I received this letter, I have edited it somewhat to ensure the author remains anonymous and the brutal details of what happened have been struck through.

Dear Friend

I find myself asking “What’s the point?” often and I think for me it comes from deep inside.  It feeds off of the shame and worthlessness I feel and the anxiety that holds tight.  I feel pointless, hopeless.

I read your post this morning.  Have been so grateful for your openness in sharing…I have been thinking about sharing my story with you .. but start writing then ripping the pages…  your post speaks to me and shows your courage… 

Self harm, depression, suicide, pretending… all live inside me.  I’m tired of the anger and the repercussions, hating and hiding..  I have tried in a professional setting to take the steps to be open and free but still it eats me.  One day when I was a young girl, I rode my bike to the school playground… I lay my bike down and walXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXeditedXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX  I rode home and didn’t tell anyone. [Kate has edited the rest of this as it is a story that has yet to have an ending and one I pray will see Justice done, not just law, prevail.]

 

Sliding into a PTSD episode can be just that.  A slipping, sliding unnoticed in the beginning until the speed is devastating, too late to stop, no going back just falling, falling, falling … or it can explode in a split second.  The slow drowning episodes are the worst; like falling down a deep dark cave trying desperately to grab the sides of the walls, grasping at anything that offers sanctuary if only briefly.  To all around me I appear normal, functioning, if a little frosty and unusually tense.  That’s until I hit full flight/fight response.

A friend who is a cop read me the riot act, told me I am neither professionally equipped nor mentally in a place, where I can handle other people’s pain.  That my deep empathy for others means that I absorb their pain, that it puts me at risk…  when this friend gets on his High Horse he doesn’t do a pretty trot around the dressage ring, he runs a full gallop headlong into the wall, subtlety not a factor.  I called BS.  I am strong, I know what I’m doing.  Sometimes all anybody needs is somebody to listen, to empathize, to point at the right route to take from here – explain the options and suggest a route to take.  Obviously, this route includes reporting and pursuing the individuals responsible, not out of revenge but to save her, to prove to her that she was not responsible for what happened to her and that we as a Society will protect, will punish and will pursue justice on her behalf.

Ah.

He was spot on.

Before I knew where I was the spiral into full PTSD episode had begun.  Childhood memories of other girls and women brutalized flashed through my mind’s eye, smells long forgotten, sounds…  hyper-vigilance is a gift and curse of PTSD.  Trying to exist in ‘normal’ is close to impossible.  Try being hyper-vigilant in a concert surrounded by people, noise – listening to each adult, watching, taking note of every body movement, every nuance in a mass of humanity.  Every adult is a danger.  There is no ‘safe’, just a world of threats.  It is beyond nightmare.  Even sitting in a restaurant is like balancing on the edge of a knife surrounded by land mines, every moment I have a grenade in my hand -pin out, and yet I have trained myself to smile, talk animatedly, pretend and ignore the growing urgency of bile creeping up my oesophagus asking me to run, dear god, just run.

Throw the grenades and run.

I should be better at this.  I should know and I should back away when I know that I have been triggered.  But instead I force myself to try to ‘push through it’.  Of course it ends in a mess, and the physical toll on my body is severe.  When triggered my entire body pretty much goes into shock, my heart has an intermittent QT interval that sees me pass out and that’s the nicest side effect.

I understand the medical explanations.  I’ve been through it all.  I know that for the next 72 hours my hands will shake, my startle response will be fully operational and that if I allow myself to be in a stressful situation again, the next step is the emergency room hooked up to heart monitors and IV drips.  I won’t go there because I can write.  I can share.  And I can draw.

I can write and give a voice to the ghosts.

I can share with others who understand, in some way I hope that by doing so I let another know they aren’t alone.  That even an apparently ordinary suburban housewife like me can truly understand what it’s like to live with a ticking bomb in your head.

And I can draw.  I can work on a painting in my head and in moving my hand left to right, I can process the ghosts and force my brain to regain its cognitive functions.

Every person’s PTSD response is different and depends on their first trauma.  What age were you when you were first severely traumatized and numbed by the experience?  That’s key.  I was two years old: so my response is to go limp, body to go into shock and be completely helpless.  For a man triggered in his early twenties it will inevitably be rage, fury and physical.  But we all share one thing: the aftermath, the mop up after being triggered, the hangover from hell.  I think I’m lucky in that as I said to a friend yesterday, other than having to apologize for throwing an emotional grenade to allow me to run away, the only person I’m a danger to is myself.  That said I feel deeply for the ones who love me and are helpless to do anything but ride the storm.

Kate Gillie
Author

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