Mental Health Awareness Month My PTSD Feels Like This…

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.

PTSD has been known by many names in the past, such as “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II. But PTSD does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in all people, in people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age. PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults, and an estimated one in 11 people will experience PTSD in their lifetime.

People with PTSD continue to have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.

A diagnosis of PTSD requires exposure to an upsetting traumatic event. However, exposure could be indirect rather than first hand. For example, PTSD could occur in an individual who learns that a close family member or friend has died accidentally or violently.

Wow! How’s that for a definition? This was the ‘short’ definition, too. PTSD was the first diagnosis of any kind I received at the age of 32. No, I was never in a war, raped, or assaulted. I have been writing this particular blog post for over a month. It’s that difficult to remember but I feel it that important to educate, so this is my story (book!) of how I wound up with PTSD.

In 1977, while I was 6 months pregnant, we moved for Mike’s work to a tiny Texas town (1500 population compared to our hometown of 100,000!) for 10 years and I adapted. I met another young mother and our kids became best friends. Mike and I joined a church, desiring to give our children a ‘religious’ upbringing. I did sewing and alterations for the town’s two clothing stores and numerous ‘word of mouth’ referrals, enough that I’d just opened my own little shop. We began a Boy Scout Troop. Mike became the coach for Lewis’s baseball team. I volunteered at the kids’ school, twice making a full set of alphabet hand puppets that were so popular, teachers fought to get my help. I thought we belonged…

October 31, 1987 (the 30th ‘anniversary’ this Halloween) this tiny town decided there would be no door-to-door Trick or Treating, instead, holding parties for the children at individuals homes. What? Halloween without Trick or Treating, well it just didn’t seem right, but I reluctantly gave in and off they went. Mike and I were invited to a party my friend’s husband was there playing in a band. With our children at other parties, we had nothing to do, so…The location was way out in the country. “Uhhhggg!”, I moaned as we drove up. My gut began to cramp up. “Mike, I feel weird, let’s just go home”. Before I got his answer, someone asked him to play a round of ‘horseshoes’. “I’ll be right back”, he yelled over his shoulder. Great! WTF am I supposed to do? My friend was a no show at this point. I was so pissed, I can’t tell you!

So, I plopped down in a chair with my back facing a group of men deep in conversation. As I’m fuming over Mike, I couldn’t help but hear them. “Remember that time I  was so drunk, I rolled my truck and y’all pulled me out”? Laughter was pouring out over the memory… More stories of drunken escapades, as one begins to talk about his car, he didn’t like how he’d parked it…I tried tuning them out but heard keys being tossed behind me. My stomach was hurting, I had a bad ‘feeling’…All I knew was, I wanted out of this place, away from these drunks! How long does it take to play horseshoes? Finally! Here comes Mike, only to inform me, ‘okay, we’d leave as soon as he eats and drinks a beer’…”Do you want something”? “NO! I want to GO, MIKE”! He was already gone, I think he only heard ‘No’…

He was back almost immediately, grabbing a chair to sit by me. As soon as he sat down, headlights came on from a car at the bottom of a hill, shining right on us. There’s that feeling again, in my gut…Then, came the sound of a car engine revving…I turned around to see a cloud of dust and headlights…coming straight at us! My first thought was of the Steven King novel Christine (about a ‘possessed’ car)…My second thought was, ‘this is Halloween, someone thought this was a funny prank’. And would stop of course! Then, I had an ‘I can stop the car!’ thought. It took only seconds, but here was the car, with my hand on the hood of it, before it became ‘real’ (Fight or Flight Response kicks in) and I jumped into the dust, a tire running over my foot. I never yelled for Mike to jump and he never saw it coming. He was busy trying to make things right with me and eating. As the dust cleared, I saw the chair Mike was in and it was a mangled mess. “Mike”! “Mike, answer me damn it!”, I screamed. I was now in shock, literally.

