It has been almost two years since I was raped, and somehow I am not "over it" yet. I still think about his face (too) often, and I frequently recite the entire day in my head, wishing and hoping there was something I could have done to change the outcome.
It all really comes back to blaming myself, and questioning my own judgment for putting myself in such a vulnerable place 9with such an unworthy and unkind sexual partner). But no matter what I do, and no matter how many times I try to willfully and mentally "change the outcome", at the end of the day, I am stuck with my trauma, my flashbacks, and my triggers; more specifically, I am stuck with PTSD.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event. Experts from WebMD have grouped the symptoms into four distinct categories; reliving, avoiding, increased arousal and negative conditions/mood.
Reliving is just as it sounds, specifics may include flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares. Avoiding is pretty self-explanatory, as well. Victims might avoid certain people, places or events that remind them of the traumatic occurrence in their past, which can lead to isolation and an obvious detachment from the people around them. Increased arousal is dealing with heightened or excessive emotions, including but not limited to affection, difficulty sleeping, irritability, anger and being easily startled. There are also physical symptoms like increased blood pressure/heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea. Negative conditions or mood refers to the feelings of blame, estrangement, and unpleasant memories.
I am familiar with almost every single one of these examples, and unfortunately, so is my fiancé. When you are in an intimate relationship with somebody who struggles with PTSD, it is not just their fight anymore, it is something that both parties must actively be aware of and sensitive towards. It is something that you must continually fight as a team. My sweet and selfless man has never laid a hand on me, or hurt me in any way, yet he has incessantly paid the price for my rapist's actions and fought battles that are completely out of his comfort zone.
Last week, I was reminded of this, yet again.
On a random Monday night, we walked through the front door only to find the patio door wide open, and the bedroom door closed shut. Neither of these things are ordinary, seeing as how we never leave the patio door open when we aren't home, and we generally keep the other doors (inside) open. Immediately, a rush of panic came over me. It felt like the walls were caving in, and at any moment, someone was going to jump out, harm me, take me away or worse.
My fiancé checked the apartment profusely to make sure that there were no intruders, but by that point, it was too late. The damage was already done. My state of mind had already been altered. I had already been triggered.
It isn't that I do not trust my partner or his ability to keep me safe. Quite the opposite actually, I trust him more than anyone to keep me safe. But trusting his strength is no match for the mind monsters that take hold of my brain in a flash-back or situation of increased arousal.
I spent the remainder of the night lying in bed in the fetal position, dazing in and out sleep, and in and out of nightmares. No matter how safe I felt in my partner's arms, I still felt anxiety at the thought of an intruder being in our safe space, my safe space. I barely slept that night, and my fiancé probably slept even less. It astounds me to this day how very gracious he is with me in situations where he has done absolutely nothing wrong. I don't think I will ever feel worthy of a love like that, even though he tries (almost daily) to convince me that I am.
The next day, after speaking to the front office, we found out that a maintenance man had entered our apartment while we were gone, and forgotten to close the patio door. It was all such a simple misunderstanding, but for a victim of PTSD, nothing is ever so simple.
Ever since my rape resurfaced, I have a new set of anxiety-ridden rules to live by that are not at all easy to maintain. I have to leave at least one light on when leaving the apartment (at night), and I leave most of the lights on for the nights that I am sleeping alone. I always power walk (and sometimes run) if I am ever by myself in the dark, because I am habitually convinced that someone is watching me or coming after me. I stare at almost every man I see in grocery stores, gas stations or anywhere else, partially because I am trying to determine their intentions, and also because I want to be able to identify them in a line-up (if something were to happen). I assume that every man I walk past is guilty of something, and if I come across a man who reminds me of my rapist (at any point in time), I will leave immediately. This includes the workplace, the store, a party with friends, or anywhere else in between. My mind and my life seem to constantly revolve around mentally avoiding my rape and the triggers that go along with it. I feel like I will never truly "get over it".
So, to the partners who put up with PTSD, I commend you, and I am in awe of you. For you to so selflessly care for someone who has been so damaged is a blessing in more ways than I could ever say in 1000 words. The people like me who are so scarred and hurt by the world often feel like love is something that they will never be able to obtain. And if they do obtain it, oftentimes, it is something they feel that they will never really deserve.
Love is a gift that not everyone receives in their lifetime, and loving someone with PTSD might not be the ideal gift that most potential partners have in mind. Loving someone with PTSD comes at a very steep price of sleepless nights, unreasonable delusions, strange paranoia, difficulty being "normal", and sometimes even health issues. It is an unfair fight in a war that you might never win. There are good days, and there are completely terrible awful days. But even on the bad days, you somehow feel that your PTSD plagued partner is still worth loving, and that is a beautiful truth that most people will never fully understand.
So thank you for loving the crazies of the world (like myself). Thank you for looking past the breakdowns and the unforgiving mood swings. You are undeniably making the world a better and brighter place by choosing to love the people who are often far from lovable. You are making a difference. You are saying that mental illness cannot stop love. And that is the biggest win of all.