It is a continuous challenge living with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I’ve suffered from it for most of my life. I can look back now and gently laugh at all the people who thought I had the perfect life. I was young, beautiful, and talented, but unbeknownst to them, I was terrorized by an undiagnosed debilitating mental illness.
Having been properly diagnosed with PTSD at age 25, I know that there is not one aspect of my life that has gone untouched by this mental illness. My PTSD was triggered by several traumas, including a childhood laced with physical, mental, and sexual abuse. I was raped at a very young age repeatedly by my brother-in-law who passed away from cancer in 2017. I would never be the same after that rape. For me there was no safe place in the world, not even my home. I went to the police and filed a report. Rape counselors came to see me while I was in the hospital, but I declined their help, convinced that I didn’t need it. This would be the most damaging decision of my life
For months after the rape, I couldn’t close my eyes without envisioning the face of my rapist. I suffered horrific flashbacks and nightmares. For four years after the rape I was unable to sleep alone in my house. I obsessively checked windows, doors, and locks. By age 17, I’d suffered my first panic attack. Soon I became unable to leave my house for weeks at a time. This just became a way of life. Years passed when I had few or no symptoms at all, and I led what I thought was a fairly normal life, just thinking I had a “panic problem.
At age 18, I started dancing in a local bar. The money was quick and easy. I then was introduced to crack, which I got hooked on immediately for about 16 years, it numbed all my pain and made me forget everything. I thought it was the best medicine for all my problems. But, one day I became fed up with being fed up, sick and tired of being sick and tired, that I finally quit on my own. I am clean ever since July 5, 2011.
Then another traumatic event re-triggered the PTSD. It was as if the past had evaporated, and I was back in the place of my rape, only now, I had uncontrollable thoughts of someone entering my house and harming me. I saw violent images every time I closed my eyes. I lost all ability to concentrate or even complete simple tasks. Normally social, I stopped trying to make friends or get involved in my community. I often felt disoriented, forgetting where, or who, I was. I would panic on the freeway and became unable to drive, again ending a career. I felt as if I had completely lost my mind. For a time, I managed to keep it together on the outside, but then I became unable to leave my house again.
Around this time I was diagnosed with PTSD. I cannot express to you the enormous relief I felt when I discovered my condition was real and treatable. I felt safe for the first time in 32 years. Taking medication and undergoing behavioral therapy marked the turning point in my regaining control of my life I’m rebuilding a satisfying career as an artist, and I am enjoying my life. The world is new to me and not limited by the restrictive vision of anxiety. It amazes me to think back to what my life was like only a year ago, and just how far I’ve come.
For me there is no cure, no final healing. But there are things I can do to ensure that I never have to suffer as I did before being diagnosed with PTSD. I’m no longer at the mercy of my disorder and I would not be here today had I not had the proper diagnosis and treatment. The most important thing to know is that it’s never too late to seek help.