Life being what it is, an imperfect entity, there are things that happen to each of us over which we have no control. What we do have control over, however, is our reaction—either to our detriment with bitterness, or to our recovery and growth. Often, out of life’s most difficult and painful circumstances, God blesses us in ways we could never have imagined. And then He uses us to reach others with a heart of love and compassion, bringing comfort to them because we have traveled a similar road.
June 27, 2019 is PTSD Awareness Day. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a syndrome which affects not only our military vets returning home. I’ve read that it may affect roughly 20% of American adults following traumatic events. PTSD carries a host of symptoms from various traumas such as emotional, physical or sexual assaults, natural disasters, serious accidents, and many other life-altering stressors. Unlike visible wounds, it often lacks outward evidence, taking prisoner one’s deepest inner self and emotions—an invisible pain with specialized mental or emotional challenges.
PTSD is often manifested by flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, anger, hyper-vigilance, and feeling detached from reality, essentially an unstable emotional equilibrium. Overwhelmed, suicidal thoughts may emerge as a relief mechanism. No one else may know the one suffering has a problem, who may be in denial or unaware of the issues. I know, being diagnosed with PTSD well after the trauma of verbal rape had occurred in junior high.
I share my story in the hope of helping others because I no longer suffer with PTSD, certainly not to the former degree. I still deal with emotional triggers and a less severe fear of the dark.
Predating that traumatic event in junior high, my family abruptly moved from a farming community of friends and way of life I loved to the city world, and I was an emotional “mess.” Overcoming challenges and adapting, I made a new life with new friends. Yet, just a few years later, my family never knew why I became withdrawn, was easily agitated, and startled and screamed easily at the unexpected. I shied away from making new friends, withdrew from a great group of peers in the church youth group, afraid of even them, and typically “clung” to my sister’s side, maintaining only a few close friends.
I also never shared my fear of the dark, sensing someone was behind me, ready to grab and kill me. It was a very real fear that I battled for at least 20 years. I was afraid to tell anyone, fearing they’d think I was crazy. But, to be fair, I also had no idea a traumatic event in junior high could have caused my problems. I thought that event was simply tucked away in the distant crevices of my memory.
Moving back to rural life two years after the emotional trauma of that verbal rape, I was taunted/mocked by the neighbors’ sons, or so I assumed. They were hidden from view in their yard as I took care of my mare. Unfortunately, my hate for them was real. Unexpectedly, I was reminded of the incident by the mocker about 20 years ago. She still thought it was hilarious fun at my expense, while I was afraid to share the hurt and shame she had caused. Sadly, it was someone I was once close to who does not comprehend the damage of her mocking.
A few short years later, returning home after my and Ed’s dates (he was legally blind, unable to drive), I would park my car as close to the house as possible, and run as fast as I could to get into the house. The closer the car to the door, the more severe the fear. It was laughed about, but I never shared my fears with anyone except my husband-to-be. In sharing it with my Dad a few months before his passing, I heard the pain in his voice for his never having known in order to have been there for me.
Fast forward several more years when, after leaving an abusive employment situation, nightmares and flashbacks began, while also experiencing very real property and car damage. Resigning from a new job because of an unexpected inability to function and make decisions, hearing my former boss yelling and belittling me in my mind, I felt like an absolute and total failure. Contemplating ending my life while driving, I passed the home of my Dad’s former Army buddy and heard the voice of God saying, “I’m here for you. Your family needs you. You will be okay.” Like David said in Psalm 91:2, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,’” so God was there for me in many ways.
Having to support my family, I managed to put one foot in front of the other to work as a secretarial temp prior to obtaining my current long-term position as medical transcriptionist. Working for executives, I was given letters of recommendation boosting my morale. Finally seeking professional counseling, I received a diagnosis—PTSD. Told I really would be okay and that none of it was my fault, the healing process began with my husband’s loving support.
It seems like a lifetime ago. I have forgiven those two boys, hoping they’ve become better citizens, as well as forgiving my mocker. I also sought out one of the neighbors to apologize for erroneously blaming them in my heart, receiving his forgiveness. The lasting effects of any bullying, like our youth and even adults suffer, are truly devastating. Yet, because of what I’ve been through, I’ve also learned God uses even the traumas of life for a higher purpose, like my poetry. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
I’m so thankful to say I’m doing well, and so appreciative of all the great and supportive friends who have blessed my life with their presence!
If you know or suspect a family member or friend lives with PTSD, extend your support and understanding. SAVE, an online resource, lists symptoms and how to help. Contact your local mental health agency for assistance as appropriate.
Where the Heart Soars Free
Linda A. Roorda
Little girl sad, withdrawn and teary
Changes and loss disrupting life’s flow
Leaving behind remnants of what was
With emotional scars, reminders vivid.
Where once her heart ran free, unhindered
Clinging to joys and ease of childhood
Now all the world was seen through the lens
Of deepening gray on guard for the unknown.
Open her eyes, Lord, that she may see
All of the wisdom You share with her
May she then know how great is Your love
That You care enough to shelter her heart.
For there is a place where the heart soars free
Where love shines bright in a world grown dim
Where hopeless need meets faith to overcome
By walking the path that conquers defeat.
As an airy joy with a zest for life
Brings cheer to the sad and light to the dark
Where peace in the heart and contentment calm
Cover her wounds with a loving grace.