Every New Tragic Story Derails My Ability To Heal From My Past
Stephanie Scott. Eurydice Dixon. Tiahleigh Palmer... Every. Story. Reminds me.
It’s 3.58 am.
A while ago I removed the clock next to my bed so I would stop obsessing over the exact amount of sleep I was not getting each night. It seems I keep score on my phone now; my only company in the silence of yet another night smashed by insomnia.
I find myself angry at everyone else in the house for sleeping; angry at the way they breathe even and, sure, the way their hearts beat blood into their veins while mine pumps shots of adrenaline into mine; still, after all these years, a fully-automatic weapon of survival.
I find myself angry a lot lately.
June is PTSD Awareness Month. It’s difficult to know how to bring awareness to something I spend most of my life preferring to be unaware of. I struggle to speak of it out loud, as if the words might bring an implication of my weakness after so many years striving to keep this bulletproof illusion intact.
I grew up a child of the '80s -- a time when children were to be seen and not heard. A time before police checks and mandatory reporting, before topics such as domestic violence, child abuse and rape were openly discussed, before #metoo campaigns, before women began to raise their voices. My childhood involved years of abuse, rape and neglect. I existed in silence and shame, finally breaking that silence at 12 years old, only to be condemned as a liar. By 15, I had left home.
For many years I lived in denial, as if my entire body wasn’t being crushed beneath the weight of a past I could never quite forget. It was only after I had my first daughter I began to unravel -- in that moment I understood with stark clarity not only her innocence, but how abhorrently mine had been taken.
Through cracks that became harder to disguise, symptoms began to show. Anger, irritability, rage over trivial things, insomnia, inability to concentrate on work. I became extremely hypervigilant; the sound of a plate being dropped would paralyse me with fear.
There was one particular day my youngest daughter suffered a rash on her body; though we knew it would sting, we had to cover it with ointment. She became hysterical, screaming: “No Daddy! Stop! You’re hurting me! Please stop, Daddy, please stop!” Sometime later, my husband found me curled up on the bathroom floor, totally checked out.
Soon after, I began to have flashbacks, nightmares, and moved into longer phases of numbness and apathy, isolating myself from the world. I cycled between bouts of rage and depression, becoming so overwhelmed with such intense emotion that disassociation became a more regular thing. I became physically ill; back to back episodes of Glandular Fever, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia. No longer able to cope, I spiralled into self-destruction. I hurt my relationships, those who tried to love me; myself. Only when I reached rock bottom did I accept it was time to deal with the trauma I had been through, and sought help.
It’s been a number of years since then; since I was first diagnosed with Complex-PTSD. We most often hear of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused from a singular or short-term traumatic event. Complex-PTSD varies a little, caused by repetitive, prolonged trauma, mostly in childhood, where there was sustained neglect or abuse often at the hands of a caregiver or other interpersonal relationship with an uneven power dynamic.
For some time I have been well, but lately find myself not so well again, triggered by the stories, the conversations, the torrents of pain that rush at me from women who have suffered -- are suffering -- at the hands of uneven power dynamics. Every #MeToo story. The 32 women killed in Australia this year by domestic violence. An 11-year-old girl sexually assaulted in Newcastle. Eurydice Dixon. Tiahleigh Palmer. Stephanie Scott... Every. Story. Reminds me.
I am angry for them; angry for me. Angry that once again I am having to fight this battle I shouldn’t have to fight but will spend the rest of my life fighting nonetheless, because of the uneven power dynamics I endured for so many years; the ones which left more scars than anyone will ever see.
This week I celebrate my birthday with the words of Robert Frost inked upon my skin; a poignant reminder of my ongoing journey: 'The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep'.
The battle to overcome PTSD seems, today, insurmountable. I do not know where or how I will find the strength to continue to fight a battle that so often defeats me when the dark woods appeal so much more right now. But I do know each day I am forced to fight means I still have a life to fight for; somewhere, another woman loses hers. I do know I refuse to allow all I have suffered to be for nothing.
There are still a hell of a lot of miles to go before I’m ready to sleep.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 131114. For further information about depression, contact beyond blue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
Featured Image: Stephanie Scott, Eurydice Dixon, Tiahleigh Palmer. Source: Supplied