In part one of PTSD, I was open about how my early childhood trauma affected me and I allowed myself to share how some of the self inflicted thoughts would return to haunt my existence.
This time I’m going to get very personal and intimate about the effects that early trauma had on me.
It was my skin that I became afraid of. Moles, freckles, scars or any other abnormality that we develop over a lifetime.
This started when I was young. First it was doctors. I didn’t like anyone looking into my mouth, eyes or taking blood and urine samples for inspecting under a microscope.
I didn’t want anyone looking inside or even at me.
As life went on my skin began to change. Moles began to appear, either that or I began to notice them for the first time. These imperfections would rule my thinking for years. Once I noticed a mole, freckle or broken blood vessel I would go insane with thoughts of guilt. I always felt like my insides were seeping out to tell on me.
I would spend days inspecting the new mark on my body and most of the time was spent on trying to hide the imperfections. Clothing was usually the method. It got so bad that I came to be know as “the nun” because I was covering every inch of my body possible.
Long sleeves, pants, scarves and hats with veils. While everyone thought I was making some sort of fashion statement and admired my style the most difficult part of this coping mechanism was that it actually made people look at me longer.
Amazing how what we resist persists.
As I grew older I began to shed the clothing and coverings but deep down I still dreaded anyone looking at my imperfections. But things could happen. For example someone once cut my hair so short that it exposed a strawberry birthmark on my nape. When I saw that for the first time in the mirror I lost my mind for weeks. What was this mark exposing? Why so large? I dealt with the panic until my hair grew out and then I never let it be exposed again.
Since I was a Barber and saw this marking on many others, I began to collect data on these individuals to try and discover what was wrong with me. When I say collecting data that means that I would question them to try and identify what we had in common to be burdened with this identifying mark.
I can say that in the “years” of collecting data regarding a strawberry birthmark, I found nothing that gave me any clue as to what this imperfection meant.
There was one day when I was finally getting comfortable with exposing some skin. I had driven from Orlando to Tampa so that my sister and I could take the girls to the beach for the day. Yes a bathing suit in public. I felt safe for a moment.
Then after driving for 2 hours my sister informed me that she had invited her best friend to join us. WHAT? Her friend was married to a dermatologist. The reaction went something like this…
Ramona: “I’m not going.”
Ramona: “You know I don’t show my skin to anyone and now you’ve invited a woman who is married to a dermatologist and she knows what to look for.”
Sister: “Her husband is a dermatologist not her.”
Ramona: “Yeah but I bet her husband comes home and tells her all the things he sees at work and she knows what to look for.”
Sister: “That is so ridiculous. You drove all this way.”
I had to listen to my daughter cry all the way back to Orlando. There was nothing I could do to console her because I was so absorbed in my sick thinking that the result was that she missed out on a day at the beach in exchange for my silence.
I can remember feeling so helpless to this disorder and how my daughter was paying the price that day. I hated that feeling!
I went to my therapist the following week and reluctantly shared the story with her. She showed me a picture of a tree with a doll propped up against it. “What do you see in this picture?” She asked me.
I looked at the picture. I didn’t really see the doll, or the tree for that matter. I saw a knot in the bark which looked to me like a mole. I threw the picture back at her in a fury. I was insulted at what I thought she was insinuating.
I ranted and raved about how she tricked me, while she quickly ran into the room of another therapist and brought her in to assist her with me.
It was then that I began to work on this issue. The shame of abuse and the constant surveillance that I grew up under had manifested into being ashamed of myself. While the work was the scariest task I had ever taken on it was the most freeing.
I would discuss the methods we used but it was so long ago that I believe the methods have been updated and probably are more effective and efficient.
You’ll be happy to know that not only did I go to the dermatologist in April and let him look at my “imperfections,” I actually let him burn off a pre-cancerous spot.
PTSD shows up in many forms. That is my point. It’s not just someone being violent or picking off innocent people from the top of a water tower.
It is mostly missed unless it is shared. It can be subtle and unrecognized, even by the one suffering.
So I say to those who haven’t shared their crippling fears to anyone, that sharing them is the beginning. It is only when we let these things we have been stuffing for a lifetime seep out that we can release the toxic shame and guilt that eats at us as well as effects the ones we love.
My life would be very lonely and reclusive had I never trusted someone who had the ability to help me.
It’s not about bravery, it’s about the desire to be happy and in exchange sharing that happiness with the ones we love who don’t understand the constant pushing them away without explanation.
June 24, 2016 at 11:30 am
I couldn’t stop giggling when I read you describing the haircut that exposed your strawberry that lead to you losing your mind. I laughed not because I take pleasure in your pain, but because it reminds me so much of myself. LOL. I have suffered and continue to suffer from hypochondria and it can be debilitating. I am so much better than I used to be, but it took a lot of courage. I found that going to the doctors and being proactive about any discomfort I was feeling was less anxiety provoking than sitting alone with my thoughts and imagining the worst. I can tell you were so guilt stricken to have allowed your fears to affect your daughter. How amazing that despite your upbringing and the PTSD you were strong and wise enough to seek therapy and grow. You are very inspirational, thank you for sharing something so personal.