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Thanks to PTSD, I'll Never Be a Hero

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Thanks to my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I’ll never be a hero.

I want to. I’d like to think I’m a person of action, and that if I witness a dangerous event I’ll jump right into rescue mode. I’m a nice woman, and I like helping.

• What is PTSD?

But I can’t. Trauma keeps me from moving. Trauma keeps me frozen in place, dissociating myself from reality, stuck to the floor in cement boots.

I taught English for 11 years, so looking back, I’m glad the topic of “disaster response time” wasn’t a job interview question. I wouldn’t have passed to the next level of interviews, that’s for sure.

I remember once when I worked at a middle school, a substitute teacher passed out in a classroom down the hall from me. I heard students running down the hallway, calling for the nurse. I peeked my head out the door, knowing I needed to check and see what was going on, knowing I needed to respond. But everything started moving in slow motion. I heard cries, I heard the words “CPR,” I saw others in action. But I was frozen. I couldn’t move. I was chained to the past.

I was 9 years old again, listening to the cries of my mother and grandmother as they try to revive my dying grandfather. I hear my grandma shout “No, Freeman!” I watch him falling out of the car to the sidewalk and onto my front lawn. I watch them get out an epipen, perform CPR, yelling for help. I watch his eyes roll back.

The whites of his eyes haunt me, forever seared into my memory, transforming into real time during times of crisis.

So I can’t be a hero.

Even when my 5-year-old woke up with a nosebleed a year ago, my husband rushed to action and I stood in the doorway, frozen. I wasn’t there, I had already drifted to the place where there are no scary surprises. He had to ask me twice to grab tissues, because I just couldn’t snap out of it.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve moved on. I’ve been through years of counseling, I took prescription medication for a long time and I meditate. If you ask me what it was like watching someone I love die less than a month before my 10th birthday, I can do that without breaking down.

But don’t ask me to rescue anyone from a disaster. My response time is too slow. I can’t be caught by surprise like that. I will jump backward three decades and lose myself in the past.

I want to be your hero. I want to spring into action. But that beautiful spring day in 1991 holds me captive to the past. And I haven’t yet been able to shake myself out of it.

Can you relate? Let Erin know in the comments below.

Getty image via Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: June 27, 2020
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