You Don’t Have PTSD, You’re Not In The Military: Redefining Our View Of PTSD

My husband told me a story the other day from work.  He forewarned me that I may be a little upset by it.  Uh-oh.  I was a bit worried but once he mentioned the words “Mental Illness” I instantly knew why I would be angered.

“Who said something stupid now?” I asked him expecting some noneducational comment about Mental Illness not being real.

It wasn’t a who this time, but someone’s calendar that offended him.  A calendar?!  Odd, but I had him proceed.  The calendar was created and distributed by the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).  It was in a coworkers cubicle.  Okay, nothing wrong displaying a calendar from the VFW.  I fully support our Veterans.  My father is a Veteran.  How can a calendar from the VFW anger me?!

He went on to explain that the calendar had pointed out that that particular day was PTSD Awareness Day.  I looked at him oddly, “Okay, and?  Not seeing the offensive part…”

“It wasn’t just PTSD Awareness Day, it was Veteran’s PTSD Awareness Day.  I don’t know, it just made me feel like they only think those in the military get PTSD.”

I thought on this a moment.  I actually viewed it as the opposite.  The VFW created a whole separate day dedicated to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans.  This is big to me.  Actually acknowledging that the illness exists is huge.  A ginormous step in eradicating the stigma behind PTSD.  I relayed my thoughts to my husband.  He understood but still felt that it ignored the many people who suffered from PTSD and were not in the military.

This I understood.  When someone mentions PTSD, most people will instantly think of someone in the military and mainly a male who was in war.  I did this for the longest time until these four letters were labeled to me.  I have never served (many thank yous to those who have).  The closest I have gotten to the military is wearing my father’s dog tags as a teen because that was in style.  So, how did I, a full time working mom develop PTSD?

Trauma.

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience” on dictionary.com   The definition does not limit it to one group of people.  Trauma can impact anyone at any moment.  One can experience trauma from war, trauma from abuse, trauma from rape, trauma from birth, or like mine, trauma from loss.  I cannot say my trauma was as horrible as those that have seen war, but it still deeply affected me and those around me.  To have an experience that distresses you to complete exhaustion and removes you from reality is serious and can affect anyone.

The ‘T’ of the acronym should be highlighted for all to understand.  While the military makes up a large percentage of those diagnosed with PTSD, there are many people with this diagnosis that have never served.  My trauma came in the quick (extremely quick) time frame of fostering-to-adopt, falling in love with this child, and then losing this child because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  What resulted in these less than 3 months was a depleted being who had lost a ton of weight and frankly, her mind.  After my former foster son went away, I fell into the deepest (and darkest) episode of Major Depressive Disorder of my life thus far.  I grieved.  I grieved for him, I grieved for myself.  For fear that I would hurt myself, because honestly I was worried to be alone with myself, I became inpatient at the local hospital.  After being discharged a whole 5 days later, my PTSD symptoms started.

Everything triggered me.  Driving to my psychiatrist was the worst.  I would pass the Department of Children and Families and start sobbing and having flashbacks.  Then I would pass the hospital and cry more.  It didn’t end there.  Once I arrived at my psychiatrist the tears continued to flow.  Songs made me cry and have more flashbacks.  I couldn’t listen to Adele’s Hello or Ed Sheeren’s Photograph for months.  I would find things at home that were Tyler’s and left behind and once again I was thrown back in time.  Trigger after trigger.  It was an endless game.

But the flashbacks were not my only symptom.  Because of them, I tried to avoid anything that would trigger me.  This led to alternate routes to my psychiatrist which just caused me to be late and feel more shame.  I would try to hide in my bedroom or in my cubicle.  I became isolated, not wanting to be around anyone.  I couldn’t concentrate and had insomnia.

Eventually both my psychiatrist and my therapist at the time gave me a PTSD diagnosis, but a mild one.  It took a new form of therapy (God Bless EMDR), a new therapist and time (over 2 years) and I no longer have this diagnosis.

 

 

 

“When Will You Be Done?!”

I’m sitting in silence rocking slightly back and forth.  I’ve been threatened and my survival instincts are kicking in.  Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  I am stuck… in my cubicle at work.  My stomach is repulsed by food and if I didn’t force myself not to, I would vomit anything that was in it.  My Anxiety is high.  I want to go home, I want to escape to my room and pull the covers over my head shrinking my existence.

I am being harassed, bothered on a project just given to me that I gladly accepted helping with.  I like to help people.  I tend to be a “people pleaser”.  Suddenly with a question asked by an equal, “When will you be done?!”,  I am spiraled into a whole other time and place, my last office.  Those words constantly asked over and over like a broken record…

“When will you be done?!”

“When will you be done?!”

“When will you be done?!”

Like I have a definitive answer.  Who does?  With these words come the visions of my former employment and then my body becomes restless.  I am quickly agitated and can’t sit still.  I rise, leave my cubicle and circle a couple of laps downstairs returning to my desk.  This has not cured the movement desiring beast in me and I still rock back and forth, my hands clenched in tight fists.

Slowly my body begins to release the tension and the rocking lulls.  I am completely exhausted.  I could sleep if I had a bed.  Still working, I notice I receive an email from another associate:

“When will you be done?!”

I am told in that email that I am to respond to another person with:

“When will you be done?!”

I’m overloaded, overwhelmed to the extreme.  I become restless once again, this time my legs swing back and forth, back and forth.  I respond with an email on when I thought I would be done and why it has taken me two days, two days to do almost a complete set of drawings.  Did I mention I was given this two days ago?!  I am a helpful person but not superwoman.  

Suddenly, I am being reprimanded by the “email equal”.  I am being told that my email was unacceptable and should have never been sent.  I am being made to recall said email and being threatened with the possibility of a higher up finding out.  I am beginning to feel stupid as I still do not know what in the email caused this response as all I did was answer the question:

“When will you be done?!”

There was no foul or condescending language (I know better, my parents did not raise an idiot). There was no “I’m not doing this project anymore!” There was nothing but an explanation on when I would be done and the fact the drawings would then have to be reviewed. 

Other equals are telling me there is nothing wrong with the email and not to worry about it.  That what was said to me was harassment.  I was being bullied.  Here I was trying to teach my daughter not to let kids make fun of her, not to let them bully her, and now I was a victim.  I was a hypocrite.  I was stupid.  I was shameful.  I was back to blaming myself for everything.  All the positives, everything I was complimented on, quickly vacated my head and all that was left was Depressed Stephanie, a part of me that was lying mostly dormant these last few months.  

I am still sitting here, still nauseas, body running on only a single-serve Greek yogurt from breakfast (and it is late afternoon).  I still don’t want to leave my cubicle because I don’t want to see these people.  I don’t want to be required to interact with them, at least for the rest of today.  I am now blank, empty and void listening to the drawings for this project  print. I am usually not affected like this at work but today I am.  I have finished, like I said I would, but the damage done to me is not over.  I will be okay, I always bounce back.