Are you Afraid of the PTSD Boogeyman?
Just the other day, I was being interviewed by an associate producer for a national television show. She asked me to describe the events leading up to, during, and after the shooting. One of the questions she asked, has been asked numerous times, and I felt was pretty easy to answer.
“Do you suffer from PTSD?”
I gave her an immediate and proud response, “No.”
That answer was true on Tuesday when she asked it; however, my answer would change just one day later due to a knock at the door which led to a threat by a stranger.
According to the folks at the Mayo Clinic, Post-traumatic stress disorder is classified on the DSM-V as a mental health disorder usually ignited by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic or terrifying event.
Accompanying symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, increased anxiety, hypervigilance, trouble sleeping (which may be why I am up at 1 a.m. typing this blog), digestive issues, preoccupation with thoughts and feelings related to the incident, and/or emotional numbing. These symptoms can last for months or even years.
After my ex-husband shot my daughter and me, I was afraid of literally EVERYTHING:
- White Chevy Silverado trucks
- Strange cars on my street
- My reflection in my car’s side mirrors
- Fireworks (the smell is just like the smell of gunfire…and let’s not forget about the sound)
- The snap, crackle, and pop of leaves and sticks breaking under someone’s feet
- Voices raised in an argument…
I could go on…
However, I overcame all these obstacles with God, counseling with my awesome therapist, Valerie, my fabulous support system, and exposure therapy. This technique puts you in the midst of people, places, and situations that ignite the PTSD episode. The idea behind it is you are “exposed” to the trauma over and over again until you no longer feel fearful when placed in those situations. So when I was afraid of fireworks, I smelled the smells and heard the loud booms of the explosives until my five senses were no longer affected and my PTSD episodes were rendered null and void.
The last thing to go was the sound of the breaking of leaves and sticks under someone’s feet. I was free! Free at last!…or so I thought.
On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, just one day after I proudly proclaimed that I did not suffer from PTSD, a gang member showed up at my front door.
I’d ordered something from Best Buy for my daughter and missed the delivery the day before. The delivery person left a note on the door telling me he/she would return the following day after one o’clock.
I decided to take a nap that afternoon after I had a morning meeting with another DV warrior over some events we were thinking about collaborating on this year.
Right around 1:00 I was awakened to the doorbell ringing. You already know how it feels to be startled awake. You are discombobulated – eyes half open, groggy, and disheveled. I looked out the window and saw a Burgundy car, so I automatically assumed it was the delivery person. (Did you know delivery people do NOT come in marked cars anymore? They don’t. Uber drivers can deliver things to your home now.)
I started running down the steps and yelled for him not to leave the porch.
“I’ve got to turn off the alarm.! Hold on! Don’t leave!” I yelled as I ran into the kitchen to disarm the alarm system.
When I unlocked and opened the door without looking through my peephole, I walked out onto the front walkway and excitedly asked, “Do you have my package?”
Upon looking at me, he had an expression on his face that suggested he was surprised I was the one who opened the door…and I quickly realized that this was NOT the delivery guy because he wore gang symbols on his head and body.
I was too far from the front door to run inside and did not want to make any moves that would make this bad situation worse.
He demanded, “I need to see the owner of this house.”
I began to think if something was about to happen to me, I needed the whole neighborhood to see; so, I slowly started walking towards my front yard. There were no cars in the driveways on our street. No one was home it seemed, except me. I explained to him that I was the owner of the house.
“No, I want the male in the house!” He started reaching inside his pocket as if he were carrying a weapon.
After a long back and forth discussion of several demands on his part for this mysterious male he had “business with” and explanations on my part that there was not a male in the house, he finally decided to threaten me with a very cryptic message.
His eyes were void of life or expression. It was as if I was looking evil in the face all over again.
This kid had the same look in his eyes as my ex-husband did on the day he shot my daughter and me.
After he issued the warning to me, he jumped back into his little Burgundy car and left.
I ran into the house, locked the door, ran upstairs to retrieve my phone, and called 911.
They came (eventually) and I gave them a full description of the young man.
Can you believe they knew who he was?
Can you believe he actually lives in my neighborhood?
Needless to say, I have discovered I have a new trigger – men reaching into their pockets, posturing as if they have a gun, and threatening me that they “know all and can see all” meaning he could easily watch my house.
My PTSD symptoms returned like an explosion. My body immediately went into fight or flight response.
I dropped to the floor and started crying.
My heart started pumping like a racehorse.
I started hyperventilating.
I started looking for exits all around the home and my weapon to protect us.
