When I Panic, Where Do I Go?

Trigger Warning: Mental Illness

It is one of the scariest parts of my life to open my eyes and not know where I am.

This is how it usually starts: I panic and I start to breathe heavily. I feel my world close around me, getting smaller and smaller. My head yells, “No, not here. Not now, please no.” Then nothing. My mind is blank.

In what feels like a single blink, I am somewhere else with tears running down my face. Sometimes I have not moved too far, but other times I have to question my surroundings and attempt to figure out how I managed to get from Point A to Point B. For me, only a moment has gone by. If only a moment, then how did I end up somewhere else so quickly?

The panic of not knowing how I get from one place to another has unfortunately been my reality for the last year. I used to not suffer from episodes of mental blankness. I would instead deal with my trauma with recurring nightmares.

Nightmares go like this:

I am inside a checkered box. It swallows me. It’s something out of “Alice and Wonderland.” Then I see him above. Staring at me and mocking me. The box closes and starts to shrink. Smaller. His laughter. Smaller. More laughter. Smaller. Gasp! I’m awake.

Now it is as if the nightmares have taken physical form.

Throughout middle school and high school, I had undergone a series of abuse and traumatic experiences with someone. This person took advantage of me mentally, physically, and sexually for roughly seven years of my life. It was not until my Violence in America course. I finally understood what had fully happened to me and the consequences that come with it. Thinking back to that class, it became painfully obvious: I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Before, I did not know what I was experiencing, that it was PTSD. I genuinely thought something was wrong with me, or that I was relapsing into the depressive episodes I had back in my junior year of high school. It felt different this time, though. I felt fine. I just had an off moment.

For the longest time, I believed my trauma would not turn into a disorder. At least a disorder I could not handle. I was in denial that PTSD would eventually be put on my list of issues that I have.

I shortly realized that “off moments” don’t end in someone sobbing on the ground asking, “How did I get to the floor? Why can’t I remember? What triggered this?”

Unfortunately, what triggers it for me is one of the most positive actions I can take as a survivor of abuse: talking about it.

I remember sitting in a diner with the man who taught the Violence in America course. The man who changed my life is a more accurate description. The two of us sat at a diner, catching up casually over omelets and coffee. It was very surreal. He still had the same booming voice that could be heard from a mile away and the gentle smile of a lifelong friend.

Going through abuse is similar to an out of body experience. For those seven years of my life, I disassociated myself from the person I was. I put that version of me in a box to hide what I was actually going through. It was my coping mechanism.

“Victim” was too scary of a title.

I managed to pretend as if nothing was ever happening. The Violence in America class changed my whole perspective on how I looked at my abuse. I was able to finally acknowledge it in that class. He was the first person I ever felt comfortable telling the whole story to.

“You sat right across from me at my desk and I remember the entire conversation. Unfortunately I was not surprised by the circumstance because so many girls have gone through it,” he said.

I did not want to be a part of the statistic of women who experience some form of abuse. But the similar experiences made me feel less alone. Had it not been for Violence in America, I would have continued to feel ostracized. I would not have been able to have the power to tell my story.

The double-edged sword of opening up kicked in later that day. I was getting dinner with my roommate, and we were talking about our days, my breakfast at the forefront of our conversation. Once my roommate started talking about his day, I felt faint, and tears came to my eyes.

Only a few of my friends have seen a PTSD attack. For the first few months of college, I managed to keep my mental blankness to myself and in the privacy of my own room. I call it “spiraling.” My mind goes completely blank, and I try to find a safe location for when I “come back to Earth,” as I refer to it.

During this particular attack, I remember going back to my room and feeling myself spiral more and more. The last thing I remember before going blank was telling my roommate that he did not need to watch. He still chose to stay with me.

“You sort of froze up, dropped to your knees and started crying. It was crying and then you went silent. You didn’t move for like five minutes,” he said.

I remember feeling his hand rubbing my back, trying to get me to calm down. He kept saying that I was safe. I would then repeat, “I am safe.”

I come off as a very confident and self-assured person, but when it comes to my abuse I am the complete opposite.

A PTSD attack is where I feel the most lonely. I constantly ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?”

What triggers it? To be honest I do not fully understand it.

What I do know is that when I open up, it becomes a tsunami of previous experiences. The inner demons come out, and the protective walls completely wither away. It is that facet of my PTSD attacks that I struggle to contend with most.

I try to stay positive.

More people talk to me about their experiences and feel comfortable because I have been open with them. My Violence in America course has helped me and, more importantly, gave me the tools to help others.

The way my teacher listened to me gave me the understanding of how I should listen to other survivors of abuse.

Friends taught me how to be patient with those I care about in times of hardship.

A positive lens keeps me from getting too frustrated. I deserve to be my own friend once in a while.

Yes, I have PTSD, but I am a person who knows that even with this roadblock, I can continue to live my life. Survivors should not be defined by the disorders that may come with their trauma. Survivors should be recognized for surviving instead.

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