“Each flashback is a battle”

** Trigger Warning: Child Abuse**

I have a mental health condition that it is very difficult to talk about, sometimes even dangerous to talk about and it’s one that not many people understand. I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is what happens when a person’s body and mind don’t properly stop reacting to a traumatic event, usually something like being in a car accident, being raped or assaulted or seeing someone get killed. After such events it’s usual for people to go into “shock, to be frightened or anxious, to have panic attacks, to be easily upset or to go “emotionally numb” for a while. It’s all part and parcel of the body and brain’s natural coping mechanisms when something bad happens. If someone doesn’t seem to be recovering after a month or suddenly starts behaving like the bad thing just happened months or years afterwards, that’s PTSD. Their body is forcing them to get on with recovering from what happened and won’t let them stop thinking about it until it’s all been fully processed in their head. That’s what I think, anyway. My PTSD was caused by being abused by my family when I was a child. All the way through my university career, I had occasional panic attacks, intrusive memories and crying fits about the things that had happened to me when I was too young to make them stop. I minimised all contact with my family and got myself into counselling. My counsellor noticed that I had what she described as “emotional flashbacks” where if someone did or said something that reminded me (however subconsciously) of the people who abused me, I would initially react as though I was still a child and the person I was talking to was my abuser. My brain didn’t fully understand that I wasn’t in that situation any more. I understood that I had a mental health problem because of what happened to me but I felt too afraid of my abusers to seek any real help for it, expecting them to find out what I was doing and tell everyone I was lying about what happened to me. So, I tried very hard and worked round my condition without treatment. Whenever I treated a friend or partner like they were one of my abusers, I would explain to myself that I wasn’t a child any more but a grown man and I would work out how I actually wanted to react. I slowly learned that I was lovable, that I was worth something and that most people weren’t going to hurt me. I fell in love and even managed to learn to trust people. I got on with my life. Then, at the beginning of my masters degree, things changed. I’d been on and off seeing my family. They seemed to be okay. I thought maybe I was the only child who’d been abused. I wondered if what had happened to me even *was* abuse or whether it was my fault I’d been hurt. My partner assured me it was most definitely not my fault and that it is always wrong for adults to hurt children in their care. I still hoped that my siblings hadn’t been affected. Then I found out from one of them that the abuse now focussed on her. And I knew I had to do something. It was the most difficult decision I ever made. And I’d make it again thousand times even though I know the full extent of the high cost I paid for it. I reported the abuse my siblings were going through. And I got full-blooded PTSD. I have nightmares every night now. Flashbacks several times a day where I have to grab hold of something, anything to prove to myself that I’m an adult now and a student, not a helpless child being hurt by people who claim to love him. Loud noises make me jump, small movements make me think that friends and loved ones are going to hit me or throw things at me. I sit rocking on the floor of my room crying and telling the empty room over and over again that “I’m sorry”. I cry till I can’t breathe sometimes. Each flashback is a battle to force myself back into the present, to tell the memory that it’s only a memory and it can’t hurt me. To remind myself that the people who hurt me are far away, that no one is ever going to hit me again, that I am strong and brave and clever, that I am loved and wanted and worthy. It’s quite literally exhausting. Some days all I can do is cry and sleep. I’m applying for a University grant to pay for private therapy because the NHS can’t promise to get me treated before the end of the year and I need help now. I’m hoping things will pick up soon. But for now, I get triggered into flashbacks and have to fight a painful and exhausting invisible fight to remember where I am and how far I’ve come. Just think about that next time you want to joke about child abuse or torture or rape or whatever, okay? A lot of people have PTSD and it’s not easy to live with. Fortunately, it usually responds well to specialised treatment. If you think you have PTSD, please try to get treated, don’t go for years untreated like I did.

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