Full text of educator Dani Bostick’s talk titled “Breaking the Silence about Childhood Trauma” at TEDxGreenville conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Dani Bostick – Educator, Writer, and Advocate
So what do you think about when you hear Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Military. Exactly. And there’s a reason for that. There’s a lot of service members who have PTSD.
And there’s also another reason for that. The injury that troops suffer happens very, very far away, and that injury is happening to people we consider heroes. So that’s a very very safe way for us to talk about PTSD; it’s a safe way for us to talk about trauma because it happens far away, and it’s happening to very strong people.
PTSD doesn’t just affect veterans, however. That’s me. I was enrolled in gymnastics. That’s right around the time I discovered I wasn’t very good at gymnastics because Dominique Dawes signed up for my class.
And in hindsight, maybe I could have been OK-ish at gymnastics but at that time, I was like, ‘You know what, this just isn’t for me.’
So, I started taking swim lessons and I joined a swim team, and that’s when my trauma began, because my swim coach was a predator and he sexually abused me for five years, from the age of seven to around 12.
So, lots of people think that PTSD is just for veterans, but it can affect children too; just like it affected me. And I’m not alone in my experience at all. 1 in 8 children suffers enough trauma to have long-lasting negative effects, in terms of both mental health and physical health, well into adulthood.
And these 1 in 8 children can expect to experience a lifespan that is 20 years shorter than their peers. And the fact is that combat is not the only type of trauma; child sexual abuse is not the only type of trauma. Because another way we try to make trauma OK, in addition to making a very far away, is to make it a little less farther away but still far away, ‘Oh that happens to other people. That happens to people in different neighborhoods.’
Well, it can happen to anyone, and I’m willing to bet there’s people here who’ve experienced something similar to what I’ve experienced, and I’m also willing to bet that there’s people here who’ve experienced other kinds of trauma; it could be a car accident, a serious illness, witnessing a death, some type of other kind of violence, living in poverty can be a type of trauma.
The stakes are extremely high for children, because trauma can change the architecture of the developing brain. And since stakes are so high, I’ve always wondered why didn’t I know about this before?
You see, I didn’t know I experienced PTSD or even trauma until I was a student in counseling school. I had been a teacher for 10 years and had probably seen over a thousand students. I had never learned about the symptoms of PTSD. I always thought it was for other people, far far away. I never thought it was something that I had experienced, and I never thought it was something that was affecting me every single day.
And I remember sitting in that class and I’m taking notes, and I’m writing down the symptoms: intrusive thoughts, mm-hmm, avoidance; and I’d always called avoidance, I don’t know if you can tell I’m from the mid-Atlantic region, so avoidance, for me, was strength; nothing bothered me. But really, I was avoiding my own reality.
I also learned about nightmares; I learned about hyper arousal, overreacting emotionally to certain situations. So, I’m sitting there taking notes; class goes out on a break; we’re all looking at each other; several of us figured out in that class that we had PTSD.
And I thought, why haven’t I learned about this before? Why don’t we talk about trauma and children? Why don’t we talk about trauma in other populations?
So, in addition to reading the book and seeing it in a very clinical way, which is also a very safe way to deal with trauma, I learned about PTSD by experiencing it. You see, around that time, I reported my childhood perpetrator. I called the police and said, “This harm happened to me. I know something happened.”
They said, “Well, what happened?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
And they said, “When did it happen?”
And I said, “30 years ago.”
And I was fully expecting to click, and the detective said, “Next time you’re in Maryland, come on and we’ll take a statement.”
So, as I processed my trauma, and I processed it partially through reporting, I learned a lot. And here’s what you need to know about trauma, and here’s what you need to know to help millions of children like the child I was.