When I was five, my mother had a psychotic break. It started out as little things like peeling off the wallpaper in her rented bedroom and splashing lavender paint all over the walls leaving it uneven and bumpy with the residual wallpaper glue beneath. Then she informed me that we were giving my favorite doll away to an old woman in a nursing home who “needed it more” than me. Finally, she and I packed all my toys into a plastic bag and walked around Brookline giving them away to strangers.
That night she got into an altercation with one of our roommates.
By morning she’d been committed.
I didn’t see my mother for nearly six months.
When I think about my PTSD, I know that this is where it started. On that day when my mom started acting stranger and stranger until she was a stranger. In the months that followed where no one would say anything except that she was “sick”.
No one mentioned the diagnosis Manic Depression. No one explained that she didn’t mean to hurt and scare me and that her brain was wonked. No one told me anything.
Later, when I tried to ask, mom shut me down.
Every single time.
I didn’t know that she was bipolar until I was in high school. And even then, the definition was hazy and unclear. It never occurred to me that I might, someday, get “sick” too.
As a kid, I was always afraid. Afraid of what people would think of me. Afraid that if I told people the truth they wouldn’t like me. Newsflash, they didn’t like me anyway. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of ghosts. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of growing up and getting fat. Afraid of my own shadow. I never really talked about how scared I was. I just forced myself to power through, to be strong, to cope in any way I could.
I coped my not listening.
By sneaking the junk food I wasn’t allowed.
By reading all the books I could get my hands on so I didn’t have to face the reality that I was always afraid. Always. And that I had reason to be.
In fifth grade I was suicidal.
I let it slip and mom put me in therapy for a while.
In eleventh grade, my first boyfriend broke up with me and I entirely lost it. I talked to myself. I grew obsessive. I stalked him. I insisted we have lots of sex even though he didn’t really want to. Even though we were technically broken up. I was manipulative. I was mean. I was scary. I was crazy. I hated myself. I begged my mom to get me help and again she sent me to a therapist for a while. No one mentioned anxiety. No one mentioned PTSD. Drugs were off the table.
I was “just being a teenager”.
I had my daughter at 24. After I brought her home, I sobbed and shook. I had no idea how to take care of a baby. When the intrusive thoughts came, I bottled them up. I told no one. If anyone knew that I was thinking, daily, of hurting myself and my child, they’d hate me. They’d take my baby away.
I was so angry.
I was so scared.
No one helped me.
I had no idea I had postpartum depression? anxiety? psychosis? until I was past the worst of it.
When I was 26 I miscarried and became obsessed with having a second child. When I was 27 my third pregnancy ended in a stillbirth. When I was 29 my son was born. This time, I knew about PPD and saw my doctor right away.
This past winter I had a nervous breakdown. I knew about the depression. I knew about the anxiety. I knew the meds I took didn’t do enough. I often wondered what was wrong with me and why I was so damn broken.
I couldn’t fix the terrifying things in my life that were out of my control. No one was listening to me. Not even me.
I became suicidal.
I sought help.
Now, six months away from hitting bottom, I am so much better. I have an accurate diagnosis of complex ptsd with depression, generalized anxiety disorder, adhd and a few others. We’re treating it proactively. I’m on the right meds. It’s hard. There are days when I am still afraid. Anxiety doesn’t go away. Depression doesn’t go away. None of these things are curable. I have trauma that will never go away.
But I’m okay now.
For the first time in 32 years I am actually mostly okay and that’s a pretty amazing thing.
So, anyone reading this, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. There is help if you’re brave enough to ask for it.