BADD: Out of My Closet

It's BADD! Click the logo on the left to visit the BADD homepage at Diary of a Goldfish and read all the BADD posts as they come rolling in.

This is the story I've been telling myself for almost nineteen years: I am not disabled.

Okay, sure—I have panic attacks, sometimes severe ones, and bouts of borderline agoraphobia, during which I find excuses just to avoid walking out to get the mail, and I've got some unusual habits, like trichotillomania, yes. And, all right, yeah—overwhelming anxiety can provoke self-mutilation, while I'm asleep and sometimes when I'm awake, though in some sort of fugue, scratching at my skin with my fingernails, or whatever else I grab, scratching down through layer after layer, the pain actually soothing, because it's somehow worse and yet more tolerable than the emotional pain, the anxiety, consuming me. And, okay, sometimes that means I don't want to see anyone because of the gashes I've left all over myself, or I have to find a way to cover them. Long sleeves in summer isn't that weird.

That doesn't make me disabled.

This, Shakers, is disablism in a nutshell: I'd rather call myself "fucked up" than disabled. And I've been doing exactly that for most of my life.

I have post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of a series of sexual assaults which began when I was 16, committed across several years by someone who started out as my boyfriend.

It is disabling. It's it a disability. I am disabled.

I am not "fucked up." I have a chronic mental illness, but it has only been in reading disability bloggers the past few years that I've been able to start pushing open the door on my closet. Even writing this today is hard, harder than I expected. Ugh, the dread. It is like a corset being drawstrung too tightly around my sternum, stealing my ability to breathe. I let the tears run down my cheeks, and I take deep breaths, and I occasionally have a wee laugh at the irony that writing about having PTSD actually risks triggering it.

[The author takes a break to watch Eddie Izzard talk about the Death Star canteen.]

The longer I live with this thing, the better I am at managing it. Good triggers have become an invaluable part of avoiding falling into the abyss, and so I have a trove of good triggers that can just as certainly restore equilibrium as moderating a heinous rape thread can throw everything off kilter.

But sometimes my PTSD isn't dragging me toward the edge, giving me the chance to dig in my heels and wrench myself from its grasp; sometimes it just sneaks up behind me and shoves, hard and without warning. So sometimes I still fall into the abyss.

scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch it's hurting now the numbing comes scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch it's bleeding now and still i'm scratching scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch it hurts it hurts it hurts it feels good scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch scratch…

I see myself in the mirror, later, and I feel ashamed. I'm so fucked up. No, you've got a chronic mental illness. I'm so fucking weak. No, you're sick. I'm a piece of shit. No, you're a survivor.

Then how come I don't feel like one?

And standing there, in front of a mirror, looking at the long, red stripes of radiating pain I've given myself on my arms or chest or face or legs, I really don't feel like a survivor. I feel like a huge mess who will one day be consumed by self-loathing or fury, possibly both.

Then I walk away, and five minutes later, the mere will to survive has lifted me from the abyss.

You don't actually have to feel like a survivor to be one, you see. Funny, that.

[The author takes a break to listen to Cat Stevens sing "Trouble."]

I've read amazing pieces by people with disabilities about how their disabilities affect their partners. I cannot write one of those amazing pieces, because I am not yet able to talk about the subject with any sort of perspective, with a lack of guilt.

This is what I know: Iain is not unaffected by being married to a woman who was sexually assaulted. When he wakes up in the middle of the night because I'm having a nightmare, or when we're just goofing around with each other and he tickles me or squeezes me in a way he has dozens of times before but this time it triggers me and I burst into tears, or when my PTSD gets the better of me in the middle of an argument, just some stupid old dumbass argument that any couple could have, and he feels like the PTSD emergence is his fault (which it isn't)... All of those things are him getting victimized, too, by the people who victimized me. Which I say now, lucidly, because I'm not in the middle of it. But when it happens, I feel like a terrible, broken person who is ruining his life.

I have also read amazing pieces by people with disabilities about how their disabilities shape and frequently define people's perceptions of them. I cannot write one of those amazing pieces, either, because I have the privilege of an unseen disability—unless I tell someone about my PTSD, it is unlikely zie will ever know. And I have additional incentive not to tell, because it inevitably brings up the genesis of the disorder, and there is no way to speak casually about being repeatedly sexually assaulted. Merely coming out about my PTSD risks having to suppress a demonstration of how it manifests.

This is what I know: I am scared shitless about talking about it, because I don't want to be seen as weak. (And why, why, do I see myself as weak for having PTSD when I would never see anyone else that way?) I am scared to talk about it because I don't want it to undermine my credibility as a victim's advocate, because I know that there are people who will try to use it against me. I am scared to talk about it because I am afraid of undermining what tenuous feelings of safety I have, because I am afraid to be told to get into this kind of therapy or take that kind of drug or exhorted to investigate any kind of treatment, all of which makes me desperately anxious. I am scared to talk about it because I don't want to be thought of differently.

[The author blubs like a big blubby thing with lots of little blubby bits all over it. And then she walks out of her closet and shuts the door behind her.]

I have post-traumatic stress disorder. It is a chronic mental illness. I am disabled.

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Please Note: While all of us understand the urge to share recommendations and personal experiences, "helpful suggestions" can sometimes be counterproductive and inadvertently imply that a chronically ill or disabled person has not educated themselves about their own condition. They can also effectively diminish the seriousness of a condition, if you draw comparisons between temporary conditions (taking Aspirin for a headache) and long-term or permanent conditions (giving oneself insulin shots for diabetes management). We request that any comments sharing something that has worked for you or someone you know be framed very carefully as "This has what has worked for me," not only because nothing works for everybody, but also because framing it as a personal experience story takes away any implicit exhortation that "you, too, should do this," which may create anxiety for people reading along and/or the author. Thank you for your consideration and happy commenting!

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