PTSD. A word that carries a weight when whispered or read aloud.
Yes, I believe the acronym PTSD is a stand alone word. There is an image created with the word. Whether it’s of a soldier returning home from overseas. A small child sitting in a corner with their arms wrapped around their legs. A woman staring into the world with hollowed eyes.
PTSD comes in all shapes, forms, and sizes. Each survivor’s story is different. Their coping methods vary. And the trajectory of their future is uncertain.
What if….what if there was a way to offer more assistance? How would our world look different if survivors and their loved ones were given another safe place? My purpose in sharing my story is to bring awareness, hope, and dialogue. Additionally, my greatest hope is to root the direction of a reader’s future in *hope.*
When my letter arrived in the mail stating I was 70% disabled due to PTSD I felt as if the world around me was falling apart. Disabled? Me? I wasn’t broken. I came home with all my body parts, there was no way I could be disabled. As I fought this declaration over my life I started to discover maybe I was...
During my exit interview, I shared with the therapist how I coped with the world around me. No news, unless for work. No crowds. Limited to no contact with new people. Constant nightmares (I viewed as memories). Inability to care about other’s daily struggle. Deep rooted mistrust – self preservation attitude. Low tolerance for someone having a bad day. Limited meal variations, same 3 or 4 meals each day. No physical touch with family. Only conversation or topic that felt safe was current operations or sharing previous war stories.
Apparently this was NOT normal. I know, you’re probably laughing or shaking your head (or might be agreeing with me ;)…). Let me share a little more….I was truly dumbfounded when I received a 70% disabled verdict. For 6 months I’d worked hard to talk to people about their children and family situations. I was trying to care about someone else’s relationship struggles. I was going to counseling, identifying triggers, and accepting there was a world outside of the combat zone. Granted, I regularly had to ask myself, “How would a normal person respond in this situation?” so I didn’t respond instinctively and make people uncomfortable (again). My efforts had grown leaps and bounds from when I first came home. I went to a baby shower and laughed. On top of all those efforts I made a very difficult decision, I chose to leave the military because I had an awareness to the level of my PTSD. All these purposeful steps led me to believe I was well on the way to recovery!!! While I was certainly on the road to recovery, there was a lot more to healing than I realized. Even though I’d gone through Emersion Therapy and was coping better my foundation had been rewritten and it took 9 years for me to rewrite it.
During those 9 years I worked really hard to be “normal” and become part of the world around me. I got married, had children, volunteered at church, worked at a bakery then a church. Talk about model citizen making the effort to fit in and play the role she was called to. As I worked hard to overcome my PTSD there was always a piece missing and I would quickly relapse and hide in the bubble I created around myself in hopes of limiting flashbacks and triggers.
I lived in a constant state of fear. Fear of lashing out on my family. Fear of hurting myself. Fear of saying the wrong thing in a social situation, yet again. Fear of…..many things.
I’ll never be “all better” or “fixed.” Instead, I’ve come to accept I will live in a new normal. What I can tell you with certainty is today I have strong tools to help me cope and respond to the world around me. I’m able to mentally and emotionally process relationships, expectations, hopes and dreams again. For 7 years I believed I would always “be this way” and there was no cure. Then one day I decided there had to be a way. I wanted to watch the fireworks with my kids. It was important for my children to experience amusement parks, football or baseball games, and friendships. If I couldn’t do this for myself, how in the world was I going to show my children?
Side note: Change is a choice and a process. I spent 7 years living in my mental prison believing it was the only way. For me, the decision to do something different came from within, inspired by the motivation to improve my marriage. Two years later I have additional motivators pushing me to continue rewriting my foundation and it all started with one.
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