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 perhaps 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 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. My identity was shattered.
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 website: www.voicesofseptember11.org.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.