According to the American Psychological Association:
“PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster.
People with PTSD may relive the event via intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares; avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma; and have anxious feelings they didn’t have before that are so intense their lives are disrupted.”
Back when I was diagnosed with PTSD in 1996, I didn’t think my issues qualified for me for such a heavy diagnosis. I remember asking my psychologist “Isn’t that for soldiers and people who’ve been through war?”
But this past week my therapist upgraded my diagnosis to Chronic PTSD (C-PTSD) I’ve always prided myself in being an overachiever so I humorously think this is no difference. Unbeknownst to my young 21 year old college student self, my PTSD originated from surviving a plane crash the killed a total of 160 passengers and crew, including both my mom and my dad on my 21st birthday. The sudden loss of my parents deeply impacted me, and every birthday since 1995 has been a reminder. But I learned coping skills, surrounded myself with loving friends and family, and have prevailed to live a life full of gratitude, faith and love.
But since 1995, I have also gone through many other forms of heartbreaking traumas that have hit me just as hard as my plane crash. We all do! My husband and I brought into this world two sets of twin boys. The youngest ones, born in 2008, were born (to our shock and dismay) with a terminal genetic condition. Mourning the loss of all the things they’d never be able to do in their short life span and refocusing our hopes and love for them to celebrate every little thing they could achieve became our mission. Our home was like a miniature hospital with round the clock nurses, lots of laughter and music. We gave them the best life we could, but when their disease aggressively progressed and took their lives, we were in the front lines holding them when they passed away in our arms.
Aside from our terminally ill children that have passed, like any normal family we’ve gone through lots of highs (sports! family vacations! parties! awards ceremonies!), we’ve also gone through a lot of lows (extended family members and close friends passing away, rocky seasons in marriage since no union is perfect, job losses, cancer scares, and every day normal stress we all endure, no matter who you are). Take the plane crash, losing my parents unexpectedly, trying our best to care for two terminally ill children, and then the hiccups of life; it created a perfect storm where now I stand in my own category of living with Chronic PTSD. My doctor attributes it to the constant emotional trauma that has compounded since 1995, all the way until now.
Why in the world am I opening pandora’s box and telling you the deepest and most personal things about me? I’m not fishing for sympathy, I’m not looking for compliments, I’m not wanting anything other than to put a spotlight on the 7-8% of adults in the United States that live with PTSD. I want to celebrate the resilience and armor of valor PTSD survivors put on each and every day. If you work with someone, live with someone, love someone that has C-PTSD or PTSD, know that their natural instinct to survive and thrive is what triggered the PTSD from happening in the first place. Their condition is not a weakness; quite the contrary! Their PTSD is their mind, heart and body’s way to fight for their lives, their happiness and their peace.
If you are reading this and YOU have C-PTSD or PTSD, I feel you. I see you. I honor your journey, your strength and your willingness to fight to live your best life possible. June is National PTSD Awareness Month. That guy in your office who always shares the best stories or always has the wittiest sense of humor may have PTSD. That neighbor of yours who always seems to be the life of the party at PTA functions may have PTSD. That quiet cross guard that helps your kids get to school safely may have PTSD. The best way to move forward with those secretly living with PTSD is to just be kind. Be empathetic. Be more gracious and helpful than you feel you need to be, because you never know what battles people are carrying in their hearts.