Hello! Who are you?
I live in London right now to study neuroscience. I am from another country in Asia and studied physics for a few years there but my mental illness guided me to this career change and I am grateful for that.
I have been estranged from my mother for years, but now I have recovered from the past relationship before the disease. I am single now and became more open to the potential of a relationship recently.
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What is your struggle and when did it start?
I innately have Autism Spectrum Disorder and had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to sexual assault when I was a freshman at University. After the first traumatic episode, I tried to forget it at all because it was too confusing about why the offender did so and what I should do. I succeeded and could forget it for a year.
However, a similar episode happened again after a year and PTSD started off. (Yeah, I heard delayed PTSD can be more severe than a normal one.) I was a very docile person who has never resented before PTSD, but it just changed me entirely.
I started to hate all people in the world because I felt betrayed due to no help from passer-bys in the trauma. I got angry whenever I talked with a man and could not control the anger with auditory hallucinations ordering me to fight them.
I abruptly bursted into anger and insulted my male friends. When they asked me out, my face was distorted with contempt and out of my control. (It is a sort of dissociation, I heard from a psychologist later.) They were embarrassed, but I was embarrassed more. I started to avoid men and the place where I can face many strangers not to get into my uncontrollable anger burst.
Even when my mother touched my shoulder, I felt it was dirty and got angry for her getting me to remind the trauma. I suffered nightmares about getting raped every night and felt somatized heartache and headache. I also thought the reason why SA happened to me was because I look like a pushover. I started to imitate others to break my SA even if I felt empty indeed.
However, I did not know it was PTSD at that time. Because I was a Christian without any psychiatric knowledge, I thought I was being punished by God due to a lack of faith like King Saul in the bible because it was the only similar psychotic symptom that I read in the bible.
Also, I became angry about why God did not protect me. To get forgiveness and healing from God, I attended church more passionately, but the symptoms did not get better, and I got more angry with God. I remember I kept pursuing that strategy for two years after the start of PTSD.
The Christian friends had no psychiatric knowledge at all because in my country, it was not common to get psychiatric treatment and they thought psychiatric treatment is satanic, so they did not give helpful advice, only scolding me about my bad speech and behavior, suggesting me to forgive the offender as said in bible, which was impossible for me at that time. I noticed an increase in anger whenever I went to church, so I stopped religious activity, then.
When I met a non-christian friend, I heard that she is taking psychiatric medicine due to depression and it improved. It was the first time I got to know about mental illness and I went to a psychiatrist.
However, the psychiatrist was a man, so I did not talk about SA as I learned that talking about my trauma to a man gets me unpleasant responses through a few trials with my male friends and professors. I got diagnosed with depression and then bipolar disorder. Anyway, the medicine decreased my suicidal ideation, so it was better to live with. I think I kept taking the medicine for two years.
After two years, there was a feminist trend with the #MeToo movement in my country. From the movement, I could hear stories of other survivors of sexual assault PTSD. After searching about it, I got to know it was the PTSD symptoms that I was suffering from since the sexual assault.
However, treatment for PTSD was not that common at that time in my country, so I did not get special therapy for PTSD. I just read and heard their stories over and over, and I started reading a book about PTSD (I will specify this in the book section).
After graduating from university, I wanted to leave the city where I suffered a lot. I thought it would end if I leave this place which is full of triggers. Thus, I went to another city. It was refreshing and I became free of triggers and symptoms for a while.
However, with the appearance of a trigger which was a male colleague’s simple comment, the same as the offender gave me in the trauma, “Shall we go out for some drink?”, it started again…I cried remembering what the offender did to me and how my friends and family did not take care of me in the hardship. I could not suppress tears even at work, so I wept in the toilet.
Whenever I met men, I could not help but be jealous of them for their superior safety over women. I needed to meet other people who can understand all these weird things. (I will continue this in the turning point section.)
How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?
Before PTSD, I was a bookworm and loved to be alone. Especially I loved every novel. After getting PTSD, I realized that every book include romantic scenes, and I felt somatic pain in my body when I read a conversation between lovers. I could not read any novel anymore.
Even if it does not have the scene, I did not know if it would include it so I could not try it. I had spent my days only reading books before PTSD, so after losing the hobby, I did not know what to do anymore. Also, I became scared of being alone because I had no confidence to handle situations of SA if it occurs again.
Even when I was in my room, I thought some man might penetrate my room, so I became very nervous when I was alone. To avoid being alone, I started to make as many friends as possible. But I could not truly like them. It was weird but I could not trust the people I met after PTSD, but I had no other options, so I met them, suppressing horror and hatred toward them, and before any explosion of emotions, I would block their contact.
