Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
What's the first thing you think of?
When you hear the word, what do you think of? 90 percent of people will say "army" or "military." Some might say "childhood abuse" or "rape victims." No. Not always.
The actual causes of PTSD are numerous. Anyone who has experienced trauma can experience PTSD. This includes mugging victims, natural disaster victims...even Barbara Streisand has suffered PTSD after forgetting her lyrics live on stage and henceforth developing a fear of being in the spotlight.
What about when you think of PTSD? You think of a veteran rocking in the corner because the television is too loud? You think of panic attacks, heavy breathing into paper bags? Or being scared of the dark and sleeping with a light on? No. Not always.
There are so many symptoms and the reality of dealing with PTSD is really unknowable until you've experienced it.
PTSD is defined as having had symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, etc., for one month or more. Some people say it's too commonly diagnosed in 2017. I say when you know you're suffering, you know.
On the 9th of May 2017, at 5:15 PM, I was driving to pick my boyfriend up from work. I won't go into the gory details, but the bottom line is I hit a young pedestrian. She survived, albeit bravely fighting some pretty severe injuries despite not even being 16. She was lucky to have survived, but also lucky in one other thing: she didn't remember the accident. Unfortunately the same can't be said for me.
Some people say they remember accidents such as these in slow motion, others can't remember it at all. My memory is in incredible slow motion, so much so I can almost remember my thoughts as it happened, although, in real time, I wouldn't have had time to think these things. Sometimes I'm unsure as to what my true memories are of the event, and what is simply my mind playing tricks on me since it happened and trying to fill gaps.
I experience a number of symptoms with my PTSD and have since the accident.
Nightmares. For the first few weeks, I had the worst nightmares I'd ever known. I had to be put on sleeping tablets temporarily because I couldn't even bear the thought of closing my eyes. Almost three months on, I take the pills once in a blue moon, usually when I'm on my own and not with my boyfriend, because at least I know if I wake up with him there's someone there to soothe me back to sleep. Waking up alone during a nightmare is not pleasant. It's usually just a repetition of the flashbacks, but when you're asleep there's no escape from them and no distractions and the sounds seem heightened and clearer too. I usually wake up around the time I hit the girl in my dream, which emphasises the bang much more loudly than my mind actually remembers it.
Flashbacks. I can see certain still images from the accident. They play like a slideshow. I see the girl so close to my car it's like she was about to get in the passenger seat. I hear the bang and it goes black for a second. Considering she was almost a full grown adult, the bang was fairly quiet. My head is thinking I've hit her. But maybe she's just walked into my wing mirror or door. I'm starting to hit the brakes already now. Smash. This time it's loud and it breaks through every sound in my head and in reality. The windscreen shatters on the passenger side. Glass is spraying inside the car. The brakes are now on so hard my seatbelt chokes me. I get out of the car. She's lying in a heap. As an avid fan of Casualty, I suddenly feel like I'm in an episode like I've always wanted to be, but this is the only time I wished I wasn't. I'm screaming, "can you hear me?" not wanting to move her, but all first aid training going completely out of my head. I try moving her hair to see her face, and that's when I see the blood. It was then that I backed off and a witness wrapped their arms around me and pulled me toward the pavement. My car was stranded in the middle of the road. I didn't care about the fact it was damaged or that I'd only had it for six weeks at this point. I always thought if I was in an accident I'd panic about damaging my car. It's so different when it happens. I couldn't have cared less if I tried. I just wanted her to be OK.
Panic attacks/Upset. I saw an ambulance a few days ago just metres from where I had my accident as I was driving past. This alone was enough to put me into tears. In the early stages, seeing blue lights and hearing sirens was enough to make me want to be physically sick.
Headaches. I never used to get headaches before the accident. They seem to be a new thing. I'm putting it down to my brain working overtime. Once or twice I've been physically sick with them, once at work when my insurers phoned me on my lunch break pressuring me to talk about the accident in detail. I can't say they handled the situation very well.
A few days after the initial accident, I visited the pedestrian in the hospital. Meeting her and her family was probably the turning point. If I hadn't have done this, and if they hadn't have been so very kind and warm towards me despite their little girl being hurt, I don't think I'd have coped at all. Giving her a hug and seeing her smile despite her scratches and scrapes on her face made me feel like I could go on. I was struggling until this point to feel normal at all. I didn't miraculously recover after this, but I do think this helped massively in my emotional recovery. A big thank you goes out to her and her family; you know who you are.
In the first few weeks, I felt like if I had a £1 for every time someone had told me "it wasn't your fault" or "there's nothing you could have done" I'd have been a very rich young lady. I wanted to scream every time I heard it. I was very aware I didn't purposely set out to almost kill a young girl on picking up my boyfriend from work, but whether it was an accident or not still isn't going to magically clear my memory of what happened.
It's been nearly three months since the incident. I drive past the location a few times a week, although to start with, I avoided it. I didn't realise how far the girl had travelled until I drove past again after the accident. I told my insurers it was five or ten feet, but after revisiting the scene, I realised it was more towards 20 or 25 feet.
I'm a very lucky girl. I have an incredible support network. My dad lent me money to fix up my car. My mum cooked me dinners. My boyfriend woke up with me shouting in the first few nights and cradled me back to sleep. Between my parents, my boyfriend, and my friends and family, not a single person has failed to put a smile on my face in the darkest of times.
PTSD is probably not what you expect it to be. It's the person is front of you driving at 18 MPH on a 30 MPH road. But instead of thinking, "WHY are they going so slowly," think "WHY are they so scared that they feel they have to drive at almost half the speed limit?" If you apply this sort of thinking to everyday life, more and more people will build a patience and tolerance for sufferers of PTSD in the long run.