I grabbed my dog, Peanut, phone, laptop, and drove to my sister’s house.
On the way there, I called my prayer partner, Nichelle and she prayed while I was en route. I began self-talk to calm myself down.
At this point, Peanut started vomiting all over my car.
“Nichelle!” I screamed into the phone. “Peanut is vomiting all over the car. He never does that!”
She answered, “It’s because he senses YOUR anxiety.”
Can you believe your pets can experience your symptoms of PTSD too? Crazy huh?
Eventually, I calmed down after praying and talking through it. I arrived at my sister’s house and called two of my best male friends, Alexis and Shuron.
Shuron immediately asked, “Do I need to come up there?” I answered with a speedy yes!
Alexis is a former police officer and he gave me some tips on what I needed to do to ensure the sheriff did what he was supposed to do. His explanation of the process of what happened helped me to know what to anticipate. The sheriff did not do one of those very important things.
Shuron came from Washington County and installed lights all over the perimeter of my home so it would be well lit at night.
The sad thing is everyday when I leave my house and everyday when I come home, I have to pass his house. I have to see his car and today…I saw HIM standing in front of his house. I guess this is going to be my exposure therapy, but I don’t like it…not one bit.
So apparently he has been issued a “criminal trespass warning” which means if he comes to my home again, he will be arrested. And they told his mother this information as well. Strange but, he didn’t give me the impression that he listens to his mother. So this little fact does not give me comfort.
When I asked the sheriff for the case number, he told me there wasn’t a case number; it was in their “system.”
Well, I’ve heard this one before. So let’s just say you will hear a “to be continued” about my discussion I’m about to have with county officials about how they mishandle crime victims in this county…
It looks like I have two choices. I can:
Choice A: choose to live in fear because I do not feel fully protected by law enforcement in my county AND because this lovely child is my neighbor.
Choice B: choose to live by the principles I have outlined in my book, Born of Violence, to ensure that I am not a prisoner of fear. If you are dealing with PTSD symptoms, these strategies and the ones found in my book, can help you as well.
“I will take Choice B for 1000 Alex” (I had to find some corny humor in all of this mess)
- Find scriptures: I have to go through the Bible and find all the scriptures that speak to me about fear and write them down (again). Every time I feel fearful, I will recite one or more of them.
- Pray for him: Right now I feel angry and violated and I have every right to feel that way. However, it won’t get me anywhere. Unless he moves, I still have to see him or his car daily. I am determined that bitterness will not set up in my heart. So guess what I have to do? I am committed to praying for him daily. My pastor, Eric W. Lee of Springfield Baptist Church told us to make a commitment to pray for someone for the next 21 days. I guess it will be this young man. He is a child and I need God to change his heart. I don’t even know his name, but God does. I ask you to join with me and pray in Jesus’s name for a heart change in this young man.
- Talk to someone: For now, I am journaling and talking to my friends about how I feel about this situation. If I don’t see marked improvement within a week, I will go back to counseling. There is a lot of stigma about counseling in the communities of people of color, but it is needed and it is nothing to be ashamed about. Having a good therapist can help bring you to a place of peace.
- Pray for myself: Father God, fill me with your perfect love and throw away all fear from me. Help me to deal with the number of emotions I am going through right now. I thank you that you have not given me a spirit of fear. You have given me love, power, and soundness of mind. Thank you for my trials and tribulations. I know you are using them to shape me into the person you’ve called me to be. If I need to return to therapy, help me not to be prideful. Counseling, along with your Holy Spirit can heal me emotionally. I am looking forward to the day I walk in complete restoration. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
I have learned that this young man is not the problem. The systems that are supposed to love, protect, and educate us all have failed him. There is an unmet need beneath every bad or dirty deed. I do not need to be afraid of him. He is not the boogey man. PTSD is the evil that is birthed by the enemy of our souls. However it will not hold me captive and it doesn’t have to hold you captive either. We can defeat the boogey man together!
Ready to get started? Want to read more about how to recover after trauma? Purchase the book today.
NOTE: Stay tuned on how I am about to really exercise my stance as a crime victims’ advocate if something is not done immediately to address how violence is handled in our homes and our community….
Psalm 118:6 The Lord is with me: I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Hebrews 13:6 Therefore, we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?
Romans 8:31 What can we say about all of this? If God is for us, who can be against us
I would LOVE to meet you and hear your stories of overcoming your personal tragedies and how you triumphed over them! Come and meet me at my book signing party on Saturday, January 27, 2018. Here’s the link to register. See you then!