Sometimes all it takes for a person who is suffering to reach out for help is to see the face of someone they can identify with. By doing something you already do, nearly every day, you can help make that happen. Let me explain.
Right now, if a person uses an online search engine (Google, Bing) to search “PTSD”, he or she will be directed, almost exclusively, to sites offering information on veterans of war. An image search will lead you to believe only men in uniform get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What’s troubling is that if that person searching is not a veteran, instead a survivor of a different kind of trauma, and is looking for information or face to identify with, she is possibly left feeling even more isolated and defeated.
If “women and PTSD” is searched, one is left believing a female with PTSD is in a constant state of falling apart.
That is another misrepresentation. Those who suffer with PTSD usually do so while raising children, working 9 to 5 and/or taking care of necessary day to day tasks.
Survivors are professionals at looking “normal” on the outside.
Anyone who goes searching for help deserves to see images that look like PTSD in the real world – faces of moms, dads, children, teachers, social workers, cashiers, nurses, etc. They need to see the real #FacesOfPTSD. Faces that look like mine.
What is the #FacesOfPTSD campaign?
#FacesOfPTSD is a social media campaign that will run May 24, 2017-May 31, 2017.
If you identify as having PTSD, share your picture on social media, along with the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD.
To alter the current landscape of social media and search engines (Google, Bing) to include all trauma survivors, particularly women who are rarely represented, in order to reflect more accurately the #FacesOfPTSD.
If only one of these images ends up on the first page of search engines, then this will have been a success!!
It’s important to accurately represent the thousands of women and men living day to day, while doing the best they can to manage flashbacks, constant triggers and the debilitating medical and mental health effects of this disorder. It’s time to recognize the many #FacesOfPTSD.
In any given moment, I have to make a decision that you will learn from. I have to pull from a very dry well of parental guidance. I have to fight the urge to react to my initial responses to you, more often than I would like to admit.
When Hasty reached out to me, asking if I would like to write a post for her relationship series, I was excited to be a part it. And then my nerves kicked in. I had been thinking a lot about how being a survivor of childhood abuse has affected my relationship with my children, especially my daughter, and knew that was the relationship I wanted to focus on. It was difficult to be true to authentically evaluating our relationship, and avoid sugar-coating the tough spots. Fear of judgment with this piece and negative self talk was the most difficult space to crawl out of in order to write this. But I did it. And I can only hope others can relate, and feel a sense of relief knowing they are not alone in raising their children, while re-raising themselves.
With the release of the Trigger Points Anthology today, I am a bit overcome with pride, grief, elation and a touch of fear. I’m reflecting on the past year working with Joyelle to create the anthology, and all the blood, sweat, tears and energy that went in to this. I’m thinking about this powerful tool that we and the writers have created, and the possibility that it can change lives. And honestly, I’m fighting the urge to crawl under my blankets and hide from all of it.
My desire for invisibility started on Monday night, after I met with a local arts group board members, in hopes that they will host a book signing for me. I knew I would have to speak, but I prepared nothing. I spoke off the cuff and actually did very well.
But here’s the thing, I have never said the words “I am a sexual abuse survivor” to anyone outside of my therapist and those I am close to. My voice cracked a bit but I would not let myself break eye contact with the people sitting around the table. I kept my composure and talked openly about my experiences as a parent survivor and the book. When I got home, I felt like a wet noodle. Every part of my being was exhausted. It’s amazing to me the energy it took to say those six little words out loud.
I can’t and I won’t hide though. I’m going to sit with my emotions today. I’m going to remind myself that I deserve to feel pride and that the fear I am experiencing is a result of the false beliefs I have carried with me for too long–I am not broken, I have a right to tell my story and there are others out there that need to hear it.
The other part of my frayed nerves is due to an essay I wrote, published today on Hasty Word’s blog for her Relationships are Hard series. It’s a letter to my daughter in regards to the struggles I face and the worries I have because I parent her with trauma on my back. It’s raw, it’s honest and it’s not easy to speak about, but necessary.
This is the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and my recovery. I have so much gratitude in my heart for those that have helped me get to this place; my co-editor Joyelle, my husband, my sister and my friends all allowed me the space to talk about something that isn’t always easy to hear, and then championed me through out this journey.
