War veterans come to mind when the acronym PTSD is mentioned. However, there are lots of people living with post traumatic stress disorder for different reasons.
After the 8th grade graduation “celebratory” Dinner Dance school shooting I lived through as an adolescent; I thought a lot about what meaning to take from it. The way I consciously choose to live my life is different from some of the unintended effects. My conscious choice was to try to be inclusive and kind to people so that I would not be a source of pain for someone like the kid in our class who was hurting and acted his pain out so violently. the unintended effects were/are as follows:
What it meant to me that evening: life is unsafe and unpredictable. A celebration can turn into a traumatic event. Humans are vulnerable and can die in an instant.
That year: physically and emotionally the trauma was a lot to process and recover from. Unfortunately, I did not have access to therapy or an understanding of what is normative when coming out of a trauma. Add to that the problem of returning to school days where students, teachers and school leaders are riddled with fear and grieving, journalists swarming our small town to get the story, a crazed towns-person calling in bomb threats, and more mass shootings making headlines across the country. I can picture rooms in my childhood home, specifically the bathroom comes to mind, and visualizing what I would do in a fight or flight scenario. I had these plans for almost any space I was in, but definitely those I frequented. In our bathroom, my plan was to use the towel bar to strike the attacker or shooter if I needed to fight. It was the kind of towel bar mounted between two brackets that I could have gotten down pretty easily and was metal. If there was time to flee I could get out the second floor window, jump to the ground and run to safety.
Certain things became “hard Nos.” For instance, you did not joke “I could kill you” or “I could ring his neck.” Violence was no laughing matter and I was easily startled by any off-handed comment that sounded threatening. “I believe I can fly,” (was playing when the shooting began), “I’ve had the time of my life” (the theme of our dance), gunshot sounds or similar (we thought the first shot was a balloon popping at first) and police lights became triggers.
College: in college unfortunately I had experienced situations that threatened my sense of safety and well being. A rural, small town, family oriented girl; I probably shouldn’t have chosen to go to Pitt (however, no regrets – met my sweet husband and some great people!). One night when I was walking home from studying with my friend, a person who seemed to be on some serious drugs, stopped me and called me Evie. He tried to get me to come with him and then chased me. The situation was traumatic and put me into a PTSD/paranoia/anxiety spiral my Sophomore year.
Many years later: It took me a long time to part with the dress I wore to the Dinner Dance. It’s hard to express exactly why I held onto it for so long. From 1998 until around the time we moved out of our first home. I think part of it was like “the things we carry” I physically carry the wounds and didn’t know how to just throw that in the trash and separate from it. The other reason I held onto the dress was sort of aspirational/trying to make sense of things.
To this day: there are things that will trigger me and fears I carry that feel very real to me whether or not they may seem that way to the average Joe. I prefer to be able to see entrances and exits wherever I am. I do not like to be in the dark or in noisy spaces filled with unpredictable activities. Places like movie theaters and dance clubs can be quite uncomfortable.
One day I may want to make an anti-violence speaking event for school students. For now, I think it’s beneficial to share how life is for me because of surviving a life-threatening trauma and living with PTSD.