How I Have Handled My Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD

I have to tell you from the start that I am not a doctor or a counselor of any sort, but I am a survivor of many types of abuse. For as long as I can remember, I have been abused. The types of abuse include emotional, mental, physical and sexual. Abuses were reigned on me at the hands of family members, friends, neighbors, and strangers. So as you can see, I have had many kinds of abuse from many different relationships of people.

Of all of the abuse, the hardest for me to handle was at the hands of a Mental Health Nurse. I was seventeen and had been taken away from my family because of a very abusive step-father. I had gone to school, just like every school day, and was summonsed from my class at 9:30 A.M. and was admitted to the King’s Daughters Children’s Hospital by 3:00 P.M. that afternoon, never to return to my family again. You see, back in the 1960’s  there was no such thing as Foster Care for abused children. As I was not yet eighteen, I was admitted to the children’s hospital. This was in the beginning of April 1969 and I was not discharged until the end of May that next month.

I had been babysitting for the nurse every weekend since the 2nd of January of that year when I met her at school. The regular school nurse was absent on that day. The only day that she had been absent since I started doing clinic for one of my class bells at the beginning of the school year 1968. I had been severely abused by my step-father over the Christmas to New Year’s vacation. This was the first day back to school.

The nurse came in and sat down beside me and started talking to me. Her first statement was, “You look like somebody who….” and went on talking. I was sort of in a trance. It was like she was telling me my experience over the vacation period. When she finished talking, she asked me, “Am I right in what I’m saying?”, to which I answered “Yes.” As no students happened to come in during that class period, she and I talked for the whole bell. Right before the class period was over, she asked me if I babysat and if I would like to babysit for her for her two small daughters. At that time they were five and seven years old. As I always jumped at a chance to be away from my house, I said yes, that I would love to.

As I was in the hospital, the nurse lost her weekend babysitter. She took the girls back to the babysitter they had had before I started babysitting for them. She had left the lady because the lady was getting up in years and the nurse felt it was in the best interest of both the lady and the girls.

The nurse was a Mental Health Nurse with Public Health during the week and a regular Registered Nurse on the weekends. By doing this she was able to keep her RN license up to date on her continuing education with the new advances in the medical field. Since the nurse worked at Public Health and the psychiatrist was also with Public Health for the school system, she was able to get permission from him to have me released into her car on the weekends. The weekend would start at 5:00 P.M. on Friday evening and end at 5:30 P.M. on Sunday evening. This started just two weeks after I was admitted to the hospital. Two weeks after it started, when the nurse was made aware that I would not be allowed to return to my family, she had a talk with her two daughters. She asked them if they would like for me to come to live with them. The girls were ecstatic about the idea. I loved them and they loved me. The nurse told me that she had come to love me like one of her daughters, the only difference was that she hadn’t carried me and given birth to me. So on June 1, 1969 I went to live with them as a live-in- babysitter.

After my discharge from the hospital I had to see the psychiatrist every week. This was only necessary for one month. With the nurse and the psychiatrist both working for the Public Health system, she was able to report to the doctor on my behalf as to how I was doing. I was happy not to have to go, so it didn’t bother me not to see him.

I had been living with the nurse and the girls about six weeks when the youngest one asked her mother, “Mama, if Bonnie is going to live here and she is going to be our big sister, why isn’t she calling you Mama?” The nurse looked at her daughters and then looked at me and back at her daughters. her reply was, “Well, I guess she’s going to have to if she wants to.” Needless to say with all that was happening at my old house, I jumped at the chance for a new life. I thought I was going to live in paradise. Boy, was I ever wrong!

Somewhere around the middle of August, she started sexually abusing me as well. I was in shock. Afterwards I told her, “I thought you were supposed to be helping me, not abusing me too.” Her answer really hurt me to the core. She said, “I,(the nurse) am a Mental Health Nurse, you(talking about me) are a mental health patient. If you EVER tell anybody anything that I have done, I will deny it and they will believe me over you any day of the week. Then you will be committed for the rest of your life, so I wouldn’t try it if I was you.” I remember seeing my Grandfather being taken away. He had hardening of the arteries and had to go to a nursing home. He died there. When you get committed, you die there! With that being the case in my mind, there was no way in hell that I was going to tell on her. I made her out to be a saint. Then I proceeded to bury all the abuse for a period of twenty years.

I was at work, and another employee started to work in the same department that reminded me of the nurse. She had a similar hair do ans similar mannerisms as the nurse. After having to see her every weekday for three weeks, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I attempted suicide. As a result, I was in coronary intensive care for four days not knowing whether I was going to live or die. Obviously, I lived with the only ill effect being an irregular heart beat. I was very lucky.

