PTSD :: A Mom’s Confession

1

I want to start by noting something very important. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicide, and veterans are not always tied to one another. These things can live separately and not be related. PTSD and suicide can affect anyone. You can have one and not the other. Veterans and civilians can suffer from PTSD. This is my story.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 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.

I’m about to share something that I haven’t shared with many people. Something that I have kept quiet about for my own reasons. If you’re close to me, this might be the first time you’re hearing about a struggle that I’m currently wading through and learning about myself. Please know that this is hard for me to discuss. I am still in the process of learning about something I thought I’d never have to discover about myself. 

As a veteran who has never fired a weapon in a war environment, I thought I was not a candidate for PTSD, even though I had lived in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan for a combined 10 months (which is a relatively short amount of time in the military world). I thought comparing my limited war experience with those of others who had been exposed to more at war, kept me in this safe box. A box that had clear boundaries. I did not and could not have PTSD, I reasoned, because I was a combat veteran that had not been in true combat. I had felt the shake of exploding mortars. I had heard what seemed like endless gunfire. I had been in an aircraft that was being shot at. I had lived under a threat of attack for approximately 334 days of my life.

Unbeknownst to me, I had started to compartmentalize every feeling, thought, and event in my brain. I packed away these ideas into neat, little boxes where no other part of my life could spill over into them. They were to remain separate from everything else in my life. But my prior military training and way of thinking (to be vigilant of every, single, possibly unsafe situation) started to creep into my daily civilian life. 

“Complacency kills”

This phrase was hammered into my head during my eight years in the Air Force. I felt in control of my reasoning pattern for a number of years after separating from the military, prior to becoming a mother. After experiencing two miscarriages, I was fully aware of how quick a glimmer pregnancy could be and then simply cease to exist. This turned into fear of losing the child I had. It snowballed into losing him to a freak accident, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a car crash, an undiagnosed genetic issue, the flu, etc. The list was never-ending. My brain could not stop the hamster wheel of awful thoughts from spinning. 

In public, I would scan a room for exit routes in case there was an active shooter situation. I would imagine a tree falling on my house, or bullets ripping through the walls of my bedroom. I put myself into the worst hypothetical and most unlikely situations I could imagine, then run through how to escape them. I also thought about the idea of not being able to escape. Deep, dark thoughts were taking over my every move. I would tear up at these horrifying ideas and then tell myself to snap back to reality, because in real-life I was driving to work, rocking my child to sleep, cooking dinner, pushing a cart at the grocery store. And truth be told, crying is my least favorite form of displaying human emotion. I am not a crier, but my thoughts had regularly brought me to the brink of crying. 

My mind was fully transporting me into these situations, but I was on auto-pilot running through the motions of everyday life. I couldn’t take the spilling over anymore. The boxes in my mind were touching and it felt like madness, but only I could see it. It was overwhelming and it was filling me with anxiety.

The anxiety heightened a bad habit I’ve had since childhood. I pick the skin around my fingers. I pick until I bleed, sometimes not realizing it. I pick when I’m bored, I pick while I’m driving, I pick while lying in bed, I pick when the anxiety creeps in. I just pick. I’ve lost a fingernail from infection because of the picking. I’ve gotten blood on my bed sheets, clothes, whatever I touch. My fingers show the scars and open wounds of the anxiety I harbor.

Kicking the hamster off the wheel

I started seeing a psychologist in the hopes of helping me understand and deal with what I was going through, because I just didn’t know; and come to find out, I was in denial. After all, I had myself convinced that I could not possibly have PTSD. Not a chance!

It hit me when my psychologist pulled out a book that looked familiar. I had to use it in a college course. It was the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition). I was in this “but” phase. I was in a war zone, but . . .  I experienced this, but . . .  My doctor began reading the description of PTSD aloud to me. She told me that I checked off nearly every symptom. With tears streaming down my face, I realized there could be no more “but”. I was in a war zone. Period. I experienced this. Period.

The picking, it turns out, is called Dermatillomania, a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Honestly, the shock of these realizations took a toll on me. I had to digest this not-easy-to-swallow news that for years I put in boxes and filed away. I felt ashamed. I felt small. I felt defeated. I still feel these things somewhat, but I have the knowledge to identify them when my mind is spiraling. I can perform exercises in order to pull my hyper-vigilance and anxiety back into a logical thinking pattern. 

I am a strong woman. I am a veteran. I am a mother. I have PTSD.

I feel as though this public acknowledgement is a form of accountability. It’s a part of accepting something I was terrified to admit. And it’s okay if people know. It’s not comfortable, but it’s okay. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s ugly (just like my crying face — just kidding! A little bit of humor to end such a heavy topic). 

Resources for help:

National Center for PTSD

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255

Cigna Veteran Support Line: 1-855-244-6211

 

Previous articleMidnight Madness :: A Nighttime Sickness Protocol
Next articleWhat to do After an ADHD Diagnosis
Raised outside of Orlando, Florida, redheaded Melissa is an avid sunscreen and shade enthusiast. She left Florida in 2007 to serve in the United States Air Force as a radio and television broadcaster. After basic and technical training she was stationed in Illinois, South Korea, Italy, and Alabama with two deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan sprinkled in between. In 2013, she met her husband Gregg and in 2015, they were married. This gave Melissa the new title of Bonus Mom to Gregg's daughter, Isabella. That year also welcomed Melissa back into the civilian world as her eight years of service came to a close due to medical retirement. She has called Birmingham home for the past 3.5 years. Shortly after they were married, Melissa and Gregg found themselves wading through the confusing and emotional world of miscarriage and unexplained infertility. They excitedly welcomed a son in November of 2017 after two years of trying for a little miracle. Melissa dedicates her extra time to spoiling their three rescue dogs Ginger, Typsy, and Bruno. She also fosters dogs before they find their furever homes.

1 COMMENT

  1. Melissa, I am so sorry for what you’ve endured and are enduring. I could have written SO many of these words (minus the war parts… except that I have heard mortars and learned plenty of hyper vigilance in the midst of our work overseas). Have you heard of EMDR? It is one of the best treatments for PTSD. It would be a good option to consider.

    Thank you for sharing all of this. You are not alone!

Comments are closed.