The first few years after my mom’s murder I call ‘blackout years’, I don’t remember too many details about life at that time. My only goal was to survive. I completed my first year of college right before her death, so naturally, I tried carrying on with school and other things 18-year old’s do. The first class I signed up for was a photography class, I thought it would be an easy entry back into school after my life had changed so much (I also had a crush on a lovely girl who told me she was signed up for that class if I’m being honest, but hey, whatever works, right?).
I purchased my expensive camera and started the class, but pretty shortly after that, we had to start going in the dark room. That triggered my PTSD really bad, only I wasn’t able to express it. I didn’t know PTSD as the same old friend I know now. I didn’t know what was happening, I just knew I felt panicked, frozen, and then embarrassed.
How do I tell the girl I’m crushing on I’m too afraid to be in the dark? Before this trauma happened a few months ago I’d be so giddy to be in a dark room with her, doing something so artsy as photography lessons. I bet that would feel really cool. But unfortunately, I couldn’t get past my fears. This wasn’t the first time I felt like a child because of my PTSD, but it’s one of the first times while I was out in public with other people my age.
I let the photography girl come with me to the cemetery and take photos of me at my mom’s grave. It was sad, emotional, yet romantic. Eerily beautiful, as much of my life has continued to be since living with the reality of that night. I quit the class after that and I never did see the photographs. So much of my life felt wildly out of control at this point. There was the ‘me I know would want to do xyz (insert any normal thing people my age were doing) before my mom’s murder’ and then the ‘me who I knew could never do the things, no matter how hard I try or beat myself up’.
Often times people tell me they admire my ability to be vulnerable. Thinking about it this morning, I’m reminded of the time when I just got out of the hospital. 10 day’s after my mom’s murder, 10 days after being stabbed. I had a bandage on the side of my chest where the knife entered. My wounds were still oozing. I needed help changing my bandage for at least a month after.
My nana and other people around me at the time had to learn to bandage me. I had to be naked from the waist up for this to happen. I was still 18 and not exactly comfortable with my body. I had a stab wound with gross green stuff coming out of it. I still couldn’t believe what happened to me. It was uncomfortable at first, but I learned to let them help me. I learned to let others help take care of me, I had to.
When I was able to shower again instead of sponge bathe, I was too afraid to be alone in the bathroom. I don’t even remember how I began asking people to stand in the bathroom or at the door while I showered, but I do remember forcing myself into the shower a few times and being terrified before realizing I couldn’t do this alone.
It wasn’t easy turning 18, the magical ‘adult’ year everyone waits for, and having my independence stripped from me by this violent crime and the PTSD diagnoses I was given after. Almost 12 years later I am able to identify certain gifts this nightmare has given me, vulnerability being one of them. I am 30 now, but I feel 18 again. The 18-year-old before surviving that horrible night. I’ve been able to go back and meet myself where I left off, at least in my mind (if that makes sense). I am finally holding space and remembering who I was before PTSD, and while I know this will never go away, it feels good to process and heal.