Play A Little Game
A memoir about my trauma and how I battle PTSD to this day
There was a lot of trauma in my early childhood. My parents divorced, I was moved away from my friends and lost contact with all but two of my friends from my hometown due to my mother’s manipulation and vindictiveness, I was severely bullied in school for being Neurodivergent (even if people didn’t know I was Neurodivergent at the time), and the cat that practically raised me died. I contribute all that happening around the same time to my early onset depression that I was diagnosed with at the tender age of eight. But as for my PTSD, that’s a partly a whole other story.
I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have been open about it for a while. I fit nearly all the criteria used to diagnose C-PTSD in young adults, but I often find myself sidelined because some people do not think I’m “traumatized enough” to have C-PTSD. Much of my illness is due to severe bullying and ostracization from my peers starting at a young age and continuing until I started college, and another large part of it is from the mental and emotional abuse inflicted on me by my mother, who is an untreated Narcissist who refuses to get help for her disorder. But if I talked about all that turmoil, we’d be here all day. So I will share the story of a traumatic event that happened in my childhood that haunts me physically to this day.
From when I was in second grade through sixth grade, I went to a Waldorf school. For those who don’t know, Waldorf Education revolves around a nature based curriculum. I was taught how to forage, how to build lean-toos, how to garden, how to knit, and I was taught about stories and cultures from across the world. Being in a Waldorf school with Autism was difficult at times, but what other kid can say that they learned how to speak basic Swahili at the age of eight? What other white child knows the stories and culture of the Indigenous People whose land we were living on? It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world… Except for one thing.
In Waldorf school, we didn’t have gym class. Instead we had “games class” which was taught by a man named Bob. Games class mainly took place outside, and Bob would give us a game such as Ogre, where he would put on a silly hat and guarded a “treasure” of scarves and we had to try to steal the treasure at the risk of getting tagged and thrown into the Ogre’s dungeon and also try to break our classmates free from the dungeon. However, on days with bad weather or an extreme wind chill we would march across the school campus to The Hall.
The Hall was a gathering center that wasn’t attached to the school building itself. It functioned as an auditorium, a market place during school festivals, and a gymnasium when we needed to have Games class indoors. However, The Hall had strict rules. One of these rules is that people were not allowed to wear shoes in The Hall. So we all had to take off our shoes in the entry way and run around in stocking-feet when we gathered in The Hall.
This particular occasion took place on a cold Thursday morning in January 2013, a few months before my tenth birthday. It was snowing out and there was a bad wind chill, so Bob lead our mixed class of Third and Fourth graders to The Hall for Games Class. That particular Games Class had something to do with jumpropes if I remember correctly, but it has been almost ten years since the event. I don’t quite remember anything leading up to the event, but I remember running around with my friends on the slippery hardwood floor in our socks—something that was a recipe for disaster. It was in a split second that one of my companions and I tripped over each other and went tumbling to the floor, where I landed flat on my face. I remember feeling a dull, throbbing pain in my mouth that soon got stronger, and the teacher was immediately at my side. Then, I saw what looked like a tooth on the ground. I had broken the permanent top central inscisor on my left side in half. I started crying, and my main teacher who was in the basement of The Hall came to my side after Bob had sent one of my classmates to go get her. She walked with me all the way to the main office where she and the director of the school called my mother after giving me an ice pack to hold to my mouth.
My mother has been a therapist specializing in homecare since I was very young, so she was out and about visiting patients at the time. Unfortunately she was a bit of a ways away in a rural area and the snow was coming down. So my teacher loaded me into her car and drove me to the general store near my godmother’s house about 15 minutes away, where she handed me off to my mother who would take me to my dentist in the nearby city. My mother drove me there as fast as she could despite the loads of snow coming down from the sky and the traffic to the city. As we got stuck behind a snow plow, I heard the F-Bomb dropped for the first time by my mother, who then quickly made me promise to never repeat that word… I did not end up keeping that fucking promise.
We managed to get to my dentist, but the lights were all off inside. My mother ran to the door and started banging on it but there was no answer. I don’t remember the phone call she made but I remember that she told me the dentist was closed for the day due to the heavy snow and they refused to even take me in as an emergency.
