Words by Emily Fuller
PTSD. My imagination could muster up a multitude of acronyms for this term that stretches beyond its fixed meaning for each and every person. These letters of harsh sounds scratch in my ears, with the bold capitalisations being somewhat taunting and solid in foundation – not going anywhere. It’s a label that applies to so many different traumas of the human experience, but trauma nonetheless.
You believe that by single-handedly getting through the initial impact of such trauma, the worst of this horridness is over. You think that the further you propel yourself into your present life, you can create a vast sea of wasteland between yourself and the event of your trauma. It becomes a mere speck in the periphery of your blurred vision. With an exhale of relief, you can turn your back and walk forward as that ugly vision bleeds back into the horizon. Thank god that chapter is over, I’m safe – you think to yourself.
That is, until you become aware of little instances of otherness within yourself culminating all the more as you try to suppress it. Sleepless nights ensue, and your compromised resiliency makes it difficult to cope with minor hurdles you may encounter through the day. The anxiety and exhaustion grinds at you, flaking off your armour day by day, until you’re completely exposed with nothing left to satisfy your blissful ignorance that you are doing okay now that you have created so much space between your life and that single traumatic event.
And it catches you off-guard, it caught me. After experiencing my sexual trauma, I had support and tools and resources in sheer abundance – I had the privilege of having a safe space where I could articulate the narration of my experience and have those around me listen to my story to help me understand it. Because it’s amazing how much violence we can contain, we internalise, supress, grip on and narrate. However, nothing prepared me for the post-trauma that was silently festering and surfacing in ways that were completely foreign to my understanding of my own mental health. There is a lot of dialogue about the initial trauma we endure such as rape or assault – but the long-term consequences of such violent impact are less frequently discussed. This makes things really difficult for the rehabilitation of trauma victims as we struggle to grapple with the idea of how we should be managing ourselves in our everyday life post-trauma. For me, whilst I was open and transparent when it came to voicing my traumatic experience, ironically I found it particularly tricky to examine the fragility of my mental health months after the event. I felt guilt-ridden at the thought of bringing it all back to the surface when there were other people who I knew were experiencing violent trauma every day. I thought it was my duty to now exude strength and compassion for those other victims who needed my support.
Though the impact of trauma is not as black and white as some of us may think, nor is it instantaneous. There is no time-stamp on the healing process in dealing with trauma. It is dynamic, constantly transforming into new thoughts, feelings and challenges. Some days I can wake up, stretch, make a steaming cup of coffee and feel like the day is going to be coloured with love and magnificence. Other mornings I will merely make eye contact with someone and feel a pool of tears welling in my lids. It can be so difficult in acknowledging post-trauma when every cell of your being craves normalcy – that is, to move on with your life with grace and fresh ambition. This is the most outstanding challenge that suspends us in our plight for healing – those menacing tendrils of grief and trauma bind you up and render you motionless.
This is the wheel of an endless cycle I have been attached to for quite some time in dealing with my PTSD. I was so fixated on thinking that physically propelling me forward in my day-to-day life afforded me strength, however I was ignorant to how much strength I would be rewarded in admission to my vulnerability and my struggle with post-trauma. The biggest misconception we hold is that in acknowledging PTSD and admitting you need help means you have a weakness and are severely damaged. There is an unreckonable strength in acknowledging the reality of your suffering from PTSD, or any other mental illness for that matter.
It has taken me a tedious journey to get to this point of honesty and expression, one filled with denial and shame and guilt. But I am here, with my first psychotherapy session looming up ahead– an appointment booked for next week. And I feel powerful and beautiful and proud – for the fact I was able to give myself the help I need in addressing and better understanding my PTSD, so many moons after this single impact of trauma.
You deserve that too.
Art by Alice LeFae – @alicelefae