Mental Illness, PTSD

Living With PTSD: My Story

WARNING: This post contains graphic content, course language, and explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages. Potential to trigger traumatic memories for those suffering with similar PTSD experiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

I had a bad depressive episode Tuesday. One of the worst ones I had in the last six months.

I’m assuming I had night terrors because I woke up crying in my sleep. Usually with my night terrors I wake up screaming or my body wakes me up because I’m having a panic attack. These are usually the worst because I wake up in a disoriented state of mind, my medication confusing me because I should be sleeping and my pounding heart leaving me feeling in distress. It usually takes me a few minutes to realize what is happening, walking that fine line between determining if it’s real or just a dream.

This time though, I had already had a full night’s sleep. I didn’t start to dream until I was on the verge of waking up. Like most of my night terrors, I’m running scared for my life, unable to escape, reliving those terrible childhood memories over again. This time, I didn’t wake up screaming or wake up from having a panic attack. I woke up crying. Not just a few tears slipping down my face. I was sobbing hard, that type of cry you have when you feel so broken and defeated.

I spent the rest of day like this. I barely had the strength to get out of bed. I stayed in my pj’s all day. I didn’t wash my face. I didn’t brush my hair. When I finally pulled myself out of bed, I only moved to the living room couch. Arty climbed into my lap, begging for head scratches, and I cried to my cat (who looked mortified). Zack finally texted me his usual morning text: “Good morning beautiful,” and I cried some more. Unable to call, afraid words would fail me, I texted him back and told him I was having one of the worst episodes I had in a long time.

It’s hard some days to admit this to him. I could have easily lied to him, told him I was having a good day and let him face my brokenness when he got off work but I couldn’t do that. As much as I hate admitting I’m having a bad day, I need to know I have people in my corner. Zack has always been in my corner since day one. Some days when the devil is really breathing down my back, I feel like I’m nothing but a burden to him and everyone else in my life. It’s hard living with mental illness but my illness doesn’t just affect me. It affects my boyfriend. It affects my family and friends. It affects my coworkers. And some days that guilt is too much to bear. I hate feeling like I’m responsible for causing extra stress in my own life, even worse in my loved one’s life. Regardless, I told him.

He came home to check on me lunch time, which I appreciated, because I was not pulling through well. I tried baking to distract myself and only ended up crying into the cupcake batter. So now my Halloween cupcakes are laced with PTSD tears. Sorry.

I spent the rest of the day trying to distract myself by watching Netflix, but the mental torment turned into physical torment. I physically felt sick; my stomach was in knots, I was sweaty, I had sharp back pain from the stress. When the physical symptoms start, I’m in for a hard day.

Zack came home and I was sat on the couch, wrapped in my wool sweater, just staring out the window, crying. I wasn’t sobbing anymore. I was too exhausted. I just let tears drip down my face, letting the devil win today. Zack knew it was bad. He knows when I’m not feeling like myself. So, he wrapped me in his arms and whispered in my ear, “It’s just a bad day. Not a bad life.”

I knew I was in for a rough couple of days to come. When the bad days result in physical symptoms, I know I’m in for a few days of feelings sluggish and exhausted, both physically and mentally drained. But like always, Zack was right.

It was just a bad day. A really bad day.

So you’re probably thinking, was it the nightmares that caused the bad day? Did I have a flux of chemicals in my brain that caused an imbalance that day?

The truth is, there is no simple answer.

This is what living with PTSD is like. Living in uncertainty every day.

So let’s do a mini-crash course. What is PTSD?

According to the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), PTSD is defined as the following:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness. It involves exposure to trauma involving death or the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

Something is traumatic when it is very frightening, overwhelming and causes a lot of distress. Trauma is often unexpected, and many people say that they felt powerless to stop or change the event. Traumatic events may include crimes, natural disasters, accidents, war or conflict, or other threats to life. It could be an event or situation that you experience yourself or something that happens to others, including loved ones.

So what happens when you have PTSD?

PTSD causes intrusive symptoms such as re-experiencing the traumatic event. Many people have vivid nightmares, flashbacks, or thoughts of the event that seem to come from nowhere. They often avoid things that remind them of the event—for example, someone who was hurt in a car crash might avoid driving.