I lost all of my friends I made before PTSD due to a dispute over my talk about it, the average period to keep a friend was about a year. They did not understand my PTSD, and I felt betrayed thinking about poverbs 'A friend in need is a friend indeed'. I thought there was no friend indeed among my friends. My personality, hobby, and lifestyle changed, so I felt I did not know who I am anymore. Even my friends and teachers meeting me after PTSD told me that I changed a lot and they liked me before PTSD. I hated hearing that. I myself liked the past either, but there was no option to go back because I was too horrified to keep myself.
I don’t know why but I was always thinking about killing others after PTSD when I was doing nothing. Sometimes, I imagined putting up a fire or a battlefield and shooting others to protect me. Also, I imagined killing the offender recklessly, which cannot come true as I cannot find out the offender due to the removal of his information after the incident. It made me feel triumpant, so I thought it was good for me. Looking back on it now, I think it only strengthened my 'fight or flight response', which is core mechanism of PTSD, but worsened my anxiety.
Actually, I talked about the trauma to everyone I met at first. I was always thinking that as an ASD person, I could not care about others being uncomfortable with talking about it. However, there were no friends and family to understand my situation and feelings. As an ASD person, I was gullible when SA happened, so they could not understand why I fell for the offender's evident lie.
Also, they could not understand why I was holding on to the memory continuously. I felt as if they liked me when I was happy but they abandoned me as I became a burden. I thought it was just the same with the offender who used me for his own merit. It made me despise all of them.
I thought this intense hatred of ‘people who were intimate before trauma’ was because my trauma is related to a lying person, but I found it is a general symptom of any PTSD. I think it is more related to the defense mechanism of the body. I could not feel any sympathy or trust in people.
Before PTSD, my mother was the person the closest to me, but when I said about SA experience and PTSD, she did not consoled me. She just wanted me to let it pass and focus on my study. I felt betrayed by her and after getting to know PTSD, I thought if she emotionally supported me, my symptom would not be this serious and long. I thought the PTSD was partly due to her. I started to fight over it. Whenever I could not put up with the anger, I called and sweared her over and over. After the anger goes away in few hours, I regreted and said sorry but when it is triggered, I could not stop doing it again. After a few years of PTSD this quarrel, I broke the relationship with her. I broke up with all my friends due to feeling betrayed. All of these broke my heart. I thought that if it did not happen, I could have lived not knowing they were traitors. I tried many talk therapy, but I could not trust the therapist either and just wanted to end the session.
Also, some of them could not understand my situation at all. Looking back on it, I think after talking about the trauma, the person I talked about it with also became a trigger of PTSD, and it made me uncomfortable to be with them too.
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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?
Right after knowing that my illness is PTSD, I started to read a book about PTSD as my past hobby was reading a book. I read many books about PTSD, and some of their anecdotes triggered my trauma, but they let me know I am not alone to suffer these symptoms.
Also, I tried applying the exercises in the workbook, such as setting boundaries for my body and pain exposure. I tried to see romance and erotic movies to get over somatization when seeing skinship. As the book said, I started with a very mild one and go into a full erotic one.
Although it made me keep sober seeing that kind of movie or novel, I still avoid romantic videos and novels if I can. It is unpleasant even after overcoming it. Also, it gave me confidence that I can overcome my hardship by my effort, which I have never experienced even before PTSD.
I tried participating in group counseling with other survivors of sexual assault which I could not try easily because I could not trust strangers easily after the trauma and thought it would break my heart again because even friends and family gave second attack about the trauma. But I felt it was almost mysterious.
I felt as if I am hearing my story from others’ mouths. No friend or family understood my symptoms before then, so it was a very touching moment. I feel like I was a normal human, not a psycho or monster, for the first time after PTSD. It gave me a sense of reality back. Seeing people who are overcoming similar experiences, I could get the confidence to overcome it.
Nevertheless, due to Covid, I could not have a steady meeting with them, I kept contact with them through mobile chatting. I got information that there is a special therapy for PTSD from one of the survivors, so I went to the counselor she recommended me.
I started Pain Exposure therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy with a specialist in PTSD. At first, I was so scared to start talk therapy because I had the memory of failed therapy with a non-specialist in PTSD, but the survivor said it improved her a lot, so I started this. First, PE therapy treated the trauma intensively. Before PE, I thought the trauma became my everything and I cannot help but burst into tears when I say about the episode.
After PE, the trauma became normal memory and I can remember it without getting upset. I think DBT was not that effective for me. I had difficulty getting group counseling with strangers and could not focus on meditation due to intrusive thoughts. After all, the therapy for PTSD redirected me to focus on my goal, not my past and trauma. I could start anew thanks to the therapy.
