Last night I began a solo performance class- where, at the end of the night, each student got up to improvise a character. A man brushed past me and snuck onto the stage inconspicuously, portraying a character who was uncomfortable receiving attention. The teacher, who took a few minutes to “interview” each character, said hello to him, and he abruptly shrieked.
And, to my complete and utter embarrassment, so did I. With credit to myself, it was jarring, and I wasn’t the only one to react with fear or surprise, but my shriek, I regret to admit, was slightly beyond the norm. Luckily, the rest of the man’s interview was so entertaining that no one had time to notice. This time, anyways.
This is one of the many symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Over the past few years, PTSD has become a more understood part of our social vocabulary. However, it is almost always associated with war- due in part to the fact that the discussion of supporting Veterans is the only time it seems to get any press.
I tuned in to (and consequently became hooked on) Army Wives, a scripted drama that follows the lives of several army families, and, for a few episodes, showed a little glimpse of what it’s like to live with PTSD from the trauma of war. I found it to be effective, and touching, and was impressed with how the cast and crew were able to make a difficult topic accessible. I have seen several articles on men who have served, discussing them living in the aftermath of war, struggling with PTSD, among other unfortunate consequences of trying to survive in a world of guns and politics. I have read about different healthcare initiatives offered to make sure we support our soldiers (as we should, and must) as they deal with this debilitating disorder.
I’m sure even more can be done—but, happily, it seems that we are on the right track to doing what we can to support our soldiers through healing from post traumatic stress. There are therapy programs, there is an increasing amount of public awareness, and, most importantly, we (as a society) acknowledge that this has nothing to do with these brave men, and that we must continue to make support available to them.
Here, here, I say. But now I’d like to say more.
What about the rest of us?
The women who jump when they hear a loud noise. Who flinch when touched unexpectedly. Who lock one lock on their door when they leave the house, but keep all three bolted while they are inside. The women who actually have “dealt,” to a degree, with what they’ve been through, but whose bodies are slower to release the trauma. Who wake up in the middle of the night, if they even sleep at all. Who, oftentimes, have told no one about their past. And many who have been brave enough to share, but have been accused of slander, written off, or been made to be ashamed of something that has nothing to do with them.
Gosh, what a sad story, right? But of course, we’re talking about an insignificant number of women…Right? …Wrong. 250,000 reported rapes or assaults in the US, each year. Key word: Reported.
Hi, my name is Bonnie and I’d like to be your voice of realism for today: Since I started my non-profit “That’s What She Didn’t Say” 2 years ago, I have easily had at least a hundred women contact me personally to talk about how they had been abused in some way. Maybe 1 in 10 of them had ever reported it. You do the math… And how many of these women have PTSD? Probably all of them, at least to a degree.
Last year, my office used to be located in Inglewood, CA- not a place really intended for a white girl from Encino. I was often the target of men who wanted to frighten or intimidate me, or just ask me out. With my past, it all felt the same. One morning last year, a man got a little too friendly, said some filthy things, got close enough that I could feel his breath on my neck, and proceeded to follow me down the hall until he finally gave up. I lost it. Like, we’re talking breakdown on the 5th floor (and my office was on the 6th). Hysterical, can’t breathe, kill me now, but God please don’t let anyone walk in and see me like this, breakdown.
It was a sort of straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back thing, I guess. More than anything it gave me new access to a lot of memories I’d blocked out of past experiences I wanted to believe I’d dealt with. …So, that was fun…
Overwhelmed, and embarrassed, I went to the Valley Trauma Center- where it took me 6 weeks to even get an appointment to talk to a free therapist. (Free for about two months to anyone who has been sexually abused.) Where, once I did get in the door, they gave me a trainee instead of a licensed therapist, even though I begged them, please give me someone who knows what they are doing and can actually help me.
The very well-intentioned, but not-terribly-experienced, grad student asked me all sorts of personal questions, digging up all sorts of crap, and proceeded to tell me she thought I seemed like I was doing fine and coping well.
Through a friend, I was referred to a very expensive psychologist, who assured me that insurance would take care of most of the costs. He saw me for free for 3 sessions, just long enough for AETNA to finally get back to him that they would not cover his $1400 a month.
So that was a wash, but not before he told me that: 1. He was the only therapist who could help me, and 2. I was in trouble because I only knew how to be “fine” and I, of course, wasn’t “Fine.”
In retrospect, though I found his statements jarring, I am thankful to have learned the coping skill of being “fine” and when all else fails, pretending to be “fine” because the alternative sounds pretty uninspiring.
“Fine” or not, I have, for the last 18 years, gotten out of bed every morning, had a lot of good things happen to me, been a productive member of society, and been a relatively successful person. I have friends who love me, and who I love. I inspire others. I’m funny, and talented and passionate. In spite of some bad circumstances, I am the happiest I have been in my life. I’m employed full-time, writing, sometimes working as a performer, and pursuing my dreams, as well as trying to support an important cause.
And yes, some really awful things happened to me, for a long time, when I was young.
And yes, I still hurt from them, so much more than I’d like to admit. Sometimes I’m a little jumpier than I probably would have been if not for my past experiences. Sometimes my heart pounds as if it’s going to leave my body, and sometimes it’s not in response to anything anyone would understand. I am sensitive to certain jokes- I don’t happen to find rape culture funny. It takes awhile to build my trust. I could go on.
And, as that douche of a therapist pointed out, I also know how to be “fine” that if I had not chosen to be this open, you wouldn’t know any better.
But, perhaps the worst part of all this, or at least something I find frustrating, is that, other than learning about Yoga and meditation, or journaling, there isn’t a whole lot of resources for me, in spite of things that do “exist” and things that are provided for men who have the same symptoms I do, but acquired them fighting for our country.
I, unfortunately, acquired these symptoms fighting to keep my childhood, which was cut short.
In spite of a strong circle of friends who have been very understanding of and supportive about my search for peace, not only for myself, but for others, a lot of people think I’m crazy to talk about some of these things. I think it’s crazy not to. And, I believe our silence- our individual, and worse, our collective social silence, is what is going to lead to yet another generation of fearful, shamed women, when that’s entirely unnecessary, and heartbreaking.
So, you decide what is important. But don’t pretend you can’t do anything. Sign a petition. Get involved with a charity or non-profit. Don’t let your friends reinforce rape culture with classless, oblivious jokes. And, if nothing else, know that all the numbers they tell you are just scraping the surface. The more you know…