Hilariously, I’ve had my ‘credentials’ as a women’s rights activist called into question on Twitter for the dual crime of mentioning my own PTSD and criticizing Ayaan Hirsi Ali (see my previous blog post). These claims defy belief, but I’ve decided to delve into my experience with trauma in order to illustrate exactly how ridiculous they are.
Here, good people of the Internet, is what it’s like to live with PTSD. For me, at least.
First, allow me to explain to you why I have the diagnosis.
I’m a survivor of attempted rape. The night I was assaulted, I was too traumatized to speak. I remember my ex speaking to me. I remember him insulting me. I remember that he walked off and left me lying there.
I know I thought about walking back into town. But that would have been a walk of some miles, late at night in the middle of an Ohio winter. In any case, it would have been pointless. He had a car and I didn’t. I knew he’d track me down before I could get anywhere near town, or the police.
So I stayed, and I didn’t speak until the next morning.
There’s little I remember about that morning. I can tell you that he came over to my house, to ‘apologize.’ And while I don’t remember what I said in return, I can tell you that I didn’t break up with him. Instead, I tried to compartmentalize what had happened. I decided that I felt ashamed because I’d done something wrong, and that I couldn’t blame him for misunderstanding me.
It did not occur to me for a remarkable number of months that there’s not much room for misunderstanding when a woman tells you ‘no,’ and that he should have stopped the moment he heard it. When he didn’t, he committed a crime. It is a crime I can’t prove, and contrary to what men’s rights activists like to claim, a woman can’t put a man in jail simply on her word alone.
When I was a very young girl, I fell in love with fantasy novels. I still love them, honestly. In some of my favorites, people have the ability to tell truth from lies. I’ve thought of that repeatedly in the years since my assault because despite all my skepticism I wanted that to be real. I’ve wished that it were possible to somehow show a court emotional bruising, have it admitted as evidence of trauma.
But there is little use in wishing for impossible things.
And I discovered there’s also little use in trying to forget something happened. Sooner or later it comes back, even if it’s in your dreams, and when it does you have to reckon with it. It’s taken me years to reckon with it. My strategy has been, until fairly recently, to run. To leave town and move around, repeatedly. Eventually I flew across the ocean and stayed on the other side for as long as I could.
But flight is not an effective solution to trauma. Even there, the past returned to remind me that how utterly I’d failed to actually put it behind me. I still had to reckon with the situation. And when I did, the pieces of my self that I’d left scattered across thousands of miles of earth and water and air settled into place.
I returned to the US, and the town in which I’d been attacked–the town where I tried to forgive my assailant and blame myself instead–and nothing happened. I walked through it on my own and finally, I felt something like peace.
The first nightmare I had after the attack is one of the only dreams I’ve ever remembered on waking. In it, I ran through the tiny town I’d moved to after the assault, trying to escape my ex. When I realized I couldn’t outrun him I headed for the nearest car (which was mysteriously unlocked, because dreams), locked myself inside it and started screaming at him. But the weird thing is–and I remember this distinctly–there was no sound. Not for any of it. I knew I was screaming because I could feel myself doing it but there was not a sound to be heard. Even in my dreams, I was silent.
But I’m no longer silent, and I’m not afraid of very much any more. That means that I won’t tolerate having my experiences with post-traumatic stress mocked by trolls who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than abuse other people.
It seems that some of them believe I discussed this, once, on Twitter for some nefarious political purpose. I can promise you that I have not benefited in the least from having PTSD. I’ve spent several long years in recovery from this traumatic event. And I’m happy to say that my life is very good right now. This is the healthiest I’ve been since the assault; in fact, it’s the first time I’ve been able to say with any confidence that I believe I’ve turned the corner.
So it’s actually quite difficult for me to choose to discuss this. It’s not because I feel ashamed of my experiences. But of everything I’d like to be known for, having post-traumatic stress is not high on the list. It’s one cracked facet of my personhood.
I am not Sarah Jones, who has PTSD. I am Sarah Jones, who finally gets paid to write. I am Sarah Jones, who got to live in Europe for two years.
I am Sarah Jones, who lives.
That’s my experience with PTSD.
I’m sorry you think that’s a reason to harass me. But you’re wasting your time. If you have any reading comprehension skills at all, you’ll know that I’ve already endured worse than you can deal out, and I’ve come out the stronger for it.