PTSD is something that most people associate with veterans. If it’s not talked about in relationship to vets or severe trauma, it’s sometimes just joked about in a very lighthearted manner (which is problematic yes, but that’s not what I’m going to focus on here). The truth is, however, that PTSD can affect any and all of us, and it’s not always a big violent moment that induces it.
This is my PTSD story.
About seven years ago I was a victim of fraud and had money wired out of my checking account — all of the money I had, plus a little more, so I was well into the red, scary, negative zone. I found this out while I was trying to fill up my car with gas on the way to school. I had just gotten off of work, and I had nearly an hour’s commute ahead of me.
Yet the gas pump wasn’t reading my card. Curious, I thought, and something I definitely didn’t have time for, but I was nearly out of gas. So, I went into the convenience store to talk to the cashier, who promptly told me “insufficient funds.”
My heart skipped several beats.
I found a $20 bill in my purse (thankfully) and handed it to the cashier, then I went out to fill up my car — pouring sweat, shaking, feeling like I was going to fall over any second.
I don’t remember driving to school, but I did.
I don’t remember sitting in class, but I did.
I don’t remember the phone call I made to my husband, but I did.
I made it home, sometime that night, and what followed were several weeks of deep depression, anxiety, fear, distrust, and general panic 24/7. It was a very dark time. And, even though I am well past the event in terms of timeline, it still haunts me — especially when I have to go to the gas station.
This past week I went to go fill up my car, and the pump kept shutting off, and when I tried to click it, it would stall. I wrestled with it for a few minutes and ended up with a dollar’s worth of gas. The gas station was crowded. People were waiting. I felt myself slide into a full-on panic attack. I drove forward into a parking lot and started crying.
Was it rational? No. But that’s the reality of having a mental disorder/illness. And it’s very, very real for the person experiencing it.
I shakily drove home and asked my husband to go with me to another gas station because I couldn’t do it alone. I joked (not really joking) that I would never leave the house again if he didn’t, and I started to spiral into a maybe I’ve been putting in the wrong gas, maybe I’ve been slowly destroying my brand new car, have I even been putting in gas right, how much money do we have (I avoid looking often because it gives me extreme anxiety, so my husband handles our finances), why did I even buy a car…
My husband has definitely grown in his understanding and empathy for mental illness and various disorders over the years, and he handled the situation beautifully. He stopped what he was doing, went with me, and even got out of the car to fill the tank with me. He was patient, and he was there.
The rest of the day, I dealt with shakes, cold sweats, severe stomach pain, and an inability to focus on anything. And he gave me both the space and the comfort I needed.
You don’t have to understand what someone is going through to be of value. You just need to be there for them. It can make all the difference in their ongoing recovery.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.