photo by Thursday Review

Photo by Thursday Review

My Work Life With PTSD

| published January 19, 2016 |

By Carol Chance, Thursday Review contributor

Let’s take a simple test. Pull out your insurance card. You probably don't pay much attention to it since you use it mostly to go to your primary care physician. And, like many people, you fill your prescriptions with it.

But did you ever really read it?

Take a close look. It lists several phone numbers: medical benefits call this number, prescription benefits call another number. MENTAL HEALTH, call a third number.

It's the 21st century and still the stigma remains. When will the craziness end (no pun intended)? When will the pain end?

A dear friend called the other day and I tried to explain to him. He was very honest with me. He actually said he didn't understand what I was going through. It was painful and the stories of people like me are all around you if you listen.

Please listen to one more story.

PTSD. I can hear the cringing now. Every time those letters are uttered I hear people say "postal.” They think I am weak. "Suck it up" is a common phrase. Makes sense, except that it would be like me telling you to grow a new finger. "Oh, can't do that?" Suck it up and you can; makes about as much sense.

The next time you break a bone, don't go to the doctor. Suck it up. Self-medicate with alcohol or aspirin, and then avoid talking about the broken bone. Feeling depressed and want to open up about it? Suck it up. No one wants to hear the thoughts going through your mind. The pain you feel. But of course, it's not the same as me. Everyone wants to commiserate with you. You have a medical problem. No one sees the pain that courses through me.

Even the great novelist Stephen King cannot describe the true horror of what happened that night. I will spare you the details. The only thing I will say about that night is no safety equipment worked. No silent alarm. No camera. If I had died that night I would just be another statistic. Another unsolved murder.

What am I saying? A part of me died that night and I have searched for her for a long time. She was funny and smart and loved life. She had friends and relationships. She enjoyed all of life. If you were to reach out to me, you might catch a glimpse. I miss her very much.

What could be worse than that night? What happened next, that’s what’s worse.

I didn't sleep for three nights. I went to a friend’s house the first night but didn't sleep. Two days later my manager is telling me “fall off a horse, get back on.” I tried. It lasted all of ten minutes. I kept seeing the ones who robbed me. I couldn't stay in that store. My assistant manager said “look at her…she needs help.” They took me to where they take all workers who have incidents at work. Telling my story to the receptionist, a patient nearby kindly listening to my story said "you don't need a doctor, you're crazy."

This was to become the norm, not the aberration. I became isolated in my house. It didn't matter if I needed toilet paper, I couldn't risk going out. The workers compensation nurse would come by me desk and see me sitting bolt upright and ask about my medication. I would tell her and she thought I shouldn't be able to walk a straight line. I was in and out of the hospital. It was a while before I was diagnosed with PTSD.

The worse part was I was permanently disabled from doing the type of work I had done most of my life. What was I going to do? I hear about people abusing workers comp but believe me when I say I got $115 every three weeks or so. What a princely sum.

A turning point came when I was asked to work in the office. Maybe there was hope. I quickly found out the answer. I was made fun of. I was called names. I was called a bitch in front of my co-workers and supervisor by a "normal" person. No repercussions to that person. I was constantly questioned about my doctor appointments and the types of drugs I was on. Turns out I was still an “OSHA recordable” while taking meds and seeing the doctor. They couldn't have that. People said the drugs were a "crutch" and I needed to stop. Oh my God, I had fights with my doctor about that. I stopped taking the meds and still remember crawling on the floor, my head splitting, thinking I am going to have a stroke. Turns out I was lucky I didn't have a seizure. My doctor explained I just couldn't stop the meds.

After a coworker was murdered I left. I will not name the company to protect the guilty. But the stigma never left. I never quite fit in anywhere. I tried so hard to make friends but something inside me scared people.

I still feel hurt and pain when I think about a certain birthday. We would always get a cake, except when my birthday came at the original place I was working for. Late in the day they shuffled in with a cupcake. Turns out, they said, no one wanted cake. “Enjoy the cupcake.”

I freaked out a superior when he slammed his fists on my desk and I jumped two feet. He had no idea. I keep things to myself.

I still find it hard to develop friendships. I still live with depression. I still can't sleep. I still have troubles. I moved 600 miles to make it feel better but made it worse. Why are we so tolerant about sexuality, religion, race, and shut out those that are square pegs trying to fit into a circle? Why do I have to stay silent and keep the feelings that are killing me slowly inside?

When will people understand the pain, failure, and depression I feel are controlling me?

The stats on PTSD and the military are alarming. No one quite understands why five veterans see a traumatic event and only one gets the symptoms. The suicide rate is much higher in those with PTSD. And contrary to belief, they are not the ones who shoot up the movie theatres or all their coworkers. They take all the anger they have and force it inward, deeply. They end their lives.

Don't be fooled. It happens to people outside the military: rape victims, assault victims, molested children, abused spouses. Will you tell all of them to "suck it up"?

Another myth is talking to someone about suicide. They think it will put "ideas" in their head. This is more hogwash from the "normal" folks. If you know anyone who has mentioned suicide, take it seriously. Do anything you can to save a life.

Don't look down on mental illness. It's a medical condition no matter what the insurance card says.

Related Thursday Review articles:

A Letter to All the Dear Johns; Jennifer Walker-James; Thursday Review; September 2, 2015.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness; book review by Kristy Webster; Thursday Review; November 5, 2015.