Tag Archives: PTSD

The Pain and Heartbreak of Invisible People

Today I offer you a poem and a story, and sadly neither are intended to make you smile. There are no pictures and there’s also a good chance that it will probably make you somewhat uncomfortable.   

However, uncomfortable is what leads to change. Uncomfortable is what makes us say “no more”.     I keep hoping that more people every day will become more and more uncomfortable, so they’ll look outside their comfort zone and see the need around them, and feel compelled to affect change.

Hello, my name is Anna and I’m six years old
I live with my mama and papa
They can’t always afford to feed me as often as they would like
They can’t afford to buy me clothing very often
We don’t have a house, but we have shelter sometimes
I used to have a brother but he died
I love my parents, and I know that love me too
They try so very hard
We are part of your society
a part you either don’t see or won’t see
I probably won’t be here very much longer
I just wanted to say hello

Hello my name is Anna and I’m ten years old
My daddy died, Mama says someone shot him
Mama has lots of friends, she says that’s how she pays the rent
I used to have a brother but he died too,
Mama said we couldn’t feed him anymore
I worry about my Mama she puts needles in herself
But she says” don’t worry baby God is coming for us all”
I know that I’m supposed to believe in God
and I guess I do
I just haven’t seen him in my neighborhood
Mama’s calling for me now I have to go make her lunch
anyway I just wanted to say hello

Go Ask Alice
This was published in 1971 and still brings light to the dark subject of drugs and homelessness. This book can be read here online or it can be downloaded

Hello, my name’s Anna and I’m fifteen.
I know what my mama did to raise me,
I understand now because I have a daughter now
and I call her Ella… I’d do anything to make sure that she has enough
food and clothes, but things keep getting in the way.
it’s so expensive, and they want so much from me.
I love my little girl but sometimes when she cries when she’s hungry
I just want to get away…
so I do…

Hello, My name is Ella or so I’m told,
they said that my Mama named me after my grandma,
but I never knew her
They tell they she loved me very much
but I never knew
I should have had a daddy
but they never knew
They are closing the home tomorrow
because they have no money
I ask where will I go
but nobody knows

Hello, My name is Ella and I’m 12 years old,
for as long as I can remember
I’ve been sold from pimp to pimp                                                                          for cigarettes or pool wagers or on  a whim,
I am chattel, I am worthless.
I don’t even care enough to despair

DsHello, My name is Ella
I’m a corpse under a bridge,
I’ve been here for weeks
and no one seemed to notice,
I wonder why that is
~ Anonymous

Rape is about violence, not sex.  If a person hits you with a spade, you wouldn’t call it gardening would you?

I lived with a woman named Susan in the homeless shelter I stayed in, along with her husband Dave and their daughter, April (she was 8 maybe?).  Dave had a massive stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair, having to be fed and changed, and unintelligible speak to anyone other than his wife or daughter.  In fact, everyone originally thought he was her father because he had aged so much from all that he’d been through medically.  Sadly she didn’t know enough to apply for social security.

They were a single income household and Susan stopped working when she found out that she was pregnant. They lost their home, most of their possessions, their cars.  And now Dave was an invalid who couldn’t take care of himself.    With limited skills and experience, the only place that would hire her was McDonald’s.  Susan would take care of Dave as soon as they woke up, along with getting April off to school.  Susan would leave to go to work, then when April came “home” after school, then she’d be her dad’s caretaker until Susan got “home” around midnight, walking both ways because the car they had been living in had been repossessed.

On the way “home” one night Susan was stopped by three rough looking men, one of which had been kicked out of the shelter previously for being an asshole, and he blamed her.  She had asked him to watch his mouth around her daughter and he wouldn’t and got nasty with her, so she told the guard and asked that he try to handle it.

Then he got into it with the guard and started an altercation, needless to say, he was out for good. Not necessarily a good thing in Colorado in the winter(oh well); he brought it on himself but of course he blamed everyone but himself.   So here she was, alone, walking “home” and suddenly surrounded by these three street thugs.  The one with the vendetta and two of his buddies.  They decided to drive train on her because gang-rape is a worthy punishment for asking the guard to make you stop talking in 4-letter words around someone’s young daughter.

I couldn’t sleep at night back then either so I was wide awake as always when she came in later than usual.  Her hair messed up, her uniform was a mess, dirty, ripped in places with some blood on it, and a face that was stained with tears.  We all knew something was wrong, and it wasn’t hard to tell what that something was.

