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Origins of my PTSD

It’s none of your business.

But I’ll tell you anyway.

Validation Through Vulnerability

I hate telling people I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because the first inquiry is, “From what?”

I understand their curiousity; I have it too when I meet someone struggling with mental illness. But, at the same time, it’s nobody’s business what trauma I’ve endured & still struggle to cope with. I have no need to explain myself to anyone.

But I want to. Because when I explain myself, I validate myself, & that’s been a crucial cornerstone towards recovery. It also allows for further understanding from loved ones, which I always appreciate.

So I’ll tell you, for all you wondering minds.

(Note: throughout this blog there are underlined words & phrases; these are links to separate but related blog posts of mine. Be sure to CLICK! & take a peek!)

Where It All Began

Post-traumatic stress disorder is considered “a reaction to being exposed to an event which is outside the range of normal human experience,” or “a normal reaction to an abnormal life event.” Unlike my other mental illness, schizoaffective disorder, PTSD is caused by something. (Schizoaffective disorder, a form of schizophrenia, does not have any known origin or cause.)

My post-traumatic stress disorder began in August of 2008 at age fifteen after a traumatizing psychotic break where I had a hallucination of hell. Some hallucinations are visual; some are auditory; some involve smelling or feeling or tasting things that aren’t actually there. This hallucination involved them all: I could smell the burning flesh of fading souls, feel the flames flickering at my feet, hear the hissing laughter of the devil & his cohorts. Staring out my living room window, I no longer saw outside: I only saw & experienced hell.

For eight months, I deeply struggled with the repercussions of this episode. Of course, I didn’t know it was PTSD at the time: I didn’t know what mental illness was until age twenty-one. But in time, I realized that I meet PTSD criteria to a tee, & I have for the past seven years.

Because I was in a state of psychosis, depression, & trauma, little things increased my symptoms, such as lectures & groundings from parents. It was especially difficult because the episode continued during those following eight months in the form of auditory hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, & other symptoms of schizophrenia. A year later, these same voices led me to my first suicide attempt (!Voices-Suicide-part-1/c16ee/9555070B-EDEF-4A5E-A29F-0B540DE2C7F6), which only increased my PTSD symptoms, as near-death experiences are prone to do.

Over the years, I self-medicated my PTSD, beginning with alcohol.

When It All Peaked

My case of post-traumatic stress disorder was severely worsened when I was raped for the first time on April 15, 2011, at age 18, while I was still in high school in California. The horror was repeated four years later in Colorado on May 15, 2015, at age 22—this time by a friend when I was homeless. I will never forget those dates. They mark the time life changed for me: the time my mind itself literally changed on me.

There is much research revealing the permanent changes trauma has on the brain. The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved with learning & memory, physically changes when PTSD occurs. The hippocampus also works closely with the medial prefrontal cortex, which regulates our emotional responses to fear & stress. This is why PTSD sufferers struggle in these areas. (Source cited: Bremner, J. Douglas; "The Invisible Epidemic: PTSD, Memory, & the Brain.")

“Brain areas implicated in the stress response include the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Traumatic stress can be associated with lasting changes in these brain areas. Traumatic stress is associated with increased cortisol and norepinephrine responses to subsequent stressors. Findings… [show] smaller hippocampal and anterior cingulate volumes, increased amygdala function, and decreased medial prefrontal/anterior cingulate function. In addition, patients with PTSD show increased cortisol and norepinephrine responses to stress.” (Source cited: Bremner, J. Douglas, MD; “Traumatic Stress: Effects on the Brain.”)

This isn’t a science or medical lesson, though, so I won’t go further into depth on the subject. The effects are serious & critical, & trauma triggering PTSD is life-changing in an extraordinarily devastating fashion.

Many days, I don’t experience PTSD symptoms, which is a relief knowing it’s not constantly present. But the threat of experiencing symptoms IS, unfortunately, constantly present. This is a permanent illness that I can only learn how to manage & live with. Dealing with PTSD has proven less severe over time, but, when life disappoints me or someone betrays me (which happens all too frequently), it all comes back like the original traumas happened yesterday. I struggle with night terrors, flashbacks, & derealization, among other symptoms. Even when symptoms are tame, I still struggle with severe memory impairment.

So there you have it: one of my two mental illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), originates from a combination of psychosis & rape over the past seven years.

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