Turning onto the interstate for the 1,000th time since I started driving, a blaring noise came from behind.
Slowly, I watched as my friend’s body was thrown up against the side of her door similar to a doll being thrown against a wall as my car was spun to the other side of the road.
Looking behind me, I saw the trunk of my car almost completely in my backseat.
My door was jarred, so I had to climb out of my friend’s door. Neither of us was bleeding. No bones were broken.
However, as soon as my feet hit the ground, rage rose through my ankles to the top of my head. I’m told that I yelled all sorts of nasty things at the girl who hit us.
Her fender barely had a dent.
She got out for a second to retrieve her baby from the backseat.
That same rage rose through my body, erupting with a hateful fury because I couldn’t believe she had driven so poorly with her child in the backseat.
My mom was only a few minutes away, so she came down the hill to meet us.
Quivering, I could neither control my body nor my mouth.
I don’t remember talking to the police, but I do remember refusing a transit to the hospital because I could walk even with trembling legs.
Later that afternoon, my friend and I began to feel the pain from the accident. We couldn’t turn our necks. We had difficulty holding our arms out and gripping things. My entire spine felt like it had been snapped like a whip.
A neck X-ray and some Oxycodone later, we were sent home with nothing more than pain medication.
We were lucky.
Some people don’t survive having their car totaled.
I got a great settlement, and received several thousands of dollars worth of chiropractic care since my spine was slightly curved in more places than one.
Although I had a lot of pain in my neck and back, I got stronger each week.
I moved away for school, taking a summer job before the semester began. I had trouble standing on my feet all day, and noticed that I was becoming obviously irritable with people. I was convinced it was because of my great hatred of retail.
Night time would come, and sleep evaded me.
My mom gave me some St. John’s Wort and melatonin. These things helped a little, but my depression and insomnia became worse. These things, however, weren’t as bad as my anxiety.
I couldn’t ride in a car with someone without coming close to a panic attack. No one stopped fast enough, drove slow enough, turned carefully enough – no one was as good of a driver as I was.
When I drove by myself, I was a constant ball of nerves. Sweat would bead up on my forehead as well as my palms. I was jumpy and hyper-aware of my surroundings.
Worst of all was the rage.
Most people experience road rage from time to time, but I wanted to hunt down any person that drove in a way that was unsatisfactory to my judgement. I wanted to rip them out of their car and wring their necks.
My heart rate was constantly elevated while in traffic, and I broke down, shivering and in tears more than one time upon arriving at home.
I started at the state university that fall. I’ve mentioned that my depression plummeted that first semester along with my grades. I now know that my PTSD was mostly to blame.
Anytime I’ve talked to a counselor or any mental health professional, I’ve told them about my wreck and would say: “Something in my brain literally shifted, and it’s never gotten better.”
I literally feel like my brain was totaled along with my car that day.
I’m still not the same. That wreck was the straw that broke my already fragmented mind unleashing years of pain, years of unprocessed grief, years of denial.
It broke my brain.
Refusing to acknowledge it as such for years, I didn’t want to seem disrespectful to my friends in the military, my friends who were rape survivors, those who were in a wreck that seriously injured them.
It wasn’t until I was talking to a girl who told me about a similar situation that was nearly identical to mine. Her doctor prescribed her anti-depressants and a counselor because he said that she had PTSD. A light clicked for me, and I told my counselor about it, and she agreed.
Something in my brain snapped that day, and it’s been 9 years. I can ride in a car with people. I don’t tell my husband how to drive every time we go somewhere. I don’t yell and scream at crappy drivers, at least while my kids are in the car. I don’t get really nervous driving in heavy traffic.
I still want to throat punch really bad drivers, but I don’t wish death upon them.
The thing that worked the best for me was time.
I still have a staunch fear that I’m going to get a phone call saying that someone I love has been killed in a car crash. I also worry from time to time if I’m going to get in a really bad wreck again.
Any time someone comes to a quick rolling stop at a stop sign, I jump.
When I started counseling, I would always say: “I had this problem, but I know other people have had it worse than me.”
That’s a mentality most of us have been taught, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be grateful for things; but it’s actually not a good way to view your problems.
What you are having trouble processing is real to you, just like what someone else is having to process. Do not feel bad for feeling the way you do and wanting to seek out healing. You are not alone, and your issues matter.
One good thing that has come out of this is that I am acutely aware of my periphery, cars in the distance – things like that. My senses have been sharpened by it. This has helped me more than once. Once when there was a pretty doe who ran out in front of me, I didn’t hit her because I saw her seconds before she leapt .
Had I not had this experience, I would have easily plowed through that animal.
Constantly, scenarios flash through my head, and I consider what I would do. I like to think that I am prepared.
Facing my fears helped to tame my anxiety and traumatic thoughts to subside.
PTSD is a big deal, and I believe that many of you probably have it or have had it but do not know. Think about it. Process it. ASK FOR HELP.
Your experience matters because it is your unique situation to deal with. Consider it, and take action. It is something that you can grow from.
Until next time friend,