Content warning: relationship abuse, rape, bereavement
Jessica Murray is a trainee counsellor who lives with borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Trauma affects us all in different ways and on different levels.
"During my abuse, I thought that I woke up each day and started afresh. I did not think that every traumatic event I was exposed to could be causing me some emotional damage at the time, nor did I feel it - my emotional state was eternal numbness".
Something that is traumatic for one person can be a walk in the park for another. When we experience repeated trauma we may think we become “hardened” to it. I know this from experience.
Recognising PTSD within myself
I have experienced recurrent traumatic events and my reactions to triggers are always changing. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that begins as a result of traumatic experiences. I did not think for a second that I could have been experiencing this. However, after recent events and huge changes within myself I am starting to acknowledge its presence. I have found that PTSD is often under-discussed and resources can be limited, but it is a condition that impacts many even if they are yet to find the label.
Although PTSD does not always stem from abuse, for many it does. Abuse comes in many forms; physical, emotional, sexual, financial, institutional, and religious. The impact of abuse on a person's mental health can be detrimental but not necessarily immediately obvious. The extent to which traumatic events can affect an individual vary from person to person.
For the past three years I was in an intensively abusive relationship which extended from mental and emotional abuse to physical abuse. During this part of my life I sought advice and support from others who were living through similar situations to the one I was in. I worked with other victims in both a professional and personal capacity. One thing was evident in all of us; the presence of post-traumatic symptoms. Our symptoms largely matched, no matter the stage of the abuse and length of time spent in the relationship.
What was strange was that many of us had absolutely no idea that we had changed so much. It took the outlook of others to identify the obvious signs of PTSD for many of us to actually recognise it. During my abuse, I thought that I woke up each day and started afresh. I did not think that every traumatic event I was exposed to could be causing me some emotional damage at the time, nor did I feel it - my emotional state was eternal numbness. Now that I have left this relationship and have been free of it for some time, I am looking back and understanding the extent of the damage that was done. This has not been an easy process.
- See more: Why we need a trauma-informed response for women experiencing alcohol addiction
- See more: I pull my own hair out as a post-traumatic response - and now I've made peace with it
I have a friend who was raped in 2019 and is struggling with post-traumatic symptoms. Her symptoms are closely related to my own but her triggers are different. She suffers from panic attacks which started once a day and have now decreased in frequency to occurring once a week. I have not yet experienced a panic attack, but we all cope with trauma differently. Another friend of mine lost a close family member in 2019 and is still recovering from the trauma, taking two types of medication a day.
As time progresses, these symptoms can worsen or improve depending on many variables in recovery. Having therapy can greatly influence the recovery of an individual with PTSD. I have found keeping a journal helpful to rationalise my thoughts, gleaning more self-awareness. For me, building on the understanding that some of my thoughts are temporary and intrusive has aided my recovery. I am not yet where I need to be, but I have already come so far from where I began. My symptoms are improving with therapy and a great support network around me.
It is important to know that you are not alone, although living with PTSD can be an incredibly lonely experience. Millions of people are suffering with PTSD all over the world, some are aware of it and some are not. There are some great resources online for those suffering with PTSD, and local organisations that specialise in the area. PTSD can be treated and in most cases managed. And above all, there is no shame in having PTSD or any other mental illness.
It can be a dark and distressing time. It can put a strain on many aspects of your life but with access to the right support, your distress levels and symptoms can lessen. Seeking the right help is the most necessary step in recovery.
- See more from this author: Narcissism - mental health care approaches: a podcast interview
- See more from this author: Heartbreak with borderline personality disorder - and how to deal with it
For more information and resources on post-traumatic disorders, see Mental Health Today's 'Disorders Hub' section on post-traumatic disorders.