When we think of PTSD, we often associate it with combat vets returning from war. But I have come to realize that PTSD stems from a wide range of circumstances, conditions, and life experiences. PTSD is what I have from an infant surgery, possibly without anesthesia. PTSD is what people may have when they’ve been sexually abused, physically assaulted, or bullied as children. PTSD can result from witnessing another’s trauma and being helpless to do anything about it. It results from being raped, held hostage, beat up, or harassed as adults. Does everyone have it? No. Do many? Yes.
This coming May, I am leaving my community college teaching position in order to pursue a public speaking career, which will include promoting PTSD awareness. Lots of people can get help but not if they don’t know they have it. How many of those people at the psyche ward at Pennsylvania Hospital when I was 22 had undiagnosed PTSD? How many of my students at the community college where I’ve taught for almost 20 years had it? Certainly the young man who was shot as a child in a drive-by shooting and struggled to be able to concentrate when reading. The woman repeatedly molested by her father during her childhood years told me she had it; she would often go into freeze mode. The student who literally jumped up from his seat if I called his name likely had it; he had written of his parent physically abusing him as a child.
Recently, in doing an informal survey, asking English 1A composition students what their favorite part of class was, they invariably said medical humanities. For several weeks, we read stories by Alice Walker, Rachel Naomi Remen, Jill Bolte Taylor, and Eckhart Tolle and excerpts from my blog in order to gain an understanding of the art of the personal narrative as it relates to the field of medical humanities. Students seemed to find relief and clarity from writing about an act of self-harming, an encounter with an uncaring doctor, the death of a loved one, or a relative who is critically ill. I think they find this type of self-exploration and writing healing. It eases stress and encourages self-awareness.
Many of us don’t know that we have PTSD. Once we are aware that our hypervigilance or startle response or avoidance of certain situations or stimuli or nightmares or panic attacks stems from PTSD, we can change and grow in ways that we didn’t think possible. We are more able to activate the seed of beauty within when we know what’s blocking the flow of nutrients and water. Just acknowledging that we have PTSD is powerful. Simply knowing is healing.