I have a form of PTSD From The Streets. Let’s talk about that.
Yesterday as I left the office for lunch, there was a gentleman standing behind a turn on the exit. As I walked by, he made a gesture that I perceived as a threat. Instinctively, my body responded, and though I masked it somewhat well, I think he sensed that I prepared to engage.
Once I determined that he was not a threat, I nodded at him, and the other gentleman who actually works in the building. I took a deep breath as I walked away. This caused me to think about how all of my experiences growing up in the “hood” have psychologically affected my day to day life.
I am a fully functional adult, with little to no limitations in life. However, I do carry some trauma from the level of violence I encountered as a child, and a teenager in the streets. It can still manifest itself on occasions like yesterday. Also, if I am walking somewhere, and I see a large group being loud and obnoxious, I immediately become very nervous, and my mind prepares for a fight.
Growing up, when something like what happened yesterday occurred, it was usually followed up by an all-out assault. When someone made a threatening gesture, it was more often than not followed by an assault, and I had to fight, run, or get a beat down. When I encountered large groups, they generally perceived me as easy prey, and once again, more often than not, I ended up getting assaulted.
In a best-case scenario, these encounters were some form of ridicule, temporary detainment against my will, then being sent off without a hat, or a few slaps. In a worst-case scenario, I’d go home bleeding, swollen, or without a coat. It was rough for a kid like me growing up in the South Bronx.
These experiences made me somewhat street savvy, and relatively tough if I need to be. However, they also left invisible, and some visible scars that cause me to behave in a way that some people just don’t seem to understand. If you have never been held in a choke hold, as a man shoots into a car, using your small body as a shield, you’ll never understand. If you’ve never had a knife to your neck, as you are being slapped around, being dared to retaliate, you will never understand. If you have never been ridiculed at lunch, and had your milk taken by some gang member’s little brother, you will never understand. If you have never been involved in a gang fight, you will never understand.
The bottom line is, unless you have lived the life I lived, then you’ll never understand why people like me respond to things the way we do. I never realized that I have a form of PTSD, but as I learned more about it while studying our veterans, I realized that it affects more than just war vets.
There are all forms of trauma that individuals encounter. Your war may have been in Iraq, and mine in the South Bronx, but our minds don’t know the difference. A gunshot is a gunshot. Being held at gunpoint has the same psychological effect here as it does in an active war zone. I am not saying that my trauma is more or less, I’m saying that trauma is trauma.
Though I do confess, I cannot begin to imagine the level of pressure that our veterans deal with in an all out combat zone where every moment is a struggle to survive. Let’s have that clear!
Please keep that in mind when dealing with individuals who may seem a little tense or cautious about certain things or situations. You never know what a person has been through.