When I learned I had PTSD, I felt something like relief for finally having a label for the symptoms I had been experiencing since it happened. As much as we- myself, anyone with a mental or physical illness, or really anyone else with a heartbeat- does not want to be stereotyped or stigmatized, having a label provides a title we can offer to anyone who asks why. One can say, when the opportunity arises, “I have PTSD”, without necessarily having to explain why. It saves us from having to talk about the events that still affect us so deeply, which we might not be able to talk about in a coherent or meaningful way, or which could cause us to dissociate or just simply be overwhelming in some circumstances when we open up about it.
I remember when I was talking to my counselor at the time about the experiences I had been having and he pulled out the DSM-IV off the shelf for me to look at. He opened the book to the section about PTSD, and I carefully read the symptoms. Before this, I had been fairly clueless about it, in the sense that it was something that other people could develop, but that I was somehow immune to. I think at this time it had only been a year and a half after it happened, and I was often under the impression that I would just “get over it” or magically overcome it in a span of two years. I would explain how I felt really foggy sometimes, almost like being underwater, or how I had problems concentrating because all I could do was think about what happened. Sometimes, especially in the first few months, I’d lay in bed at night, terrified out of my mind because I felt like I was there, and that I could die too, like they did. These experiences that I would have that I often talked about were things I thought only happened to me, and things I thought would pass quickly. I felt naive looking at the pages of the DSM, like I should’ve known that this was something I now had, that what had happened had impacted me so much. Above all though, I was relieved that all of the symptoms I had been experiencing, were not entirely uncommon reactions and not entirely abnormal reactions to be having. My poor kid-brain was just trying to make sense of something entirely and shockingly un-sensible.
In the following years, I had done a lot of re-experiencing of feelings and thoughts and memories. It had been confirmed more than once that the umbrella term for what I was going through was post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s been six years this May since it happened, and I have bad dreams, my memories are sometimes mixed up, and sometimes I feel afraid for no tangible reason. I can’t always explain to people what my circumstances are, or how it affects me, but I can tell people, if the situation calls for it, that I have PTSD.