We’re very thankful for the good rains that came following the heavy smokey haze we and so much of the northeast dealt with from Canada’s many wildfires. I saw the photos taken by my cousin in New York City sent to his parents, and which his mom forwarded to me. Much denser a haze than we had here, which was bad enough, it permeated everything. And going without rain for several weeks or even a month, it was cause for joy when my students and I heard and saw the heavy rains coming down!
But the smokey haze hit me as a good metaphor for the haze of emotional disruption caused by PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. The emotional distress clouds your normal ability to experience life on a good positive level, while you try to live normally, hiding or concealing symptoms of distress so that few notice something just might be amiss… because you, yourself, may not even understand the depth of distress. I’ve been there… and this is my story.
June is National PTSD Awareness Month. PTSD is a serious issue whose effects I don’t think we fully understand even today. This is the story of my journey. I no longer deal with its effects as in years past. Now realizing I did nothing to cause the problems, there is no reason for me to feel ashamed.
Life being what it is, an imperfect entity, there are things that happen to each of us over which we have no control. What we do have control over, however, is our reaction… either to our detriment, or to our recovery and growth. And I hope sharing my story here will be helpful, encouraging others in their struggle.
Several years ago, a friend’s Facebook post about PTSD suffered by combat veterans brought memories back to me of long ago. Nearly 10 years ago, inappropriate incidents by a so-called friend during a time I felt utterly overwhelmed by extreme stress… working full time and caring for my husband, his many medical appointments, and virtually all household needs for so many years… reactivated my own PTSD symptoms.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is not a syndrome affecting only our military vets returning from an active war zone. It is believed that about 20% of American adults who have suffered some form of trauma can be diagnosed with PTSD. This diagnosis includes a host of after effects from various traumas such as emotional, physical, or sexual assaults, natural disasters, serious accidents, and many other traumatic life-altering situational stressors.
PTSD is an invisible pain with its own specialized mental challenges. Unlike visible wounds, it often lacks outward evidence or proof, taking prisoner one’s deepest inner self and emotions.
PTSD is typically evidenced by flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping and working, panic attacks, and feeling detached from reality… essentially an unstable emotional equilibrium. Usually, no one else knows the victim has a problem, who may also be in denial that anything is wrong, or may be totally unaware they have a problem. I know. I was diagnosed with PTSD well after the trauma of verbal rape had occurred in junior high. For me, PTSD reared its head to strike years later after having to steel myself daily in an abusive employment situation.
Predating the initial traumatic event though, my family abruptly moved when I was 9 from a farming community of everything and everyone I loved to city life, and I was an emotional mess. Within the year, Tourette’s Syndrome began, albeit undiagnosed until years later. But I overcame the challenges and adapted, making a new life with new friends. Yet, just a few years later, my family never knew why I suddenly became withdrawn, was easily agitated, and startled and screamed easily at the unexpected. I was always on alert, wary of others, shied away from making friends, withdrew from a great group of peers in our church youth group, being afraid of even them, and often “clung” to my sister’s side when I should have been making my own friends.
I also never shared my fear of the dark, literally sensing someone was behind me to grab and kill me. It was a very real and horrendous fear that I battled for several decades. I was afraid to tell anyone, fearing they’d think I was absolutely crazy. But, to be fair, I also had no idea the trauma of verbal rape in junior high could have caused my problems. I thought that event had simply been tucked away in the distant crevices of my memory.
A few years after that emotional trauma, my family moved back to a rural community in upstate New York. There, I was mocked by a neighbor’s sons, or so I assumed, hidden from view in their yard as I took care of my horse. Unfortunately, my dislike for them was real. Unexpectedly, I was reminded of that mocking incident by the perpetrator over 20 years ago. Still thinking it was hilarious fun at my expense, laughing while retelling the mocking episode, I was afraid to share the pain I’d lived with for so many years. Sadly, my sister does not comprehend the damage her mocking did to me. It is well known in the psychiatric community that emotional abuse damages the victim’s self-esteem with long-term consequences to their emotional stability. Wishing I could apologize for my own wrong in holding onto dislike in thinking a neighbor’s son had done this, I gathered the courage to seek him on Facebook. He graciously accepted my apology for my long-held hate, and forgave me, passing away unexpectedly several months later. I am forever grateful I listened to God’s prompting at that time to reach out.
