Here’s a nugget of wisdom I now know, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is real, and sadly it’s very real and I’ve recently experienced it.
At about 1:30 in the morning on September 24, I awoke to a horrendous sound. The volume was incredible; it instantly brought me to my feet. The unforgettable sounds of a crash followed by blood-curdling screaming were coming from my bedroom window.
My instincts kicked in and I went into autopilot – I grabbed my phone and ran down to the street in my bare feet. Shaking, breathing hard and terrified, I made my way over to the location of the commotion. A red pickup truck had crashed into a light pole.
Everything became so quiet in that moment; no one was screaming anymore, no traffic sounds, nothing. All I could hear were the frantic thoughts flooding my head, do I remember CPR? Should I call 911? And if I go closer…what will I see?
What I dissolved there was a limp and bleeding body, lying face down on the road. I was frozen, and staring at some unbelievable injuries to a young blond woman. Her lower right leg was gone! Her pants were torn below the knee, shreds of skin, bone and tissue were dripping and bubbling out into a pool of blood and glass.
I saw this horror nearly 3 weeks ago now – but it feels like it was only 5 minutes ago. I have a permanent picture in my mind of the amputation. My memory is torturing me with these horribly vivid images – I can’t stop thinking about that poor woman’s leg.
I like to think that I’m a pretty resilient person; I’m not normally squeamish about unpleasant things. And historically, I’ve been a bit of a free spirit and risk-taker on the road. Not anymore though. Now, the moment I now put my key in the ignition, I feel afraid. I’m afraid I will crash. I’m afraid that I will die or become tragically mangled in an accident. My driving style has been morphed into an overly-cautious-double-checking-neurotic-rookie driver. My driving confidence also crashed on September 24th.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I may be suffering from a mild form of PTSD until a supportive friend texted me a thought provoking message “Holly, you’re not yourself, maybe you should talk to a therapist about the crash.”
I finally get it and sympathize with those who suffer from PTSD. I get how witnessing a traumatic event can have life changing consequences and become a very real personal struggle.
“Frightening situations happen to everyone at some point. People can react in many different ways: they might feel nervous, have a hard time sleeping well, or go over the details of the situation in their mind. These thoughts or experiences are a normal reaction. They usually decrease over time and the people involved can go back to their daily lives. Post-traumatic stress disorder, on the other hand, lasts much longer and can seriously disrupt a person’s life.” (Excerpted from an article on http://www.cmha.ca – Centre for Mental Health)
Occupations that put people in dangerous situations such as military personnel, police, firefighters and doctors experience higher rates of PTSD than other professions.
Many people feel shame around PTSD because they’re often told that they should just get over it. Others may feel embarrassed talking with others. Some people even feel like it’s somehow their own fault. Trauma is hurtful. If you experience problems in your life related to trauma, it’s important to take your feelings seriously and consider talking to a health care professional.
How you can help someone with PTSD
• Start by learning more about this disorder
• People who experience PTSD may withdraw from family and friends. Even if your loved one doesn’t want to talk, you can still remind them that you are there to listen when they’re ready.
• Understand that behaviors related to PTSD—like avoiding certain situations or reacting angrily to a minor problem—are not about you. They are about the illness.
• While it’s usually not a good idea to support behaviors that create problems, it’s still important to support your loved one’s overall movement toward wellness. This balance is not always easy, but you need to respect your own boundaries, too.
• Ask what you can do to help, but don’t push unwanted advice.
Personally speaking, my consequences are not all negative; I am now committed to avoiding texting while driving and wearing my seat belt 100% of the time. My speed is more reasonable and my concentration is intense.
Sharing my personal experience with loved ones and composing this post has been therapeutic in and of itself. Writing and talking is my way of purging the trauma of that tragic night. And as a result of that sad evening – I have genuine empathy and patience for those who have been affected by PTSD.
UPDATE: just hours before I posted this blog – I witness my second major car accident in 3 weeks. My heart still pounded and mind asked hard questions…. but more importantly – my instincts were still reliable….I assisted the victims with a methodical approach, and found my confidence again….scary things may happen, but my lesson here is that I can trust myself to think on my feet, help where I can, and continue to be awesome in the face of extreme life situations.
I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Q: Have you ever experienced symptoms of PTSD?
Q: What strategies did you employ to aid in your recovery?
Thank you for hearing my story….Holly Rodrigue