What to Do When the News Cycle Triggers Your PTSD
For sexual assault survivors, it can feel impossible to stay informed without compromising your mental health
Let me get this part out of the way: When I was 17, a relative sexually assaulted me, creating a deep chasm in my family that still exists 13 years later and leaving me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I won’t go into detail here, partly because I’m tired of spilling my guts on the internet and partly because I don’t want to cause my parents more pain.
But it goes without saying that the news cycle of late, sparked by allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, has been difficult at best and unbearable at worst. Watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford recount an assault so similar to my own (in front of a panel of hostile men, no less) was painful. Realizing how many people don’t believe survivors was even more painful. Over the past few weeks, and especially the past several days, I’ve felt stuck in a cycle of rage, hopelessness, and paralyzing anxiety — and thanks to the PTSD, which I was finally diagnosed with five years ago, my fight-or-flight response is in such overdrive that even leaving the house feels exhausting.
Post-traumatic stress — which can include agitation, hypervigilance, insomnia, social isolation, flashbacks, detachment or lack of interest, and increased anxiety — is a common response to sexual assault. In one study, 94 percent of female assault victims surveyed experienced PTSD symptoms two weeks after their assault; according to the National Center for PTSD, 30 percent report still having symptoms nine months later.
Those symptoms can last for years, lying dormant for lengths of time, only to emerge during especially triggering news events and national conversations. “[PTSD symptoms] can last indefinitely in some cases,” says David Woo, a psychiatrist at Madison Avenue TMS and Psychiatry. “PTSD can flare up years later and feel fresh as though [the event] happened just yesterday.”
Thousands of sexual assault survivors have revealed their traumas online under the #StopKavanaugh and #WhyIDidntReport movements. Assault survivors are currently walking a…