#Article (Archive)

"Will I Ever Forget?"

Dec 17, 2008, 5:08 AM | Article By: Marilyn Lundberg

"I was kidnapped and raped by two guys when I was fifteen.  I was walking home from classes when they grabbed me and put me in the back of their car.  After driving to an isolated place, the two of them raped me and then left me partly clothed behind some bushes.  At first I could only talk about it as if it had happened to someone else.  I knew in my mind that it had happened to me but there was just no feeling there."

"Then I started having flashes of memories about it.  They would come over me when I didn't expect it.  Sometimes I had nightmares about it.  I would be terrified - suddenly reliving the rape.  I would sort of lose touch with where I was, as if I was just kind of floating alone in a bubble.  It was very frightening and made me feel very tired."

"The rape happened just before Tobaski, and I can't believe that I still feel worried and nervous at that time of the year so many years later.  It is as if I've seen the devil.  I can't relax, can't sleep or eat, and I only want to be alone.  I wonder if I will ever get over it?'

This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It sometimes occurs after a very frightening experience, often when your physical safety has been threatened or you are injured.  It can also happen if you witness someone else being hurt in an upsetting way.  The disorder first came into public awareness during wartime when soldiers began experiencing it after being on the battlefield where they were either hurt themselves or saw other soldiers harmed.  It can also result from other frightening experiences such as a mugging, child abuse, a car accident, or gang violence and other sexual abuse.

People with PTSD often startle easily, jumping at the slightest sound.  They talk of "feeling numb" particularly around people they used to feel very close to.  They are jumpy, easily annoyed, have trouble feeling affectionate, and stop enjoying things they used to look forward to. They often want to avoid strangers or crowds: one person didn't want to go to parties anymore and another stopped going to the mosque..  They want to avoid things that remind them in any way of the incident.  Yearly reminders of the time of year when it happened are difficult.  Their symptoms seem to be worse if the incident was purposely caused by another human being as in a theft, mugging, or rape.

Most people vividly relive the upsetting incident over and over again, in daytime flashes of memory or in nightmares as they sleep. These experiences are called "flashbacks".  Flashbacks may be an image, a sound, or a smell - often triggered by random noises like a door slamming or a car backfiring.  It is as if these people are still stuck in the situation that traumatized them.  Sometimes during a "flashback" the person will actually lose touch with reality and believe that they are actually in the terrifying experience again.

Not everyone who has a frightening and threatening experience develops full-fledged PTSD.  However if it is going to develop, it usually does so within three months of the incident.  The symptoms usually last at least six months and sometimes for years.  It can happen any time in a lifetime, from childhood to old age and occurs somewhat more often in women than in men.  It is often accompanied by depression and substance abuse in an effort to calm down.  Talking to friends, loved ones, and a doctor is often helpful in discharging some of the feelings.  In the west, there are specific kinds of psychotherapy that can help as well as medications.

If you or someone you know has experienced an upsetting "traumatic" event such as this, don't be surprised if you continue to feel numb, nervous, irritable and jumpy for a while.  It does not mean you are "going crazy" but that you are having a reaction to the experience.  "Getting even" will not help; talking as much as you can to sympathetic friends and family will help you not feel so alone. Flashbacks are a normal part of the process, a sign that your mind is trying to digest the experience and file it away in your memory.  Try not to feel ashamed of your reaction; it can happen to anyone who has a "traumatic" enough experience.