Monday, September 27, 2010

~Mental Health Monday Guestblog~

Today's guestblogger is Katie. I am extremely thankful for her willingness to share her story with me and all of you today.

I’ve struggled with whether or not to attach my name to this blog post, not because its likely that someone I might know could recognize me (how many Katies are there in Kansas?), but because what I’m writing about is something I’ve tried to disconnect from, to disown. For a while, I succeeded and it all became someone else’s story, the kind you hear and shake your head at - grateful it wasn’t you, but it’s time that I reclaim what happened to me, own it, and I suppose recounting it all to you is the first step in such a process.

During my sophomore year of college I began seeing a therapist for depressive episodes and anxiety attacks. I was a reluctant patient, unwillingly to disclose much about my feelings or my life; I assume I was pretty hard to treat. Obviously, because I was unwilling to put much into my recovery, I never really felt better. Unwilling to acknowledge my saboteur tendencies, I simply switched therapists. Somewhere around the third session, I told them in so many words that I didn’t think I deserved to be happy because I had ruined the life of an ex-boyfriend, which would always lead to them asking me to describe that relationship. A few sentences later, they would gently ask if he’d ever hit me, and I would adamantly deny it, rapidly shaking my head and shrilly insisting that wasn’t what had happened, not to me.

It was an obvious lie, and everyone in that room knew it. I didn’t know how to explain to them then that even though we’d been broken up for several months, and I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since, daily, I could still hear his voice, low and angry, feel his hands gripping my arms too tightly, see the malice in his eyes, and it wasn’t just memory, it was very real; the abuse was still happening. When it first began in the weeks following what was a genuinely traumatic breakup, I wrongly assumed it was somewhat normal. After all, for the duration of our three-year relationship I had been terrified and trapped. It was just more of the same. I never left my room willingly, save for class and sometimes not even then, and if, on a rare occasion, a friend had managed to bribe or guilt me out of isolation, I’d spend the entire time feeling like a trapped animal, stalked by some unseen but omnipresent predator. The one time I thought saw his truck parked on my college campus, I stood, frozen in fear, for several minutes, staring and shaking. My roommate knocked her desk chair over and suddenly he was there, screaming, throwing objects, threatening me; only he wasn’t, and she was utterly confused and rightfully disconcerted by the way I had curled into a ball, whimpering and whispering placations.

But it didn’t fade, and the longer he was gone, the more intense and frequent those episodes became. Loud noises, particularly the sound of two objects making contact, sent me reeling, as did screaming or arguing. I couldn’t stand being touched, especially not on my neck or face, and certain smells turned me nauseous and panicked. It became an ongoing and losing battle I fought daily to avoid those triggers. At my lowest point, hopeless and exhausted, I wanted to die, convinced it was the only way escape the daily haunting and the “life” I was now barely living. But it did change, I can’t say exactly when or why, it was a gradual process, finding worth in life again, finding ways to reclaim myself; I started talking about it, only to a few people and in a very vague way, but it helped. When faced with a trigger, I fought to remind myself of where I was, who I was with, that I was safe.

I found an amazing relationship with a man who makes me feel loved and protected. I wish I could offer better advice, but I believe that much like the trauma itself and the way it is both internalized and manifested, recovery is an individual process.

Five years later, I’m not fully healed, but I’m confident that the path I’m now on will someday lead to that. Would I have been better off if I had sought professional help? Possibly, and I still may choose to do so, I think now I can finally nod my head in response, and explain what I sometimes see and feel. There’s this assumption that goes along with domestic abuse that leaving the relationship, makes you a strong, empowered woman. I never felt either of those things; I left but those memories, that trauma never left me, and they never will, but I can at least say that now they don’t define me. My past, my mental illness is part of who I am, but not completely, nor will I ever again let it be. There is hope, even if its been ripped from your hands, it is never really out of reach.


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