Monday, September 20, 2010

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & Me

Trigger warning for discussions of assault, sexual abuse and trauma

I forgot to mention in my previous post about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that I was also diagnosed with Pica and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. At the time I did not point it out because while the diagnosis of OCD was new to me, I had already guessed that I had both pica and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The news was just that I was now officially diagnosed, and therefore perhaps could be taken seriously when I voiced my concerns about how they manifested themselves.
In my adult years, I've learned to manage my Pica, and it is no longer pressing for me, apart from the occasional binge on kool-aid powder when things aren't exactly going my way.
However, my PTSD is relatively new to me. If I were to pinpoint the exact time in my life when it began to manifest itself, it would be around the age of fourteen, at a time where I was forced into a terrifying scenario where two different people in my life took advantage of their authority over me in different ways.
One used his status as a "friend of the family" to sexually assault me when we were alone together several times, leaving me frightened and unsure what to do. The only response I ever got to my obvious discomfort around him when others were present was being chastised for being "antisocial" and "rude". The other one took advantage of his position of authority in my life to terrorize me, frightening me by swinging a baseball bat over my head, manhandling me, screaming in my face, and threatening to hurt me or break my possessions, telling me I was worthless, ugly, stupid and fat, blaming me for my mother's alcoholism, and telling me that if I wasn't "careful" I would end up kicked out of my own house.
After going through that horror on a near daily basis, I began having nightmares, wetting my bed, withdrawing from being hugged or touched by people I love, and obsessively eating. I was getting, on average, about 5 hours of sleep per night, the rest being spent in terror and shaking.
It receded somewhat after I left my hometown to go to university. Towards the middle of university though, when I entered my junior year, a single incident made my PTSD come back full force, landing me in the hospital briefly for a strong anxiety attack.
Since then, it has managed to get worse and worse, but there was never a name for it to the doctors until now. It wasn't until I admitted the incidents described above that it became clear to the doctor what the cause was.
But having an official diagnosis has not alleviated the nightmares or the anxiety. I continue to have nightmares, I continue to resist being touched, and I continue to be fearful and mistrusting of people.
PTSD has affected my life in many ways, both subconsciously and consciously. One of the most obvious ways it affects my life intertwines with the way that autism impacts my life. Being as I am, I avoid eye contact and I have an obvious aversion to the social activities which seem to act as staples of life for people in my age group: Clubbing, partying, music concerts and drinking copious amounts of liquor are all activities which I steadfastly refuse to partake in, unless roped in reluctantly, which happens more often than I should like.
This is obvious to any other person with autism: Such venues are noisy, unpredictable, and often involve an unfamiliar environment chock-full of sensory overload. Vomit, sweat and liquor smells, loud music, flashing lights, sticky floors, and other people crowded against you are a sensory overload nightmare, and can end unpleasantly for all parties if it overwhelms you.
Another reason I avoid them though, is because I have a particularly strong aversion to being touched by anyone without my permission, and something as minute as a hand brushed against me could leave me panicking. The strongest factor in my avoidance though, is my concern for other people. When I am triggered, I get really violent. Screaming, scratching, and biting are beyond my control in such scenarios, and I fear not only my personal safety and mental health being compromised, but the safety of others.
This fact breaks my heart. In spite of my aversion to social events, I enjoy having friends and people I can connect with, and knowing that I pose a danger to them if I am triggered saddens me greatly.
Having an official diagnosis, I hope, will help me find a way to control my own mind and reactions to a degree, so that I can have independence over my life and emotions.
But the last barrier I feel I will have to cross over is not from my own disability, but rather, the public perception of disability. Once again, like OCD and autism, PTSD is a widely misunderstood and mis-characterized disability. And little sympathy is reserved for those who have it, even those who got it "honourably" in combat or a similar field. Regardless of what caused it to manifest though, I think it is important that I be vocal about the fact that I have PTSD. It will be less likely to be as radically misunderstood if a person you know, a person familiar to you, has it, rather than it being an abstract concept for television or a movie.

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