March 4, 2017 marks 9 years since I survived the most traumatizing experience of my life.
In previous years, I would assume the gravity of this sentence was enough for others to understand that this is a huge, I-literally-almost-died, kind of deal. It wasn’t until this year that I realized how stigmatized PTSD really is.
Before I get started, I want to emphasize that I am not saying my trauma was more traumatizing than anyone else’s. Trauma is personal. I think we all have some preconceived ideas of what constitutes a “traumatic experience” but that’s just another form of stigma. So let’s just keep it simple: trauma is defined as “any deeply distressing or disturbing experience”.
It doesn’t matter if it seems traumatic to you because it’s not about you.
With that said, trauma can sound pretty subjective but that doesn’t make it any less real. Often, individuals who experience trauma display signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM)-5 specifies PTSD by the following: vivid flashbacks, nightmares, distorted thoughts, hyper-vigilance, difficulties concentrating and sleeping.
Now imagine these symptoms with the traumatic experience of waking up on an ordinary school day and being physically assaulted and assaulted with a knife from your own home. Imagine, years later, being able to recall a brief moment of consciousness in which you discover yourself covered in your own blood. Imagine remembering that you had no chance for fight or flight so you played dead, welcoming the blows and praying that it would be over. Uncomfortable, right?
That is MY traumatic experience.
PTSD is a lot of things but it is NOT an excuse.
- PTSD is still experiencing flashbacks 9 years later.
- PTSD is waking up drenched in sweat because in my dreams, I was back in my childhood bedroom with a knife above my chest.
- PTSD is cringing every time someone says “stab” or any other version of that word.
- PTSD is feeling my heart crash against my chest every time someone thinks it would be funny to scare me.
- PTSD is thinking that even the people closest to me are capable of hurting me.
I wrote this post today because it took me 9 years to realize how real the stigma surrounding PTSD is.
I was shocked when I heard (more than once) that PTSD is a common excuse used in medical school applications & that “if I want to use it, I need to be more explicit”. I should NOT have to provide painful details just to prove I struggle with PTSD.
More importantly, experiencing trauma doesn’t make me any more qualified than the next applicant – it was something I had no control over. What I did control was choosing recovery every single day since March 4, 2008 and that is an experience that cannot be fabricated. Living with PTSD every day is what builds my resiliency, not the trauma itself.
Photo credits: Nasir Zishan Ahmed