There Is Nothing Wrong With You
by Karen Sargent
| PTSD: My Story Project #010
I share my story here at PTSD: My Story Project because I want you to know you are not alone. You are not crazy or losing your mind. There is nothing wrong with you. You have suffered trauma and your brain is doing exactly what God designed it to do—keep you safe.
Read also ‘On My Journey of Trauma Healing by Natasha Levai‘
I saw the car coming.
I’d been traveling through several states visiting family and friends while my husband was helping a missionary friend in Ukraine. On my way home to North Carolina, I was going to spend the last night at my brother and sister-in-law’s home in the mountains of northwest Virginia.
As I drove up the winding road to their house, a small black car appeared from around a bend in the road, coming downhill way too fast for the curve. He was skidding from the moment I saw him and I knew there was no way he was going to regain control.
I braked hard and moved as far off the road as I could without driving into the deep ditch on my right or hitting the tree that stood at the end of it. I knew he was going to hit me but I had nowhere to go.
Just before impact, I was aware that I was yelling. Not screaming, but a yell that started at a low pitch and got higher in the second before our cars met as I was literally standing on the brake. Then I turned my head hard to the right and squeezed my eyes shut.
I heard the bang and felt my body thrown forward like a ragdoll. I was aware that the back end of my car raised up on impact and then fell back down hard.
When I opened my eyes I saw that the airbag had exploded. Did you know airbags are pink? It never hit me because the seat belt locked and I was pinned to my seat. The car was full of smoke and the horn was blaring.
Read also ‘You Are Never Alone by Jannette Fuller‘
I panicked at the smell of smoke, thinking the car was on fire, but amazingly, my rational brain took over and I began talking out loud to myself.
“Put the car in park. Turn it off.” I narrated my every move. I had to slide myself to one side to reach the shifter and the ignition because the seatbelt was still locked.
Then “Get the seat belt off.” And with more urgency, “Get the seat belt off!”
I was able to work the latch and I remember being surprised that the belt did not retract.
“Get out of the car.” With one good shove, my door opened. I had to push hard because the car was half in the ditch, with my side being higher so I was working against gravity. I hauled myself up out of the car and ran behind it, stumbling across the ditch and finally sitting down on the grass in someone’s front yard. Then I folded my arms across my knees and put my head down on them. I realized then that my glasses had been thrown off and they must be somewhere in the car.
Multiple people came and asked me if I was okay and I replied that yes, I was fine. Other than a tiny burn on my thumb from the airbag, I had no physical injuries I was aware of just then. The stiffness and pain would come later along with the understanding that I had a concussion, but I was, at that moment, amazed and so thankful that I was in one piece. Nothing was broken. I had only slight bruising where the seatbelt came across my shoulder. After some chiropractic care and a few massages, I was good as new.
Except I wasn’t.
What Is Wrong With Me?
Two weeks after my accident I had my first-ever panic attack. Then I had another. And another. My triggers made no sense: one of our cows, the tractor coming down the driveway, a spider in the house, passing a truck on the highway.
I had trouble sleeping, cried at the drop of a hat, and got angry over nothing. I became terrified of spiders. One day I was hanging up a pair of pants and some change fell out of the pocket. It scared me down to my fingertips. I was jumpy, startled by the slightest thing, like a leaf dropping in my peripheral vision.
Driving was a challenge. I didn’t trust anyone to do what they were supposed to do on the road: stay in their lane, stop at the stop sign, do not pull out in front of me. Every car made me gasp with fright.
I had terrible brain fog, like I was trying to force my brain to function through pea soup. I couldn’t plan, I couldn’t follow a conversation, I couldn’t add (I have a degree in finance); I couldn’t think. Often I would try to cook a meal and couldn’t remember what to do next.
I attributed most of these symptoms to the concussion, but they persisted long after my mild TBI should have healed. I started staying home more, not wanting to drive. And when we did go out, I had to be the one driving; I could not be a passenger. I felt unsettled and agitated all the time. There was never a moment when I felt calm, clear-headed.
