I was diagnosed with PTSD at the ripe old age of sixteen. PTSD is one of the few mental illness that isn’t caused by genetics. Instead, its caused by either an event or a series of events that leave a traumatic scar on a person’s subconscious.
My life before PTSD wasn’t normal by any means: I was a quiet kid, introverted but also able to charm anyone into friendship. My family brought me up with little money and constant harassment about my everyday habits.
In addition to PTSD I also have Asperger’s, making me an exuberant child. Since we didn’t have the money for toys, I retreated into my head for entertainment. Luckily, I had a vivid and wild imagination that was amplified with the unstoppable power of my Asperger’s obsessive need to tell a good story, boredom felt lifeless.
I’ve always remembered life with my mom to be unpleasant. She was an alcoholic who shouted to the moon all her problems. While, simultaneously refusing to make an effort to change anything in her life. When golden opportunities came to her on a silver platter, she would complain that the plate wasn’t rose gold.
My father had left her when I was nine and because of my grandparents efforts, my mother kept custody. However, when I was fifteen my dad had finally convinced the courts that he was the superior parent, and I was allowed to move in with him.
Life became immensely better with my dad. We were still low on money but could get by easily. Dad was more involved in my studies and with his help I was able to get into Hamline University, one of the top schools in Minnesota and my dream school. To pay for college I got a retail job during the spring I turned sixteen. I refuse to drive, even today, so to get to my job I walked a quarter of a mile to the bus stop.
I’ll never forget the day I got PTSD; every image, sound and sensation has been ingrained deep into my subconscious like an annoying house guest that cant take the hint to leave. I had an opening shift that day, so I had to get up early in order to get the store prepared and mentally prepare myself for another day of abysmal serving. Dad and I had a fight before I left. I don’t remember why, the details of our fight just seem minuscule in comparison to the rest of the day.
I was fuming when I left the house so to calm down I put on loud rock music. After a few blocks I ran into a guy who tried to stop me for directions. I ignored him and kept walking, not ready to put on my customer service face just yet. He was protestant, so taking a deep breath I removed my headphones and turned to face him.
“Yes?” I asked.
“ Do you know when bus X comes by here?” he asked
Of course I knew, every bus in the city I live in comes around every fifteen to twenty minutes. This should have been my clue that something was up, as almost everyone in the city uses the bus system. But my teenage mind was still clouded by anger from my previous argument and didn’t think about it. I gave him my reply before bidding him goodbye and leaving.
There’s a park completely void of all human life in the early hours right before my bus stop. This park was a few blocks away from where I had my encounter with the man. Odd how there aren’t any cars on the road today was my last thought before I felt pressure on my back and my arms being pulled down. I thrashed like a wild animal and screamed, desperately trying to get out of this strong hold. Then I felt it, his hand reaching into my pocket right for my phone. My dad’s voice screamed in my head; If your ever mugged, don’t fight back, just give them what they want and keep a cool head. I stopped thrashing and said “just take it.”
It was the same man that had stopped me earlier. He wanted the code to unlock the phone and the whole time he’s standing there fiddling with it I’m thinking; please just take it and leave, don’t check my other pocket. My other pocket contained my wallet, bus pass and house keys.
He looked up from my phone and saw my headphones hanging from my neck. “Can I also have the headphones?” he asked like I had just loaned him some money, and he also wanted to borrow a car. Instantly I move to give him my headphones. “Naw, you can keep the headphones.” He said this like he had done me a favor.
My hand is shaking as I type this next part, even after all these years it still haunts me. I’m on the buster side. At work, I was often hit on by older men, who openly stared at my chest area, but they stopped once I told them my age. My mugger gave me a smirk and took a step closer to me. He stretched his arm out and started fondling my chest. I kept my eyes focused on his. A decision I would later regret. His eyes were a vile black and lightly glossed over, the calling card of drug addicts. I kept my eyes fixed on his as his hand kept fondling my chest then it sneaked down to my ass. He gave it a few tight squeezes before stepping back and saying “have a good day.” before turning around and leaving the way he came.
There are stories about people who get away from attackers; one of the things they always describe was a fear that their attacker was right behind them as they made their escape. Before that day I never understood that fear, blame the Aspergers, but it’s real.
No matter how many times I turned around to confirm that he wasn’t following me, that fear was still present. My legs were shaking, with both fear and unused adrenaline. Tears were pouring down my face but I refused to let out sobs even if no one was around, I wouldn’t give anyone that satisfaction.
I went to work, not knowing what else to do. My manager all but demanded that I go home after I told her the story; she was already calling my dad before I finished gathering my things. My dad had left for work shortly after our fight, he owns his own small company meaning he has to do a majority of the work himself. He’s always been overprotective of me. So the knowledge that I just got mugged and sexually assaulted had in his truck and on his way to get me faster than a bat out of hell.
When I got loaded into my dad’s truck, and he asked me if I was okay, I finally broke down completely and clung to him full on crying.
I still remember that first night. Sleep refused to meet me despite praying to every God in Mythology. As his ghost touch still graced my skin and I repressed the urge to throw up. Even today I feel those hands, and see his eyes.
After that day, memories that I had repressed started to come back. For example, that wasn’t the first time I was sexually assaulted. The first time it happened I was apparently nine, then again at eleven and twelve. There’s other memories that even today are still foggy, memories of a woman grabbing me and shaking me until bruises formed. Another, was my mother held a knife to my throat and swore that she was going to kill me.
As these memories kept coming back I had episodes where I would just stop and clutch at my hair or worse try to bury my fingers into my eye sockets. I kept having flashbacks to these events but by far the worst was the mugging and the murder attempt. Solely because of his ghost hands and constricting of my throat when either even comes up.
I see a therapist every week. Together we are doing a traumatic memory technique called EMDR. This treatment makes you relive the traumatic memory but, also makes it less traumatic. In a way turning it into a normal memory. However, it’s very energy consuming and can take hours to rewrite a single memory. Because of this I don’t do EMDR every week, sometimes just talking helps.
PTSD is a terrible mental illness because it forces you to relive the worst events in your life again and again. However, it’s always important to remember that it’s in the darkest night that the stars shine the brightest. I didn’t sugar coat anything in my story, and PTSD isn’t the only mental illness I have but, the way I saw it I only had two choices. One, complain about the platter being silver instead of rose gold. Or two, take advantage of the opportunities on the platter despite everything life throws at me.
By K. Purdom
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