Personal Stories

Your Trauma IS Valid: The Journey to Understanding My PTSD

by Leah Garrett

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Years ago, if you told me that I would go on to experience mental health symptoms similar to those of a cisgender, white, male veteran, I would have ignored you and laughed. Me? A quirky millennial Black woman, from a middle-class, single-parent home? Relating to a veteran, of all people? No way.

So, what's the similarity? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

According to the American Psychological Association, women are twice as likely to experience PTSD than men. Intersectionality also informs if and how women seek help. For example, as a Black woman growing up, I witnessed the "Strong Black Woman" narrative and felt the weight of the expectation to be resilient and tough. Later, I would come to understand that trauma is at the root of said narrative (usually as a cover to avoid discussing PTSD.)

Growing up in Maryland, I knew the importance of military service — and in that environment, PTSD was synonymous with veterans. The back-to-back wars following 9/11 produced an influx of veterans returning home with PTSD, further emphasizing the connection between war and trauma. In response, society shined a spotlight on male veterans specifically, from portrayals on TV shows and movies to widespread support for funding PTSD research.

Over time, other groups came into the spotlight for having PTSD: police officers, survivors of sexual assault or other types of abuse, refugees and immigrants, to name a few. While this showcased the broad spectrum of people affected by PTSD, the discourse continued to focus primarily on those with severe trauma. As a result, everyone classified trauma in a one-size-fits-all box, ignoring that trauma may present itself in “simple” ways too.

As a teenager trying to figure out my mental health during this period, every time PTSD came up, I negated the idea because I thought my experiences "weren't bad enough." It's just a phase! I'll grow out of it! I told myself.

When I stepped back and stopped looking at mental health through this limiting lens, I was able to explore my trauma. Over the years, I've learned to empower my true self, which was hidden behind a mountain of trauma. Because trauma does not define a person, instead providing a blueprint for nurturing the person hiding behind it all. As people around the globe cope with the collective trauma in 2020, old, outdated narratives of PTSD and mental health are finally fading away.

There is still work to do to change the conversation around PTSD, as many continue to downplay their trauma and refuse to seek treatment. I highly encourage those who are grappling with emotional turmoil to take a step back and evaluate if they're downplaying past traumas. By suppressing your pain, you're setting yourself up to burn out and experience the full impact of PTSD symptoms.

Like any mental illness, PTSD is not one-size-fits all, requiring some trial and error to find the best path for recovery. I can tell you, though, that working on even one aspect of your trauma can make a vast difference in your life. I encourage those struggling to challenge themselves, break the cycle and flip the script.