PTSD Survivors Speak: PTSD and TBI Not Just The Military, Part 1

The thing that inspires me more than anything – both in my own PTSD recovery, that of my clients and PTSD support group members, and all the survivors I meet who are on their healing path – is the sheer determination to STOP living a life in fear. Today’s guest poster, Gail Bentley, has some thoughts on that…

I’m tired of living in fear.  Fear dictates almost everything about my life.  I amPTSD, Survivors Speak afraid to drive because more people die in car accidents than any other transportation.  I am afraid to drop my toddlers off at preschool because what if something happens randomly and they are taken from me, or a teacher reports me for not sending matching socks and Child Welfare tries to take my kids.

During a bad episode everything around me is too bright, noises amplified, my voice sounds like it’s coming from elsewhere.  I know I am talking, moving, walking, but I can not feel the connection to my body.  My heart races, my skin “crawls”, beads of sweat develop up my neck.  I can’t breathe well.  I feel like adrenaline is literally being administered through IV into my system.  I am just waiting for the next crisis- for something else to be taken, for another tragic loss.  I am on alert, my eyes dart from one face to another and I try to make sense of their faces.  And the worst is I know that “they”- the normal people- aren’t feeling any of this, and the most important act I must do is not let anyone see, not let anyone know that inside, I’m not like them, that I’m fighting to look and sound and act like it isn’t taking everything I have to walk through the market, to use a normal tone of voice, to not show my fear.

Last summer on the way back from my first break from my kids in 6 months, I picked up the Washington Post.  The cover was on PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Finally, a major news organization, on a Sunday no less, dedicated the front page lead article, and two full pages inside to PTSD.  I read the article several times sitting waiting for the ferry to take us back from Virginia to Maryland.  Less than three weeks after I wrote one of my hardest pieces on PTSD (titled with a treatment EMDR, but really at its core one of the many vivid painful memories when my son was abused), here I saw that PTSD was coming out of the shame closet.  I knew I had to write more, and of course this just exacerbated what was already one of my top three worst periods of anxiety in at least the past five years (coinciding with yet another time when I figured I could do without any medication since I had been weaning off of it again anyway.)

The article, and subsequent news articles that I have seen picked up (like two today in USA Today) have been focused mainly on active duty and returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.  I looked at some of the online comments on and I was saddened that so many comments were about the wars themselves, perhaps what war has done to the soldiers, but so little on the people themselves.  I strongly feel some real good has come about even the limited news that is filtering out about PTSD and the tragedy of what has happened to the soldiers who have served and will forever be changed (as in any war, we are just now finally talking about it):

1.  People are finally starting to talk about PTSD and TBI as true afflictions, not another layer of shame to be brushed under the table.

2.  The military and government are investing real financial and medical resources to finding successful treatments for PTSD and TBI.

Perhaps with these two outcomes the really important results will start to filter down:  Only a generation ago we were afraid to talk about cancer out loud as if it was a personal secret that people shouldn’t know.  Drug and alcohol abuse were hidden “vices” that needed to be locked in the family vault of secrets.  We have made incredible strides in facing and treating these illnesses.

But anything that smells of “mental illness” or something wrong with the brain that can’t be explained or easily tested and fixed still remains the great shame.  Anti-depressants are the number one selling medication of our time.  Self-help and therapy are acceptable topics of conversation in many magazines and dinner tables.

Stay tuned next week as Gail outlines the steps necessary to heal.

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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