Recognize Your Progress: Realizing effects Of Trauma And Overcoming PTSD Triggers
Hannah Williams,19, is an activist and writer. Receiving a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Poway for her “courageous actions during the Chabad of Poway shooting,” she now spends her time helping sexual assault/domestic violence survivors, being one herself, and seek justice for women. In this piece she writes about overcoming the trauma of being a survivour or sexuall assault.
Disclaimer: this piece discusses topics that may be triggering to some readers. Discretion is advised.
Progress and overcoming, in my opinion, is completely overlooked a lot of the times. If you have made progress in something that you're proud of, please be proud of yourself too, no matter what it is. For some it may be progress made in a tough book because they have trouble reading, and for others it may be dealing with anorexia and hitting your goal weight for the month. Recognize your progress, show it off if you're comfortable and be proud of it!
What is my progress? Well, many of you don’t know my story so let me catch you up to speed. A year ago, in the span of ONE month I was:
A freshman in college who was sexually assaulted by a senior at the college radio station, telling me he’d take my job if I didn’t do everything he said, and had 12 other victims who refused to come forward. I didn’t understand why, taught my whole life that the school would protect you, so I reported it to the Title IX Coordinator. You know what she told me? “He’s a senior, we don’t want to ruin his life, you know?”
I had been in an abusive relationship for about a year with a guy back home. When I called him to tell him about my assault, he got mad at me for ‘cheating’, even though he was getting his d**k sucked over the phone at the same time. Charming, right? So, we ended things and I soon had to stop being in denial and come to terms that it was an extremely abusive relationship, but as we can tell so far… I was already going through a lot.
I was in a toxic friend group at the time as well. My first roommate was a diagnosed bipolar, and moved out a month after throwing a printer at me and then leaving me a nice list on my bed of all the things she hates about me. Seriously, I'm not kidding. My second roommate was also part of that friend group, claiming to be a diagnosed schizophrenic, she always said she saw stingrays and was a very manipulative and back-stabbing person, but you’ll see that in a minute.
The second roommate left clubbing one night, me leaving the door unlocked because she lost her key, and continued to study until someone came in. He was literally a drug dealer, who didn’t go to this school, who somehow got on campus to deal drugs. He got through the one “24/7 monitored entrance” of my residence hall, looking for girl’s unlocked doors, and found mine. I was raped.
Let’s see, what else could I list? Oh yeah! Counselor lied to me about when the expiration date for a rape kit was, they reached out to my ex-friend group to get dirt on me and used it against me in order to get me out of that school. Kicked me out, well more like dragged me out by two police officers while I had a panic attack for the whole dorm to see, and covered the whole thing up so they weren’t at fault. I had no proof and no one would believe me.
All the girls who came up to me with hope, seeing as I was the only one that reported, now have to remain at that school in fear since they all saw me being dragged out. And, they did it to two other girls since I’ve left. Isn’t corruption a beautiful thing?
No. It’s a life ruiner. I was a fu**ing kid, and instead of putting all those praises of protecting your students to good use, you added onto my trauma. And the worst part? I can’t do anything nor do they give a f**k.
Now, with that said, you can infer I probably have a lot of issues, right? Yup. I thought it was a lost cause, but then I looked at my progress from that sucky November to this past one.
I am finally dealing with my bad behavior spirals, PTSD (anxiety), depression, and heart issues with extensive therapy. Now, look at me on my way. Still got a long way to go, but definitely a huge improvement if I do say so myself. 💜(View from left to right)
Just know there is always hope.
Also, may I just say... Damn I'm looking fine during mental breakdowns (sarcasm). How am I single? No, but seriously raise your hands if you can pull off a hospital gown like that. Haha.
Do you guys know what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) actually is? I was ignorant towards the whole term back in high school, not really taking it seriously but that was mostly because I was an obnoxious teenager who didn't know the seriousness of it. It wasn't until this year when I was diagnosed with it myself, that I realized just how serious it is and how awful it is to endure.
There are four main types of symptoms:
1. Re-experiencing (repeatedly reliving) the trauma. This can be in the form of nightmares, flashbacks, or intense emotional or physical reactions to be a reminder of the trauma. These symptoms frequently leave you feeling like you're going crazy.
2. Hyper-arousal. This includes sleep problems, anger/irritability, concentration problems, always feeling on edge or on guard and being easily startled. These can also be introduced in a physical form such as a pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, and rapid breathing. These symptoms keep you stressed and eventually exhausted.
3. Avoidance of trauma reminders. This may include trying not to think or talk about the trauma, or trying not to have feelings about it. It may also include staying away from activities, people, places and situations that bring up trauma memories. These symptoms leave you feeling apart from the people and surroundings in your life.
4. Emotional numbing. This includes losing interest in activities that used to be important to you, feeling detached or estranged from important people in your life, feeling unable to have normal emotions, and losing a sense that you have a long term future. These symptoms diminish your relationships with those closest to you.