PTSD can make people feel very nervous or ‘on edge’ all the time. Many feel startled very easily, have a hard time concentrating, feel irritable, or have problems sleeping well. They may often feel like something terrible is about to happen, even when they are safe. Some people feel very numb and detached. They may feel like things around them aren’t real, feel disconnected from their body or thoughts, or have a hard time feeling emotions. People also experience a change in their thoughts and mood related to the traumatic event.

But let’s get something straight here. PTSD isn’t just for soldiers or military personnel. While our brave men and women are highly at risk for developing the disorder, and believe me, I’ve seen them suffer from this awful illness, it’s not just for soldiers.

Anyone can become at risk for PTSD.

You don’t have to fight a war to suffer. Any difficult circumstance or events that causes immense stress can put you at risk for the illness.

PTSD isn’t about what’s wrong with you, it’s about what happened to you.

So, now I know what you’re thinking. Amanda, what happened to you to develop PTSD?

Well, I’ll tell you.

Please be advised, that what you are about to read are terrifying but true events. I can’t sugar coat this.

I was mentally and emotionally abused by my father until I was almost sixteen years old.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I was mentally and emotionally abused.

I grew up in a household where I was constantly surrounded by screaming, fighting, and items being broken. My parents fought all the time. There was always yelling. I know they tried to hide it from my sister and I, but at night, my sister and I would sit at the top of the stairs and just listen to them. I always was in an unstable environment.

It wasn’t until I was older, around my pre-teen years that I realized how bad things were. When my parents spilt for the first time, I did two weeks with my Mom and two weeks with him. The weeks I spent with him, I was usually neglected. There was never food in the cupboards or drinks in the fridge. I typically starved for those two weeks while my father just locked himself in his bedroom. When he did interact with me, he would just yell at me. The threats were minor at this point. Usually he just slandered my mother to me, trying to convince me he was the better parent. I didn’t understand.

That summer I lived with my Mom and I didn’t hear from him in almost two-three months. My memories around this time are blurry because I’ve tried to block so much of the hurt out. I couldn’t understand what I did wrong. Like any kid, I felt like it was my fault and he made sure I was convinced it was.

That Fall we moved back in with him and my parents got together again. It was the worse thing that could have ever happened to me. The situation got worse. Mom always slept on the couch, the fighting never stopping. My sister, who was a teenager, became defiant toward him and I usually got the blame for her actions since I tried to cover up her footsteps. I knew how violent he was becoming and I was afraid. I was scared for my life.

One day my sister stole his quad from the shed. It will be a day I’ll never forget (but so desperately wish I could).

I thought everything would be fine because he didn’t get off until five. She would be back by then and no one would be the wiser. But my parents must have gotten into a fight that morning and he came home lunch time in a blind rage. He was screaming and shouting, saying he was going to murder someone with an axe. I heard him stomp through the house and down into the basement. I knew he was heading for the shed. He was getting an axe. We were caught. And I was going to feel the consequences.

In a blind rage, he dragged me out of my room and into his bedroom. He was screaming and shouting, asking me where the quad was, where my sister was. He was holding the axe in his hand and I was terrified. But I was desperate. I lied. I lied and said I didn’t know. He grabbed me again, holding the axe above my head. He told me if I didn’t tell the truth he would use it on me. He threatened to kill me and he didn’t even seem one bit fazed. So I caved. I told him what happened, even though I was convinced he was still going to kill me for lying.

Mom coming home from work is probably want saved my life that day.

She lost her cool and they got into a huge fight. I remember she told me to get my jacket and she brought me back to work with her. I hid in her back office, too afraid to move. I remember sitting in the office chair, watching the security cameras, waiting for him to show up and finish what he started.

After that day, things only went downhill. The violence got worse, the threats got worse. He never physically tried to attack me like that again, but he used mental and emotional tactics on me. He knew I would do anything to protect my Mom and sister. Which is why he played mind games with me. He manipulated me over and over to a point where I was brain washed. I did everything he asked me to because I was so desperate to stay alive.

At this time my grandparents, his parents, turned on me and my sister. The few times I tried to tell them that he was hurting us, they blamed me and my sister. They said my father wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. He only loved me. The reason he got so mad was because it was our fault. We weren’t good daughters. We weren’t good granddaughters. We should be more obedient.

I didn’t know what to do. I had no one in my corner. And of course, he said that if I ever told my Mom what he was doing, he would kill me. I had no one. My friends didn’t know what I was going through and how could I tell them? “How was your night last night, Amanda?” “Oh, you know. My Dad threatened to kill me again. No big deal.” I barely understood what I was going through, how could my friends?

