Secondary Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

My sister, Jwauna Marie Washington was murdered on April 15, 2016. Prior to her murder I lived what I believe to be a carefree life. Never once did I feel like danger could meet me at my door step. My sister’s senseless murder taught me that innocent murders take place more than I cared to admit. It wasn’t until this trauma happened so close to me that I realized that I am not always safe. The lack of justice in her murder also taught me that black women face death within her communities and justice may not always be obtained. The lack of justice also burns deep within me and cuts like a knife every time she crosses my mind. The idea of “I can be next” plagues me everyday and has forced me into isolation for safety. My sister’s murder taught me that anyone can pick up a gun and decide your fate for you. It also taught me that there doesn’t need to be much of a reason for someone to decide that you no longer should live, and a murderer will selfishly think they are God and can take your life away in any moment. I miss her so much and fear the loss of myself or another loved one daily. Some days I decide not to leave my house to avoid people, hoping that will keep me more safe. I fear losing my life in an instant before I have the chance to defend myself.

My sister was shot and killed by a black man that stood outside her window. Gun violence plagues America in many ways, and causes invisible wounds deeper than anyone can imagine. “Every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns and hundreds more are shot and injured. The effects of gun violence extend far beyond these casualties—gun violence shapes the lives of millions of Americans who witness it, know someone who was shot, or live in fear of the next shooting.” (1) Gun violence is no stranger to the black community, and usually occurs from another community member. Imagine one day hanging out with someone, and not to much later that person taking your life. That is what happened to my sister. Her murder let me know that sometimes your greatest dangers are from those around you. Or even worse. Someone you called a friend. This is my sister’s story surrounding her murder.

My sister’s murder happened two weeks before I was set to move back to Atlanta. I was at first going to move to the area she lived in, but after her murder I decided to move further away. I didn’t feel safe. “What if what happened to her could happen to me?”. This question still plaques me to this day. I have nightmares about what happened to her, even though I was in a different state at the time. I avoid that area, and don’t feel safe there at times I had to go to that area for something important. I would watch the cars behind me to make sure that no one follows me back to my place. I avoid talking to members of that community to avoid running into her murderer. My sister’s murder has me acting in ways I never reacted before. My anxiety increases the moment I leave my home, in fear that something could happen to me at any moment. My fears of losing my life, or the life of my family has me constantly calling to check in on them, even if they are safe. One time I showed up at my mama’s house in fear after she didn’t answer the phone. She looked at me like I was crazy and it was then that I realized that I was paranoid. I feel like I can’t trust many people around me. I hate living like this. My mind is stuck in fear.

I realize now, that I am suffering from symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger” (2). Though I have yet to receive any threats to my life, I constantly feel like danger is all around me. I always feel a fear that something dangerous could happen to me, even though I live alone. Living in this fear has caused me to be paranoid and I avoid leaving my house unless for important affairs. “Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD. Symptoms usually begin early, within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes they begin years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD” (2). Living in this fear has caused me to no longer be that carefree woman who never feared anything. Now fear controls my life.

I am currently in therapy and have been in therapy for years for major depression and now bipolar disorder. After this secondary trauma, I am in the face of my fears daily. The fear of losing my life, and the life of those I love. It’s a daily fight to get motivated to leave my bed. Staying in my bed feels safe to me, but I still have a life to live. I want to be able to live my again in the way I used to. I want to still find the joys of life, verses fighting against my fears everyday. I want to smile more, and do what makes me happy again. However, this tragic loss has me not even want to leave my house most days. The pain from grief has me fighting back tears and holding back smiles. I want to know what it feels like to feel free again. I used to be happier. I just want to know what it feels like to be happy again and not in fear. I used to be fearless and courageous. Now I am calculating my every move to accompany my fears. I feel for anyone that is also going through what I am going through. I understand. I just want to live again.

Hopefully one day, I can just live again.

  1. https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-america/
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

© Tanisha R. Coleman and Visions Of A Black Herstorian, LLC 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tanisha R. Coleman and Visions Of A Black Herstorian, LLC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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