Neurons…. We are wired to think, react, imagine, focus and remember. Memories are tricky, you can repress them for years but at the sight of a black mosaic tile they are back. Like it was only yesterday. Your heart beating frantically, sweat lining your eyebrows, neurons.
She was late. Her watch stopped at 10 but she guessed it was around 11 now. She walked past a grocery store, it was closed. The street was silent, her friend asked her not to walk home by herself. But it was a couple of blocks, she figured it would be okay.
It happened so suddenly, a hooded figure, someone dragging her by her hair. The taste of the mouldy cloth tied around her mouth, the damp grass under her, the cords cutting through her skin, the darkness and then the pain. Her stifled cry and thrashing body like a fish in a net. She must have lost consciousness. She woke up inside the park, bloodied and numb. She woke up a different person. She cringes at the smell of freshly cut damp grass that once made her smile.
The sound of gunshots drowned everything else. He stumbled through the street, lined with bodies of men he lived with for months. A bullet struck his calf, he buckled. The pain searing through his body. He rallied, pushed himself up against the wall and walked towards the fight. He woke up a week later in a makeshift hospital bed. They said the war was won. Back home he cannot sleep without medication. Those blood streaked faces with glossy eyes flash through his mind.
“Swings”, she replied. “I am afraid of swings.” It was her tenth birthday. Her parents had to leave town to meet her grandmother. She was in the backyard on the yellow swing. Every time she stretched her hand in front trying to touch the white clouds. Her uncle was home, he called her in for breakfast. She walked up the creaking stairs, she smelled pancakes. She did not like the pancakes very much, they were not how her mother made them. He gave her a cookie and asked her to sit on his lap.
She didn’t understand then what happened or why. But it hurt more than anything ever had. More than the time she skinned her knee on the pavement, more than the time she burnt her hand on the barbecue grill. She told her mother, she cried and asked her not to think of it again. She never saw her uncle again after that day. Her daughter likes the swings, she stretches her hand in front of her trying to touch the clouds. She lets her husband take the kids to the playground. Swings scare her.
Sometimes our brain forms a memory and links the pain to it. And we might successfully suppress the traumatic incident, but all it takes is one random object, a certain smell, a cold floor and the dam built carefully over years breaks down. Just like that.
Trauma changes us in ways we don’t fully understand. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has physical effects and can be crippling. It can be due to a car accident, physical or sexual assault, or the horrors of war. The wounds on the body might heal completely but the brain is different. Some people have to fight invisible demons.
This blog post was originally created for UNICEF’s Voices of Youth. The post is shared through a partnership with the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth to further amplify the voices of young people.