Head-Note (Instead of Foot): I posted a different version yesterday about what I'm going to say today. Yesterday, I posted, frankly, the hardest thing I've ever wanted to write. I explained, through diagrams, historical facts, and Six Feet Under, how having complex PTSD effects my daily life. I was proud of the post, and I published it so that people could see it and a discussion might begin about domestic violence.
However, I had a panic attack after the post had been up for an hour... My sick-brain logic was: Oh my god, this is just going to make my friends upset with me. Why did I think that? Because, as a recent survivor of domestic violence, I don't have a ton of confidence right now.
I deleted it. Because I thought people might think negatively of me for having PTSD and talking about it.
To my Future Self: Do Not Delete This Version. My story can't, and should not be, untold.
This is My Normal Brain 2 Years Ago:
"Normal" meaning everything functions as it should function. My cortex processed sight, and sent what it observed to my Hippocampus, where memory is stored. In return, if my senses interacted with outside stimuli that triggered a memory (such as a familiar smell or tune), my hippocampus would often send images that it had stored to my Cortex so that I could "see" (with my "mind's eye") past experiences. My Amygdala functioned as "normally" as any other amygdala; it was mostly steady with a few occasional freak-outs. Overall, my brain was "healthy," and it patiently sat waiting for its frontal lobe to develop within 5 years.
But its functioning is no longer smooth-sailing. For the last two years, I was in an extremely violent abusive relationship.
I was a victim of childhood abuse, so the violence inflicted on me from my partner seemed normal.I thought that he was only doing was he had to in order to "punish" me, that I somehow deserved to live in constant fear (though I thought of it as "respect") of him.
On March 13, 2013, my partner tried to kill me. I almost died on my birthday.
Even then, I didn't wake up to what was really going on until I began to practice Buddhism. Through studying mindfulness and practicing meditation, my false reality fell apart. Then, a few days into my spiritual studies, my partner locked me in the bathroom (which he often did as a form of "punishment"). I was fighting off a panic attack through meditative peace, and OUT OF NOWHERE (I thought...) my thoughts began to SCREAM:
"Oh my god, he tried to KILL me. Oh my god, I almost DIED. What am I doing here? I'm being ABUSED, this isn't my FAULT, and this is NOT OK. It's NOT NORMAL."
And then: "I have to get out of here, or else I'm going to die."
The next day, I packed up my stuff before heading out to school. I never came back.
After two years of traumatic experience after traumatic experience, ending with a murder attempt, things, of course, have not become "suddenly easier." This is not because I "don't want to" or "simply can't" "GET OVER IT." It is because, right now, I'm neurologically unable to.
This is My Brain on PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Not everyone who lives through a traumatic experience suffers from PTSD.
Not everyone with PTSD are survivors of a murder attempt.
We don't yet know WHY some soldiers come home from war and are all like, "This is cool, I'm a hero, let's move on and have some babies now." While other soldiers who come home and still suffer the traumatic repercussions of witnessing death, destruction, and living in constant fear of explosives. If left untreated, PTSD can negatively affect a trauma treatment throughout their life. This is because your brain doesn't let go of the fear that you experienced, and is constantly on guard to prevent another traumatic event from happening to you again. Your brain is physically unable to feel calm or safe for any lengthy amount of time, and, at least in the beginning for me, might even be UNABLE to feel calm or safe at all.
What's Going on in My Head? This is How I Think of it:
OH MY GOD, DO YOU SEE THAT?
BECAUSE IT'LL KILL YOU!
I'M GOING TO DIE AND I DESERVE IT!
In real life, I don't actually FEEL or SEE anything violent or dangerous directed at me.
BUT IT MIGHT! HERE, FEEL WHAT YOU FELT DURING THE TIME THAT YOU ALMOST DIED!
Oh fuck, I feel the cold floor on my back even though the body is currently standing up, and still.
Oh shit, I even FEEL my partner's hands around my neck.
WE CAN'T BREATHE!
WE CAN'T BREATHE, WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!
I SEE MY PARTNER NOW, HE'S HERE!
Nope. Wait, he's not.
BUT SOMEONE ELSE MIGHT TRY TO KILL US, YOU NEVER KNOW!
YOU NEVER KNOW IF YOU'RE GOING TO DIE OR IF YOU'RE CURRENTLY DYING.
I never want what I experienced, and what's going on in my funky-freaked-out brain right now to happen to anyone else. We need to start talking, as a community, about the reality of domestic violence. We also need to start talking about PTSD, and how it is not, so to speak, "All in one's head."
But here's another thing to think about:
Every day, I get to wake up.
And somedays, it's hard to get out of bed without fearing loud noises, without flinching when my feet touch the floor (if I get that far), without having a panic attack when I'm fully conscious.
But I get to wake up. And sometimes victims of domestic violence don't GET to become survivors.
And I don't believe in fate or luck or God's plan. So I don't know why I am allowed to go on living while other women were not given that same chance.
It's hard for me to go outside without getting afraid, but I do. When I can. It's hard for me to be in large crowds without having one long panic attack, but since I've moved back to Minnesota, I've been to concerts, plays, and other massive events. And I was afraid, and I thought I was dying at times, but I still have to keep trying. It's hard to tell my old friends what has happened to me; some thought that I was just avoiding them or that I didn't care about them anymore. I've even lost my best friend because she refused to believe that my partner could be violent. She believes that one is even ABLE to lie about what's going on in my head, and I can do nothing other than walk away from her and allow her to be wrong.
I don't need to be ashamed that people like her don't get it. I don't need to have those people in my life, not ever again. And even though I've had trouble getting help, I still keep trying. I've still found programs, such as the DAP (the Domestic Abuse Project) that have been more than sympathetic to what I'm dealing with. I've rediscovered friendships that have been there all along, waiting to help me.
Because every day, all day, all of us are getting a little better.
I'm not done trusting myself. I'm far from hating myself. I believe that I had a right to survive and that now, I have every right to enjoy living. It's easy to know this, easy to tell myself that everything is going to be OK, but, of course, there are days that I feel dead. When I'm unable to get out of bed, or go out, or even dress. But those days are getting fewer and far between. The voices in my head that warned me, every minute, that I'm going to die have done some major shutting up. They're annoying now, I know that my wiring has flipped, and it'll take a while for my brain to get things right.
But it well.
Because every day, all day, all of us will get a little better.