Now to get to the discussion of the PTSD that I was suffering. When I saw the new employee, and she reminded me so much of the nurse, I couldn’t handle it. My mind was doing flip flops. About the only way that I can describe it is with a short example.

Say you are ten years old and your house burns down. All you are able to save is your favorite baby doll. Now fast forward about twenty years. You are driving down the street when you see a house on fire. Out front of the house you see a little girl around ten years old and she is holding a baby doll. You have to park your car. You start shaking all over and for lack of a better way to describe it, you think you are going crazy. What is actually happening is that you are having a flash back from a traumatic experience that happened way earlier in your life. You had buried it because to remember it was too painful. And up until that point, you had succeeded. But when you came upon the scene at the fire, you just “lost it” and all of the memories of the fire that you were in as a ten year old little girl came flooding back with a vengeance.

Since the flash back is of something that happened in your past, it is called Post(after) Traumatic(the trauma that you suffered) Stress(the feeling that you are having) Disorder(what any mental abnormality is called).

It took me over twenty years in weekly psychological counseling sessions, and monthly psychiatric visits for medication and their management to basically get over it. Meaning that I have finally gotten to the place that I can talk about it, read about other people experiencing the same or similar situations, and see movies and/or television shows about it without falling apart.

You have to make up your mind that you are going to go through the painful memories again, but this time you are not alone. You have someone trained in how to help you to feel the feelings, process the feelings and move on. The key to succeeding in getting better is not giving up because feeling the feelings associated with the memories is too hard and painful. I won’t lie to you. It is damn painful. You just have to want to get over with the bad feelings enough to persevere in overcoming the pain. Trying to do it all alone is not the way to do it. If you try to do it by yourself, you are just setting yourself up for failure and even more bad feelings about yourself.

THE BIGGEST THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT THE ABUSE WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. YOU DID NOT ASK TO BE ABUSED. THE ABUSE WAS FORCED UPON YOU.

Most abusers try to put the blame on their victims and tell their victims that if they tell then (fill in the blanks with what ever you were told) is going to happen either to you or to someone else in your family. I was told that if I ever told what my step-father was doing that he would kill me. He held a knife at my throat and then on another occasion held a gun at my face. In my mind, I knew that if I ever told that HE WOULD KILL ME.

I wrote the following poem about it.

IF  KIDS  DON”T  TELL

If “Kids Don’t Tell”, as has often been said,

That means they close up and hold it inside instead.

Then they life an awful life,

Knowing deep within something isn’t right.

They never seen to fit on anybody’s team.

And they grow up having no self esteem.

For theirs is a life of confusion and pain,

And how from this, can any self-worth be gained.

So they go on like this for many many years,

Always only having heartaches and fears.

And when finally what’s inside, like a volcano does erupt,

This adult/child’s world suddenly turns bottoms up.

So to heartaches and fears gets added shame,

And an even different kind of pain.

There is no way to tell convince these people they have any worth,

For with the volcano of memories came a feeling of being dirtier than dirt.

They go through sleepless nights from the nightmares and dreams.

Life keeps getting harder and harder as they feel they;re parting at the seams.

It’s hard to hear what people say without bursting into tears,

To feel that inner rage and not be overcome by fears.

To think that these people have gone through years of a living hell,

Just because it was true that in many cases “Kids Don’t Tell”.

Bonnie Jean

One Whose Been There

September 23, 1989

 

I hope that the poem helps to let you know that it is never the child’s fault. It is always the adult’s fault.

I will close with one final poem and hope that it will help you as well. This poem I printed out, enlarged it, and then laminated it. Everyday I read the poem for at least five years.

I Have To Resolve Within Myself

I have to resolve within myself

I’ve done all that I can do.

And I really have to believe it

If this period in my life I’m going to get through.

I have to resolve within myself

That life just is not fair.

That the justice system is for the abusers,

Of the victims they are unaware.

I have to resolve within myself

Abusers have no guilt or pain

That nothing in their life has changed

They don’t feel any shame.

I have to resolve within myself

That vengeance or revenge is not mine.

That God will take care of punishing my abusers

But only in His own time.

I have to resolve within myself

There is a way to change my life.

I just have to keep searching

Until I find for me what way is right.

I have to resolve within myself

That to have survived, I have been strong.

And since I survived the worst

With the memories in my life I have to go on.

Mamma Hen

June 15, 1992

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