I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve been around these parts.
I want to talk about the most recent development in my life: An official PTSD diagnosis. For many years now, I’ve suspected I suffered from PTSD. The signs were all there. Flashbacks, nightmares, triggers. Lately, however, things have been more tough. For years now, I’ve noticed my docile demeanor change around the holidays. Why? It’s Christmas, after all. Merry and Bright?
Not so much.
What follows is the story of what I believe now to be the origins of my trauma and PTSD. It may not be the first traumatic series of events to occur in my life, but it is, by far, the most potent, even twelve years later.
TW: Sexual harassment, bullying, mention of suicidal ideation
I don’t know why I didn’t realize it until now, but this time of year is deeply traumatic for me. Back in 2009, my grandma died. I was super close to her and her death crushed me. I knew it had been coming for months. It happened on December 3rd, my mom’s birthday. I was in my 7th and final hour of school, study hall, where my teacher got called out of the room. She was gone for a few minutes then came back and called me out of class. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on but as soon as I walked out and saw my parents standing there, I knew. They told me my grandma passed away while my dad and his sisters were singing An Irish Lullaby to her. If I were to die, that would be the way I would wish to close the scene out.
I wish the scene ended there. Oh, to this day, do I. What transpired over the next serval months broke me to pieces.
After my grandma’s funeral, while getting some of her affairs in order, my dad and one of his sisters discovered something that tore my family apart.
It was my first day back at school after the funeral, after getting to school, my guidance counselor pulled me into his office first thing to make sure I was okay. I wasn’t. I melted down into a puddle of tears immediately. He sat and cried with me for an hour.
When I left for school that day, my aunt said she was going to make chicken and rice for us that night. My aunt, a southern woman, always had kickass food, so I was mildly excited. When I got home though, something was wrong. The chicken and rice were in the works, but my aunt was crying into the rice. It turned out, a family member who had been my grandma’s caregiver during the tail end of her life, and also someone I had grown incredibly close to, had stolen tens of thousands of dollars from her. (I’m withholding this person’s name and relation to me or the rest of my family for what I hope are obvious reasons.) It didn’t take long for my family to completely come apart at the seams.
All the while, with my family falling apart, my school life was also not going well. I was being bullied. Bad. So bad that I don’t call it bullying anymore. It was harassment. Up to and including sexual harassment.
There was a rumor going around of a sexual nature about me, the extent of which, I was unaware of until much later. When I ended up piecing it all together a few years back, I was floored at how far it went. Had I known then how far and wide it went (to the ends of the earth isn’t much of an understatement), it would have killed me. Hell, I knew enough then for it to make me want to harm myself. The school’s faculty even indulged. No one stood up for me. No one could be what I needed them to be, and I can’t tell you how close I came to the edge. I was close and no one knew it.
By May, I was looking forward to the end of the year and for a break from this hellstew. Still though, the hits kept on coming. This one, more than anything, still haunts me.
There was a student, a grade below me, who was my tormentor. He was the one sexually harassing me with these rumors. On May the 5th, his harassment turned into assault. In the hallways, he groped me and said “I love you.” As I write that, I freeze. It still hurts. Bad. It’s still raw. What hurts more though, is the fact that I did the right thing and what happened because I did.
I reported it.
I was forced to go back to my Spanish class where we were having a Cinco De Mayo party. I couldn’t keep my head on straight. I was traumatized beyond words. I was bullied for years, but this? This was horrible. I felt like dirt. I couldn’t hold back my tears. No one saw. No one cared to see.
Then, I was called out of the party by the person I reported this all to. She took me to her classroom where my gym teacher was standing with a third person:
She looked at him and told him to apologize. He gave a half-assed apology. Then, she looked at me and told me eight words I will never in my life forget: “Give him a break. His mother just died.”
There it was. I wasn’t seen yet again. I was told to forget it even happened. Better put, I was told to stuff it, and that’s exactly what I did. For more than a decade, the trauma of these six months has been in my body, in my bones, unresolved.
It was a period in my life where all my heroes had fallen. It was a time in my life where my friends were no where to be found. I was dying in front of everyone and not a single soul saw. This period of my life, a time I feel so far removed from nowadays, still controls a large part of me. Over the years, I’ve wondered why I’m such a people pleaser, why I always threw my hands around my parent’s feet while they were trying to get away from an argument. I’ve wondered why I was physically unable to grieve my grandpa’s death a couple years ago.
I think I know now.
I’ve held all this in my bones. Literally.
Now, though, I know. I have a diagnosis. I have tools and a support system now that would have been so foreign to me back then. Still though, it’s early days and the trauma still haunts me. I still have major abandonment issues. I still wait for the other shoe to drop. I still fawn. It’s going to be a long road to healing. But I’m determined to get there.
A year after my grandma died, I was with my aunt in her truck as we pulled away from my grandma’s newly sold house for the last time. As we pulled out of the driveway she said “Well, this ends a chapter. On to the next one.” I took that as my cue. The page turned and my life went on. It got better. The trauma still lingered, it comes back hard this time of year, but that chapter did end.
I hope soon, it will again.
This time, with healing for my body and soul.