The Darkest Places: PTSD and Motherhood by Anna Clarke
Do you ever look down and wonder what it would feel like to fall? To leave the carefully constructed glass walls of emotion you find yourself trapped in. Just one tiny step and everything would cease to feel. To exist. Someone asked me once why don’t you just do it? I know why. It’s because of you. Even though nearly every part of me wants to fall, I could never take away your stability, your happiness. You my love, are my constant.
I was 18 when I was raped. I went out for drinks with people that were unfamiliar. He was there. I was drunk but not drunk enough to lose control of myself, my body. I remember waking on my stomach in a dark shed. My ribs pushing into the springs of an old couch, my dress bunched up around my neck. I heard voices but I felt to heavy to move, to make sense of the words. I could hardly breathe under the weight. There were shadows in front of me. I focused on the lines of the walls, silently counting them, over and over becoming fixated on the numbers. I didn’t feel present as he anally raped me. I do not know if the others had already had a turn. I only awoke to him.
It seemed like hours passed before the weight lifted from my chest. They were gone but I still felt heavy. I could see the light shinning through the shed door. I don’t remember how I managed to find my way home. I hid in my room and I did not cry as I cut. Strike after strike until the air filled my chest again. It was only then the tears fell.
A week later I had consensual sex with him. It was the only way I could process what had happened without completely disappearing within myself. I needed to create a new memory. A coping method I had used throughout my life to sugarcoat situations so that I could trick my mind into believing an alternate reality. What had happened was now okay because I was making a choice. My actions on that day were a reflection of my self-worth. I rewarded him for destroying a part of me. It's only now I can confront the fact that I turned a brutal violation into something acceptable, for all involved.
For years I managed to push it to the side, replacing the memory with one of consent. The trauma came out in personality flaws and coping mechanisms but for the most part, I was able to ignore it. If things went wrong or I felt overwhelmed, I would self harm or restrict eating as a way to gain control. I married and had children, placing all my energy into caring for them and building a new identity for myself as a mother. Something I had always wanted to be.
At 28 everything started to change - my only confidant passed, my relationships started to disintegrate and I nearly lost my youngest daughter at birth. I kept pushing through. I was working and studying to keep my mind busy, driven by the constant need to feel a sense of purpose. I was giving everything and everyone all that I had until I had nothing left to give. I had nowhere left to hide and the dark part of me that I had tried to fill with distraction had grown too great. I stopped sleeping, the nightmares intensified and I struggled to find joy in everyday life. I felt disconnected from the safety net of the family life I had worked so hard to create for myself. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I had opened a wound that had needed my attention and healing for a long time.
Some days I can live in the now, but more often than not I feel as though I'm living through the motions. Sexual violence happens to everyday people living everyday lives. everyday women. everyday mothers.
As a mother, I do not get the chance to escape, to turn off for a few minutes and pull myself together. I have no choice but to care for you first and deal with myself second. To protect you from what i could not protect myself from.
My mind is lonely but I am never alone. If I have moments where I can't live for my own happiness, then I can live for yours. I may not always be present in the moment but I promise you I will always stay. To see you smile. To see you grow. To wait for that moment when I know the light shinning through the door isn’t one of fear but of love.
We were very moved by our dear readers' story and followed up with a few questions we had for her that we felt could help others embarking on the path to reaching out for help.
What led you to seek help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Severe Anxiety?
I reached a point where I felt like I was losing myself and it scared me. My children are my world and I knew that if I kept feeling the way I did, then I would not be able to be the parent I always thought I would be. I want their childhood to be full of happy memories and I felt like if i did not do something to help myself then I would derail that. Just the realization of this scared me enough to reach out. I am lucky to have a husband who puts his children above all else and has shielded them from the highs and lows of PTSD. I am also learning that by slowly confiding in the people that I care about, I am surrounded by their unwavering support on my darkest days.
How did you find a therapist?
I had attempted a few times to see a psychologist over the years, although I always pulled out after one or two sessions. I can recognize now that it was a subconscious decision to protect myself from the pain that comes with facing trauma at a stage in my life where I was not emotionally or mentally strong enough to deal with it. My psychologist waited over 3 years for me to walk through her door again, and I am so glad that I eventually got the courage to do so. Her kindness and genuine care for my well being has helped me to see that day by day, life will get a little easier.
How did you feel once you received a diagnosis?
I was referred to a psychiatrist for a formal diagnosis and I remember feeling incredibly lonely as it is not a mental illness that is discussed neither openly or often. Even with the current media headlines, I feel that at times, the daily reality of living with trauma has been silenced and it is hard to find something to relate to that tells the story in its entirety. Everyday is a struggle. I am emotional and difficult to be around at times but I am also proud because for the first time in a very long time, I am not hiding from my fears, my past or myself.