Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Have We Evolved to a Greater Understanding?

In recent weeks, our nation set aside a day to help raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As such, I am of the opinion that our society has indeed evolved — especially as it relates to the effects of PTSD, an invisible injury.  Those who suffer with PTSD, understand all too well how their lives are greatly altered.  That is if, the individual is even willing to accept the diagnosis.

When I was initially diagnosed with PTSD, I felt ashamed for having become ill.  As a law enforcement professional, I felt betrayed by my own mind.  It felt as if I had somehow failed at my job.  How could Superwoman become ill?  After all, I was trained to be tough.  It was drilled into me not to succumb to the emotion.  And being a woman in the field, I thought it was an offense to cry!  How dare I even consider showing any type of feelings while wearing the blue.  It would have been a sacrilege to desecrate the uniform and badge with my salty tears.

Yet despite my repeated attempts to deny the diagnosis, my mind began to slip into the dark abyss of depression.  And when the overwhelming sadness that infiltrated my being was mixed with anxiety, it made for a prescription of a complete alteration to my life.  As the illness silently crept into my being, it caused great destruction and not only from a psychological mindset, but from the physiological perspective too.  I suffered with avoidance issues, emotional detachment, exaggerated startle effect, flashbacks, fibromyalgia, heart palpitations, hyper-vigilance, inflammation, migraines, negative changes in beliefs, night sweats, outbursts of anger, reoccurring nightmares and stomach ailments.  These symptoms only added to my embarrassment at having become ill and my need to isolate from the rest of the world.  This once vibrant individual who looked forward to each new day, froze in fear at the thoughts of having to leave my home.  And when the agency that I served with labeled me as medically unable to perform my duties, the devastation to my psyche was complete.  If I was not fit for duty, then in my mind, I was no longer of use to the world.  I had in some way failed at my purpose to serve and protect.

For a very long time, I delved in the mindset of isolation.  Thinking that there were not many who would understand my plight.  How could anyone know how it felt to transform into someone I barely recognized.  On occasion, I would stand in the mirror reassuring myself it was still my image looking back.  And I often wondered, if only the wounds were visible.  Then perhaps, my family members, friends and the world would understand my plight.

In my tenure as a police officer, I recall several officers who committed suicide.  Although these wonderful individuals bore no visible signs of PTSD, their behaviors were indeed part of the dichotomy of the illness.  This is something I have only come to learn as a result of my own journey.

PTSD also affected every single relationship as well.  Even those closest to me had a hard time comprehending my descent from my former self.  I became more aloof.  I avoided attending events.  With my mindset, it was very hard to find the joy in life.  Let alone, explain to others how I was feeling.  Each time I attempted to do so, I heard the same response.  What about medications or therapy?  Or, just get over it!  Even one of my treating doctors added insult to injury by once saying, “PTSD is the only mental illness that originates from trauma.  This fact should make you feel better about yourself.”

If a treating psychologist thought this statement was one to help promote healing, then the doctor obviously had no real understanding or empathy for that matter.  It wasn’t until I began to journal about the PTSD and it’s effects on my life that I came to better understand all that was transpiring.  By writing down my feelings and thoughts, I began to see a pattern of behavior that was not positive in design — but rather, somewhat self-destructive and hindering to both my emotional and spiritual growth.

As I have journeyed on the road to healing, I have become acquainted with so many individuals who have been afflicted with PTSD.  Most are law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel and recovery workers who served on 9/11 (and the post days of reclamation) at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93 crash sites.  In meeting these amazing men and women, I have come to learn that I am not alone.  There are thousands of us who have individualized stories to share about how this once silent illness had permeated the beings of so many.  Their plight is my plight, as it is for millions of others who bear the weight of this illness and the stigma attached to it.

So in my heart, I feel it is very timely that there is a day set aside to advocate awareness about PTSD.  By doing so, the ignominy related to the illness may be better understood.  And perhaps someday, there will be no need to even set aside a day.  There will only be a deeper understanding and empathy for all those who have been affected by trauma.

If you are interested in learning more about PTSD, please visit the Voices of September 11th organization’s website: www.voicesofseptember11.org

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FROZEN MEMORIES

In the early stages of the onset of the PTSD, flashbacks were a common occurrence in my daily life. They were a constant reminder of what I saw, what I heard and what I smelled. Any similar prop which presented itself to me caused the prompting of a frozen memory to become the reality of the day. The past merged with the present and my mind became a tangled web of misunderstood messages, thoughts and (on occasion) ill behaviors too.

Over these many years, the flashbacks have decreased. Now their arrival is usually beset by some prop which resembles past days walking the field and watching all which resulted from 9/11, and post days as I watched over those who suffered most. Yet there are times when the remembrances result because I am inadvertently drawn to something viewed on television or heard in the every day doings of life. One such incident took place last evening as I watched the ending of a movie titled, “Unstoppable.” The storyline is based on a true story. In short, the movie tells the tale of two men who risk their lives to help stop a train which is on the fast track to destruction. Their need to help their fellow man outweighs their fear of imminent death.

Now, I usually try to avoid watching any type of movie or television program which may possibly prompt a negative memory. I abhor any violent programming and tend to prefer the comedies and romances which allow me to dream. But, as I watched the last few scenes of this particular movie, my mind was immediately transferred to the image of the passengers and crew members aboard Flight 93 and the remnants of the crash site. My thoughts focused on what must have gone through their minds in those last moments as they made their choice to help save humanity. I kept hearing the word “heroism” across the whispers of my ear. I felt the mixed emotions of pride and pain for these heroic individuals. And in the midst of these feelings, came a sense of helplessness as well. I felt somehow responsible for not having been able to aid them in some way. After all, I was a law enforcement professional and responsible to serve and protect. And on that fateful day in our history, I fear I failed to do so. If this is the deep-seeded feeling which still lies dormant in the dark abyss of my mind, I pray for a reprieve from the distant memories to come soon and set my mind in motion to heal.

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HEAVEN CALLING

When first I wrote the initial two chapters of my book, I did so in response to the deep-seeded fear dwelling inside my soul. It lived there as if it had a mind of its’ own and a heart beat which breathed life into too. The fear I was feeling was an automatic response to my declining health. I feared losing all of the details of 9/11 and the post days. If I forgot these important facts, who would then know about the angelic visitation. As the effects of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the depression set in, the anxiety flared and my mind became a convoluted version of its’ own design. My mind now seemed to reflect the image of a complex puzzle with the many pieces scattered across the landscape of my once finely tuned mind. I was afraid of all which was taking place and felt as if the real me no longer existed. I had lost control of the issues surrounding me. So, in order to preserve the story of 9/11 and the Angels who presented themselves at the Flight 93 crash site, I removed myself from the pain and authored the pages about the celestial beings. These two chapters were written in 2002 and it would take another eight years to complete the entire manuscript.

 

Heaven-CallingWhen my mind began to open in memory of the tale, the many pieces once fractured began to realign and allowed for the distant memories once frozen in time to retrace and enter the present moments. With this healing, came the realization of the importance of telling my story.

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