I haven’t been quite right since the abuse.
I haven’t been quite right since the accident.
The sexual abuse and later, rape, I experienced when I was younger has created emotional and spiritual blocks for me in most of my relationships. I either become too needy with people I’ve deemed safe or too “hard” and “resistant” with those who I’ve decided are unsafe. While I’ve gotten better over the years, I still have trigger moments.
Since being in a car accident a little over 10 years ago, I’m a terrible passenger in the car. When I’m with someone who’s driving and they turn a curve, my body and mind reacts as if I’m turning that curve on the back road we were on in Dallas when another car slammed into us and sent us spinning and flying off the side of the road. When the headlights of cars are coming toward me today, all my soul can “see” are the headlights of the car that hit us eleven years ago.
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My body, my mind relives both my abuse and this accident as if time has not passed. I’m in perpetual fight or flight mode.
This is what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) looks like in me.
I was both amazed and disturbed by the response to an episode of Scandal a few weeks ago. For those who don’t watch, the main character, Olivia Pope, had been kidnapped by a few individuals who wanted to have control of the President and White House (the President is in love with Pope). She’d been placed in a body bag with the dead body of her elderly neighbor (an innocent bystander in the drama). She’d been forced to kill or risk being killed. Being a savvy “fixer,” she was forced to set herself up to be sold on a global auction block in order to hopefully, if the right person purchased her, escape alive. As with most television shows, this storyline had to come to some kind of 3-4 episode resolution so she was finally “saved” and made it back home. Now that she has finally returned, she is scared and somewhat unstable. In one of the final scenes of an episode that aired a few weeks ago, Pope appears unmoved by the sappy and somewhat self-aggrandizing “But I went to war for you” speech from her married ex-lover who just happens to be the President. Probably because in that moment, the real question for her was, “how do I stop being so scared?”
I totally got it.
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Other people? Not so much.
“Ingrate!” people called her across my timeline. “Spoiled!” others said. “But he did all of that and she’s going to kick him out?!” questioned many.
I couldn’t help it. I was shocked. Clearly, these people do not know how PTSD really works. Maybe they missed her flashbacks, her excessive drinking and minimal eating, her carrying a gun, or her shaking hands?
Could it be that the fierce strength she’s displayed (outside of her love life anyway) up until that point has clouded their perspective of her that much?
Yes, I know it’s just a show. Lol.
But the whole story line got me to thinking about the reactions of real people outside this fictional world created by Shonda Rhimes and her writing team.
Sadly, it’s not much different.
Black women, in particular, are generally perceived to be stronger than most other groups. It’s a kind of stereotype that so many of us have bought into. “Never let them see you cry or sweat,” used to be my mantra. Nevermind that I needed to cry, that my heart was about as soft as they come, that my sensitivity was part of who I was authentically and was meant to be gift not the curse I’d made it out to be; that I’d allowed people to tell me it was. Janie, in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Are Watching God” explained it like this: “Black women are the mules of the world.” Mules carry everything on their backs. As much as folks can pile on, a mule will hold it all steady and push that weight along the path. So many of us all too often carry not just our own weights but the weights of others. But because we do so wearing the flyest white coat a la Olivia Pope or huge, albeit fake, smiles, no one believes that we are hurting.
But we are.
This “strong woman” perception is so pervasive that even when Black women exhibit clear signs of PTSD, the illness is not often addressed as the problem—our character is. Our pain is reduced to a personality defect.
“You just need to get yourself together. You’re too much.”