PTSD in My 20’s: A New Reality
by Ivy Magruder
When I think of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, I often think about war veterans and the traumatic experiences that they have gone through during war. Because of this, I didn’t think that “normal people” could be diagnosed with PTSD unless they were in something like a car accident, plane crash, bitten by a shark, etc. I always thought that traumatic experiences needed to be something, well, traumatic. I didn’t think a PTSD diagnosis would include anything that I had gone through during my parents’ divorce and beyond.
My parents got divorced when I was about ten years old, or at least that’s when the process started, and from there my life just continued on. I know their divorce legalized in 2014, but it felt like it was over way before then. Leading up to the divorce, my parents were often high. They had been addicts before I was born, and relapsed when my brother and I were just young children. There were many times where my dad would come into our house high, yelling at my mom early in the morning as I hid under my covers, not knowing what was going on. There were a lot of times when my dad yelled, and there was one specific time where I saw him hit my mom in front of our friends and family.
Now, I considered these moments with my dad the most traumatic experiences that I had ever been through, but I never truly believed that they were as bad as I thought because my mom told me otherwise. Whenever I brought up how I felt after these experiences, my mom always brought up her own childhood stories and compared mine to hers saying that mine were not as traumatic as hers, therefore I shouldn’t be affected by what I went through. It wasn’t until I started going to therapy in January of 2021 that I realized she was wrong. It was not just my dad’s actions, but also my mom’s actions that led to my PTSD.
There are times where I’ll be talking to family members, specifically my mom, where my entire body starts to shake, including my voice. If you pay close enough attention, you can hear my voice shaking as I try to speak, and I’m often at a loss for words because I’m so focused on this feeling that my body is presenting throughout.
I experienced similar situations years ago, beginning in 2018, when my depression was at its strongest. I had several panic attacks- many of which resulted from my mom yelling at me. When these would happen, I would fall on the floor and hold my body as it continued to shake. I screamed and cried, and I felt like I couldn’t turn it off. When my mom would hear me, she would yell on the other side of the door to “knock it off”.
My PTSD Diagnosis
As I shared these memories with my therapist, I began to realize why my body had been reacting the way it did when I spoke to my mom. It was reacting in a similar way that other people with PTSD often do. Their body reacts before their mind can or, at least, their body remembers, and their mind can’t. That’s what was happening to me.
I could be talking to my mom about what I had for lunch that day and for some reason my body would just start shaking. I didn’t know why this was happening because I had blocked out a lot of the memories of her yelling at me, but it made perfect sense once I connected the two together. A similar thing happens to me now when men raise their voice around me, or to me. I typically back away, my eyes get big, and I tense up- almost as if I am preparing to protect myself. After talking to my therapist, I know that this is a bodily reaction to the traumatic events of my dad’s actions when I was younger.
Again, it’s still hard for me to consider these memories as traumatic experiences but when I analyzed the way that my body reacts to these people and to the certain locations where these events happened, I understand how my post-traumatic stress disorder had evolved.
I never want to discredit those that have gone through more traumatic experiences, but I must also acknowledge what’s going on in my own body and mind.
My parents’ actions have affected me. I know a lot of people often say that divorce affects children in the long term, but I always thought that never applied to me because I wanted my parents to get a divorce. The situation was so bad that I prayed to a God that I did not believe in for my parents to get a divorce. I felt happier once they got divorced, but now that I reminisce on my past, I understand that, not only did I have a positive reaction, I also had a negative one. A reaction that I did not notice until now but one that I am tackling.
My recovery may look a little bit different than others, but it still involves facing the fears I have- one of them being my mother. She is a trigger for my PTSD and that’s hard. Family is supposed to be around no matter what. They are meant to be a friend who is there for you always, but when that family member triggers a negative bodily reaction in me, I can’t have them be around all the time. For me, I need to slowly trickle in moments with my trigger until I no longer experience what I have experienced in the past. For now, this is my reality. I have PTSD in my 20’s. This is a time when I’m supposed to be chasing my dreams and finding myself, but instead I’m still tackling the trauma leftover from my past.
If you’re reading this today, the one message I want to leave you with is not to discredit what you’ve been through. Do not accept the trauma of others at the expense of your own. Everything you have gone through makes you who you are and makes you stronger. No one should tell you otherwise. You are on your own journey, so do what is best for you in this moment.
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