In all the media attention focusing on former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky and his alleged sexual abuse of children, not much has been written about the lifelong psychological harm abuse of this type can have on a person.
Consider 28-year-old “Janet,” a column reader from Nebraska. Recently, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of being sexually abused as a child. A male relative was the abuser. PTSD itself is not a disability, but many people with it have such severe symptoms that they have trouble carrying out basic life functions.
Said Janet in a telephone interview, “The first time I remember (the abuse) happening was when I was six and it kept going until I was 10. It’s so hard right now to even go back (in my mind) to what happened without getting upset. I didn’t feel safe telling my parents because I didn’t think I would be believed. I just tried to push it back in my mind and not tell anyone.
“I’ve had a lot of depression and anxiety over the years because of the abuse. For years, I wouldn’t drive a car by myself because I had so much anxiety about leaving the house (alone). I thought bad things would happen outside and I was always on guard. When growing up, I slept in the closet every night until about tenth grade because I was so scared something would happen to me. The closet was the safest place at home.
“I didn’t begin figuring everything out until after I was married. I noticed my two siblings didn’t have the same (emotional) problems I had yet we grew up in the same house. I still have flashbacks about what happened, especially when I’m physically close with my husband. The memories are hard to block out. I’ve also been afraid someone is always trying to break in, don’t feel I can close my eyes and relax anytime, and always feel like I have to be on guard.”
Janet made the important connection between her feelings and what had happened to her only after receiving professional help. Her husband urged her into counseling and has been a constant source of encouragement. She advised people affected: “Get help. I thought for years that if I could just push the memory back far enough, I would get better. But I never did.”
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