My mother had to get back to work or risk being fired, so she did what she had to do. She took me to one of her patients’ houses, whose daughter ran a daycare inside the house, and dropped me there for an hour while she visited a different patient. Instead of playing with the little kids in the care of the patient’s daughter, I was sat down on the couch in the living room with a fresh ice pack and a throw blanket and left to watch The Game Plan on Disney Channel. It was a surreal time, with the pain in my mouth now a dull, throbbing ache and my eyes still a bit watery from crying. Eventually, my mother did come back to get me and told me she found a dentist who would fix me. So we went to this strange office (I was told it was a “grown up dentist”) where the dentist and his assistant attached a plastic cap on the end of my tooth where it had broken, gave me some painkillers, and called it a day. I still have that plastic cap on almost ten years later.
I didn’t get a lollipop or a sticker from the dentist, which I was miffed about, but my mother did buy me a new Webkinz for being such a brave girl and to feed my addiction to the toys.
If that had been the end of it, I could have moved on. I could have lived a normal life free of that trauma. But it wasn’t the end.
A year later to the week, I was now a 10 year old approaching her 11th birthday. Because of my accident the year prior, policies had been updated. Now you were only allowed to go into The Hall with bare feet—no shoes or socks. I was understandably nervous being in Games Class, but I had been reassured by my mother and teacher that nothing bad would happen.
Then Bob somehow got the BRILLIANT idea of “hey kids! Let’s all get in a circle, hold hands, and run around in a circle together!” With ideas like that, I don’t know how that man survived as long as he did. But we all joined hands and started running around in a circle. I wasn’t an athletic kid, and running around in The Hall still made me nervous especially when combined with spinning as fast as we were. The gears in my brain turned, and I concluded that my safest bet would be to drop to my knees and let go of my friends’ hands while we were moving. This would allow me to slide across the floor to safety so I wouldn’t have to participate in an activity that made me visibly uncomfortable.
It was a risk, and in the words of The Mincing Mockingbird; “the risk I took was calculated but MAN am I bad at math.”
I ended up sliding across the floor as planned, but I underestimated exactly how fast I would slide across the floor. Because of this, I slid at top speed face first into the wall. It was a haze at first, but I felt a horrible pain in my mouth and heard other kids going “oh my god!” “Oh my god her tooth!” in terrified whispers. As I tried to get to my feet, I then noticed the red liquid dripping to the floor. I panicked. I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror to find a gaping, bloody hole where my permanent top right incisor was.
I screamed bloody murder, a scream agonizing and horrible enough that all the classes going on in the basement of the hall heard it and came up to see what was going on. My main teacher was one of the first to arrive on scene, having been teaching her painting class in the basement again. She held me and brought me back to the main office, trying to comfort me as best she could while I was in pain and full of fear. But I still remember her saying; “two times in a year, oh you poor thing.”
She called my mom once again, who was again a ways away. I sat in the front office crying, holding a rag and an ice pack to my mouth. Fortunately, however, after last year’s incident my mother had the mind to switch dentists. My new dentist was only a mile and a half up the road from school. After one of my classmates delivered the tooth I had knocked out, which was miraculously not broken, my teacher put me into her car again and drove me to the dentist, where she waited with me until my mom arrived. When we arrived at the dentist, she gave me a little plastic finger puppet that she kept on her dashboard who I believe was named “Scawy”. She told me that I could hold onto him until everything was over, and then it would be less scary. You best believe I clutched that little puppet like my life depended on it.
The emergency surgery I endured is a haze to me now. I only remember being in that dentist’s chair crying while they tried to give me novocaine shot after novocaine shot as more blood dripped from my mouth, and eventually they shoved my tooth back into my head and made sure it stayed there by putting a splint on it. They put a glob of braces glue on the tooth and the two teeth on either side of it, and then put a golden wire into the glue on all three teeth to make it stick so the teeth on either side would hold my tooth until the flesh and bone sealed it back into place. I still have that tooth to this day.
I got sympathy from people, but I wasn’t prepared at all for the scrutiny and the aftermath of the ordeal.
The scrutiny started with the mother of one of the children in my class, who told my mother that I had screamed too much and if she was in that situation she would have just rinsed her mouth out and popped the tooth back in place. People like my mom’s boyfriend at the time and some parents assumed I did this for attention. When I talked about how much it hurt and how scared I was, my mother just told me “be thankful you didn’t lose an eye or break your head open. It could have been worse.”
As a ten year old, I wasn’t prepared for the triggers that came with such heavy trauma. Had I just broken my tooth once, I think I would have been fine. But twice in the course of a year in the same class in the same building rewired my way of thinking.
