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My Own Personal Experience: PTSD and Intrusive Memories

Picture courtesy of ucsf.edu
During an armed robbery at the age of 7 in Harlem, NY, I witnessed the tragic murders of my Mother Helen Thomas, her boyfriend Ian Richardson and my Godmother, Ethylene Carne. 

Although I was shot in the left hand, it was the mental scars that did the most significant damage to me. Since this tragic event, I have been living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder also known as PTSD.

After my mother’s death, I moved in with my Grandmother in Maxton, NC. Maxton is a small rural town in Robeson County which is the largest county in North Carolina. Whether it was watching Atlantic Coast Conference sports or New York Yankees baseball, sports placed me in a therapeutic world.

After I kept having nightmares and reliving the traumatic events that I witnessed, I started receiving mental health services when I was in the fourth grade which would have been around 1977. I stopped receiving care in 1981 because my grandmother didn’t have adequate transportation and attending appointments every Monday became very burdensome on her. Instead of seeing her stressing over finding transportation to make the appointments, I told her and my therapist that I was doing just fine even though I knew something was still terribly wrong with my inner being.

This was just the beginning of denial about my mental problems. I was in denial up until 1999, but even then I was scared of what people would think if they knew about my condition. Then came more denial, until the summer of 2013, when I finally admitted that I needed help and opened up to receiving mental health services and treatments on a consistent basis.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 1980, is the same year that PTSD was recognized as a mental disorder and was added to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Looking back, it was a very poor choice on my part to quit receiving services especially since there was still much more research to be done about this condition. I’m more than certain that if I would've dealt with this issue more aggressively at a younger age, I would’ve probably avoided many of the pitfalls that awaited me in life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, or changes in emotional reactions.

To avoid writing a whole chapter during this blog, I will just discuss: 

Intrusive memories

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

•    Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
•    Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
•    Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
•    Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event

Since the age of 7, I have been battling intrusive memories and from my experience, I would say this one is the heavyweight out of the four. It may or may not be yours, but this one certainly is for me. Just remember the first thing that needs to be done in reference to fighting PTSD or any mental health condition is refusing to be in denial. Seek help from a licensed professional mental health therapist and psychiatrist. By building a strong support team around us, we put ourselves in a better position to win this daily battle. 

I will finish discussing intrusive memories and the three other PTSD symptoms in my next blog pertaining to PTSD. If you feel that you have reached a point of no return please call the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Until next time.

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