The car continued out into a huge field, I could now see the tail lights through the dust. It comes to an abrupt stop. Total chaos! I continued screaming, but the others seemed bothered by my cries…”He was sitting right HERE”! “Where is he”? Suddenly, I heard Mike’s voice, but where was he? Then, I realize, he’s out there…with the car! As I ran towards the car, I followed a trench his body created as he was drug 75 yards under the car…and he was still under it, laying face down, a tire pushing against his head and he was choking on the food he’d just eaten. I got down on the ground, reaching for him and touched his arm. “What happened, Margaret”? “OMG, Mike! A car ran over you! It’s going to be okay (I didn’t believe this for a minute), hang on baby”! More screaming from me to get someone to call 911, to get out here and help…FINALLY! Here come some people, “Mike, people are coming, please hang on”.

Yes, people came out to the car. Not to help my husband crushed beneath this car, but to get the driver (who was so drunk, he had no memory of this later). Only after hiding the driver would they call 911. Seven men finally surrounded the car to lift it enough for me to pull him out from under it. Yes, I said I pulled a 250-pound man (2x my weight) from under a car, my only ‘help’ was the adrenaline that pulsed through me. Somehow, his head was not crushed, but his shoulders down to his pelvis were smoldering on his back and his clothes shredded into pieces. He could barely talk due to his broken ribs. How could anyone survive injuries of this magnitude? Once the Emergency crew arrived, I wanted to feel safe, but that feeling hung over me. Police, Sheriff’s Department, and the State Troopers were on site as I left. We’d been there 15 minutes, only 15 minutes…

Mike was taken to tiny town hospital where it was immediately decided to fly him via helicopter to a big town, a real hospital, a Level 1 Trauma Unit. His injuries life threatening as he was literally run over, there were 3rd burns in the form of tire treads and two large patches on his back. Every rib had multiple breaks, both collar bones were broken, collapsed lungs, his Heart, Spleen, Liver ‘bruised’, broken Pelvis, and both feet ‘crushed’. The most shocking injuries were to his eyes…they almost ‘popped’ out! Apparently not uncommon when massive pressure is put upon a body…He was in ICU for one week. Not one person called to see if Mike had even lived…Not my ‘friend’, not our Minister, and certainly not the driver. No charges against the driver. No justice at all. The town ostracized us. We will never know why…

It would be 1 1/2 years before Mike was completely healed. I’d done all his caregiving, all by myself for that 1 1/2 years, (burn debridement, the WORST!) likely on auto-pilot. Mike was finally back working. Life was almost ‘normal’…Then one morning I’d sent our kids off to school. I remember sitting down in a chair by the door and suddenly the kids were back home! “What did y’all forget?”, I yelled as they ran past me. “Get in here! Did you forget something”? “I don’t know what you mean mom. Our school is over…”, Lewis said. WTF? They’d just left! I looked at the clock, numerous clocks, and he was right. What had happened? Where did the time go? I was in the same chair, in the same position, not moving for over 7 hours!

This was how PTSD first manifested in me, loss of time…Then the nightmare ‘flashbacks’…My ‘startle response’ was/is over the top (ex. If I hear a car engine revving up, I literally drop to the ground ‘looking’ for safety, loud noises, headlights)…I became so fearful of cars, I didn’t drive for over two years…I became depressed…I had a hyper-vigilance anxiety over Mike or the kids going or doing anything and no, I sure wasn’t moving or going anywhere…I became an insomniac, not wanting to sleep because I might have nightmares…It was a vicious cycle I couldn’t continue living, I wasn’t living life, I was simply existing. I needed help, but finding the right doctor was every bit as difficult as finding an ENT to diagnose my Vestibular Disorder, about one year. I was in a variety of therapies but found ‘cognitive’ or ‘talk’ therapy to help me the most. In these 30 years since I’ve been in and out of therapy. I have no shame in knowing I needed or need help from a Psychiatrist or Psychologist.

Mike today, has various aches and pains still and scars from the burns but didn’t get PTSD. Nothing stops him! I would later learn, that ‘gut’ feeling I kept having? Intuition! I pay attention to it now. Halloween continues to be a trigger for me. The closer it gets to the 31st and the closer it gets to the time it happened, my anxiety still builds. If I see on the News that a truck has run into a crowd or an elderly person accidentally hits the wrong pedal and runs into a crowd, it brings it back. TV shows portray these type horrors all the time now.  These type things used to be a rarity, now it’s almost weekly. It just happened again in NYC! How can I ever escape my memories when it’s literally everywhere? Maybe I should stop watching the News…




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s