The Monster in Me
Inside, I trembled like a child caught in a bitter, winter wind. A blanket of numbness spread rapidly across my hands, arms, and face. We were still a few miles from my uncle’s house for the Christmas party, but the iron fist around my lungs was closing tighter, cutting off more of my air supply. I could already hear the chatter of twenty people buzzing like a swarm of locusts in my mind, and I knew that when I arrived, I would be pulled into it, and have to fight for hours to save myself. I knew relatives would corner me and ask how I am, and what have I been up to lately; they would not be able to handle my truth, so I would lie. I would smile and say, “Great!” and then hide in a back room, hoping no one would miss me.
As we sped along the freeway, I watched the trees rush by in a blur. My vision changed, marking the familiar descent out of the present where anxiety overwhelmed, into a more protected place. My surroundings became a haze, and sounds began to dissipate.
“You okay?” My husband, Mike, asked. He knew social functions were hard for me. Even if it was family.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Yes, I’ll be fine.” I wished for once I could just be honest with him. I wish I could scream, NO! I want to go home! But I refused to be a killjoy.
“Mama?” A sweet voice called from the back seat. I turned and smiled at Lacey, her six-year-old charm bubbly and irresistible. “I’m glad you came this time.”
“I’m glad, too,” I lied. I looked to the seat next to her, where her two-year-old sister, Jordan, sat transfixed on a toy in her hands. As if feeling my gaze, she looked up at me and smiled with her whole face, flashing two rows of widely-gapped baby teeth. I chuckled at her goofiness. My girls were beautiful, that was certain, but I wondered how they would fare this disorder of mine. I turned back towards the window, feeling the sting of tears in my eyes. Tears because I didn’t want to go to our family Christmas party; tears because I hated what was happening to me. Then I pushed them back as I always did, trying to hide the agony swarming and tearing at my soul. Trying to prepare myself for the act I was about to put on for my loved ones. The act I put on almost every day.
This is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it was triggered by Jordan’s traumatic birth in 2003. That event blew open the vault door to the abuse I had endured as a child, and I never saw it coming.
After fourteen years of peace with my past, my mind was suddenly plagued on a daily basis with vivid memories of rape and abuse; and not just memories, but reliving the events, where terror and pain consumed me mentally and physically. I lived on edge, jumping at any sudden sound or voice. Fear, panic and anxiety grew like a second skin – I walked in it constantly. But the anxiety became the most difficult to conceal. My level of patience existed at my throat, and anything could set me off – a 180-degree turn from who I used to be.
The rage that suddenly existed inside me shocked and horrified me, and there were times I couldn’t diffuse it. I would never hurt my girls, but the rage sat weightlessly on my tongue, and I would not know it was there until they pushed my tolerance too far. One squabble, and the rage sprung out in a frightening roar before I could stop it, jolting my girls into tears. Then crushed with massive regret, I’d scoop them into my arms with profuse apologetics.
My entire being overflowed with guilt and shame for this thing I could not control, and for the person I’d become. I grieved deeply for the woman I had been: softhearted, patient, and kind. Led by dreams and ambitions of being a singer and a writer, and owning a house in green country.
Not anymore. Dreams gave way to nightmares, and daily torture by flashbacks of frightening things I wanted so badly to forget, but could not. There was no peace in my heart, no joy, and it would get much, much worse before it ever got better.
The typical stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance took five years, while I unwillingly succumbed to the symptoms of PTSD, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and social anxiety disorder. I lived in a bubble, and the plunge I took into depression and despair was so deep, I nearly took my life.
But then I faced a life-changing question: How would you feel if your daughters experienced the same pain? The idea of my daughters ever enduring this clawed my heart into shreds, and from somewhere deep inside a righteous anger rose. I knew I needed to protect them. I knew that sexual abuse is a generational curse, and if it is to stop, someone in the cycle must dig their feet into the ground and face it, fight it, and heal from it. That someone needed to be me.
I chose to fight, and I have never looked back. I will never again be the woman my husband married; I will be someone better. After all, I know who I am now. I know what I am capable of. I know that by doing hard things, I grow in leaps and bounds. By choosing to live, I have developed courage, perseverance, and an iron will. My faith is stronger than it has ever been. I have educated my daughters about sexual abuse, but I am also determined to help as many people as possible by sharing my story. My hope is to shatter the stigma of PTSD and abuse, and inspire others to break the silence.
Juanima Hiatt Bio:
Juanima Hiatt writes from Oregon whenever she can grab precious silence. She is a member of Willamette Writer’s Group and the critique group, Scribophile. Juanima has a special place in her heart for kids – especially teens – and a fervent desire to help people. She loves movies, fly-fishing, hunting, nature, and any activity with her husband and two daughters.
Her memoir, The Invisible Storm, portrays her battle with PTSD and what it takes to overcome the disorder. She also enjoys writing screenplays, children’s books, and is currently working on a political thriller novel. You can find out more about Juanima and her books on her websites: juanimahiatt.com and theinvisiblestorm.com
Sonia Marsh Says: Juanima, your story is incredible and I hope it will help others and give hope to those who face what you did. When the birth of your daughter brought back the trauma of your childhood, and you said,
” I lived in a bubble, and the plunge I took into depression and despair was so deep, I nearly took my life.”
“But then I faced a life-changing question: How would you feel if your daughters experienced the same pain?”
“I chose to fight, and I have never looked back.”
Your courage and strength to change and do what is right for you and your family is inspiring. Thanks for sharing and I believe in you and know you will succeed in your journey:
“to shatter the stigma of PTSD and abuse, and inspire others to break the silence.”
Please leave your comments for Juanima and she will be over to respond. Thanks for sharing with friends and your fellow readers.
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