August 18, 2020

Remembering Daisy Coleman: PTSD is Not Something we “Put Behind Us.”

I watched “Audrie and Daisy” back when it first debuted on Netflix a year ago.

A documentary about two teen girls, both sexually assaulted and victims of bullying and harassment from fellow classmates to strangers to the authorities. Audrie died by suicide a week after being raped and bullied. The story of Audrie is told through the lens of her family. Daisy told much of her own—she was still here; she did live to tell.

Until she couldn’t go on another day.

As we all know, Daisy Coleman, while in the middle of making a follow-up documentary “Saving Daisy” about her healing journey with PTSD since 2016, ended her own life last week. It was only two hours after police had cleared her during a wellness check-in at her home that she died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was only 23 years of age.

If you haven’t watched “Audrie and Daisy,” it’s like most survivor documentaries that start with the magic and beauty and innocence of both girl’s lives before the trauma, the stark contrast to the middle—the viewers’ deep, jagged sadness, sheer rage, and utter disgust, and like the rest, typically end with some type of, at least a hope of, some kind of happily-ever-after.

For Audrie’s family, this comes with raising awareness, speaking out, and activism. For Daisy, the film ends with her crafting her pain into art as a tattoo artist, graduating high school after multiple suicide attempts, and a commitment to “not wanting to be angry anymore,” and to channeling that energy into a bigger cause. And she did all that!

She also ended her life now, four years later.

Sadly, I was not surprised.

PTSD is not something that we “put behind us.” For many victims, the body remains in the heightened fear response of fight, flight, freeze, fawn long after the event has passed. Hence the word “post.” And living every day one panic attack to the next flashback, with periods of deep depression or dissociation in between while awake, only to be awakened all night by night terrors, takes an obvious toll on one’s body. Those four years until Daisy’s death now sound like a long time, but when we stop to understand what she lived with, in the aftermath of her trauma, we understand.

PTSD does not follow the five stages of grief model. There is no formula or quick fix. Let’s remember the five stages of grief are, ironically, about how one comes to terms with death and the dying process.

If you are still here, you are still living in the aftermath of a stolen life. The before life is over. Let’s be honest here, no one is ever the same as they were before, not after something like this. Not only the “before” a trauma like sexual assault, but “before” the ongoing and repeated trauma of being forced to retell the event and make sense of the senselessness of that event, but also all the moments in the “after,” when we are blamed for being assaulted or not believed we were in the first place. Or being questioned about why we did or did not do this or that instead of what we did do, which was f*cking survive.

Give us some credit, please.

Then reliving it over and over and over again, either when someone says something cruel or judgmental or, worse, when someone knows and you know they know and they say nothing. (I know of nothing more painful than a loved one or a friend’s silence and the dark thoughts that can accompany those lack of words, which can be heartbreaking.)

When I watched Daisy accept her graduation diploma, when I watched all 207 victim impact statements given in the Larry Nassar USA gymnastics/University of Michigan State case, I cheered and I cried.

I also wondered who would not be here in the years that follow.

Since I graduated in 2013 and 2015 from my own treatment for PTSD, anxiety, and depression, I’ve known five men and women of perhaps 50 who have died by suicide. That’s 10 percent who are dead and that does not include all of the others who have made numerous failed attempts at suicide or who daily deal with self-harm, eating disorders, addictions, and repeated revictimizations like further assaults, harassment, alienation, or intimate partner violence.

So perhaps instead of writing memoirs and screenwriting docs of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, with a whole other next level of the expectations now placed upon these victims for personal transformation as Survivors, maybe we should recoin our terminology?

Maybe we should have been left knowing Daisy was standing strong one day, and sitting in the rubble and the ashes the next—that she was surviving, and that alone is more than enough.

Rest in peace, Daisy Coleman.

Thank you for speaking the truth about these hard and painful things. May we never forget the injustice you received in the courts and in the community. May we all vow to demand that predators and those who protect them and enable them be brought to justice!

Your legacy and fight for victims everywhere will never be forgotten.


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