I had a hard time as a child. I cried a lot. I experienced a lot of pain and a lot of loss and I think one of the hardest parts of it all was not being able to talk any of it out. When I would bring up bad experiences of being mistreated I was plainly told that didn’t happen, I was wrong, it was probably a dream, or just asked why I always had to only remember the bad things. I learned very quickly that my family would not admit wrong doing or even believe me about being mistreated by others. I came to the natural conclusion that I was better off keeping secrets. It’s hard enough for a kid to talk about bad uncomfortable things, being called a liar for speaking up was just too much to bear.
My father left us for a younger woman when I was in early grade school. My mother went into a terrible depression and was basically unresponsive to me emotionally for a couple years. She was gone a lot. I was alone a lot. I was put in counseling but the idea of talking about my broken family or personal struggles was too scary and sad for me. I just cried in the corner and after a few sessions I wasn’t forced to go anymore.
We moved a few times and my mother remarried. Her husband didn’t like me. He said I manipulated my mother to get what I wanted and I was a brat. I don’t think it’s okay to call a 9-year-old names, but I guess he wasn’t wrong. I think it was unfair looking back. I was not born that way. I now realize that I was already traumatized at that point. I would like to say things then got easier for me but that was not the case.
I had already gained ridiculous amounts of weight and entered puberty very early. By the time I was 11 I looked 16. By then no one really treated me like a child, but let’s face it I hadn’t been a child for years I was a hurt confused angry premature adult.
I started smoking in the 5th grade. I started drinking and cutting myself in the 6th grade. I started using drugs in the 7th grade and I skipped right on up to hard drugs fairly quickly.
I was prescribed antidepressants, they did put some pep in my step and help me stay out of bed and stop crying so much. Looking back they were not the best idea. Back then they didn’t want to diagnose children with manic depressive disorder so although the term came up I was not diagnosed with or treated for that. (I was much later, it was and now is called bipolar disorder, and I have type 1)
I was put through counseling and even a special school for mentally disturbed youth but I couldn’t trust any of the staff and none of it seemed to help me. furthermore because I cut myself up and my issues were pretty disturbing I wasn’t allowed to talk in group therapy I was sent to the isolation room the few times I tried.
Well to make a long somewhat sad story a little shorter I ran away at 16, and got some help getting off drugs. (Had a couple small relapses but I have not used any hard street drugs since I was 17).
Home life wasn’t great when I came back and I wasn’t expected to go back to school even though I was still 16. Life became unbearable there so I moved with other family until I turned 18 and soon after I had a fast food job and an apartment with my then boyfriend.
I loved working and taking care of myself. I loved our mellow quiet life. I was proud about my ability to work and manage our finances and run our little home.
I started developing what I thought was asthma. I always managed to get myself breathing before I felt I had to go to the hospital though so I just tried not to worry about it. It would come on strong sometimes when I worked the cash register, it was weird. A customer would walk up to me and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. Somehow I managed to just shake it off and keep on trucking.
Later down the road I went to a doctor for breathing problems. I had bad pneumonia. I told him about my suspected asthma but he tested my breathing and told me I was just having panic attacks. He really didn’t explain to me what that meant and I was just happy I didn’t have a serious breathing disorder.
Another odd thing started happening at work. The first time it happened that I really noticed is a very vivid memory of mine. I was leaning against the side of the building outside with a couple of coworkers smoking a cigarette when a train passed by on the nearby tracks. It made a loud sound. I flinched so hard that my feet came up and I was sitting on the concrete. It took me a couple seconds to recover from the shock of that swift and unexpected movement. My coworker looked terrified. I assured him that I was okay and that didn’t hurt me but I didn’t know what had just happened so I couldn’t explain it.
Years later I found out that I have PTSD. I didn’t believe it at first but after learning about this condition it’s pretty hard to deny. I understand that there is a stigma about this disorder but I think that is ridiculous. I am not ashamed about having PTSD. I don’t think anyone should be.
I have decided not to use anxiety medication to control my symptoms for the “benefit” of others. People who know me have seemed surprised when they found out. (It’s not something I’d normally just bring up in conversation. I let it be as much of a surprise to people around me as say that slammed door across the room or whatever was to me) I’m casual about it. I smile and often laugh a little after a flinch. Usually my arms just go up. I’m used to it. It’s okay.
I’ve gotten some pretty interesting looks and frankly I think I’ve busted some false assumptions over the years about PTSD as well as bipolar disorder.
I have been given very positive feedback about my attitude with all this from mental health professionals. I am strong and resilient. If I get startled and duck and cover in front of people that’s okay. If they look concerned or confused or whatever my go to response is “it’s okay. It doesn’t hurt.” I’m even willing to talk about the condition a little with anyone bold enough to ask. Maybe one of these days I’ll sit down and type about my bipolar disorder and my long unexpected hospitalization during a psychotic break in my early 20s. (I thought hospital staff were vampires).
I own my mental health issues and know I have them. They are something that I have and not something that I am.
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