I've 'umm-ed' and 'ahh-ed' about this post for several months, but it now feels like the right time to share it.
As I have mentioned in a few of my older entries, I have not been well for over a year now. It started with chronic tonsillitis, which was resolved after a tonsillectomy, and then gradually evolved into something less perceptible but equally debilitating. Eventually, about two months ago, my GP was able to put a name to it: PTSD. If you're unfamiliar with the acronym, PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. NHS Choices describes it as follows:
'Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events'
In my opinion, this definition is inadequate. In my case, it is linked with a number of other issues including depression, chronic fatigue, agoraphobia and chronic headaches.
Although I've briefly mentioned the main cause for my poor health on Twitter and Facebook, I realise I have not gone into it here. That has been deliberate, as it was never my intention to use this blog as a confessional but rather for sharing snapshots of my life and hobbies. Lately, I've come to realise that so much has been affected by my deteriorating mental health that it feels dishonest not to explain why I have all but disappeared, both in person and online. Instagram has been the only thing I've really used with any frequency, and that has been more to assist myself in finding some positive aspects in my life rather than any deliberate attempt to socialise.
I guess I should get to the point now, about what it was that caused me to develop PTSD.
It is one word: rape.
In April 2016, I was raped by someone I had a longstanding and wholly dysfunctional semi-relationship with. It wasn't the first time, but it was the first time that I stopped trying to make excuses for his behaviour and began to see it for what it was. I made a report to the police. This was not the first either. However, it was the first one that I proceeded with. The first time, as I say, that I stopped trying to excuse what he had done. I don't want to go into any more specifics than that. It is in the hands of the police and I'm awaiting the charge decision from the CPS. It has been pending for months.
Initially, during all of the interviews and examinations, I was detached from it all. I didn't cry. I wasn't angry. I didn't feel anything towards him. I just felt a strong sense that what happened wasn't right. I am one of those persons, who suppresses her emotions as far as she can. I believe that is what caused me the chronic tonsillitis - it is a longstanding trend with me that I become physically unwell as a result of stress or upset before my mental health takes a hit. I am now in the place where my physical health is being affected by my mental health. Over time, I've come full circle. My emotional reaction to the event was delayed - as is normal, in some cases of trauma - and my mental wellbeing deteriorated gradually over time. I didn't notice my mental health was getting bad, until I was already in a bad place. After a delayed reaction and emotional denial, it is now that I am facing the real battle. As much as I hated tonsillitis, it was so much easier to handle than this fog that is consistently consuming my mind and makes it difficult for me to accomplish anything. I feel nothing for days at a time, and then in a single moment it can change and I completely break down. It is like I have lost control of myself.
To get by right now, I am relying on a high daily dose of Sertraline along with Melatonin (to sleep) and Caffeine (to stay awake). I get out of bed each day because I have a job that by some miracle I am still doing very well at. It is the only thing, or so it feels like, that I have not lost. In the wake of my attack, friends and acquaintances have taken sides as they've heard about what has happened. I am not surprised by this, but it hurts that so many presume to know my testimony without having heard it and dismiss or ignore me as consequence. People I previously considered friends have disappeared from my life without explanation. They either believe my attacker or just don't want to be associated with someone in my position. Again, I am not surprised, but I do wish that those I have known for years would at least speak to me before forming an opinion on a matter they know little to nothing about.
So much of me has been lost through my association with my attacker. That abusive relationship left my reputation in shreds, and led many to develop an inaccurate opinion of me. My inability to deal with the mindgames, along with my natural shyness and social anxiety led me to drink to excess as a form of escape. Both from him, and the demons he awoke in my mind. My low self-esteem and constant need for approval meant I always forgave him and made excuses. It was this that led to my being strangled, beaten and raped in my own bed.
Now I am a different person. Different from the time before the attack. Even more different from the person I was before I met him. I am someone I no longer recognise and never thought I would be.
I struggle to leave the house for anything other than work. I am on edge whenever I leave my flat.
I haven't seen any of the individuals I used to socialise with or visited any of the places I used to frequent in over a year.
I struggle to find motivation to do anything.
It is hard for me to find pleasure in the things I used to enjoy.
I have nothing to look forward to.
And this is all made worse by the fact I see him everywhere I go. Not literally, of course, but in either dreams or in cases of mistaken identity when I dare to go out. Another reason why I try to restrict doing so.
It also feels that I am the accused, guilty until proved innocent, as I have willingly given up my privacy so that the Police can examine every aspect of my life - phone, texts, emails etc - to be sure that I am telling the truth. I am, of course, and have nothing to hide. But in handing over access to every area of my life, it is almost like I continue to be assaulted every day whilst this waiting for a decision drags on. Nothing is 'mine' any more. Everything I send, read or otherwise has been seen or read by another person. Even if it is not relevant to my case. This is so that they can be sure that I have nothing that is relevant in my possession. Don't even get my started on what is and is not relevant in a rape case. If it goes to court, I know full well my private life will be dissected for public consumption. Is that the price for defending my body?
I keep being told that I should get therapy. Despite my GP referring me on three separate occasions, I still haven't received a psychiatric assessment, let alone any kind of therapy. The resources available for women who have been sexually assaulted, in this country, are appalling low in number. The Police have been excellent, but the support resources that are meant to be provided by the NHS? Dire. Underfunded, underresourced with waiting times that do not lend themselves to assisting individuals who aren't at immediate risk. The general social attitude towards sexual abuse survivors is equally shocking. The fact is, no one cares about women like me, unless they are meant to or have something to gain by it. Sexual abuse survivors are social and political prisoners - chess pieces for the "well meaning", but for whom nothing ever improves enough to encompass anything near to a general understanding of the most horrific category of crime.
If there is one thing I have learned, it is that I have no option but to save myself by soldiering on and pretending everything is fine. It is no one's responsibility or job to make sure I am okay. I must find ways to ensure I remain functional, and hope it gets better in time. So far, I am still here and taking baby steps forward. It will be a long journey, I think, before I am ever genuinely okay again.
The reality of living with PTSD is that it is like a half life: the brightness has gone from my life, but the world continues spinning, passing me and others like me, right by. No one notices and no one cares about what living with the reality of my past has reduced me to.
Am I person any more? Or just a statistic?