We tried suggesting to her to go to the hospital to get checked out, but she refused, almost in a panic attack, saying that she couldn’t go because if they admitted her, then that would leave her 8-year-old daughter there to take care of her father, and not only was that not something she wanted to do to April.  The big problem was that because since neither April or David was self-sufficient, not only would they not be allowed to stay at the shelter, but children’s services & adult protective services could be called to take both of them away.

A couple of us asked her if they could help her get cleaned up, We all offered to help her family in her absence, I even told her that I’d drive her so that everyone wouldn’t be nosy if an ambulance showed up, but she just said,  “no, I just need to be with my family right now”. And just as Susan said, she climbed into her bunk between her daughter and her husband and cried all night.  The next morning she told David what happened, we could see it in his face when she told him. He sobbed for 3 days straight

Her pants were ripped pretty badly when she was attacked, so we all chipped in to buy her a new pair of work pants so she could still work.  By dinner time the next day, the entire shelter knew what happened. After that, the guards let a couple of the guys out each night so they could walk her home.

Lockdown was at 10, lights out at 10:30. And if you didn’t have a pre-authorized pass signed by your employer,  it didn’t matter if you had Jesus himself with you for backup, and you *still* weren’t getting in.  The guards couldn’t leave while they were on duty but would let the (rougher) guys go out every night passed lockdown so they could go get her and bring her back. And the guys all took turns, this way if anyone was watching they’d know that there were more than two guys backing her up.

Sunday night was something that well all looked forward to.  That’s when we all went to Church in Manitou Springs, where they served dinner… real food, not the crap we were used to.  You had to be there on time because they only had so many portions.  The soup kitchen in town had those big giant pots, and if they had a significant amount left, it went into tomorrow’s meal, but not at the church in Manitou Springs.  It was good food, sometimes it was the only good thing that happened to us for the whole week.

I still had my car,  a small Chevette knockoff.  I would earn gas money from people to take them places. On Sunday nights it was great because I was always guaranteed to get three guys in the back seat, with me & my boyfriend up front with me. They all gave me $5 each and gas was still 99¢ a gallon back then so it was a great income for someone who couldn’t find a job.  I also did it for the ones who went to the plasma center during the week because they were not up to walking back.   I lost my job because they found out that I was living in the shelter so this was the only money I was making, by being a taxi to my fellow “shelter rats” (as we were called).

Anyway, we all were sitting down with our plates…  it was loud, filled with happy talk because of a real meal and a change of scenery, dishes, silverware, and glasses all clanking and banging. The pastor would have everyone bow their heads and he’d say grace then we could eat. Well he said grace, we dug in and within a few minutes, you could hear a pin drop.

“…and then the angels of justice and mercy came for Susan.”

It was about a month after Susan was attacked and the three guys that raped her made the mistake of coming into the Church basement for dinner. The two guys behind him knew their world was going to change when they turned around to leave and there were two guys barring the door. The leader, I don’t remember his name from 31 years ago, but I do remember his face. He was the blackest person I’d ever seen. Skin the color of espresso, the only thing that gave him away in the dark was his teeth and his eyes.  He was wearing a black leather jacket and black pants which gave away how he got around at night (like a ninja) and on his shoulder a heavy chain with a metal padlock on it.

The pastor came out and asked what was going on and one of the guys told him. He looked at those three, grossly outnumbered and said, “I’m sorry we’re full and there’s no more to eat” (which was true) but elicited a very forceful no.  The pastor told him “Well then, I’m sure the boys will you help you find the way to your car.”  The guy spoke up telling the Pastor that he didn’t have a car. So the pastor glossed over his response and said “God doesn’t care if you have a car or not, he cares about *other* things like how you live, how you treat people, and so on.  Boys, If you wouldn’t mind, could you please take these late-comers out to their car, I have to go check on dessert.”

