By: Richard Kovarovic
Over a decade ago a man I’d never known, and never would know, hit me in the back of the skull with a hammer. The flat head came swiftly down and connected with my own, and the pressure of the blow split the skin, creating arms made of flesh forced to separate. The wound was like a bloodied starfish. My vision flashed metallic white, and the sound cut out, and I turned and put my hand up, only to have it meet the second blow. It smashed into my finger and the hammer’s head connected with the top of the occipital bone, leaving a crescent cut.
Time had slowed after the first hit, and after the second it sped up, fast-forwarded. I dropped my backpack, walk-man, whatever, and I ran, with everything in my head knocked around, with the fast forward button still held down, my mind skimming the various possibilities. Hand to head I ran through the woods, the trees on either side of me vertical brown blurs.
What followed included a 911 call, being placed on a stretcher, and transported to a hospital. I only remember fragments what happened while I was there, like having the blood soaked t-shirt cut off. Whoever was stitching my head had a hard time with the larger wound, and she had to pull out the thread midway through her work and start over. I remember the bandages being wrapped around and around my head, and being sent home looking like a living caricature of an antiquated soldier injured in battle.
There was an investigation into the attack; the various belongings I dropped were pointlessly recovered. I picked my attacker out of a book, a catalog of faces, and during the same visit the detectives asked me for information about a recent spree of petty vandalism they believed was being carried out by boys in my age range, people I might know. It was an attempt at killing two birds with one stone I suppose, and at the very least was a tactless and unprofessional maneuver.
A man was arrested, someone the police had suspected during the entire investigation.
While all of this was going on, and long after, rumors surrounding the event went into circulation in the community, and I heard them when I was school. Mothers and fathers suspected it was drug related, or that it could have been gambling debts, because a boy not yet 15 and barely working might have hefty gambling debts. Or perhaps I had been sleeping with someone’s girlfriend, some wondered.
In retrospect I understand the response from the community; it was one born of fear, and the inability to accept the simple explanation that the incident was an act of random violence, one that occurred in a small, well-off town. And oddly enough now, I have no animosity towards the man who hit me, and it’s gotten harder to recall the exact pain caused by the hammer, and while I carry the entire incident with me, and probably always will, it’s harder to dismiss the effect the reactions of others had on me.
The three and half years that followed were, in many ways, a direct result of the incident, even though it never occurred to me at the time that it was PTSD that was haunting me. Depression and anxiety constantly reared their heads, compounded by the typical confusion and frustration of being a teenager, and I spent most of my adolescence living recklessly and being the type of person who took things too far. Drugs came and went, as did emotional attachments. I spent my time trying to escape how I felt in the most physically and emotionally unhealthy ways possible.
Eventually I realized I couldn’t keep living as I had been, and I got help. The subsequent years had ups and downs, misdiagnoses and medications that didn’t work, or just made things worse. The entire time I was living with a growing anxiety that came and went, though I usually just attributed it to stress. I couldn’t properly identify the buzz of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or the electricity of a panic attack.
Various prescriptions were tried, none of which helped, and all of which had side effects I couldn’t tolerate. I began seeing a therapist that specialized in CBT, and shortly after I ran into some legal trouble that left me in a state of agitation, hopelessness, and seemingly persistent anxiety for almost a year.
After things settled down, I began working with my doctor to piece together my mental processes and behavioral patterns, and I realized that even though a stranger attacked me without reason over a decade ago, it was still tied into my current anxiety and the way my mind processes certain situations. I still carry distrust for authority figures or those in positions of power, like the police. I still avoid certain situations and don’t take risks, without realizing I’m even practicing avoidance.
And now, going on two years of CBT, things still aren’t ideal, but they’re better. There are times when my mind is a constant flow of jumbled, racing thoughts, what-ifs, and worst case scenarios. And sometimes I can still feel the sensation of a panic attack beginning inside my chest, expanding, and stretching its electric tendrils out through my arms and up the back of my neck, connecting itself to the flurry of circular, and ultimately, nihilistic thinking.
The thing is, even though it’s still there, I’m getting better at identifying and managing it. Looking inward and figuring out ways to cope with and avoid self-sabotaging and destructive trains of thought has helped ease the anxiety, and the quality of my life.
So if you’ve taken the time to read this, and you identify with anything I’ve described, whether it’s anxiety or depression, or if you’ve been the victim of an act of violence, I just want you to know that you aren’t alone.
You aren’t alone, and things can get better.