Disclaimer: This article was written by a Spoon University Contributor who has chosen to remain anonymous.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or, as everyone knows it, PTSD—and it wasn't because of what you're probably envisioning right now. I've never been in combat─hell, I think I've been in one fight in my entire life─and I probably never will. 

No, I have PTSD as a result of something that one in five women will experience in college: sexual assault. And, at first, I didn't want either of those labels. Being a sexual assault survivor or someone who has PTSD—neither label is ideal. It was so shameful to me that, even if I wrote about it, there was no way I'd ever want to associate my name with that label.

My diagnosis was given to me a year after I knew I had it; my therapist told me she couldn't officially diagnose me, but I was presenting symptoms. The stigma associated with the label of PTSD then caused me to lie to the neurologist who prescribed my medicine so he wouldn't give me the diagnosis.

I desperately wanted the label of "normal" even if I already had depression. I was so proud of the fact that, if I had to have a mental illness, I was at least high-functioning and no one could tell.

Facing Reality

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The first thing I had to do was accept reality: I had a mental illness from trauma and my brain was having trouble adjusting. Sure, I was "surprisingly on top of it" according to my doctors─I walked into my school's mental health office and said "I need help" the day after I realized I was assaulted. But, that didn't make me accepting of the fact that the actions of someone else could scar my psyche enough to warrant a diagnosis of PTSD.

I fought tooth and nail to keep the image of being "normal." I could hide invisible mental problems, like depression or anxiety, behind a smile and make the world believe I was okay when all I wanted to do was scream. It's the biggest lie I could tell─and I didn't have to say a word. But, I couldn't hide PTSD when I had a flashback or a panic attack in the middle of a crowded room. I couldn't hide it when my screams woke up my roommates.

By the time I realized something was wrong, I had involuntarily started to figure out who my real friends were. I lost my first friend group in college because I made them uncomfortable when I'd space out with the 1,000-yard stare on my face. They stopped inviting me to hang out and I had to find a new friend group since it was apparent I wasn't wanted. The worst part was I didn't even know why until I ran into one of them a couple years later.

Working Through It

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However, losing my first set of friends wasn't what pushed me to combat my PTSD. It took losing my second friend group in college to realize I needed to admit that something was wrong besides my chronic depression. It had gotten to the point where I had to drop out of college for a year and I was barely eating, I spent most of my time alone in a haze of flashbacks and tears.

I was going through what was possibly the lowest part of my life, I hit bedrock─and I don't ever want to know how much deeper I could go. I made an appointment for a full psychiatric evaluation where I forced myself to be brutally honest instead of clinging to the image I had built of being "normal."

I'm not going to lie, PTSD is a huge struggle and I don't even know how bad it truly can be. When I went through my evaluation, I was on the milder end of clinical PTSD─and I'm incredibly lucky to have been at that level. The entire time I was in the office, I couldn't keep my anxiety off my face and was exceedingly jumpy anytime there was a sudden movement. It was painfully apparent my medicine needed to be adjusted. 

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Returning to classes was incredibly difficult. The moment I sat down in a room, I would look around and plot every way I could make my way to the exit─reassessing every time someone moved. I couldn't concentrate on learning the material. I looked like a "frightened gazelle" according to one of my classmates (I know, it's a weird comparison).

I soon realized I couldn't live like that anymore. I didn't want to isolate myself and seem paranoid. I didn't want my fear to define me—because I am so much more than that.

I was constantly in therapy appointments, trying to work my way through what was wrong and how I could "fix" it. But truthfully, there's not really a way to fix it. It's about building up a tolerance and fortifying your walls so it doesn't get to you. 

For a while, I would flinch anytime someone who wasn't related to me touched me. I rejected hugs from my friends─a stark contrast from the girl they met freshman year─and would avoid their gazes so I wouldn't see they were hurt. In order to stand a hug, I had to clench my fist and dig my nails into my palm as hard as I could so I wouldn't flinch away. This went on for months—and it took a toll on my relationships with everyone I knew.

One of my friends taught me how she got through her panic attacks so I would be able to calm myself down during a flashback. Another had me call her every time I woke up from my reoccurring nightmare screaming because she knew I couldn't calm down enough to fall asleep again by myself.


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I've fought hard over the past two years to get to the point where my doctors think I'm almost non-clinical. I had my last nightmare about eight months ago and my flashbacks have become few and far between. But I still have anxiety anytime I go to the residential side of campus and the last time I saw my assailant I had a panic attack. I haven't fully recovered, but I'm doing a pretty damn good job at coping even if people label me as "crazy."

It's been rough, and I lost a lot of people who were important to me because they couldn't handle the "drama" I brought with my baggage. I went from being someone who always was in the IDGAF territory to being told "you are drama" in the blink of an eye. I struggled to get back to the girl who everyone says is the "nicest person you'll ever meet" and "chill AF."

This makes it hard for me to understand people when they say they have PTSD about something they simply have an aversion to. If you didn't experience anything similar to PTSD, stop comparing things to a mental illness you can't comprehend truly having.

I had to fight so hard to get back to a semblance of normal, so when people compare an aversion to PTSD, it minimizes everything I've worked so hard to fix. And even saying fixed is pushing it─I'm still not a hugger.

Things may be going well for me right now, but I'm constantly on the look out for things that could potentially offset the balance I've achieved. I'm always worried that if something happens, I could have a setback and all the progress I've made in the past two years will fall away.

I've had to grow up a lot faster than many of my peers and it sucks because I miss being more carefree. But I know that even if there's a setback─or I go through more trauma─I have the tools to survive.