My PTSD – Part 1: How it Started


My PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) affects me nearly every day and substantially changed my life. Of my invisible illnesses, I’m least open about this one. I’m not sure why. It may be because I heard many comments from people early on that were not understanding and so I decided to keep it hidden. It may be because the anxiety is so strong. I’ve had PTSD for 14 years. This is the first time I’ve ever written about it. Maybe this will help me or someone in a similar situation.

I was in a car accident October 3, 2001. This weekend is the anniversary. I was a passenger in a roll-over accident on a dirt road near a remote mountain pass. I remember so many details from that day and the wreck itself. It’s burned deep in my mind. We spun around and then rolled a few times before coming to a stop right-side up. The roof was caved in and the doors wouldn’t open. I crawled out a window. I remember being in shock sitting by the side of the road. I remember waiting until a car came along with a couple guys out to fix fence. They got us help. I was taken to a hospital for x-rays. I wasn’t injured in any way that was visible externally. I did hit my head and suffer whiplash. The doctor said the vertebrae in my neck had been knocked out of alignment. I was a long way from home with people I worked with, and was sent to a pharmacy and then to a hotel room before another coworker came to pick us up. I think I was in shock the whole day. Maybe concussion? I’ve never been the same either mentally or physically. In the end, I was classified with a 5% permanent physical impairment (whatever that means) and got a tiny settlement from insurance. I didn’t yet know that I had PTSD.

I thank God for surviving the accident and for being intact with all my arms and legs attached and able to move. At that time, I didn’t always wear my seatbelt. That morning, I started out without a seatbelt and had a strange experience. I remember hearing something like a voice telling me to put it on saying, “You never know when you could blow a tire.” I put my seatbelt on. I believe it saved my life or at least prevented a broken neck.

The accident happened shortly after 9-11 and the world was still reeling. I remember returning to where I was staying taking the drugs they prescribed, feeling so alone (I’d just moved there and had no friends yet), and watching the news. This was the time of the 2001 anthrax attacks. It was terrifying. There was a huge change in my life and my conception of the world before September 2001 and after October 2001. The events are intertwined in my mind.

I was in a lot of pain, but I thought it was just whiplash that would go away. It never did. I tried physical therapy and other things, but the pain never went away. Eventually I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I’ve always thought perhaps the wreck was the trigger and maybe I wouldn’t have fallen ill if the wreck didn’t happen. But it did.

I’d been in several other car accidents/incidents in the two years leading up to this. None of them were my fault. This left me so much more afraid than if they were my fault and I could be more careful next time. I was rear-ended once and then t-boned ten months later in the same car. I was hit by a 1980s Crown Victoria (they weigh around 3,700 lbs) that ran a red light. That totaled my first car I’d saved up for, and triggered lasting TMJ problems. About a year later, my new car actually burst into flames while I was driving through the country alone. Seriously, that happened. I smelled a strange odor I now know is from an electrical short and then the engine lugged. When I pulled over, there was smoke pouring out from every side of the hood. I got out safely, but the front half of the car burned entirely before the fire was put out. Leading up to the wreck in 2001, I’d already had two cars totaled – and one nearly so – at no fault of my own. I later learned these kind of circumstances increase your risk of developing PTSD.

That wreck 14 years ago changed my life in so many ways. If there was one day in my life I could change, that would be the one. There’s no point in those thoughts. My past led to where I am now and the love of my life. It happened and I’m fortunate to be alive and in one piece.

Image: Libelle by Frank Schwarz, public domain

Text Copyright Snowdroplets 2015

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