CW // This article references sexual assault. The National 24 hr Sexual Violence helpline 1800 77 88 88
Growing up I heard about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a couple of times. People talking about army veterans returning home from war and someone who had been in a really bad car crash. How horrific it must be to have constant flashbacks of such events I thought.
At age 15 I was a victim of sexual assault. I never thought that I could or would experience PTSD but as time passed I felt increasingly less like myself. I felt on edge all the time and was easily startled at loud noises and sudden movements. I kept asking myself what could I have done differently to prevent what had happened. I tried to block everything out by not talking about what had happened and avoiding any person or place that reminded me of the assault. I would have nightmares at times but continued through everyday life.
Keeping myself busy
I found that when I was busy I wasn’t really able to think about or have the mental space for what had happened so I threw myself into my studies and any extra activities I could fit in; rarely taking time to rest or relax.
Then, seven years later, COVID-19 happened and we went into lockdown. It was the first time in years that everything had to slow down. Not being able to be constantly on the go I started to experience flashbacks of the assault. I felt completely on edge and anxious all the time. I wasn’t sleeping much at night time and when I did I was having night terrors.
When I did go out I was startled easily. One time I was in the supermarket and as I went into the next aisle somebody came around the corner from that aisle. I didn’t understand why I got such a fright in a situation I was used to.
Reaching out for support
I contacted my GP who signed me off sick for six weeks. I had used the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 24hr helpline (1800 77 88 88) previously when particularly difficult flashbacks had led to panic attacks so I contacted them and was accepted to their Moving Forward programme.
I found this really helpful, especially having weekly phone support from a coach to discuss how I was feeling and how I was finding the programme. When I first started it, I was so tired for the rest of the day and the following day after doing the online course and phone support.
During the course, I learned why my body and mind were reacting the way they were which helped me understand what was going on. I learned that the flashbacks were just my brain trying to make sense of things and learned ways to manage them. Having the weekly support from my coach really helped.
Towards the end of the programme, I was back to going out meeting friends and sleeping better.
Developing a toolkit
A year and a half later and over eight years now since the assault I am truly living a functioning life which includes being able to slow down and rest. It’s not that I am cured, I still get flashbacks or feel jumpy from time to time but the difference now is that I have the tools and skills to manage it.
The National 24 hr Sexual Violence helpline 1800 77 88 88
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