To them and my followers who have written so many inspirational and personal comments and messages to me… Cheers!
And to all the brave survivors out there working to create a healthy life for yourself and your children…you are my heroes.
The Trigger Points Anthology is now available through Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle versions. I hope that you will check it out, read the inspiring reviews and add it to your own library. If you would like to purchase a copy, click here!
Joyelle and Dawn are survivors of childhood abuse working to break the cycle for their own families. Raising children as an abuse survivor is often a lonely and isolating experience, as the triggers and flashbacks of abuse can be hard for non-survivors to understand. When they were looking for stories of how other survivors coped, and couldn’t find any, they decided that something needed to change.
Together they started an online community specifically for parent survivors, and started collecting essays to create the Trigger Points Anthology. A book where survivors of all forms of childhood abuse could talk about what it is like to be a parent when your own childhood was so traumatic.
Parenting when you experienced childhood abuse often feels like walking back into a war zone as a soldier with PTSD. There are flashbacks and triggers everywhere, and most parents are completely blindsided by them because no…
If I see one more “spiritual” meme about forgiveness come through my Facebook feed, I just may start flipping the bird to random people. Encouragements to forgive irritate me.
Our culture is caught up in the idea that forgiveness is a soul cleansing act that will graciously lead you to recovery. The forgiveness rhetoric is so heavily associated with moving forward and the idea that it will rescue you from harboring ill will. I don’t buy it.
When things don’t sit right with me, it can have a physical effect. My gut is far wiser than my brain or my heart. It doesn’t seem to be as gullible. As I get older, I tend to let my gut lead more. My tendency to do so pushed me away from the forgiveness gospel. No part of exploring the idea of forgiveness felt good on me. It actually cheapened the outrage I have learned to tap in to and made me feel smaller.
Given the extent to which I have been doused with dysfunction and used for another person’s gain, I’m not so sure I am wired to accept that belief. Furthermore, I think it’s a little bit of bullshit that any person that has had their body and mind violated against should be advised or expected to forgive the perpetrator. The socially accepted voice that tells me I need to forgive to obtain closure is righteous and lacks empathy. Learning that has brought me more closure than any failed attempt at forgiveness.
I could not, and still cannot, wrap my head around telling someone that willingly made a wrong and somewhat lethal choice, over and over again, that I forgive them. For me, telling the man that abused me for eight years of my young life, “I forgive you” is telling myself “it’s ok”. As in, oh don’t worry about, no big deal, I’ll survive. It’s not ok. People say when you forgive, you can let go. Let go of what? Let go of any part of my story and ignore how I have had to adapt because of it? No thanks. I’ll hold on to that.
I call bullshit. A “strong” person is one who has found the courage to scrape off the layers of shit and shame abuse glues to you. The film that needs to be peeled back and eventually removed is a lifetimes worth of work. For me, forgiveness just doesn’t have a place in that battle.
November 18th, 1995, 18 years ago today, I boarded a plane in Atlanta by myself. I was finally getting away from the abuse. However, it took me years of on again/off again therapy and just simple time to finally free me of it. Perhaps that is still a work in progress.
At 14, I was handed a plane ticket and told I was going to live with my Mom and sister in NY. I was so conflicted. I was finally getting what I had always wanted, which was to be with my Mom, but at the cost of leaving everything and everyone I ever knew. As an adult now, I see this decision for what it really was. It was the coward’s choice. It was easier to send me away than admit and deal with the now exposed fact that for the last eight years of my life, I had been sexually abused by a family member, a man that was supposed to be my main protector. That choice taught me that I wasn’t worth fighting for.
Since becoming mature enough to understand the significance of that move in my life, I have dubbed today my re-birthday. This year I’m choosing to celebrate big. I’m choosing to unload the weight this secret has put on me. I know a lot of people will ask why tell such a secret? I tell it because secrets that hurt people aren’t supposed to be kept. This particular secret is hurting me. This shameful secret is a cancer on my spirit and it’s just finally time to let it go.