So that winter I contemplated suicide for the first time. I was thirteen years old.

In a desperate need to feel something other than fear, I cut myself multiple times, in places no one could see. I knew not to do it on my arms or legs, somewhere he could see. Can you imagine what would have happened if he found the cuts? I was afraid to end my own life. I can’t explain to you what that feeling is like because it is so indescribable. All I can say is I was desperate.

That winter my Mom finally left my father again. I went back to splitting my time, two weeks with her, two weeks with him. Christmas was when I started to break. I remember hanging out at the local playground and crying to a few close friends. All I said was things were rough at home and I told them I felt like I was going to die. I was told I was being over-dramatic.

I lived like this for the next year and a half. In a constant state of fear. My sister started to refuse to spend two weeks with him and soon I was left in his house, alone. Just the two of us. The threats were the worse. He had taken my childhood. I wasn’t a child anymore. I was nothing. He had torn me down until there was nothing left. I was broken.

I remember the night before I had to go back to Mom, he sat me down at the kitchen table. I couldn’t look him in the eye. I was like a dog that was kicked too many times, a slave to my master. He knew he held that power over me and I had no choice but to obey. My life was at stake. He folded his hands on the table and stared at me in silence for a long time. Finally, he said, “If you go back to that slut tomorrow, I will take you in my room and lock the door. Then I will blow my brains out in front of you. Is that what you want? To be responsible for your father’s death?”

I called Mom that night and told her I wanted to spend a few extra days there.

The next day I tried to kill myself.

I sat on the bathroom floor holding a knife to my wrist and thought this was it. I had nothing left to lose. By happenstance, my father came home early from work that day. I was too afraid to get caught so I turned on the shower and tried to cover what I had attempted to do. Then the guilt set in and I thought about my Mom, my friends. The blame they would feel about my death and I felt worse. His manipulation made me feel worse. I was a disappointment. If my mom ever found out, she wouldn’t love me anymore. She would hate me for what I tried to do.

I didn’t know what depression really was at this point in my life, but I felt worthless. Everyday. My teachers were starting to notice, I was becoming distant from my friends. My family probably noticed but I was a good actor. I had to be. I held the weight of the world on my shoulders. Every time I left to go back with my Mom, I dreaded getting the phone call that he had killed himself. Part of me wished he would but then I knew it would be my fault.

That summer I had enough. It was June. Just a few months shy of my fifteenth birthday. I remember it was a bright, sunny day. But I was afraid. I hadn’t slept. I knew I had to go back to him the next day. That morning, I overheard Mom arguing with her lawyer about custody. He was fighting for full custody of me, something I didn’t know. The thought of having to live with him full-time made me throw up.

I locked myself in the bathroom. I wanted to escape. I needed an escape. Things were worse than ever, spiralling out of control. My story was going to end with one outcome, I was going to end up six feet under ground either by his hands or my own.

I had enough.

Mom found me crying in the bathroom and I caved. I told her everything he was doing to me. I told her I couldn’t go back there. I would rather die that go back there. She simply told me, “OK,” trying to stay strong for me. I knew my confession would hurt her but she stayed strong.

That evening I sat at the table with my Mom. She held my hand for a moment before handing the phone to me. The devil was at my back and I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest, but somehow I found the courage and called him, telling him that I wasn’t coming back that I wasn’t going to live with him anymore.

The details after that are blurry and fragmented because I was so strung out and stressed. I remember him showing up and trying to break down the door. I remember he called the cops on my Mom, said I was being kidnapped. So many things happened that night and in the days to follow, I barely remember them. My sister went over to pack some of my things for me since I couldn’t go back into that house again. I had made my decision. I chose my life over his and I knew if I stepped foot over his doorstep again, I probably would have been killed.

A few days later he dumped off all my things in garbage bags on the front lawn. He sent me a string of nasty emails and phone calls. Soon after, that side of my family turned on me. My Aunt and Uncle wanted nothing to do with me. Desperate to keep some peace, I wrote emails to them, explaining my side of the story, what I went through. No one ever replied. On my birthday a few months later, my grandparents called and told me what a disgrace I was and that I was to blame for everything that happened. They didn’t even wish me Happy Birthday. He sent me a three dollar card. A heartless gesture. I burned it in a fit of anger.

