Another mundane day in the office; stocking patient rooms, prepping a few IV lines because our intel is that we had 75/25 chance of getting rocketed tonight, sweeping the Iraqi dust out of our makeshift aid station, when suddenly my heart starts pounding, tears spring to my eyes and I feel out of control.
I had been having difficulty sleeping, plagued with nightmares but just chalked it up to being homesick and missing my son. This is different…I can’t function and it’s affecting my ability to do my job. Something was wrong. I tried to Skype with my parents about it and they just chalked it up to combat stress and told me to “suck it up.”
I continued to experience these anxiety attacks that appeared unprovoked. It progressed to flashbacks. A certain smell would send me over the edge. Or a touch… That night in April 2010, when everything began spiraling downhill, something inside of me snapped. I couldn’t sit with my back to the door when I went to the DFAC (cafeteria) because I had to see the escape route and watch those that were coming or going.
I trusted NO ONE. It felt like everyone was out to get me; even those I used to consider friends and trusted with my life. The smell of antiseptic reminded me of alcohol and would send me into an anxiety attack. If someone would come up behind me and give me a hug from behind, but their arm draped across my neck, I would over react and go into a severe anxiety attack. I was out of control. I couldn’t control my emotions or my body’s reactions and it was infuriating!
I’m not sure what the final straw was that broke this camel’s back, but I think it’s a combination of several “life-altering” events and the emotional aftermath all converging at once. In the last 10 years I have been sexually assaulted twice (I was able to fight off my attacker in Iraq the second time around..), I have served a tour in Iraq as a combat medic, been married and divorced twice, struggled through four miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, lost three of my four grandparents, and recently been diagnosed with a seizure disorder of unknown origin.
Luckily, I was deployed with the man I now call my fiancé. He knew something was wrong and encouraged me to seek help. I refused for a long time; I was fine, I was NOT a mental case. He helped me realize something was wrong and that it was affecting our relationship; I was moody, would push him away, was irritable, and the list goes on. It was at that point that I realized I needed to do something.
Hello, my name is Shawna and I have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Turned out that all those years of repressing the emotional baggage for all those “life altering events” finally came back to bite me in the butt and emerged as PTSD. I worked with my psychologist for about six months when she asked me if I had thought about a service dog to help me cope with my seizure disorder and PTSD as it had severely limited my independence.
I was most depressed about that and I couldn’t move forward in my treatment until I overcame that hurdle. It was then, that I spoke with my neurologist who said that a service animal would be of great benefit for me in order to help after a seizure, but also with the PTSD. I knew that once my medical retirement from the army was complete, I would be staying with my parents for a while. I began looking for seizure response dog trainers in Virginia and found Kris Church. She works with a German Shepherd rescue organization. It took about two months, but we found Kane. A young five month old German Shepherd that was a stray. He showed natural instinct and the intelligence required to be a service dog.
It’s difficult to acknowledge that you have a problem, especially a non-tangible, psychological problem. You don’t want to get labeled as that “psycho” or being “mental.” Admitting that something wasn’t right was one of the most difficult things for me to do. My biggest motivating factor was my fiancé. He saw the changes in me before I did.
This invisible disease was affecting our relationship and nearly cost me to lose the most amazing man I have ever met. He understands what I’m going through and helps me through the hurdles on a daily basis. My family, on the other hand, has no idea. They don’t know how to react or what to say or do, which can be difficult at times. Whether or not your family understands it, they can recognize when you just aren’t “you.”
If this happens, or is happening, I encourage you to seek help. Without a healthy outlet, the feelings, and physical symptoms of PTSD continue to compound making it worse. You should not have to live life in fear. There are options and there are people out there to help you.