They hadn’t even made it out of the basement when everything jumped off. He rolled his shoulder to drop the chain to put it in his hand but it got snatched away from him while his face stopped someone’s fist from running away. The guy who grabbed the chain from him swung it…

I was “caught staring with the dumb look” (as we used to call it.)  I’d never seen a cheekbone before, or any bone for that matter (other than watching Deliverance, but it was not the same.)  I was just completely stunned at just how white it was, but that was of course in contrast with the espresso colored skin and the bright red blood that was now going everywhere. The next blast was a right hook that cold-cocked him.  It was at that point when he was dragged out into the parking lot and his friends (who were still conscious at least) took off.  When thug #1 came to a couple of minutes later, he was freaking out about how he got there and the amount of blood ( a bit dazed don’t you know) and he got his ass kicked. He suddenly came to his senses, stood up and then took off as quickly as he could like his friends did.

Our guys came back in just as the pastor came out, who took one look at them and said “boys, it was very nice of you to help those gentlemen with their car trouble, but you’ve all gotten so dirty, you need to all come in the kitchen and wash up all of you, you need to be presentable for dinner.” (read: Just in case the police showed up.)

I was there for another couple of months but that guy was never seen around town ever again to my brief knowledge.

I really do hope that Susan and David, along with their daughter April were able to move on and move up. I hope they were given access to the services they needed to survive and with any luck, they were able to get help for all that they had endured. 

So, why did I tell you this long-winded story you ask? 

The reason for this is to use light to see those who are in the shadows, to see those who are normally invisible to the population as a whole.  The homeless are a large part of our country’s landscape as well abroad.  We see the pictures of the homeless during the Great Depression.  People standing in lines a block long.  People living in tents We don’t see that, just the occasional person standing at an intersection with a cardboard sign, we don’t see them.  So if there is such a homeless problem, where are they?  Why don’t they look the same?  Easy, back then are programs now like SNAP, Welfare, and WIC that didn’t exist back then.  There were no homeless shelters, just people living in Hoovervilles.  No food pantries, no soup kitchens per say, there were soup lines (the  bonus there was you could fill a soup pot up so that you could feed your children, and bread lines.  Can you imagine?

The problem is that these people along with myself at the time and even now as a disabled person, is that we are/were invisible. I swear, I would love 10 acres of land, cover it with tiny houses, solar panels on every roof, mandatory recycling, a place in the middle with a laundry room and hot showers (just in case you’re too tall or just fluffy like me), wifi for the community, since nowadays places will only take applications online. A community center with a couple of computers for kids to do homework, gather up books for a take a book/leave a book library, the same goes for DVD’s and we would have weekend gatherings so you could get to know your neighbors and further know that you’re not alone, you’re not the only person that this has happened to and you just have to get up, dust yourself off. And they’d all have to pitch in taking care of the community…. emptying trash, raking leaves or cutting grass or shoveling snow, helping someone with a handyman project, etc and with the goal that this is temporary, you get your life back together or create a new one and you move up and let that tiny house help out the next person or couple in need.

Well if anyone has an extra $150K lying around and can’t think of what to do with it, give me a call…

In the meantime, thanks for listening and please, don’t have invisible people surround you. Look for them and you’ll see.  And once you see, you’ll have them in your heart and want to help

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PTSD Awareness

June is PTSD Awareness Month, and it’s more common than you might realize.

PTSD-after-Open-Heart-SurgeryWhat is PTSD?

It’s estimated that approximately 20% of combat vets suffer from PTSD and only half will seek treatment.  But they’re not alone. Originally noted by terms of “shell shock” and “battle fatigue”, we’ve come to realize that it’s not just soldiers who suffer from this. Anyone who has been subject to a severe emotional trauma can experience this as their mind tries to process what has happened.

Abuse victims, rape victims, victims of violent crimes, combat, natural disasters, etc. all take time to emotionally heal from what they’ve experienced. However when the symptoms are severe and they last more than four months, they may very well have PTSD.

PTSD occur

It’s estimated that as many 8% of all Americans (over 24 million) will experience PTSD in their lifetime.  We tend to hear the term thrown around but I wonder how many people really know what it is?

PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is characterized by three types of symptoms:

Reliving the event – Most commonly known as flashbacks or triggers, hearing a car backfire can trigger someone to re-experience sounds of gunfire, seeing a car accident can cause someone to relive their own traumatic event, etc.  Something as subtle as a news broadcast or online video, a sound or even a smell can trigger this things during waking life.  Reliving the event in dreams is common as well.

Avoidance of reminders – This can be avoiding tv or movies with similar subject matter such as war movies or ones with fires, earthquakes or one where a character is raped, or avoiding similar locations.  For example, getting robbed at an atm may cause you to only take cash out when you’re at the store so you don’t have to go near the bank.