I’m tired of whispering about it. I’m tired of the misconception that what happened to me is rare. I am the statistical 1 in 3. Let that sink in for a minute. 1 in freakin’ 3. I’m tired of not acknowledging that being sexually abused has effected almost every aspect of my being including being a Mom. I’m tired of making sure the spine of my survivor self help books are not showing to ensure my company does not suspect I am damaged goods. I’m tired of this being the one subject that I won’t talk about.
People that could ignite a conversation about this are not seeing ignoring the correlation between sexual abuse and addiction, self harm, psychiatric disorders and generational dysfunction. Between working in the field of mental health, and personal relationships, I have witnessed the common thread. I would dare say at least half of the “mental health patients” I work with have a history of being sexually assaulted. It is no coincidence that survivirs rotate through the broken mental health system.
At 32, I have learned how to mourn the girl I was at birth. I’ll never truly know her because the abuse killed any chance of her becoming who she would have been, in a sense, it killed her. I can’t say I’ll ever be “ok” with that but I have made progress on making peace with it. Being sexually abused at six years old, and for such a long time after that, created grooves in my brain that were never suppose to be there. It caused my system to go haywire at an age that I wasn’t able to process it being any thing other than normal. It created confusion and a lack of understanding of what safety, love, self worth, and healthy sexuality is supposed to be. Becoming a teenager only heightened everything and the residual affects of my child hood abuse led me down one too many dangerous paths. It poisoned me with shame, fear, anger and a lack of self worth that has lingered for far too long.
The abuse made me not who I am but how I am. Who I am is more than the parts of what happened to me. Figuring that piece out allowed me to make the transition from victim to survivor. Letting it all go has been the hard part.
For today, I will celebrate…maybe even get crazy and bake a cake. I will recognize the blessing that was that horrible, poor decision made 18 years ago today. I will let myself acknowledge the hell I went through and recognize the woman I have become, only in part, because of it.
My truth about struggling with depression and being a mom is not pretty. It’s not a feel good story. It’s a story that continues to evolve.
My depression started at a young age. As a child, I was exposed to a type of environment where my predisposed genes didn’t have a fighting chance to stay hidden. I was never put in treatment and I don’t believe it was even recognized by the adults around me. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens/early 20’s that even I recognized it.
My depression was masked a lot in my 20’s by numbing myself with alcohol. A shitty day just meant I really needed to get drunk. If I look back at my 20’s, I was a damn good functioning alcoholic that balanced school, work and partying quite well. Until I didn’t.
Around my mid to late 20’s, the effects of the depression became harder and harder to bury or ignore. It was like anything in life, you can only bury your demons for so long and then boom. I started to have bad weeks instead of days. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, including myself. I finally gave in and began taking an anti-depressant in conjunction with psychotherapy. It worked for the time being.
I began working in the field of mental health after graduating college. Do what you know right? Being the one who evaluated countless people in the ER, I knew the lingo and the symptoms that usually led to an admission on the mental health unit, a place where I also worked. This created so much internal conflict for me. I loved what I did and was good at it because I could truly empathize. But it also created a lot of fear in regards to dealing with my own struggles. I couldn’t even be completely honest with my therapist because I was scared that if I admitted to certain things such as having suicidal thoughts and any sort of plan, I would be seen as a safety risk. I couldn’t let myself fall in to the broken mental health system, even as broken as I was. So I continued to work harder at dancing around my symptoms instead of trudging through the heartache of admitting to myself or even a professional what was really going on in my own head.
I was so angry. I lashed out at complete strangers. I fell apart over spilled milk. My work became impossible because everything triggered me. The individual’s stories became too difficult to hear and I was no longer helping anyone, especially myself. I literally fell to pieces. I thankfully had a primary care doctor at the time that was more than just a normal doctor. I trusted her so I went to her office in the middle of the day during work. I could not pull myself together and I didn’t really have an explanation as to why. She took me out of work for the next few days. I called my husband, scared to death what he would think and say. He, being the man that he is, told me not to worry about anything and to just take care of myself. I went home and went to bed. I didn’t get up for three days. When I did I felt better but knew I was right back where I had been before. It was time to start taking medication again and get back in to therapy.
