PTSD Awareness Day: Growing Up with PTSD

By Caitlin Berg

CW: violence, trauma, police

A night in September 2008 began like other nights: I got home from school, did my homework, went upstairs to practice for my dance class the next day, and came downstairs at 6:00 for dinner. I ate, talked to my mom (my dad was out of town) and laughed with her until we heard the doorbell ring. We weren’t expecting anyone, but she quickly answered the voice system we used to find out it was my childhood babysitter. I hadn’t seen him in years; he had stopped working for us when I was in 2nd grade, and I was now in 5th. My mom greeted him and let him inside, where things begin to get blurry. About ten minutes into our conversation, my mom told me to go upstairs and practice my dancing. While upset, there was something in her voice that told me I had to move, now. I went into my dad’s office, turned on my CD, and heard a scream:

“Caitlin, hide. Now.”

I ran out of the room, leaving the music on, with no idea what was happening. I went to the only place I could think of: my parent’s bathroom, where I jumped into the laundry basket and threw clothes over me before sobbing. I had no idea what was happening to my mom, but I could hear her voice calmly saying “follow me,” and the door slamming before silence. Those next few minutes still terrify me: I heard nothing, I thought my mother was gone forever. Finally, I heard her yell “Caitlin, it’s okay.” I came out of my spot and found her outside the bathroom in tears. She explained to me what had happened: my former babysitter had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and tried to harm her, believing my parents had “chipped” him. He had stopped working for us because he was an alcoholic and now was living on the streets and using drugs. The rest of the night was a blur: the police showed up, my dad came home, and I stayed home from school.

That night was the start of a three-week hell, in which my parents and I were stalked and sent death threats. He beat my current babysitter’s car, showed up at my school (resulting in a lockdown), and stood outside my father’s business. I knew he was trying to harm us, but I had no idea the extent of his threats until I went on my father’s computer one day and saw the police report open. I still can remember the words exactly: “[NAME] stated: I will kill Mr. Berg and his daughter.” I was terrified. I didn’t tell my parents what I had seen, and instead pretended it was all okay. Eventually, we had to go into hiding at a local hotel until he was caught. Still, I never told my parents what I had seen until my junior year of high school, resulting in a nine year battle with PTSD.

Between fifth grade and late middle school, I often slept in my parents’ bed. I had nightmares frequently and could never go to a sleepover. I was scared of everything and trusted no one. How could I, if I was betrayed by the man who had been with me since I was born? Friendships were hard for me: I had no idea how to get close to anyone, and whenever I would, I would quickly shut them out. In early high school, I found comfort on Tumblr, making friends my age in online communities. I liked that I could talk about my problems without revealing who I was; it made them seem less real.

As time went on, I stopped thinking about the incident, but the symptoms I had remained until my junior year when I began to see a therapist. I started to talk about the scarring experience, explaining that I had seen this police report and still remembered the font, how it looked, and exactly how it felt to read it. Soon, my therapist realized I had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Finally, something made sense to me: my fears weren’t that I was weak, it was that I had gone through something horrible and it had forever scarred me. I was overjoyed; a diagnosis meant that it was something I could “fix” eventually. I went through the night with her, recalling what happened and finally told my parents about the police report I’d seen. Soon, the emotions flowed through. By realizing what was going on, I began to trust again; honesty about my experiences made me confident. While I know that this is not the same for everyone with PTSD, understanding what I had gone through made me feel worlds better.

Growing up with PTSD can be odd, and I was fortunate to have supportive parents who allowed me to go to therapy to get help. Many people do not have that opportunity, but many colleges offer a few free sessions to students. It is important to know that I still feel my symptoms at times, especially when in crowded spaces where I can’t be fully attentive to what is around me. I still have panic attacks and hearing the doorbell late at night terrifies me. I know that I can get through anything and that my trauma is not something that will prevent me from being happy. This realization took over a decade to understand, but I am incredibly lucky that I do. 

Overall, women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men due to the higher rates of violence towards women than men. PTSD is a feminist issue. Today is PTSD awareness day and I am proud to be a survivor of PTSD standing with other survivors.

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