Life afterward was harder. The easiest thing I did was call and say I was never coming home. The afterward was the hardest part. Many of my friends weren’t on my side or didn’t believe me when I told them I was being abused. I remember telling one friend that my father took an axe to me and he spat in disgust. “You’re full of shit, Amanda. Get over yourself.” Besides my mom and my sister, I felt like I had no one in my corner.

In the afterward, him and my grandparents tried to turn our small town against me, my sister, and my mother. Strangers would show up at the store I worked at and tell me how disgraceful I was. People whose names I didn’t even know would tell me it was sin for what I was doing to my father. My side of the story was completely disregarded. It was ok for him to beat my mother, hurt my sister, and mentally break me, but it wasn’t ok for me to walk away from it.

The justice system was no better. My parents were still at war with one another over me and my sister. My sister and I each wrote an affidavit letter stating all the awful things he put us through. The judge dismissed them. Mom’s lawyer told us that he didn’t even read them, claiming it would make him “unbiased in the case.” It was fucking bullshit! The court mediator I was forced to see was no better. I sat in her office, also confessing the horrible things he did to me and she did nothing! First she told me I was too young to make this kind of decision. I was fifteen I wasn’t some five year old mad at daddy! I was fiften and being abused. But still, the courts insisted I was too young. Second, after everything I told her, she looked me dead in the eye and said, “I know your Dad hurts you sometimes but you need to have a relationship with him.” Are you fucking kidding me? Where is the justice in that?! Yes, Daddy took an axe to you, threatened to kill you and himself on multiple occasions, drove you to suicide, but you should still have a relationship with him. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

That’s the family court justice system for you. Corrupted and failing kids every day. Because it sure as hell failed me and my family. No charges were laid. He walked away scot free. And I was left to carrying the blame.

It wouldn’t be until years later when I started seeing a counsellor after I was diagnosed with PTSD that my counsellor said to me, “If you would have told me what you’re father was doing to you, I would have locked you up in my office until the police came.” At twenty years old, I was devastated. I deserved justice for what had happened to me and EVERYONE had failed me. The police, the mediators, the courts, everyone. My case was simply dismissed from the courts and forgotten about.

Now over nine years later, I’m still dealing with the pain I had to face every day of my life. I lost my childhood to abuse and I lost the early years of adulthood to my mental illness. I was beautifully broken, trying to repair the damage that happened when I was a kid.

For the longest time, I wished that he would have physically abused me. I’m not trying to slight the impact of physical abuse in any way, but at least bruises and broken bones can heal. There really isn’t a fix for mental and emotional abuse. I internalized his anger and rage instead of trying to fight back. Once you’ve become so manipulated, it’s hard to undo the damage.

But the best piece of advice my counsellor has ever given me was, “Amanda, you don’t have to forget and you don’t have to forgive. You just have to move on.”

I will never forget what happened to me and I sure as hell won’t forgive what has been done.

There is a reason I started to speak out about mental illness and make it my life mission to end the stigma.

This shouldn’t have happened to me but it did and that is something I will have to deal with. That’s ok. I accept that. But I want my story to be the example. The example for something that should never happen again.

Even though I wasn’t diagnosed with PTSD until I was nineteen, a month shy of my twentieth birthday, the doctors and therapists said I could have been easily diagnosed at thirteen, the first time I contemplated suicide.

If we have better mental health efforts in our schools, things could be different. If we have better outreach programs in our communities, if we break the stigma surrounding mental illness, then more people could be diagnosed early on. Teachers could have a better chance at catching teenagers who are suffering, doctors would have better tools at helping heal people, family members would have support systems that could help them with their loved ones.

No one should have to suffer in silence. No one should have to reach the point where they don’t want to live anymore before they receive help.

I can’t change my story and that’s ok. I’ve come along way. I’ve fought one hell of a battle and despite mybad days, I’ll be ok.

But if I could change the life of just one person, or change the attitude of one person about mental illness, I will damn try.

My experiences can’t simply just be I survived abuse and mental illness. No. That isn’t good enough. It needs more meaning than that. I need to fight the good fight. I want to change our attitudes about mental health.

I don’t want someone to go through what I’m going through.

So, lets work together and make change. Stand up and speak out. Speak for your loved ones who don’t have a voice. Share your own experiences to show people they are not alone out there. No one should have to go through this alone.

Stand up for the ones you love and fight the good fight.

Until next time,

-Amanda

1 thought on “Living With PTSD: My Story”

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