I can’t help but wonder what the heck is wrong with me? I’m always the biggest advocate for everyone to seek out the help they need. I just can’t help but treat my trauma and PTSD like this individual war that I have to fight by myself. It’s not really something I talk about and I can’t even believe I’m sharing any of this with internet right now.
I don’t want anyone to treat me any different or look at me different. I don’t want people to feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me. I don’t want to be looked at like I’m crazy.
I’m hoping that by sharing my experience I can help other people see that you really aren’t crazy. You can have PTSD and trauma and still be a normal person.
I’m hoping that professionals will look at this and realize that kids who’ve lived through trauma need to be treated for PTSD. It shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly as depression and acting out.
If you have a loved one dealing with PTSD just be there for them. Be patient and be willing to listen. Sometimes a hand to hold is enough.
If you are struggling with any kind of trauma just know you’re not alone.
It’s okay to break down and have moments of weakness. We just need to remind ourselves that we are survivors and we can move past it.
To read more about PTSD in alumni of foster care visit the links below:
Until next time
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