Gabriella's Story

Gabriella 1.jpeg

“From everything you’ve told me, it sounds like you have the symptoms of PTSD.” When those words came from my doctor’s mouth, I was in disbelief. I hated the sound of it – post-traumatic stress disorder. That wasn’t me. I hadn’t been to war. He also told me I was experiencing symptoms of depression. I knew that something wasn’t right, that I hadn’t felt like myself lately, but I would have never thought that this would be the diagnosis.

 I was having a terrible time sleeping. My bouts of insomnia would last for weeks. I chalked it up to just every day stress and starting a new job, but I knew I needed to do something the day my daughter said to me: “what’s wrong? You look really sad.”

My doctor wasn’t the first person I reached out to for help. I was connected to a psychologist through my employee benefits. That phone call took a lot of courage for me. The session with her was not what I expected. It didn’t seem like she cared or wanted to help at all.

But I didn’t give up. The 2nd psychologist I met with finally made me feel like I had hope, like things could change for me. She helped me to unravel what I was going through and why I was experiencing these feelings.

When I was a kid, I saw a lot of violence in my house. My parents would fight all the time. The yelling and screaming were unbearable. My dad hit my mom a lot. I tried to protect my sister from it. I would take her into the other room, play with her, make noise – anything so she wouldn’t hear it. Hear the anger, rage and the abuse.

His control debilitating. It held me back from so much. There is so much I wanted to do and become. It was suffocating.

I felt like I was choking. I couldn’t say anything about what was going on. I couldn’t tell anybody. The family would look bad. The image that people had of us would change. The image they had of me would change. I just couldn’t do it.

When we all moved to Canada, the abuse didn’t change. I was pushed to my breaking point. One night after an argument with my father, he told me to leave the house. I said “gladly”. I then went to my room, packed my things and never went back.

My counsellor helped me to see that all the things that I had been through and all the things that I had seen wasn’t my fault. I came to understand that you don’t have to be a soldier to be affected by PTSD. She recommended a group therapy program with Calgary Counselling Centre, Women and Self-Esteem.

Although the other women in the group hadn’t been through exactly what I had, we did have things in common. The feelings we were having – the depression and the low self-worth –  bonded us. I started to feel less alone. The two counsellors leading the group were amazing. They didn’t give me the answers; they allowed me to discover that I had the answers all along. This was very empowering.

Through the weeks with these women, I learned about and started to implement healthy boundaries. I never understood the power that this would have because I didn’t understand boundaries. I think this was one of the most important lessons I took away.  

I am still in touch with my parents. They live in a small town in British Columbia. They still fight constantly. But I’m different now. I stand up for myself. When I visit them with my family, I firmly limit my time with them. We don’t stay at their house because they’re constantly arguing, swearing at each other and slamming doors; I won’t have my kids around that kind of anger. That’s not my normal anymore and I won’t tolerate it. It feels very empowering to be able to set that boundary and just walk away.

The most difficult part of the group happened near the end when we were instructed to write a mission statement for ourselves. It was very uncomfortable, maybe more uncomfortable than making that first call for help.

I wrote a letter to myself – about who I was and who I am now. I keep it in my nightstand and a photo of it with me on my phone. It reminds me of my strength on the days when I don’t feel so strong.

I feel like I’ve done a complete turnaround. I’m sleeping better and I’m so much more confident at my job.

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over when you grow up. The things I witnessed and experienced will always be with me. But now, they won’t always control me. I’m not afraid of the words PTSD and depression anymore. I feel like I’m in a really good place.