Shortly after that, at the age of 27, I got pregnant. Although I wasn’t a lover of being pregnant, I have to say I was never happier. The boost of hormones were fabulous and I felt great. And then the third trimester happened. I plummeted. I hated myself because how could I be so awfully sad about and ungrateful for the life inside me. I hated that I hated myself. I felt bad for feeling bad.
After my daughter was born, I had the normal baby blues but thankfully it passed and within a few weeks I had fallen in love with my little girl. But then something flipped that switch. The switch that I have learned I have no control over. I became numb, her needs became overwhelming. I became an auto pilot mom. I did what I needed to do but that was about it. This wasn’t the normal, over tired, overwhelmed, new mom effect. This was joyless motions. It was feeling like a failure with every action. This was irrational. I can remember thinking what a piece of shit I was that I wasn’t happy about my beautiful life. To me, at that time, nothing was beautiful.
I reached a point where suicide seemed like a valid solution. I was just existing anyway. I wasn’t bringing anything good to the world around me, including the people in it, so what was the fucking point. I cried so hard when no one was looking. I couldn’t look in mirrors because I hated what I saw. It is a scary and very lonely place to be. I felt like I was different than every person/woman/mom around me. I didn’t dare admit to having suicidal thoughts to anyone, even my husband. What kind of mother or wife am I if I admit to feeling like I need to leave him and my children.
I don’t know how I got through that particular rough patch if I am being honest. But time went on and I survived. My relationship had good days and bad days. On the bad days, I just knew my husband was going to leave me and I didn’t blame him. Who wants to live with someone that can’t seem to get her shit together and falls apart or blows up when the wind blows to the east. I tried so hard. I would take medicine for a while, stabilize and then go off of it because I felt like I had it under control. Which is madness in itself. I was the one encouraging people to take their meds with over used scripts like “if you had diabetes you wouldn’t not take your meds, well depression is no different”. I was actually fighting everyone elses battles, with a vengeance, to help erase their pain and the stigma of living with a mental illness, but yet couldn’t take my own advice.
After my second child was born, I was on a high fueled with love and what felt like a completion of my family. I chose not to take medicine with both of my pregnancies and have yet to go back on them since having my son, who is now 15 mths old. I’m starting to feel the need and see the signs again. I hate it. I hate that I need a pill to be of sound mind but I’ve ridden this roller coaster long enough to know how dangerous it can be with out it.
It seems like my depression has gotten more intense after each of my children have been born. I don’t know why. Maybe it is the added stress or the changes to my body’s chemistry. Even though I am able to recognize that funk that seems to cling to me when I am sliding down hill, I can’t prevent it. I have days where I busy the kids with some sort of something so that I can cry in another room where they don’t see me and ask questions. I feel so unworthy of my children’s forgiving love some days.
It’s not everyday or even every other week but I still have times when I question why I should continue with this misery. It is insanely disabling to be in a place where you believe in your heart that a life without a Mom is better than a life with a Mom like me. I say that with tears in my eyes because I know the damage of both. My Mom was in and out of my life because of her mental illness and when she finally got on a healthier path mentally, she died of a physical illness.
People that say suicide is selfish are right. It is. However, for the person contemplating it or living with pain so great that it is seen as a reasonal option, it feels as if it is more of a gift. A blessing to others. Because now the people surrounding you no longer have to feel the effects of your broken being. This has been my truth for so long.
I would like to say that I have overcome and gotten through the worst of it, but I know better now. I have; however, come to terms with what this debilitating disease is capable of and am much more likely to ask for help when I need it. One of the best things a therapist ever said to me was to question whether or not how I am feeling is rational. If I can’t explain why I am feeling so sad or angry or worthless then it’s time to take better care of myself. And that doesn’t mean a day at the spa. I fucking hate it when people say “well make sure you are taking time for yourself. Go get a massage”. That is a band aid and if you suggest it you need to better educate yourself. Taking better care of myself really means to admit to myself and those closest around me that I need an ear, support, a break, compassion and/or a shoulder.