After getting therapy, I could dream of life after PTSD, but I could not trust anyone yet and had chronic anxiety. I gave up any relationship with others because nobody would entirely understand my PTSD, which was the critical reason of the most of my present traits and decided to live only for my accomplishment without trust toward others to protect me from any harm.
By chance, I found a church that is more accepting of mental illness. I got to know that God was protecting me to let me escape from the offender. It gave me a peaceful mind for the first time after SA.
Later, I read that spiritual recovery, which means going back to a worldview that I felt safe with before PTSD, is crucial in perfect recovery from PTSD. I could forgive my family and friends who did not console me in my struggle, and I could forgive the offender in the end.
It seems impossible but to protect others from his SA, he should become a better person, so I could pray for him. My fear and hatred toward others disappeared now. I feel I became the person I was before PTSD or better than before.
What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?
I think there is a sequence of steps to get recovery from PTSD, as many PTSD books explain. We should accept, soothe the trauma, and get back into life, which cannot be done before doing the previous step.
1. Meeting others in your shoes
In my case, it helped me recover a sense of reality hearing my struggle from others’ voices. Also, seeing others overcoming it stopped me from thinking that it is unsurmountable trouble. In addition, other survivors gave me useful tips and information like good counselors for PTSD.
2. Giving up going back to the state before PTSD
PTSD patients get changed to survive panic and trauma in every aspect of their identity. Missing my past self made me more frustrated and suicidal. Happiness does not have one way. Knowing that I could be happy in other forms and personalities either gave me more relief.
3. Starting therapy for PTSD with a counselor specialized in PTSD
If you don’t have money, try exercises in workbooks for PTSD, but I think meeting a counselor specialized in PTSD therapy is crucial for the success of therapy. I could dream of my life after PTSD because it made my trauma normal memory. It is not my core memory or my everything anymore. I could dream of my life after PTSD again.
4. If you had a religion and took it apart after PTSD, restart religious work
I think it made me feel safe as I felt before PTSD. Chronic anxiety and response to triggers disappeared after this. I also could stop hatred toward others which was strategy to protect myself. I avoided Christians due to the scar they gave to me, but going back to church was essential for my full recovery.
Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?
I talked about my SA and PTSD to everyone whenever I could when I was struggling badly. However, sharing it with men gave me bad memory that they cannot understand why it is a bad thing at all, so I did not share it with men. I don’t think it gave me useful tips or a heart-warming console when I shared it with people who do not have PTSD or knowledge of PTSD.
After recovery, I try to avoid mentioning it unless someone is struggling with the same experience because I now know it only makes them embarrassed and uncomfortable. Especially, in the workplace, I don’t want them to evaluate me for my mental illness and be too ashamed to reveal my weakness.
If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?
The fact that the offender deemed you as a toy does not mean you are a toy. When your symptoms are very bad, you are likely to misunderstand others’ intention and be unable to control your emotions, so I think it is good to take a rest from social interaction for a while.
Don’t indulge in fake victory in your imagination. You didn’t need to win the offender at the incident, but you just need to escape from it. If you succeeded in taking your life from the incident, you did well. Don’t hate yourself for the trauma.
The path to happiness is not a single one. There are many ways to be happy so the impossibility to turn back time before trauma does not mean you can never be happy. You can be happy again. You can trust others again. Don’t lose your hope to survive. Someday, you will be thankful for your past self who did not give up your life.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?
- The Body Remembers by Babett Rothchild: It gives an explanation of PTSD from a biological viewpoint. I could understand my body’s response to triggers. Also, I could practice pain exposure exercises from the book, and it helped me overcome my phobia of men.
- Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman: It describes what is PTSD descriptively and gives how recovery can be done gradually. It was a very accurate book, looking back on my ten years of PTSD recovery.
Is there anything else you think we should have asked you?
It's good to know what I have learned from my mental illnesses.
I think I learned many things from struggling with mental illness. I could be matured with this in a way I could not expect before PTSD. Before PTSD, I dreamed to be a hikikomori just reading books in my room without any social interaction. I was uncomfortable being with others even though I did not hate them (closer to scared to talk with them). Right after the start of PTSD, fear about SA made me courageous in all other things.
I could talk and make a friend with others without hesitation. Also, I could have experienced overcoming my limitation in my effort to recover from PTSD. It gave me confidence that I can do something beyond my current ability.
In addition, by sharing our struggle with other SA PTSD survivors, I felt a bond and gratitude for others I have never felt before because I haven’t been understood PTSD at all for 7 years, feeling like a monster. I want to help other survivors. I am now dreaming to help other mentally-ill patients and SA PTSD survivors with neuroscience research. Now I don’t want to go back to the time before PTSD.
💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I've condensed the information of 100's of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇
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