Illness

PTSD vs. Trauma, and How I Sleep

Olivia Epley

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!

Latest posts by Olivia Epley (see all)

Trauma, trauma, trauma. I talk all of the time about it. Why does it seem like all of the trauma happens to me, while (for example) my mother has never developed PTSD, despite both having traumatizing things happen to us? The answer is in what the first psychiatrist who ever treated me, said. He was a head of the adolescent program at a local hospital that I was a patient at, and one of his first analyses was an analogy that went like this: I am like a burn victim who is walking around in open air. I have PTSD (am “burned”) by specific events, but as a result, I am extremely sensitive to emotional stimulation.

Some people are just like this. That being said, many aren’t. “Resilience factors” such as biological influences and upbringing play a role in whether or not a traumatic event turns into PTSD. Whatever the likelihood, around 8% of adults will experience PTSD in their lifetime. The rate is higher for women.

For example, this summer I was under the impression that someone I loved was being abused. I had good reason to believe it, if I just listened to the words of the person himself. Most people would have been able to look at the larger picture, I think, and decide that the likelihood of this specific kind of abuse was low. In fact, most would have been skeptical of this person from the get go. But because of my specific sensitivities, I was easily manipulated and spent the summer thinking that someone I loved was in danger, which is a main criterion for PTSD. I experienced constant terror, another criterion.

Me, last summer. The trauma greatly exacerbated my eating disorder.

My therapist now has an analogy for this that I really enjoy. Say you spend a year of your life being pushed down in hallways every day. Every day you wake up and spend your day being shoved and pushed and barreled over in hallways. A year of this later, and you’re walking down a hallway. Someone lightly brushes past you. You may well freak out on this person. How dare you touch me, stop touching me, oww, that really hurt! You are remembering the times you were genuinely hit, but reality is much more benign.

I have all kinds of reactions from this summer that I can’t shake. I cry nearly every night about the experience. There’s music I can’t listen to, there are places I can’t go, things I can’t eat. I’m angry and sorrowful and despairing whenever I think about it. I’m utterly traumatized. They say that the second year is the hardest and, a year later, I’m really feeling it. That’s trauma, baby!

So yeah, I’m a changed person due to the trauma I’ve experienced. Here’s an example of this.

As is common in survivors of sexual abuse and assault, I’m hypersexualized since what happened (sorry mom!). I wear that label in my outfit, words, behavior, and various partners, more over the couple of years than I care to admit, more than prim middle school Olivia would have ever found acceptable. She didn’t know what was coming her way, in many respects. I’ve changed a lot.

I know that the shift in personality has been hard for some of my friends and family. I hated even the insinuation of sex existing in middle school. I rebuffed anything but a kiss in my prior boyfriends. Discussion of bodies made me deeply uncomfortable. Now, I’m almost always the most experienced in the room, and I never know how to say “this isn’t my real personality, it’s because of what happened, I wish I could stop, too.”

I am writing this because what I initially wanted to write was more along the lines of “I can’t fall asleep at night, I just cry until I doze off and hear him screaming !help me!” but that’s not much of an article. I want to spend time sharing my daily experience with you all, because mental illness (particularly PTSD) is ongoing, and it’s been a bit foolish of me to pretend it’s all gone. Obviously, it isn’t. To pretend I’m all better, I’m starting to understand, does a disservice to those who are looking for the authentic mentally ill experience. If I can talk about current events while maintaining the inner wisdom I’ve accrued, I’m golden.

I hope you found this helpful.

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