I often wonder if PTSD is something that can bob on a wave; sometimes in the distance, sometimes crashing your rocks. I know very little about it. Except that I have it, and at its worst, I can’t leave the house, can’t sleep, can’t stay present in my own body. I get lost in terrifying flashbacks, and they become my reality. This much I know very well. But I find it hard to understand where depression and anxiety ends, and PTSD begins. Maybe I find it hard because it took so long to be diagnosed. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been wired wrong, in my father’s words.

Is it possible to have low grade PTSD over many years? I’m not sure. Whatever you call it, I’ve spent most of my life reliving the things that were done to me.

The term, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was first mentioned around five years ago. Unfortunately, I never clicked with the doctor who’d suggested it, and as she didn’t give me any explanation, I thought she was the crazy one. How could I have an illness that affected soldiers who fought in wars? I never went through anything like that. So, I dismissed it and didn’t see her again.

In January 2014, I reached crisis point. I couldn’t leave the house, couldn’t follow conversations, and I had constant flashbacks. It felt as though my childhood replayed in the present, and I still had no control over it. Then there was his voice. That voice: the one that still—to this day—lives inside my head; shouting at me, swearing at me, threatening me. This is so hard to explain. No matter how I dress it up, it makes me sound a little crazy. But he’s there. Always.

Night is the worst. When my PTSD is most present, I survive on between two and three hours sleep a night. The moment I’m in bed, I can feel him on top of me. His weight crushes me, and he steals all my air. We have had to put extra locks on the bedroom windows because I have a habit of trying to escape through them when I dissociate. It appears I am trying to escape. When I do manage to sleep, the nightmares paralyze me. I return to my childhood, and he is in my bedroom. I wake from my dreams, and he is still there. I’m frozen, thinking I’m going to die. Wishing I could.

Which takes me to my lowest point. This is something that goes along with PTSD, whilst at the same time contradicting it. PTSD is about survival. It’s about getting yourself through the threatening situation you are in. But in January 2014, I made two suicide attempts. The first time, if I’m honest, was about getting help. The second time, not so much. It nearly worked. I came close. I couldn’t stand the thought of living another day with the constant loop of my abuse. I had to shake off the feelings of repulsion in which my memories doused me every night. Only, I didn’t know how. They had always been there, so how did I make them go away? In the end, I could only see one way out.

This is when I saw the psychiatrist who diagnosed PTSD. She was surprised nobody had explained it to me before. She told me how memory works, and how traumatic memories aren’t processed in the same way as other memories. Due to this, you can constantly experience them over and over.

I began seeing a psychotherapist, but due to insurance, sessions were limited to about ten. I did work through some of my fears, but most importantly, I have learned ways to deal with my disorder. I have grounding techniques: coping mechanisms. I’m not saying they always work. I’m not even saying they work 50% of the time. But sometimes they do, and that’s an improvement.

I possess a “tool bag” filled life preservers. I have a Harley Davidson bandana that belongs to my husband and has his aftershave sprayed on it. This gives me his smell, which is a huge comfort. It also gives me something to look at, and I can run my fingers over the cloth. I have some hand cream, which also smells nice. It is something to concentrate on and to feel on my hands. I have chewing gum, which gives me a minty taste. The emphasis is on using all five senses to remind me where I am. I also have to repeat, “I’m a grown up. This is in the past. I’m safe now.”

Most of the time, I am able to dial down his voice, so it’s just background noise. Some of the time, it doesn’t work. He instructs me to do things—to myself—and sometimes I have no choice. These times aren’t any fun to live through. They leave my body tingling, with every nerve end heightened. Every inch of me is on watch for my attacker, prepared for when he arrives.

It wouldn’t be fair to write this without mentioning how great my husband is. He is so patient and gentle with me. He learned the hard way to never come up behind me and make me jump. I screamed at him one time and ran out of the house, crying and screaming that he was attacking me. Really, I don’t know how he puts up with me, or why he’s still here. He never knowingly signed up for my crazy, but I love him even more for sticking around. I know I’m lucky to have him.

The last thing I have to mention, in terms of how I cope with my PTSD, is my writing. Once again, I have my husband to thank for this. He read something I wrote a long time ago and suggested I try writing about my feelings. He told me I had talent and found a writing website for me to join. With a (not so) gentle nudge, I signed up. That was at the end of May, 2015. Writing has helped me more than anything. I’ve been able to write about some of my experiences. But more than that, the simple act of writing has freed me of so many demons. I’ve finally found the thing I was born to do, and it helps keep his voice at a manageable level, for the most part.

The thing about PTSD is, I don’t think it’s something you are ever completely free from. It’s something you manage. I will have good days, when his voice really is just background noise. I will have days when I feel his rough hands all over my skin, his arm pressing on my neck, and I can’t escape. But those days are fewer now. And I always get through them. I have post-it notes around the house, reminding me of that.

I will be okay. I have survived the worst part. I will survive whatever comes next. I am safe. I am a grown up. I am loved.