Sarah's Story: My Battle with PTSD and Shame

TRIGGER WARNING: The following passage has messages of PTSD and partner abuse.

If you need support, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or the US Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Written by Sarah Bradley

I sat in the backseat of my parents’ car and watched my college campus grow distant in the rearview mirror. The trunk carried a twin-sized mattress pad, rolled-up wall posters, baskets of toiletries, and all the remaining contents of my dorm. It was only the first semester of my sophomore year, but I would probably never return. Three weeks prior, I had experienced my first panic attack. It arrived unannounced while I sat at my desk, buried in an ethics textbook. As I was reading, an old memory of an explosive and verbally abusive argument between my ex-boyfriend and I suddenly resurfaced.

It was a memory that I didn’t even realize I still had, but my body began to respond to it as if it were happening in real-time. I started hysterically crying and trembling. For about ten minutes, I desperately attempted to regain control of my mind and body.

The second happened during my 10:00 A.M. lecture. I rushed to the bathroom, locked myself into a stall, and curled up on the tile floors until class ended. The third was in the library, then the dining hall, then in bed as I tried to fall asleep.

Eventually, I stopped going to class, slept only an hour or two per night, and stopped leaving my dorm altogether. Shortly after, I was left with no choice but to drop out of school mid-semester.

Once I moved back into my parents’ house, I visited a psychiatrist and was formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The first emotion I felt was shame. Before my diagnosis, I solely associated PTSD with war and military veterans. My trauma, which derived from my previous relationship, felt invalid and stupid in comparison. I was embarrassed to have let a romantic relationship affect my education and mental health so drastically.

I was embarrassed that I was no longer attending school and felt like I had fallen behind my peers. I didn’t want my friends to know what I was going through, so I simply ignored them when they reached out. I even felt embarrassed to speak about my experiences with a counsellor—like she would burst out laughing and tell me I was just being dramatic. The shame I felt definitely hindered my healing process. I resisted help for a while because I didn’t feel I was worthy of it. I lived with a “my struggles aren’t valid because so many people have it worse” attitude. It took time before I allowed myself to receive proper help and distance myself from the stigma attached to any mental illness. The main tools I use for coping are counselling, yoga & meditation. If I experience panic attacks or flashbacks, I try to just embrace it and acknowledge that what I'm experiencing is okay and temporary.

There is no such thing as acceptable and non-acceptable trauma—this is something that I am still trying to teach myself. Your experiences, feelings, and struggles belong to you and cannot be measured or compared. No matter what you are going through, or what you have been through, it deserves to be acknowledged. You are valid.

More writing by Sarah is available on her site! Connect with Sarah on her instagram, too.

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