I began to fear walking on any hardwood floor, even the floor in my own house. I started staying exclusively on my bed or on the rug of the living room and if I wanted to get somewhere I crawled around the floors rather than walked. I began to fear the month of January and became superstitious that it was bad luck and bad things would happen to me and my loved ones in the month of January.
I hated Games Class and made a point to avoid it, preferring to stay in my classroom and read through all the books on the shelf.
I now had a hard time watching my favorite cartoons because so many cartoons included knocking out a character’s teeth as a form of humor. I didn’t understand why my heartbeat quickened and I started to cry when I watched it.
Bob tried to make me feel better after the incident by showing me his false tooth in exactly the same location and popping it out of place. It did not work. I just started to have a panic attack again.
As I grew older, the trauma still persisted. I went through many dental procedures such as skin grafts and root canals that left me with anxiety surrounding my dental care and visits to the dentist.
Now, at the age of 18, I still have PTSD from the incidents and it manifests in many different ways:
I can’t run on hard surfaces such as pavement or hardwood floors anymore. I start to feel panicked when I do and think that I’m going to trip and fall on my face.
I have an anxiety attack even when I enter a gymnasium. This made going to public school, where gym was required, unbearable. Even walking into a gym for an assembly sends my adrenaline running. Despite having frequent panic attacks and meltdowns in gym class throughout middle school and high school, I was still expected to go and was punished when I didn’t go. Now I have not had a gym class in almost 2 years and I could not be more grateful that it’s over.
I still have a hard time watching cartoons where a character has teeth knocked out as a “comedy element”, which sucks because I love cartoons and don’t understand why so many people think that it’s funny. I can tell you as someone who lived through it; it’s not fucking funny.
On a similar note, I can’t look at people who have actual tooth stuff going on that’s visible. One of my new college friends has visible cavities on some of his teeth (dental care is a luxury around here and he can’t afford to get them fixed) and for the first week I knew him I couldn’t even look at him until I eventually got desensitized to it. Another guy I’ve met who is a friend of a friend has teeth in his mouth that are literally grey and rotting like in my PTSD-inducted nightmares and I CANNOT be around him hc seeing him smile triggers me into a full blown panic attack that I have to suffer through in silence so I don’t hurt anyoneMs feelings.
I have nightmares, hallucinations, and phantom pain episodes at least once a month. Nightmares often consist of my teeth falling or rotting out of my head, leaving only grey mush and blood in my mouth. Often after these nightmares when I run to the bathroom I don’t see my own reflection, but instead see my ten year old self in the mirror covered in blood and crying. Phantom pains occur randomly, usually when I’m watching tv or reading a book and suddenly I feel pain in my mouth in the general area of my injuries like it’s been knocked out or broken again, but it’s usually a very dull pain that sends a rush of adrenaline through my body.
Another thing that I deal with, especially as an adult, is the constant invalidation and downplaying of my trauma by the people around me. The main perpetrator of this being my own mother.
My mother ignores my symptoms and my diagnosis by a professional psychiatrist and tells me that I don’t really have PTSD because it wasn’t that big a deal and it was so long ago… But then turns around and makes jokes with her friends about how she has “PSTD” from me digging my nails into her hand while I was literally having emergency surgery for my injuries.
When my stepdad broke the same tooth I lost this past summer at the root and had a big gaping hole in his mouth for a week until he could see a dentist, he made a point to smile and show it off to me despite me literally recoiling every time he did it. He and my mom laughed when this happened and treated it as a funny joke despite the fact I was literally having war flashbacks.
My own friends, who were there for the incident, talk as if they’re downplaying my trauma. They talk about how they watched it happen and they were so scared and crying and thought it was their fault it happened… But they don’t think about how it affected me. You know, the person who was actually severely injured in the accident.
As I mentioned previously, the schools that I went to always ignored my obvious, visible trauma from the incident and forced me into games or gym class anyway because “it is required”. If they didn’t make an exception for me, who else aren’t they making an exception for? What happens to the kids in wheelchairs? The kids with asthma? The diabetic kids? The kids with chronic pain issues? What happens to them if nobody is allowed a free pass from gym because “its required”.
These incidents affected me greatly, and continue to have a considerable sway on my life to this day. I have been going to therapy for years and I feel I am making progress in my healing journey, but I also know I have a long way to go and that I may never recover from it fully. I resent the fact that it happened and I resent the people who keep constantly downplaying my trauma. But I am glad that now that I have surrounded myself with people who see and understand me and accept me, scars and all, and who try to accommodate me as best they can. It is thanks to those people, who never degrade or disregard me, that I am able to work towards healing.