Trauma is a scary word & other reflections

When my clinician told me that I was going through a phenomenon called retraumatization, something clicked in my brain. It was a satisfying, crisp sound – a little bleak as far as eureka moments go but I suppose that’s basically just character development. Every appointment since then I’ve learnt a bit more about myself and man, oh man, does the human brain hold a grudge against itself.

Long story short, a bit more than a month ago I was hacked and experienced something that in higher education terms is dubbed a Title IX violation. Ever since that event, I’ve been dealing with anxiety – something very, very new to me – and while I understand that’s just how people respond to horrible, traumatic experiences, I didn’t realize just how deep that ran with me. I envision that most recent event as the final trigger in a series of Tom and Jerry-esque traps, elaborate and seemingly disconnected at first but culminating in a fabulous (and destructive) finale. And I suppose sexual assault is a lot like being struck upside the head with a mallet: stars in front of your eyes, the feeling of being winded, staring down at yourself in third person. The difference this time around was twofold.

First off, I refused to admit that I’ve been through such sexual trauma of a debilitating nature before in my life (I was much too young); secondly, well…the mallet that hit me took a bit of my spirit with it. You know that old adage that says you can only be strong for so long until something finally breaks you? Something about camels and straws and broken backs?

Yeah.

And like, luckily, I’ve been working towards piecing together the parts of myself that have been broken with the help of an incredible support system, but it freaking sucks to not be able to get out of bed some days because you’re terrified of going outside, or to avoid the mirror on bad days because the sight of your own nudity triggers something visceral and hateful in you, or to be unable to carry a conversation with your own best friends because it’s so hard to concentrate, or to admit to professors that you’re sorry but you physically cannot finish an assignment-

So on.

And at first I didn’t have the word for it. I was just so angry at myself for not being strong enough to just weather the consequences; and I was angry at myself for not being patient, for trying to rationalize everything I was feeling so much so that I refused to actually feel it. I didn’t know I needed to be told that I was traumatized until a licensed professional told me I had not only been traumatized, but that I was retraumatized; PTSD because of PTSD, pretty much. It was almost a relief to have my sudden downhill spiral spelled out for what it was. I was valid in my debilitation. I was valid in my anxiety attacks. I was valid.

It’s been a month and it isn’t all that easier. But I have learnt to be patient and take care of myself. I have learnt to say “I’m not okay” because sometimes, I need to admit that I’m suffering. I have learnt to face the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and soothe them within the parentheses of my mind and my heart.

I remembered I had this saved to my drafts from sometime in November. I was debating whether or not to publish this for a little while, but with 2016 right around the corner it only seemed right.

Since writing this post a number of things have changed. Most importantly I’ve been going to a specialized clinic in the Boston area. It’s helped a lot and I’ve only really been to two official sessions. I still have a lot to learn. My own anxiety gives me anxiety and there’s days where something as simple as riding the train two stops makes me feel like I might die any moment; dissociation is a real issue, and it’s hard for me to concentrate on something without a secondary focal point to facilitate the first (so like stress balls and stuff). It’s gotten easier to talk about everything and I’m far more open about how terrible things can get which is awesome progress as far as I’m concerned. And more than anything else, I’m ending this year with more respect for myself than I have ever had before in my life.

I have been shown tremendous kindness, gentleness, grace, good-humor, love and support in such myriad ways over the past two and a half months that if I can end 2015 having given back a fraction of what I’ve experienced, I can say it has been a successful year. Despite all the sadness, the chaos, the bullshit, I can say 2015 has been a successful year.

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