Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Advocacy (Trigger Warning)

In conversation with one of my young friends I had a revelation. This was about thirty seconds ago. Sometimes advocating triggers flashbacks while I am trying to function. My mind lept then to other people who have to self advocate through PTSD symptoms. It isn’t always a flash back. If you do not have PTSD it might be harder for you to understand being jerked around by past trauma. Therefore I am going to explain, and this is why there is a trigger warning on this post. Sometimes reading about PTSD or other issue related things can trigger people.

This is not from the DSM (Diagnostic Manual thingy) but is from my experience. I may leave things out that apply to you or tell you things that don’t. The problem with labels is they are often not enough to truly explain what something means. Lets say someone shoots a gun. My first impulse is to be very still, not breathing, and praying that my father won’t make the shot. Even typing that sentence my head went into the land of fuzz and my chest is tight. I am taking slow breaths to focus and clear my mind. The trigger is not always a gun but just a loud pop. My brain is stuck on certain points of the abuse I suffered, it has a programmed loop that it likes to play. I have warning symptoms for my flashbacks now, and can often circumvent them.

My reality is in jeopardy from these loops. the weakest symptom is a tingle, intense fear, sometimes I start randomly bleeding. Why do I bleed? One theory a psychologist offered is somatic symptomalogy. Basically my body remembers, and it reacts so strongly to what my brain signals, that it thinks it is injured. This adds to the pain I feel. The pain from invisible injuries is far from phantom. I feel it. The next step after that is the sensation that I am floating, I disassociate and can see the entire world, but I am not connected to it. Usually I then go back in time. I see and feel at the same time, from multiple vantage points my father with his brand new gun, me and my siblings on the couch. I feel the cold metal of the gun pressing against my forehead. My nose stings with the tears I cannot shed.

The loud bang comes, I feel the heat of the bullet, my skin is burned by muzzle flash and I feel a horrible pain as the bullet grazes my temple. I don’t move. I don’t scream. I just stare up into that black hole, smoke pouring out of it and avoid looking into my father’s eyes, knowing he is going to be angry that he missed. I hear every word he screams again, how worthless I am, how I should be dead and must have moved. My sister starts to scream, my brother too but I can’t move. I look into his eyes and I see the blackness.

I still do not remember what happens next, though I have been told he decided to shoot at my sister, but I pushed her aside. I just know he tried to shoot his children, sitting on a couch that smelled like pee, and nearly killed his neighbor because the bullet went off. The cops were called but I took the blame. I said I was playing with his gun when it went off. I lied, to survive.

When I come back to myself I always want to vomit. Instead I focus on breathing. If the nausea is really bad I will take some Rolaids. Sometimes now, after years of effort, I let myself cry. Usually I manage a tear but my brain has yet to grasp the concept of tears. If I am not at home, it is worse to recover. At home I control my environment, I have a bed to curl up in, two soft fluffy cats, and my Person can go elsewhere more easily giving me the time I need to recover.

When I am advocating and flash back, I never know what to do. I try different things, and usually they work but the vulnerability can be debilitating. I flashed back my first time having to seriously advocate to that scene. That is why I chose to relate it to try and explain what PTSD is like. I wish I had simpler words but none can encapsulate just how much there is to it. Sometimes the flashes are different, sometimes I am still an adult but I am trapped, it is worse in some ways because I still feel the pain but I am completely aware that my world has vanished. I am never certain if I am going to hurt someone. I have before, but it has been a long time.

That first taste of advocacy was so bitter. The cops came, and one fondled his gun and my brain shut down. I was afraid, in pain and exhausted. I was being yelled at and deprived of my prescription because I needed my service animal. The cops even saw Sprite follow her training. When I flash she has three tasks, beyond her instinct to comfort me. First, she signals to my Person for help. Sometimes a conversation can end it. So she chirruped at the person of the day, and I had to form the words, “I need you to deal with them for me. I can’t.” Then, she helps me to sit. I had to wait fifteen minutes for a chair, I wanted to scream at them but I tried to stay calm. I was hyperventilating, they took this as my being dramatic. Then, she moves to my shoulder. Her instinct is to sit on my chest, but she might get flung there, I do not handle pressure on my chest well even when not panicking or flashing. Her instincts tell her to purr, to rub with just her face against mine. This grounds me.

