Why We Need to Change How We View PTSD in the Work Place
I used to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as if it was something from my past. I’d say, “I dealt with that for years,” or “It was a terrible thing to go through.” I was diagnosed in 2003, before it was a household term. At the time, the diagnosis was like manna from heaven. Until then, I thought of myself as crazy or damaged beyond all hope, but to hear so many others had experienced the same thing that they had come up with a name for it — post-traumatic stress disorder – a name that validates the pain I experienced. No more having to justify it to myself or others. I learned what I was experiencing was normal… for those who have experienced trauma anyway. I went to treatment, took my antidepressants and joined support groups. I did everything right and I got better. That was my story.
Until when, in 2016, a series of triggers destroyed my illusions. The idea I was starting all over again was worse than the actual PTSD symptoms. In the fall of 2016, fear, anxiety and depression started to take over. I lost my sense of hope for the future, replaced by insecurity and the knowledge I was no longer in control. I turned down a promotion that came with a relocation to my home town — one I’d been hoping for and working towards for years. I was so overcome with anxiety, I just couldn’t make myself say, “Yes.” So, I told them I had a medical condition I needed to attend to before I moved.
I was badly triggered at work twice — once in November and once in February. Both times, my manager was dismissive and acted like PTSD was not a good enough reason to go home sick. She even asked me directly, “Were you really sick or did you just want to go home early?” She made sure I knew sick time was only to be used if I was actually sick and she could deny it if she wanted. So, I called my HR representative and talked to her about my PTSD, a fateful decision I have come to regret.
I am now in the process of applying for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and considering filing for Intermittent Leave under FMLA for the first time ever, 14 years after my diagnosis and over 20 years since the events leading to my PTSD. I do not want to do it. I believe it is unnecessary. If my manager had simply believed me, accepted I was sick and needed to go home, none of this would have happened. If HR had told my manager, “If she says she’s sick, she’s sick, period,” none of this would have happened. But obviously, that’s not what happened and now I feel like I need federal laws to protect me from discrimination in my work place.
Before this, I would not have chosen to label myself disabled or mentally ill. I personally describe PTSD as an injury, just like an old sports injury. If you busted up your knee playing football in college, it is by now as healed as it is going to get, but sometimes it still hurts when it rains or when you step wrong, turn your ankle, whatever. My PTSD is an old injury. It’s mostly healed, but sometimes if something comes along that aggravates it, it still hurts. Imagine how different our lives would be if the world viewed PTSD as an injury.
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Thinkstock photo via kieferpix