Having been in a shoe store when it got robbed caused one of my best friends to not be able to bring herself to go in that chain store again for many years; and not just that location but all of them since they all look-alike.

Feeling numb or keyed up – Staying “numb”, shutting down emotionally as a means of not dealing with feeling… with people, activities or even forgetting parts of the traumatic event or just not be able to talk about them.

Being “keyed up” includes sudden rushes to anger or irritability, trouble sleeping or concentrating, becoming almost paranoid about your safety or startling very easily.

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I was working in a restaurant years ago as an hourly supervisor when we were robbed at gunpoint.  No one was hurt thankfully and it was over in about a minute.  It was my last day of work before vacation which I thought was a blessing at the time but it turned out to be my downfall.  With not being there, I wasn’t able to deal with it and fear took over.  When I did go back to work, I couldn’t be anywhere near the register without breaking into a sweat from a panic attack.  My boss was very understanding and accommodated me stepping down from my supervisory position for a couple of weeks and kept me in the kitchen. Sadly it just got worse.

After 9 years with the company I wound up putting in my notice and left because I just couldn’t handle even being in the building anymore. I had nightmares regularly for a couple of years after the incident, each time I wound up getting shot, even though no one got hurt in real life.

A year later my family and I went out to dinner (my daughter was 4 at the time) and my sister noticed a sign that it was supposed to be family night complete with a clown and balloons.  As the server came by my sister asked where the clown was and that my daughter would enjoy a balloon only to be told that he had already left for the night since there weren’t many children in the restaurant.  I was tending to my daughter and heard my sister exclaim “we got robbed” – speaking of the clown and the balloons.  I however broke into a cold sweat and started crying and eventually excused myself to go throw up.  The very definition of being “keyed up” and “startling easily”

I’ve dealt with many things in my life, which to me (on paper at least) would seem to be more traumatic that this one minute window of time… but it derailed me for a several years.  I have no idea why one incident would create such a lasting effect while others did not.  I never sought help, in fact I didn’t even know that what I experienced even had a name.  It wasn’t until many years later when I was retelling the story to someone when they told me it was PTSD.  Had I or someone around me known what it was, I could have sought help to deal with it.

The effects of PTSD run deep

PTSD doesn’t just affect your moods and  your dreams. There is a physiological component to PTSD.  Studies have shown that there are physical changes that take place in the brain.  In other words, your brain gets rewired.  That’s why overcoming it is so difficult. Most affected are the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex.

The brain controls everything, so physiological changes can affect all areas of your body and life.  The limbic system, located deep in the cerebrum, is composed of the amygdala, the hippocampus and they hypothalamus.

The amygdala deals with our primal instincts – fear, panic and all that’s associated with it; Heart rate changes,  sweaty palms, tremors, even nausea and diarrhea.

The hippocampus handles memory which is why people with PTSD can lose sections of their memory and even what’s called “anterograde amnesia” which is the inability to form new memories even if the old ones are completely intact.  These changes are thought to be caused by increased exposure to cortisol, also known the “stress” hormone.

The hypothalamus controls hormone production.  It affects sex drive, weight gain, sleep, thirst, body temperature, hunger and the release of hormones from other glands including the pituitary.  The pituitary gland is a critical part of our ability to respond the environment around us, most often without our knowledge.

The prefrontal cortex area controls your cognitive behavior, decision-making and even appropriate social behavior.

That’s just the start of it.  These changes convert into pain sensitivity, auto-immune disorders, fibromyalgia, etc.  Alcohol and drug use and abuse are frequent occurrences as well in the attempt to self-medicate and cope with all that one is dealing with.  As you can see, it’s not just a simple bad memory but your world being turned completely out of control.

 

National-PTSD-Awareness-Day1-226x300

If you’ve had symptoms like these, please find someone to talk to and know that you’re not alone.  If you know someone who is having these issues, please give them the help and empathy they need to deal with it.  Know that they have to heal in their own time.  There is no schedule, no cure, no pill they can take to make it go away, just time, support and understanding.

June is PTSD awareness month, and I’m so glad that it’s getting a bit of a spotlight, but knowing exactly what it is, is crucial to dealing with it.  So please, share the word.

{{{hugs}}}
Maggie