The police threatened to arrest me if I did not leave the facility. I knew enough to know they couldn’t but they refused to acknowledge that I had rights. I couldn’t fight, but I had to. I chose then to repeat the law over and over. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t see their real faces for half the time. All I saw was my father and his eyes that reflected no light.

What can you do if you have PTSD and are an advocate? Here is the how to portion.

Step 1. Before you get to the point of advocating, have a support structure. This is a difficult process, because not every person can truly understand what it is to lose your reality. You need to have someone you trust availible, at least to call.

Step 2. If you have medications used to treat the symptoms of your PTSD in an emergency make sure to carry them with you, to keep a back up dose with your support person, and to keep your doctors number handy.

Step 3. Create a kit of items that help forestall your flashbacks. Nothing works for me beyond my cat. I can give her the signal she is trained for when i feel the warnings coming and ground. This is all I have right now, beyond my Person. No meds, just those two.

Step 4. Remember to breathe. Sometimes if you focus on just breathing you can help yourself.

Step 5. If you flash back during advocacy, try and focus on the responses that do not match the memory. This has worked for others, pulling them out.

Step 6. Advocate anyway. I did get the illegal policy over turned at the Pharmacy where I was threatened with arrest. I had to fight for a long time to do it, but, they relented. It is worth it even though it you might feel endangered or might BE endangered by your flashbacks.

Step 7. If you have to, stop. This opposes Step 6. Not every incident can be worked through. You might need to call your therapist, you might need to let your support person advocate for you. This is not a failing, this is merely the team network that advocacy should be.

I am glad to write this how to. I never considered how important it could be, but, in my mind my broken back, my asthma, and my failing eyes are not my most dangerous disability. The worst disability I have is PTSD. At times during flashbacks I have hurt myself, my friends, and reliving the painful memories can also cost me emotional, physical, or mental progress.

Keep in mind the time you are most fragile is just after a flash back. Some people can be triggered more easily, often it is easier to react in rage. Do not minimize your pain either. It is okay to cry, scream, and sometimes to just walk away.

I have done all of the above. Not every incident with advocating will cause a flashback either. Most of my time advocating I am left with memories of victory. My first taste of advocacy is as sweet as it is bitter, because I still succeeded, despite my unabiding terror of these men. My greatest cause was also revealed to me. I am actively fighting to get the local police trained in how to deal with enforcing the ADA. I want my rights protected, I do not want to fear being put in jail, dumped out of my wheelchair and my service animal being put into Animal Control’s care.

That was the threat, and so often is. My heart goes out to any other advocates who suffer from PTSD. I know each person’s PTSD is varied, some may not flash back, some might just panic. Others might not be able to stop their flashes. You can still advocate. Just prepare yourself as best you can.

The Cripocalypse (Trigger Warning)

I just woke up, two hours earlier than normal and I have had a vision. A vision of what the privileged folk who refuse to see me as human might see. In truth I was thinking about my father, and how he died. I then realized he suffered for over a year with a bad heart, which means I really need to be careful and have mine checked. I will. My doctor,w hen I tell her how he died will step right up and lob referrals out into space if necessary. My father was one of the most evil persons I ever met. His level of hatred wasn’t just his children or wife, but every man, woman, and child of color, or who was independent, but especially those that over lapped. He told me often about how disabilities worked. None of it was true, and thankfully I discarded his notions before my own disabilities began to force their way to discovery.

The Cripocalypse:
It begins with one, one gimp who refuses to walk. They are just lazy you see but laziness catches like disease. Soon his children refuse to walk. Then they begin to use wheelchairs. Sure some folk might actually need them, like the veterans who let the enemy blow off their legs. After that, come the walkers, they will walk but not if they can’t lean on something. Can these people be more lazy? Not only are they lazy but all of the cripples are mexican or black. You don’t see many white cripples, and if you do they had sex with a (insert racial expletive) cripple and caught it. That’s right, wheelchairs are contagious. Someday, every man will be in a wheelchair, unable to move his body because we didn’t kill the damned cripples.

