I thought that PTSD was reserved for heroes, for people who risk their lives to protect others. I thought it was a terrible consequence that goes hand-in-hand with sacrificing for your country. I didn’t think it could happen to me.
On Labor Day weekend last summer on my way to unpack my dorm room for the year, my parents and I were in a car crash. We were sitting at a red light in the far left lane, and when it changed to green we pulled out and started to turn left. I was in the backseat on the passenger’s side talking on the phone with my aunt. I looked out my window and saw a blue Jeep barreling toward me.
That moment seemed to stretch into infinity. For some reason, all I could do was scream and watch the Jeep T-bone my family. The impact was astonishing. Our Honda CRV tipped up onto its side before hitting a street sign and falling back onto all four wheels. The passenger’s-side door (where my mother was sitting) was completely smashed in, and the front driver’s-side tire was parallel to the ground because of the impact the car made with the curb. But the impact was not the most frightening part of the ordeal.
Seeing my parents whip around to make sure I was OK was the most terrifying part of the experience. I will never forget the look in their eyes. I have never seen my father move so quickly, shout so loudly, and look so scared. I’ve never seen my mother climb into the backseat so quickly and be so adamant about pulling me out of the car, even though I didn’t need to be pulled.
Within a few minutes, the ambulance had arrived, strapped me to a backboard, and taped my head down in case I had any spinal injuries. After a few hours strapped to the board, a couple of great nurses, and a doctor checking my spine, I was free to go. I didn’t know at the time that I had suffered a serious concussion. All I knew was that we were lucky to be alive and that a sore neck would eventually take care of itself.
My mental injuries were more severe than I had thought. Within four days of the accident, I was unable to move from my bed without getting nauseous. I had a skull-splitting headache that didn’t go away no matter how much I slept. As hard as I tried to stay at school, I eventually had to leave my life in Boston behind and go home to take care of my scrambled brain.
The obvious effects of the concussion lasted months. The nightmares stopped after about three months. The headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and moodiness lasted for six months. My hesitance to drive or be a passenger dissipated gradually. Slowly I was making my way back to my normal. By February, I felt like my pre-accident self. I was reading voraciously, began to exercise, and started to reach out to my friends. I was healing.
Since then, I have started a full-time job and started playing softball again. I no longer hesitate to go places that I can’t access by subway. I thought I was done being a victim.
But last night on my way home from a friend’s house, I found that although all the physical signs have long since gone, the mental scars remain. I saw flashing lights a few miles in front of me. I continued to drive toward them because I had to get home.
When I reached the flashing lights, I realized that it was not someone who had been pulled over for speeding. It was a car accident. Two cars were smashed in the middle of the intersection. Policemen were talking to the drivers.
All of a sudden I began to feel nauseous. My hands started to shake. And as I turned left to go around the accident and continue home, I began to cry. Suddenly, I was staring into my parents’ terrified faces in the backseat of our smashed CRV. I was narrowly escaping death once again, over and over in my mind. No matter how many times I told myself, “Molly, it wasn’t you. You are fine. You survived,” I could not stop the tears from streaming down my face.
I did the only thing I could think of doing. I called my brother. Thankfully, he picked up, and when he heard the terror in my voice, he instructed me calmly to pull over. I explained to him what happened. Through my sobs and heaves, I told my brother what I had just seen and how irrational I felt for having this breakdown after so many months of feeling normal.
And that’s when it hit me. I was suffering one of the symptoms of PTSD. The feeling of helplessness was paralyzing. It was more terrifying than the actual crash because I couldn’t stop seeing it over and over in my mind.
No one died in the car crash that concussed both my mother and me. No broken bones, cracked skulls, or bullet wounds were involved. There was no explosion. Everyone involved got to go home.
Having suffered through this small battle last night, it has become infinitely clear that we need to give more professional attention to the members of our Armed Forces who return home from war. The horror that they see and experience make my car accident look like child’s play. It is baffling that there are not more resources devoted to the heroes who keep us safe and defend our liberties. It needs to be addressed promptly.
These are people who deserve to be treated in accordance with the injuries they suffered. Sometimes the invisible injuries are the ones that leave the worst scars.