The No One Told Me Series: When You Don’t Recognize Yourself in the Mirror

The No One Told Me Series: When You Don’t Recognize Yourself in the Mirror

Sometimes I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize the reflection staring back at me.

I didn’t realize that this happens to other people until I read an article about PTSD in first responders. The article hits very close to home for me, because it happened in my city. The victim in this article is the husband of a very brave, wonderful lady that I used to work with. Please read it and show the first responders in your life some extra support. The full article can be found here. 

he part I related to most was this quote.

Neher went home in the gathering darkness, had a smoke, poured a glass of water and noticed something in a mirror across from the sink. “I caught my reflection in the mirror, and I didn’t recognize myself,” he said. “I thought: It’s time to get help.”

That’s when I realized it’s not just me. There are more people who understand what it’s like to not recognize yourself in the mirror. I’m not a weirdo, this is a completely normal reaction. Maybe one day I’m going to be ok.

There are so many how-to guides for navigating life with PTSD, or after sexual assault.
They are useful, and they provide helpful tips and tricks for you and your loved ones.
They aim to make you feel less alone. And sometimes they do that.

But there is no how-to guide for some of the more nuanced things, like what to do when you become a stranger to yourself.

Sexual assault is an alienating experience. Truly. Like any traumatic event, it splits your life into two. Cracks it right down the middle, into before and after. Sometimes the ‘During’ is the fault line that divides it, and it just becomes a void. Other times, ‘during’ becomes a part of ‘after’, and you are stuck in ‘during’ for minutes, hours, days at a time. ‘During’ consumes you and you can’t run fast enough to get away from it. ‘During’ is when you look in the mirror and can’t for the life of you identify the person looking back at you with those dead eyes.

But it also alienates you from yourself. The girl you thought you were would never have done something like that. The loud, confident girl you were just a few weeks ago would never sit in the corner, shaking like a leaf in a mundane staff meeting. But the girl you’ve become can’t even make her way into the boardroom.

Sometimes I just stare at her – trying to figure out who this person is. Maybe I can become her. She looks hard, dazed, but somehow focused. Blank stare, dull eyes, ghostly skin. Who is this girl? I don’t know anything about her, but I do know that she is lost. I am trying desperately to understand her, and how this happened. Maybe she is part of ‘before’.

My mom always tells me that I’m still her little girl. But seeing the stranger in the mirror reminds me that I’m not the same person as I was ‘before’ and I never will be. So I’m just going to keep building the ‘after’ me. The ‘after’ me is pretty sweet – she’s gotten kinda tough, and knows her way around the weight room. But I sometimes can’t help looking for the ‘before’ me. She was cute and innocent and trusting.

I could get scientific about ‘Dissociation’, what the girl in the mirror is actually called. But there are hundreds of articles on the science behind it and what to do about it. That’s not what we need. We need to hear “it happens to other people. And it freaks them out too. They feel weird about it and try to pretend it doesn’t happen, just like you. And they also don’t know what to do about it..”

So maybe this was not a helpful step-by-step guide to recognizing yourself in the mirror. I still don’t know how. But when I do recognize myself, I give me a big huge smile, and maybe a wink for good measure.

There are many other seemingly small things that keep us awake at night, wondering why we are so weird.  I am going to try to tackle more of them here on the blog. If you have any suggestions, please speak up! This is your community and we would love to hear from you!

Editor’s note: The photo for this post is from the Veteran Vision Project. It’s an amazing project aiming to help veterans heal by providing them with a voice. Be sure to check it out at 



Hi! I'm Elizabeth, a blogger on When You're I spent 2 years struggling with PTSD and panic attacks following a violent attack. I want to use my experience and my voice to raise support for others. I desperately want to make the world a safer place for girls and women, especially my two little sisters. Keep talking, Keep sharing. When You're Ready, I'll be here.



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