Hi! My name is Kristy Bear and I am 31 years old. I grew up in an abusive household as a child. My father was a binge drinker and my mother had violent behavior and unpredictable emotional swings. After their divorce I moved in with my father, who continued to drink heavily forcing me to look after myself. Once I got into high school I began running away and living on the streets. I also began using drugs as a way to escape the unprocessed thoughts and emotions my childhood left me with. I was raped at 13 by a 30 year old man, and again at 16 by a 26 year old that was dealing me drugs. At the age of 18, still not having processed all the experiences I had faced, I was held hostage by an ex-lover for 6 hours and beaten, threatened with weapons, and psychologically tortured. One year later he plead guilty to numerous charges, and I was left picking up the pieces. I got into university by some grace, and was able to get into intense therapy. It was that final trauma that caused me to seek help, and led to me beginning my process of healing and being sober.
When did you first know when you had PTSD?
Hind-sight has 20-20 vision. Looking back I realize many of my reactions to life as a teenager were caused by PTSD. I wasn’t diagnosed with chronic PTSD until the age of 16. That is when I began to learn about what behaviours are caused by my disease. I didn’t fully accept the diagnosis and begin to heal with conviction until much later in life. I have been in a new form of therapy for the past few months, called Cognitive Behavioural Conjunctive Therapy, (CBCT), which has been helping me immensely compared to other forms of therapy I’ve tried. The tools I am being given to communicate with others and identify my thoughts and emotions have been exceptional.
Do you feel like PTSD is often misunderstood?
I do feel that PTSD is misunderstood. I have been excused from employment because of the diagnosis in the past when I’ve needed to take time off to see doctors or recover from extreme symptoms. My current employer is aware I have PTSD, but usually I wouldn’t tell an employer because of the stigma around PTSD. I am lucky to be in a safe supportive work environment right now. I have also lost friends because of my PTSD. For example, one friend thought that my flashbacks were something I was doing for attention. I have come to realize that true friends will not judge you and will support you on your path, and those that are not meant to be in your life will fall away. The more education that is out there about what happens when people experience trauma-the less hold the stigma will have.
Do you feel like you are stronger of a person having overcome such a traumatic experience?
I have good days and bad days like everyone else. I’d like to say I am a stronger person for it, but in all honesty sometimes I am weaker. It depends on the situation I’m facing and how easily I can reach for the tools I’ve been given in therapy to help cope. Sometimes it’s easier than others, especially since PTSD usually comes hand-fasted to depression. I do like to count myself as a survivor and not a victim, and I’ve been trying to re-frame my world-view to shift from being worthless to being unique and worthwhile.
Are there any activities that help your symptoms?
Cats and dogs are magic, and their cuddles solve many problems.
I meditate using Bön Buddhist meditations and prayers, and mindfulness Vipassana techniques. I find that meditation, since I found it and began using it regularly, has been the biggest help in my being able to cope with intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks.
I also have a blog rememberhowtofly.com where I’ve been documenting my current healing process with CBCT. It’s been very rewarding to find other survivors for support, and help give people insight into the daily struggles of someone with a severe case of PTSD.
Lastly, I’m trying to get going to the gym regularly onto that list, because when I am able to go it does help; however, I am still rather agoraphobic and in the process of learning how to make my environment safe.
What is one piece of advice that you would give someone who thinks they may suffer from PTSD?
I very much think getting a therapy animal is the best way to begin healing. I had a therapy animal (a cat) for many years, starting when I was just out of crisis. Having another living being that loves you unconditionally, and needs a regular schedule for feeding and cleaning, is really good because it provides a structure that you can lack on your own.
I also think that if you feel you or someone you know has PTSD, go talk to a psychologist, not just a psychiatrist. Psychologists can provide a larger toolkit of coping mechanisms than psychiatrists because usually they have been specializing in the disorder and can identify which tools you specifically need for how your symptoms manifest. Usually psychologists can also point you to studies at universities or hospitals where the therapy will be free of cost.
Lastly, give yourself loving-kindness. You’ve been through a lot.
Kristen Murphy, 31, holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence from the University of Toronto. She is an administrator at Ryerson University, with aspirations of visiting Nepal and continuing her studies in Buddhism.