Traumatic life-threatening events often leave emotional scars, which, like physical scars, remain with an individual for the rest of their lives. Although we all go through a healing period following trauma, for some, the emotional scars are so deep they interfere with their ability to function normally. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder where flashbacks and memories of a traumatic event significantly disrupt patients’ everyday lives.
In a World Health Organization survey, it found that around 3.6 percent of the world’s population suffered from PTSD over the past 12 months. The underlying factors that lead to the development of PTSD are complex and still poorly understood; however, as new research emerges, scientists are gaining a better understanding. For example, they’ve already found genetics may play a role.
Recently, Medical Daily had the chance to speak with Ruska, a 23-year-old American college student who developed PTSD after experiencing repeated physical, sexual, and emotional abuse through most of her life. Ruska, who chose to conceal her identity by using a different name, hopes that her first-hand account of what it’s like to live with PTSD will not only help remove some of the stigma attached to it, but also give hope to other people living with the oftentimes debilitating condition.
What were some of your earliest symptoms of PTSD and when were you diagnosed?
I’ve had PTSD symptoms for as far back as I can remember. A majority of my trauma stems from extreme abuse from my parents growing up: sexual, physical, emotional, and mental abuse and neglect. I was then raped six times in college and have been homeless on and off since I graduated high school.
[When I was 12], I got retriggered by a friend at school. I was in fifth grade and he came up to me and told me what sex was, and said that some kid in my class had molested a girl in the woods. I didn’t know any of what he was saying, I was still very oblivious to the words, but I knew that it triggered all the abuse I had suppressed. Afterward, I didn’t sleep or leave the house for a month-and-a-half and was crying non-stop. My parents finally took me to a therapist, but they did not want their abuse to be revealed, so that did not last very long. I wasn’t allowed to go to a therapist again until I was put in therapy by my college in my freshman year, (2011) after a sexual assault on campus. That’s when I got diagnosed.
How does your condition affect your everyday life?
It’s really hard. I ended up going on medical leave [from school] because it affected my memory. It got to the point when I’d have completely sober blackouts and I couldn’t even remember seeing people, having conversations with people, or doing things. It messes up my ability to process what people are saying, so I would be sitting in class and the professor is talking, but the words are all jumbled.
I would be trying to take notes and he’ll be all, like, halfway through a sentence and I won’t even remember the first half of what the sentence was. I also get really bad dissociation. That’s one of the main signs that confirmed to my therapist that I had PTSD. I was completely outside of my body almost looking down on myself.
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