On Sunday I awoke from a dream and everything changed. Since then I have barely been able to eat, talking wears me out, even typing these few words is a huge effort. I have done very little work, the meetings I have had to attend require me to fake being myself which, although possible, is exhausting. My usually super fast brain has slowed almost to a standstill and in the middle of sentences I will lose the thread of what I’m saying.
I am irritable and my ability to parent has become vastly depleted. I have become impatient and snap at the littlest thing. At times I become unable to move or speak and my husband has to physically move me and help me with basic tasks. By early afternoon I am exhausted and have to sleep.
It feels like my soul has died. All that’s left is a shell. All that makes me who I am has been enveloped by deadness.
The dream wasn’t even that bad. Nothing dramatically awful happened within it. It involved me being almost physically transported back ten years and spending time with my ex-husband. And now I am broken.
It turns out it probably wasn’t a dream, but rather a flashback. A flashback isn’t a nightmare or a memory, it’s like whatever you are seeing is happening in the present. And the brain and body cannot distinguish between the flashback and reality. So for all intents and purposes, on Sunday I was transported back ten years to spend an hour with my ex-husband. And it has messed up my entire life.
Over a year ago I had a similar incident when I was watching a programme and a violent assault suddenly took place on screen. My brain stopped working on anything but a superficial level for about 6 weeks. This is what I wrote back then.
I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can go for months, over a year without any problems and then, without warning, everything will change. A friend of mine likened it to someone suffering epilepsy, “it’s like you’re walking across a stage and you know that at some point a trap door may open up underneath you, but you don’t know when.” Which is basically what it’s like. The challenge is that PTSD is not socially acceptable. If it’s not a physical illness, it doesn’t really exist for many people.
Reporting of the recent cases of Oscar Pistorius and Ched Evans have often focussed on the perpetrators’ rights to continue with their lives. That justice has been served and regardless of our opinions, we must respect the process. Yet the problem is much greater than individual cases.
What does justice look like for me? My ex-husband has received no court based consequences for what he did to me. And even if he had, at most he would have served two and a half years in prison. The majority of what he did wasn’t even technically illegal. Still, ten years later and I am still coping with the consequences of his choices to hurt me. As are my husband and children.
In many ways punishing him won’t change things for me, the trapdoor will still open underneath me, life will still stop when something unpredictable triggers my PTSD symptoms again. But maybe it would make a difference for the next girl he hurts, maybe it would prevent him having the same access to girls and young women? Maybe it would change the perception of the impact of abuse and rape on the individual?
Regardless, I am still broken. There is this deep pain that simmers below all the symptoms and ways in which the trauma affects me; that I will always be broken. That no matter how many years pass, who I am or what I do; I will still be broken. And don’t feel you need to rush to reassure me that I’m not broken. Because to do so denies the impact of abuse and rape. It breaks people forever. It smashes and breaks people in a way that cannot be repaired.
In the least awful parts of this week I have some confidence that things will improve. That I will become myself again. In the darkest minutes and hours, I wonder if this time the damage will be permanent, if this will be the time when I lose myself forever. I am going to have a session of something called the Rewind Technique this afternoon, which will hopefully sort some of this out and repair the damage that has been done to my brain by the flashback.
I know I should write something to complete this piece, to bring it to a close, but my brain has shut down again. So I’ll leave it here for now.