Thanks to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, I’ll never be a hero.
I want to. I’d like to think that I’m a person of action, and that if I witness a dangerous event I’ll jump right into rescue mode. I’m a nice woman, and I like helping.
But I can’t. Trauma keeps me from moving. Trauma keeps me frozen in place, dissociating myself from reality, stuck to the floor in cement boots.
I taught English for 11 years, so looking back, I’m glad the topic of “disaster response time” wasn’t a job interview question. I wouldn’t have passed to the next level of interviews, that’s for sure.
I remember once when I worked at a middle school, a substitute teacher passed out in a classroom down the hall from me. I heard students running down the hallway, calling for the nurse. I peeked my head out the door, knowing I needed to check and see what was going on, knowing I needed to respond. But everything started moving in slow motion. I heard cries, I heard the words “CPR,” I saw others in action. But I was frozen. I couldn’t move.
I was chained to the past.
I was 9 years old again, listening to the cries of my mother and grandmother as they try to revive my dying grandfather. I hear my grandma shout “No Freeman!” I watch him falling out of the car to the sidewalk and onto my front lawn. I watch them get out an epi pen, perform CPR, yelling for help.
I watch his eyes roll back.
The whites of his eyes haunt me, forever seared into my memory, transforming into real time during times of crisis.
So I can’t be a hero.
Even when my five-year-old woke up with a nosebleed a year ago, my husband rushed to action and I stood in the doorway, frozen. I wasn’t there, I had already drifted to the place where there are no scary surprises. He had to ask me twice to grab tissues, because I just couldn’t snap out of it.
Sometimes I seem like I’m past it. I’ve been through years of counseling, I took prescription medication for a long time, and I meditate. If you ask me what it was like watching someone I love die less than a month before my 10th birthday, I can do that without breaking down.
But don’t ask me to rescue anyone from a disaster. My response time is too slow. I can’t be caught by surprise like that. I will jump backward 3 decades and lose myself in the past.
I want to be your hero. I want to spring into action. But that beautiful spring day in 1991 holds me captive to the past. And I haven’t yet been able to shake myself out of it.
Note: An edited version of this post is featured in The Mighty here.
Please know, there are so many amazing treatments available for trauma now. Talk therapy, EMDR, neurofeedback, biofeedback, meditation, yoga, energy healing, and so many more.
If you struggle with the effects of trauma, you are not alone. Approximately 70% of people who experience a traumatic event will face symptoms of PTSD. Not everyone who experiences trauma with be diagnosed with PTSD, but for those who do, it is debilitating and confusing. Give grace to your loved ones with PTSD. Give grace to yourself.