I didn't believe my Psychologist when she diagnosed me, but after looking at all this research she gave me it honestly brought me back to reality a bit when I saw how much I was going though that was specified on here. I have nightmares at least three times a week that have me running from something or someone and eventually getting murdered. (For you dream interpreters out there, have fun!) And does anyone remember that period of time when I kept going to the hospital with heart issues? (If not, look at the pictures at the top). That is the hyperarousal and avoidance factors hard at work. My Cardiologist told me that it is common for our needs of confrontation with tragedy, when avoided, to manifest itself into different means to get your attention. So... Thanks, trauma. I'll be sending you the hospital bills, you twat.
Just so you know... PTSD is TREATABLE. (Just thought I'd note that. Carry on.)
I always tend to understand more when there are examples, so, I’m going to share with you some of my triggers. Hopefully, if you have PTSD and think yours are silly or dramatic, you can see you’re not the only one. Triggers can range from basically anything, so don’t pass it off as silly. You’re strong and with time and healing you’ll be able to face and conquer it.
My Triggers (This is not a 'happens every time' kind of thing; It's unpredictable. So, it's not like I can't do these things, but I just have to proceed with a lot more caution and no one pressuring me if I do end up reliving the trauma):
Sometimes sexual contact: These triggers can include feeling the weight of someone on top of me, hickies or biting (since abuser thought that as a way of "branding me"), squeaky beds with springs (college bed I had when said incidents occurred), closing my eyes for a moment too long (this is just because when my eyes are closed I don't see the person I'm with after a while and it just feels like.. OKAY moving on!), etc. I just have to be a lot more careful with this one in particular. It's one of the reasons why I don't really hook up. I need to be familiar with them so I can be respectful to him by letting him know the situation beforehand. And, honestly, ladies and gents... If he can't be a man and handle that then the only thing that I'd be affected by is dodging a bullet.
Sleeping in the bedroom with the door unlocked/open: Self explanatory.
Feeling love and caring for someone or just love in general: Hannah's got trust issues and afraid of getting hurt again.
Going somewhere alone at night: Self-explanatory.
Smelling Mediterranean kind of Febreze: People particularly questioned this one, and I think it's a good example for the fact that really anything can trigger a re-experience because it's so personal and therefore different. I can't smell this because... after I woke up it smelled heavily like sex and I was already going through enough. It's disgusting and traumatizing to have a victim smell that post-assault. So, I sprayed that EVERYWHERE in my room and on my person. Can't really be around it because it so easily triggers that memory and before you know it the Hoover Dam is flooded.
The phrase "Always and Forever": If you're a regular follower you know I am done talking about this, but I know it helps some to have specific and personal examples, so I'm going to keep these few short and sweet: Used that term after laying hands on me to mean he "loved me" and that I'm "stuck with him."
Dressing rooms: As I mentioned earlier, self-image is a huge thing in my PTSD case because I thought I deserved all of that for a while. I couldn't go into a dressing room alone, borderline anorexic for awhile from depression and honestly until recently I just couldn't truly look in the mirror and think one positive thought.
Therapists: That lady at the college had a mandatory counselling session with me, and resulted in her lying to me about the deadline for Rape-Kits. I could have gotten at least some speck of justice for myself.
Campus Police Officers: Dragged me out of my dorm room with no explanation as I cried hysterically in a severe panic attack.
Sometimes the smell of weed: Dick-wad was a big pot smoker.
The sound of a belt being unbuckled: Yeah, that's a no from me, sir.
Sometimes large crowds: I still haven't uncovered the reason for this yet in therapy. I honestly used to be so social and the party girl... I'm a public speaker for gosh-sakes... Guess I just need to re-adjust to crowded places in time.
Radio stations: Self explanatory.
Pregnancy tests: Dick-wad forced me to take them often.
Fear of not responding quick enough: Dick-wad punched through a wall when I didn't respond cause I was in the shower or at cheer practice (not a one time occurrence)
Impatient people- Dick-wad... Enough said.
I’m not going to tell you it’s going to magically be better overnight. It’s going to take some time, but you’re worth it.
Slowly, but surely, I’m crossing these triggers off the list.
Actually, I was attending online school all of last year because I couldn’t be on a college campus for a while for many obvious reasons, but I am starting community college in just two weeks. It seems small, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.
It’s going to be hard, I’m not going to lie to you, but just know you are not alone. Our traumas may all be different, but we have one thing in common: We are survivors. We are still here today, and we will NOT let them take that from us because they have already taken enough.
It’s your time. Put yourself first. You deserve that.
This is a personal story, where one of our writers writes about what worked best for her. Its meant to be informative, but can not be considered a replacement for expert testemony. If you think you may be suffering with any mental illnesses, please speak to an expert.