When night falls on me, I’ll not close my eyes (car accident PTSD-PSA)

August 27, 2005

I can sum it up in one sentence — my life changed forever.  It was one day, one decision, one mistake.  I got in that car.  By rights, I should never have done it.  I had my own car, but why waste the gas when I could catch a ride with my mother?  She’d drive me back later.  Except I never went back later.  I ended my evening with a trip to Hartford Hospital on LifeStar.  The hours, minutes, seconds of that evening are a blur.  There are moments, lost in time, that I’ll never get back.  Most of them are moments I never want to have back.

To nearly die is such a surreal thing.  At the time, in my head, there was never any question that I was going to live.  There was never even a second where I was lying there and thought “I might not live through this.”  It took me half an hour just to wrap my brain around what had happened to me.   The first time I remember realizing what had happened to me — “I was just in a really bad car accident” — was when I was being carried off the helicopter and into the emergency room.  Before that, I mostly felt heavy.  Tired.  Searing pain on the right side of my body.  I didn’t even realize until a few days later that my face was messed-up.  I didn’t even notice the pain in my cheekbone, near my right eye.  My biggest terror, the only one I voiced, was when they were prying the door from out of my side, and I thought that I was paralyzed because I couldn’t move.  As soon as I knew I wasn’t, I calmed down a bit.  I didn’t realize how bad the accident was until my aunt, coming to visit me in the hospital after taking my mom to sign over her totaled car, said to me “I think you’re lucky to be alive.”  Or, until months later, when I saw the photos of the car itself.  What was left of it.

A lot of people thought that the worst part was the injuries, the hospital visit, the rehabilitation, the physical therapy.  And I’m not going to lie and say those things didn’t suck.  They did.  A lot.  I would never, ever want to go back and revisit those moments of my life.  But the hardest part came after I got better.  When I was home again, in my apartment, and everything was the same, except for in my head.

Me – Autumn 2005, two months after the accident.  If you look carefully, you can see a little bit of “road burn” from the crash in my right cheek, hidden by my hair.

Car accidents aren’t usually the first thing that someone thinks of when they hear the words “post-traumatic stress disorder”.  Most of the time, we think of veterans hitting the deck, or rape victims, or those who were horribly abused in childhood.  But 10% of motor vehicle accident survivors will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the fact — and that is only the number of people who seek a diagnosis.  Motor vehicle-related PTSD may effect anywhere from 3.5 to 7 million people in the United States.  It is more prevalent in our country than we may be aware.

I can speak only for myself.  I spent three years in hell.  From 2005 to 2008, my life went off the rails.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t eat.  I had days where I would walk to my door, to try and leave my apartment, and I would go into a panic attack just reaching for the doorknob.  I stayed up too late.  I drank more than I should have.  I tried to pretend that it didn’t bother me.  I refused to seek counseling.  I refused to get medicated.  I insisted I could handle everything — a full time job and graduate school.  I got fired from one job and laid off from another.  My GPA tanked.  Worst of all — I lost who I was.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that the person I had been, before August 27, 2005, died in that car.  The EMTs pulled out an entirely different person, and I didn’t know how to find myself again.

Over the last five years, I’ve clawed my way out.  It was not easy.  I am not proud of the person that I had become.  It was an uphill climb, with several steps back before I could step forward.  I had to drop out of school.  I had to go through four different brands of pills before I hit on the one that was right for me.  I had to concede and commit to counseling.  More than anything, I had to really self-reflect, to look at the person I had become since the car accident, and say that yes, it was different; no, it couldn’t be the same.  But it could be better.  I could be better.  I just had to accept that I maybe couldn’t do it on my own.

I don’t view it as a personal victory.  It wasn’t about winning or losing; it was about salvation.  I couldn’t go on the way I lived from 2005-2008.  I was losing every piece of myself, everything that made me a likeable person, a good friend, a loving daughter, a caring sister.  There was only one way my life was going if I continued on that path.  It took me three years to figure out that this wasn’t the way I wanted to be.  I had to take back my life.

Now, eight years later, I can look back and say that I am certainly not perfect.  I am probably not where I would have been, if I had decided not to get in that car that Saturday evening.  But I can look in the mirror and say, I’ve got this.  I’ve been through it, and I handled it, and now I’m doing okay.  I wish that I could have become somebody that I liked, without those three years of disorder and chaos, but…that’s not how the world works sometimes.

If there was anything that I could say that is good from all of this, it’s…yes.  It sucks.  It hurts.  But you can get through it.  You can pick up the pieces and be who you were again.  Get help.  Put your pride in your pocket if need be.  Your health is more important.  Your life is more important.  Your relationships with your family and friends are more important.  It’s going to be tough, and yes, sometimes, it is going to hurt.  But God, once you get over the hump, once you get to the top of the mountain and you can look down and see how far you’ve climbed…the view is truly spectacular.  

And it’s all worth it.  Every second.

Me today – Summer 2013. First day of my last year of grad school.

 

The following link is a great resource for people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder of any kind:  Helpguide.org.

 

 

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