Yes, he was a bastard. I once made friends with a girl in his apartment, after he and my mother split but before the divorce. He lived there a year before he decided to see who I was playing with when I should have been cleaning and making his dinner. I was only five, but, I was a woman and therefore I was to stay in the house like his personal slave. This girl, I think her name was Jasmin, to me was absolutely wonderful. We played with her dolls, her parents did not approve of Barbie and her stereotypes. In fact her father was the person who defined that word for me. I thought it meant something as innocent as having a newer stereo and an older one.

They even fed me most of the time, for when it was Visitation Time my father made sure to either not show up, or to use my body as he wished, then discard me like trash for the rest of the time. Jasmin didn’t mind that I was afraid of her father at first, she thought it was funny until he explained it was sad. These people were the most accepting people I had ever met. The only truely accepting people. Jasmin and I were playing in the stairwell one day when he woke up, dkscovered I had made pancakes that had gone cold and were slightly burned, and came out to punish me for being five and not being able to cook the food he liked.

I will not describe his physical assault, but I was not his only victim. This was the first time I ran from him. I ran to protect my friend, as he screamed racial slurs. You see Jasmin is black. I have no idea where she is now, that was the last time I saw her, due to my father’s violence against her family. I thought she was beautiful, and I wished my skin was dark. I am as pale as she was dark. She had the darkest skin I have ever seen, it was also luminescent, like looking at a person made of obsidian. She gave me my very first hug. That was how we met.

I was crying in the stairwell, and she and her father came home. She came up and just hugged me. Then we went to play. I do miss the innocence of youth. There was still innocence you see. There were stolen moments of absolute joy, before my father found out. When he attacked me and my friend, we escaped him. I knew I had to go back but I was willing to die for my friend. Her father wasn’t home, we were both alone but we dove through that apartment door, they were our neighbors, closed it, locked it and listened to him scream about how I was going to become a black woman.

Jasmin was also the first person to show concern over bruises. Despite my conditions I do not bruise easily, I never have. My father had also had enough other children to manage beating on us without bruising as much, and rarely where someone might see. He was calculating in his abuse, to make it harder for us to tell anyone. The worst abusers are the most talented at that. The last time I saw Jasmin, I was so afraid that my father would kill me. I even told her father that. I wish I had been smart enough to take his offer up. He offered to let me stay with him until my mother came.

We did try to call her, but, she was busy. My older siblings had refused to stay with Steve, my biological father’s first name, and I was alone except my friend. The police did come, yet they ignored the fact that even his daughter was telling them he’d tried to hurt her friend. This was a defining moment in my perceptions, when the police told Jasmin and her father, to send me back. They stated the Department of Child Services would be out to inspect his care of Jasmin, but surely my father was not really hurting me. They targeted them because of their color.

Often that is the day when I see my innocence starting to disappear. I had so little chance to be a child, but with great joy I remember every moment I had with Jasmin. I remember the utter innocence to be had, before I was taught to hate. It never took. Maybe it is living in New Mexico, where the Latin@ presence is so prevelant, maybe it is the fact that Jasmin and her father cared, or perhaps it is the effort I have put into bettering myself, rejecting the lessons of a false father.

The Cripocalypse is false. I know my disabilities are contagious via genetics. If I could have one last moment to look him in the eye again, I know what I would say. “Steve, I do not respect you. How can I respect someone so close minded as to abuse their children for existing? How can I want you to live, I really was hoping you would die sooner to better the world. You hurt me, and I know you will never care. You just feared being alone when you died, you feared it and none of your children will care when it happens. I am a cripple, who likes persons of color, who likes anyone she meets until they prove they are not worthy of it. You taught me horrible things, to steal, to lie, and to beat. I reject you en masse.”

He is not the only bigot who fears the Cripocalypse. So often people try to hide the disabled, the Persons of color, and yet, isn’t color the most important part of a painting? Art screams for diversity, and the privileged persons always claim to love it. I too wonder, how many more people who hate have died, or will die in a state they most fear?

Does Super cripple help forestall the Cripocalypse?

Z slashed through a shirt to reveal Superman or Supergirl's uniform

Z slashed through a shirt to reveal Superman or Supergirl's uniform

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