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Saturday, June 25, 2022

PTSD rewrote me

Izzy Smith reflects on the way in which PTSD affects her life and her identity

TW: This article includes references to suicide, emotional trauma and PTSD.

It is scrawling fragmented, panicked punctuation across the comfortable, rounded phrases in which my personality was inscribed, pouring ink across the chapter headings of who I am, and how I feel, and how I respond to everyday, ordinary challenges.

I incurred my illness by supporting a suicidal friend: walking on eggshells, on landmines, on his fragile, extinguishable life. I learnt to be cautious, to live in suspense. I learnt not to breathe. I had to be perfect, I have to be perfect.

I forget two items on a trip to the launderette, and cry and have to lie down.

The worst night, he said he’d definitely end it, definitely that time, this time he’d keep trying until it worked. His face as he told me “it’s okay”, the moon fracturing, silver, broken by tears, the cold, my hands numb, my feet numb, my mind numb, lungs heaving. “Please no, no, stay for me if not for you.”

Driving home from school after working late, the tears and scary fast breathing overwhelm me, and it’s not safe to go any further. Ending up stranded alone, my parents have to come and pick me up several times. I feel myself become a burden.

For months, my promise of confidentiality went unbroken. My friend, my first priority. My friend, my only concern. I hid myself from him, hid myself from everyone, like I hid the scars in which I exclusively confided some genuine emotion.

A year or more on, I cannot be alone. I cannot engage with my own thoughts. I cling to my friends to try and stop myself being dragged back into the past.

My therapist said EMDR and bioacoustic feedback therapy should help to “scrub out” trauma networks that have built up in my brain. I feel some improvement—perhaps the process has begun of refiling my traumatic memories to the past where they belong. But the first panic attack since therapy tasted of bitter disappointment. I am not yet healed. My pages are not yet clean of vandalism.

C-PTSD rewrote me. If some of the scrawls have been scrubbed out, they haven’t left the original neat text of whom I am untouched beneath them.

The reduced presence of panic, flashbacks, and catastrophising, feels like an absence. I have to get to know myself again. I need to remember: I have learnt from this. I am wiser, and stronger, and better equipped. I have constructive experience, my compassion is better directed, more practically applied, and applied to myself as well. I am an unfamiliar draft, but I am an improved copy.

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