Since I started blogging I have devoted more than a handful of blogs to mental illness. I’ve been clinically depressed since I was 11 so I have plenty of firsthand experience to bring to the table. It is also through that experience that I whole heartedly believe that the stigma that surrounds mental illness has to go. It’s misleading and detrimental. I have a chemical imbalance, I treat it and I feel no shame about that. I’m perfectly comfortable taking about depression and answering people’s questions.
But lately I have been feeling ashamed. Not about my depression, but about something else. My grandmother was a nurse during WWII and during the Battle of the Bulge she cut her hand. It wasn’t a big deal. She wrapped a bandage around it and kept on working. However, because she was injured while deployed in a war zone, she was awarded the Purple Heart. She hated that medal so much, she gave it away at her first opportunity. The reason, she thought that it was absolutely asinine that she had been given the same award as boys she sent home with missing limbs. With burns over 50 percent of their bodies. In other words, her cut hand warranted the same award as a grievously injured soldier. She was ashamed of it.
I guess this apple didn’t fall far from that tree, because my shame has been coming from very much the same source. I’ve been struggling all year, but it was only recently that a doctor put two and two together and diagnosed me with PTSD. My first reaction was that was ridiculous. I’ve never been to war, I’ve never been in a life threatening situation, so how in the world could I possibly have PTSD? In my mind, I hadn’t been through enough to warrant that diagnosis. I felt ashamed that I had usurped the condition of Veterans and survivors. I felt like a fake.
So I got a second opinion and the same diagnosis. That’s when I started to look at my symptoms and had to admit to myself that despite the lack of something horrifically traumatic in my life recently, I have PTSD. The horrible anxiety and weekly if not daily panic attacks should have been a clue. The crippling nightmares that I wake up from thrashing and crying, should have been a clue. The insanely vivid and realistic dreams that I can’t escape from and wake up in the morning sore from tensing my muscles all night, should have been a clue. The constant debilitating exhaustion, yet fear of falling asleep should have been a clue. The waves of feeling like an empty broken shell that hit me out of nowhere, should have been a clue.
But I felt ashamed that I was breaking down like this because of the death of my aunt. That didn’t seem like a good enough reason. People experience death all the time. Yes, it was tragic and it was sudden, but I got to say goodbye. I got to give her one last hug and tell her that I love her, will always love her. That’s more than I got with any other family member I’ve lost. And that my friends, is where my trauma comes from. Amongst other things, between the ages of eight and twenty, I lost seven family members. The seventh being my mother. Needless to say the majority of the emotions associated with all of that loss was buried instead of dealt with. So when my aunt died, the dam broke and in essence so did I.
I am not a veteran and I have never been in a war zone, but I have PTSD. They say the first step to recovery is admitting what’s wrong. So I admit it, and I’m not going to feel ashamed about it anymore.