Well, what does the Internet machine have to say about it:
This is a decent layman’s explanation of it. However, there is so much about it we don’t know. It’s like radiation; you can’t see it, but you know it’s there. Sometimes you are aware of it when you see the results; like an x-ray. Other times, you can be exposed and not realize it till you get a diagnosis of cancer.
For me, the trauma started in childhood. My aunt who raised me was physically and emotionally abusive. She had her own medical and emotional issues, but that does not excuse her for the unadulterated hate she subjected me to. I was her whipping post. Things got worse as she got older and she did show signs of psychotic breaks. Of course the family didn’t recognize this. She was given a free hand with me and they looked the other way.
This set me up to fail in most of my other relationships. I learned a behavior through her that told me I couldn’t defend myself because that only made the beatings worse. So, when others would abuse me, either physically, sexually, financially or emotionally, I would just endure it. Sure, I would complain from time to time, but I would always cave in and submit.
I also had significant health problems because of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This coupled with the abuse wore me down to a point where I almost died. My mind could no longer deal with what was going on in my life and it shut down my body with multi-system failure. My heart, lungs, kidneys and brain just gave out. There were several occasions I was close to death, but recovered for reasons I’ll never understand except GOD still has work for me here.
The contributing factors are seemingly endless. What I can easily tell you though is that I got my Social Security Disability approved first submission within three months and will not even be reviewed for 5-7 years. Since my approval, I’ve had four minor strokes and three heart attacks. I live on disability and thank GOD for Medicare.
Since that time, things have happened to me, my body and mind that make no sense. I have all the symptoms of a stroke, but the MRIs are negative. This is over and above the confirmed strokes. That is not to say that I am faking the symptoms. The doctors have been convinced I have had strokes, but until the last year, no evidence could be found. Now, when a situation overwhelms me, which doesn’t take much these days, I have a virtual stroke. Think significant problems with balance, memory, fine motor skills, inability to find words and speak them, the list goes on. It has also triggered two verified heart attacks. I may have had a third, but don’t have the desire to spend another large sum of money I don’t have to tell me what we already know. The PTSD has, and continues to ruin my health. I recently was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). It is unclear if that is a sequelae from the heart attacks or the PTSD. Yes, PTSD can trigger real signs and symptoms without what usually causes the event. Huh?
Okay, usually a stroke will cause you to lose your memory, ability to speak and move the way you did prior to the event. Why? Because of loss of blood flow to an area of the brain where those functions are controlled, or where the memories are stored. In my case, I have all these problems, problems that are consistent with a stroke, but the MRIs show no damage, no sign of oxygen deprivation. Now, one of my verified strokes happened because of a blood pressure of 220/110 (no, that’s not a typo) but other events were not shown to have been true strokes; just the effects.
That’s why I call it the ghost in the machine.
The PTSD is also causing cardiac events, including three minor heart attacks in addition to the ones that basically have your heart freaking out just short of a heart attack. I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve been in ER and admitted for testing/observation with those.
At this point the lingering problem is triggers that bring back recollections of past abuse/trauma. That is absolutely the working definition of PTSD. For example, I was visiting my sister. Her husband sits glued to Fox News all day. He got all worked up because poor George Zimmerman was getting such a raw deal. I tried to politely correct some of the lies, but you can imagine how that went. He started screaming at me. Well, in my past, when people yell at me, it ends up with me being beaten, choked, or having a large piece of furniture thrown at me. I left as quickly as I could, but during the ride home, I could feel my heart attack and stroke happening. After you’ve had several, you know what makes them different that an anxiety attack. I was flat on my back for a week. My sister knew what happened but didn’t ask if I was okay or needed to go the hospital. I was too sick and disoriented to do anything about it myself. By the time I felt better 2 weeks later, there was nothing to be done expect report it to my doctor.
My brother in law also has a habit of ‘joking’ about the possibility of beating my sister. She denies it has ever happened. Real funny, huh? At first, I told him if he was gonna abuse her, he’d better kill me first. After a half dozen instances of this, I just stayed silent. Last time he started up, I again sat there silently. He began to bully me. “Hey, if you’re gonna be in this family, you have to learn to joke about stuff.” I emphatically told him that as my ex-husband almost killed me 5-6 times besides the ‘regular’ beatings, I didn’t that that shit was funny, and so if he wanted to talk about it, fine, but not to expect me to join in on the fun. He stopped and looked at me almost aghast; no one speaks to him that way. I thought, yeah, asshole, you’re a comic genius.
I have been date raped three times. This is in addition to three sexual assaults by strangers and the numerous times I was sexually abused when my husband would forcibly sodomize me. I have been attacked numerous times by mental patients (when I was working as a psychiatric nurse) and had a credible threat on my life made by one. Nothing was done in my defense or to keep it from happening again. So, now, when I am in a situation when I am threatened physically or sexually, the memories of the past more severe abuse come screaming back. My mind can’t handle it and my body responds by having a cardiac or brain event.
I have had years of excellent therapy, but at this point, no more can be done. I am not broken, I am shattered. Think of it this way, when a person breaks a leg, they set it, put a cast on it, allow it to rest and heal, remove the cast and the patient begins some physical therapy. In a more severe case, they might need to do surgery to correct the damage, maybe even put in a pin or a rod. Me? My leg (mind/body) have been shattered; there is no reconstruction that will fix it or even allow me to use it again the way I used to. It is like I have a dead leg I am dragging around, but in my case, it is my mind and body that are crippled. I have passed the point of recovery. You can’t unscramble my egg.
I might add, the fact I never smoked, did drugs (except a very little weed a couple of years in college), or drank to excess (there was some binge drinking in my 20s but precious little drinking at all since then) has something to do with it. How many times did I have physicians tell me I should start! They were not suggesting street drugs or heavy drinking, but they knew I needed to numb the feelings of assault on my psyche. I was too afraid of becoming a drunk or a prescription drug zombie so I didn’t go that route. I turned to food instead. Yes, glucose is a drug and it later introduced me to it’s dark cousin, diabetes. (I have totally kicked that and there is no sign now I was ever diabetic.) I also don’t do denial. I have repressed much, but don’t deny what has happened. I think if I did, I would be much healthier physically.
Okay, so, PTSD sucks. It can happen in an instant, as in war time, or because of an unspeakable event like 9/11. It can also happen as over the course of a lifetime, you are beaten, abused (physically, mentally, sexually, emotionally, financially) and made to think if you defend yourself, you deserve not only the abuse, but an extra helping of it because you had the audacity to not take what was clearly coming to you.
I am not sure where I will go from here. My heart health is in a downward spiral. I have learned to live with the mental/physical limitations because of my strokes, but once your heart is damaged the way mine is, there is nothing that can be done. Again, the egg can’t be unscrambled.
So, I continue to try and limit my exposure to triggers that cause the flashbacks and subsequent attacks. However, as that is not always as easy as it seems, I am not sure I will survive to see my 65th birthday. I am currently 56.
So, this may explain why I am in the face of anything or anyone I see as bullying or a bully. I can more safely do it online where the threat of physical retaliation is almost nil. My life is what it is now because of bullies. I can’t be healed, but I can sure try and keep others from being hurt. That has become my mission, to kill the ghost in the machine.