A few years after that mocking incident though, returning home from dates with Ed (being legally blind, he could not drive), I would park my car as close to the house as possible, and run as fast as I could to get into the house. The closer the car to the door, the more severe the fear. It was laughed about, but I never shared my intense fear of the dark with anyone except my husband-to-be. Sharing it with my Dad a few months before his passing, I heard the pain in his voice for his never having known in order to have been there for me way back in junior high.
Fast forward several more years when, after leaving an abusive employment situation, property damages began, and nightmares and flashbacks set in. It felt like I was beginning to break with reality. Resigning from a new job because of the sudden inability to function and make office decisions regarding things objectively I knew very well how to do, hearing condemning voices and yelling in my head by my former employer, I felt like an absolute and total failure. While looking for just the right tree to drive my car into, I drove past the home of my Dad’s former Army buddy, Roland, a faithful Christian. I’d sat on his knee for Thanksgiving at my family’s cabin in Alaska when I wasn’t quite 2 years old. Now, driving past his home, I clearly heard the voice of God saying, “I’m here for you. Your family needs you. You will be okay.” Like ancient Israel’s King David who said in Psalm 91:2, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,’” God was always here for me in so many ways.
Finally seeking professional counseling, I was given a diagnosis - PTSD. My counselor shared that it was not a diagnosis given lightly, typically not given out other than for military personnel. But she said I had been severely traumatized in several ways, had suppressed the trauma and my feelings, steeling myself to additional abuses, and emotions overwhelmed me. Told I really would be okay, and that none of it was my fault (which I’d always believed), the healing process began with my husband’s loving support.
Still, having to support my family with Ed unable to work at that time, taking a month off, I put one foot in front of the other to work as a secretarial temp for executives before being hired as a hospital medical transcriptionist over 30+ years ago. The temp jobs were a boost to morale with letters of commendation from a bank president, university labor relations professor at Cornell, and a hotel CEO. They had each told me personally they would have hired me but for their own secretary being on vacation.
It seems like a lifetime ago. I have forgiven those two boys in junior high, hoping they’ve gone on to become good men as adults, as well as my mocker, and former employer. The effects of any bullying are devastating as we see all too often among today’s youth. I will no longer allow myself to be mocked or bullied, even when such abuse is hidden from the eyes of others, even within the church. I forgive, but renewed friendship is inappropriate with those who continue to blame their victim, refuse to comprehend the damaging effects of ongoing bullying, and cannot apologize or amend their behavior.
Though I still find it difficult to go outside in the dark even with a flashlight, startle easily, and always assess my surroundings, I’ve also learned God uses the traumas of life for a higher purpose, like the words He’s blessed me with in poetry, words which I’ve sensed have come from the depths of my soul. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” And I pray God may use me to “be there”, bringing peace and comfort to others who struggle.
I’m also thankful to say I’m doing well, appreciative of the great supportive friends who have blessed my life with their presence. My prayer is that anyone else suffering PTSD, or the adverse effects of abuse and bullying, will seek help to recover… and be richly blessed in their healing!
Where the Heart Soars Free
Linda A. Roorda
Little girl sad, withdrawn and teary
Changes and loss disrupting life’s flow
Leaving behind remnants of what was
With emotional scars, reminders vivid.
Where once her heart ran free, unhindered
Clinging to joys and ease of childhood
Now all the world was seen through the lens
Of deepening gray on guard for the unknown.
Open her eyes, Lord, that she may see
All of the wisdom You share with her
May she then know how great is Your love
That You care enough to shelter her heart.
For there is a place where the heart soars free
Where love shines bright in a world grown dim
Where hopeless need meets faith to overcome
By walking the path that conquers defeat.
As an airy joy with a zest for life
Brings cheer to the sad and light to the dark
Where peace in the heart and contentment calm
Cover her wounds with Your loving grace.