There are all these stigmas attached to women with children that admit to having depression. A big part of that is because of what is portrayed in the media but also because of the lack of education around mental illness as a whole. So here, let me clear up a few. No, I have never had thoughts to hurt my children (in a psychosis kind of way). Yes, I am fit to raise my children, even on a bad day. Yes, my kids friends are safe at my house, I have depression, I’m not neglectful. Please don’t ask me how I am doing with a sad, overly concerned look on your face. I know what you are really asking and it’s condescending and annoying. No I don’t “check out” on my kids. I may not be the lively, playful mother every day of the week but I’m not hiding in my room while they run loose and mold themselves in to psychopaths either. Yes, I have bad days that are just that – a bad day. And guess what, I am entitled to those. If I flip someone off or cry over a commercial, it’s more than likely due to my hot head or exceptionally thin skin, not my diagnosis. Yes, I have good days and no, I’m not pretending to be happy. I am a genuinely happy person by nature. And here is a big one. Please take note of this one because it is the worst thing you could ever say to someone like me. Don’t ever assume that a person can “snap out of it”. It’s impossible and you’re being naïve and downright hateful if you think ANYONE would choose to feel the way I have attempted to describe.
Depression looks different to everyone that suffers from it. However, I have learned through personal and professional experience that those that live with it have one thing in common – loneliness. I wish people talked candidly about it. I wish women felt more comfortable and less shame about admitting these type of thoughts and feelings. I just hope that by sharing my story, someone will feel less alone and less shameful.
For me, it’s hard to find the words to convey what it is like to be a Motherless daughter. It means something different at every stage in my life. Hope Edelman wrote in her book “Motherless Daughters” about wanting to shout to everyone that her mom died because it sums up so much of who she is. I get that. The only thing that has impacted me greater than losing my Mom at the age of 15 has been becoming a Mom myself.
Not all of the sadness comes from not having that person who you know above all would answer your call or would have a piece of advice whether or not you want it. My sadness has morphed in to comprehending the absence of time needed to know your mom beyond being your Mom. My Mother was a beautiful kind of chaos. A kind of chaos that rears it’s fury all over my own thoughts, reactions and emotions. I know it’s there…I can feel the connection. I just wish I could see it in her eyes these days. That my daughter could see the common fragile thread that exists between me and the woman that created me so that when she gets older, she’ll be able to not only see but understand and embrace the kind of crazy we share.
My Mother’s battle with mental illness and addictions prevented her version of mothering to be found in any how-to book; however, I still crave to know what her answers would have been to the questions I need to ask her about how I am suppose to mother. It’s unsettling that no matter how dysfunctional or even neglectful your Mother may be, you still love her and want her in your life. She is the first piece of my story and it is the piece I know the least about because of the point in my, and her ,life when I lost her.
No body goes to a school and learns the tricks of the trade on parenting but most have that go-to professor she calls Mom. That’s the void that I live with in my heart. However, I have been blessed with women landing in my life for reasons I am just now starting to really understand. Women that if were asked to gather in a small space, would form a shape that fits perfectly inside the void in my heart left when my Mom died. These women have molded me by offering divinely designed doses of lessons my Mom may or may not have been able to teach me… had she had enough time.
These women, have taken many forms. A sister that cared for me (and still does) when there was no body left to do the job and that understood that her sheer presence in my life was a matter of tipping the scales towards history NOT repeating itself. A teacher who created lesson plans out of thin air just so she could carry me under her wing for a little while longer. A co-worker and friend that gave me a glimpse of what recovery could have looked like for my own Mother and shared her many lessons learned along the way. A coach that hugged me and then told me to get up when I fell and try harder. A friend that no matter how dark or mundane it gets, has the power to raise me up and keep me laughing. A boss that didn’t accept my judgments of people presenting weaker than me and pointed my heart in the right direction to help instead of judge. A college professor that supported my quest to identify a diagnosis that best suited my Mother’s actions and personality. Not one but two single Moms who opened their doors to me when I rebelled the hardest and needed love the most. A soul sister’s Mother who embodied what a Mother should look like and taught me the power of prayer. And a woman, my Mother’s, brother’s daughter, who by no coincidence, I connected with to ensure that I knew I was not alone.
So Mom…I say this to you with a broken but healing heart. I understand why you couldn’t be the one to parent and/or, in the flesh, support me in parenting my own. The only beauty in your departure has been the grace in which these other Moms have and continue to imprint my life. I have grown from a Mother-less daughter to a daughter or many Mothers.