PTSD Survivors Speak: PTSD and TBI — Not Just The Military, Part 2

Last week we met Gail Bentley, a PTSD survivor who decided to stop living her life in fear. This week she outlines the steps necessary to heal.

PTSD  and TBI: What To Do

Waking up in the middle of the night with screaming terrors, mental healthPTSD, Survivors Speak hospitalizations, erratic behavior, rage, fear, head banging, self mutilation….there are too many areas that are beyond almost anyone’s ability to confront.  But for lives to be changed, saved, made meaningful again, we have to take some really hard steps:

  • We must start being able talk about mental illness and brain disorders or injuries the way we talk about that any other medical condition and that is going to take a very hard step of stopping the blame. We don’t know why some people get various symptoms, we barely know how to diagnose it, we’re just now learning that it actually shows physical changes that can be tested. It isn’t like a tumor that shows up on a scan and can have surgery and other medical treatments. While we don’t really know what causes it, we don’t really know what treats it. That scares us, so we blame ourselves, we blame those we love, and we blame strangers who have “it”. First step: that has to stop.
  • If the health system is broken, the mental health system is an endless catastrophe. In time I will be going over so many of the problems with the mental health system, but here are some highlights: Psychiatrists are reimbursed so little by insurance that most don’t take insurance at all- leaving psychiatric care only available for the rich who can afford upwards to $400 for a session, to those “lucky” enough to get into a clinic after four months of waiting. The doctors have been so stripped of their ability to treat patients that they have been reduced to “medication management”. Hospitals are available only for “crisis stabilization” which means on average 3-5 days after a suicide attempt, and then you are thrown back to the system of trying to find outpatient care. The largest number of parents who are clumped in with child abusers as charged with neglect for abandonment are parents of mentally ill children who are given NO OTHER OPTION by the state to try to get help for their children then to legally abandon them to the state and hope for care. State residential centers that can house hundreds of patients are left with empty buildings because they are only funded for a few dozen patients at a time.

There are many forms and levels of severity within the mental health spectrum.  I am focusing here on PTSD but hope in time to talk about many aspects of mental illness.  But look at the sheer numbers of traumas:  how many hundreds of thousands of our young men and women watch or wait for death or dismemberment in combat?  One in five women, regardless of race, religion, education or economic status are victims of domestic violence.  How many people lose everything they’ve worked for to fire, or flood, or economic devastation?  How many lose a loved child or spouse or parent?  How many people have sudden random acts of violence, rape, or other violation?  The truth is that scarring traumas happen all the time, to people all around us.

I am not suggesting that we become a society that wears our traumas on our sleeve and falls into endless self-pity over our losses and pains.  G-d forbid we use our traumas as an excuse for giving up or becoming immoral, heartless people.  But isn’t it ridiculous for us to keep hiding in shame?  Is it possible that we start treating our mental health the same as we treat our physical health- regularly, diligently, seeking professional help when appropriate?

Twelve years ago I started and ran a 200 part program for the Mental Health Association of Central Virginia called “Fear Less October.”  The goal was to reduce the stigma of seeking help for mental health.  The event won two state-wide awards.  It was covered by the press, and thousands of people participated, promoted as a great success.  But in the end I think it was a failure.  The program was dropped years ago, and twelve years later I still find myself (to my chagrin) preaching about the same idea– that we need to stop being ashamed and start seeking help.

But the reality is, that people will still lose their jobs if word gets out that they have some unmentionable illness that affects that affects their brain.  Competent, responsible people are still mistrusted if people hear that they take one of “those” medications. But the really crazy part is that 90% of mental illness is treatable.

It’s not a lack of will or courage to get help.  Getting help is the most courageous act a person can do.  I am afraid to drive, yes.  I drive every day.  I am afraid something catastrophic will happen to my children, I let them go out into the world and live free and joyfully.  And for years now I have been afraid to admit that I am afraid. I have been terrified that people will treat me differently or believe I am incompetent even though I have been able to achieve more inside and outside even with all we have experienced and lost.  But if I don’t start being honest, who will?  And with everything we have suffered and lost, I need it to matter.  If helping one person know that they aren’t alone can make their lives better, then talking finally will be worth whatever real or imagined consequences I have.  Because at the end of it all, mine is a story of hope- no matter what has happened, or how it has affected me, I get up everyday and try.  And everyday I find more of my life that makes living my life matter.

PTSD and TBI Not Just The Military, Part 1

A Life Guide

Ten years ago as Gail Bentley she was on The Today Show, CNN, etc as CEO of Working Weekly. After her ex was indicted on 9 felony counts of child abuse and she had 4 back surgies, Gail ended up homeless with her 4 children. She is now focusing on making their traumas matter by speaking up about PTSD, domestic violence.

The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.


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