“What is wrong with me?” I was saying repeatedly, many times a day. After trying to describe what I was feeling in conversations with my adult children, two of them told me I should look into EMDR therapy. I had no idea what that was, but after a few months of feeling like I was going crazy and still suffering panic attacks, I was desperate.
I did a Google search to find a therapist who had been doing EMDR the longest in my area and made my first appointment, still not knowing much about it.
Four sessions with him did not help. He kept asking me questions like “what comes up?” and I couldn’t figure out what he wanted from me. I found a second therapist and had four sessions with her. Still no help.
I went to my family doctor for recommendations and he offered me antidepressants and suggested neurofeedback. I refused the medication and did neurofeedback for months and saw very little—and only temporary—improvement.
By this point, I was 18 months post-accident and I was convinced I would never be “right” again. This was my new normal. My sadness was overwhelming. I grieved the life I had lost and apparently would never get back. I didn’t want this to be happening to me. Depression began to take hold and I lived in fear of the next panic attack.
There Is Nothing Wrong With You
Then two things happened: First, the lawyer handling my case recommended finding a therapist who could do cognitive behavioral therapy. I spent a lot of time searching and finally found a therapist I loved and connected with. We started with the intention of doing CBT, but wound up doing EMDR. Because she explained to me so well how EMDR worked, I could finally relax and be a willing participant in it, and it helped so much.
Second, I read the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. This book was nothing short of life-changing. Every night I would lie in bed and read and at some point, I would sit up and say, “Yes! This is exactly what I’ve been saying! It’s not just me! I’m not crazy! This is really a thing!”
Finding out that I was not alone—not crazy, not imagining things, not being a drama queen, not making things up, that I was not the only one to go through this, that there was nothing wrong with me —was so validating, and that, more than anything, was what I needed in that time.
Between reading (and re-reading) that book and finding a therapist who could help me the way I needed to be helped, I began to turn the corner.
If I could offer two pieces of advice for anyone who has experienced trauma, no matter how old or new it is, I would say this:
First, get a copy of The Body Keeps the Score. Read it and read it again. Learn everything you can about why your brain is reacting the way it is, and it will help alleviate many of your fears. Be your own advocate. Know that there really is nothing wrong with you.
Second, finding a therapist you can work with is extremely personal. If you don’t feel like one is a good fit, try another. Keep trying until you find someone you connect with and can trust. The most important thing is that you feel safe with your therapist. If you are a Christian, it will help to find a therapist who shares your faith.
If you are a Christian, you have probably felt the disapproval of other Christians when they find out you are going to therapy. Ignore them. Block them. Cancel them. They are not your people and they are not in your corner.
“In a Multitude of Counselors, There Is Safety”
God encourages us here in Proverbs 11 and throughout the Bible to seek counsel. If you have suffered trauma, go get professional counseling and know that it is God-approved. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and so worth it. I am a much better, healthier person today because of the good therapy I’ve had. You can be too. There is nothing wrong with you.
Karen is a wife, mama, grammy, lover of Jesus, and defender of the Oxford comma. She is a cowmom and Enneagram 9w1. Karen writes about farming, faith, trauma recovery, and more. You can find her work at karenlsargent.com and on Instagram @thecowmom.
Read some more real-life stories from trauma survivors here: ‘PTSD: My Story Project‘.
Do you have experience with PTSD, or do you take care of / live with someone who has? Would you like to share your story in a guest blog post?
I’m not an expert or a health professional, so the aim of this project isn’t to offer professional advice. Neither is it to pity those who experience PTSD. That’s not what I want. My aim is to raise awareness of PTSD. By sharing your story, you can inspire and empower others. You can highlight the methods that helped you. This way, you can encourage others to reach out for help.
And it may help you as well. Perhaps it’s something you feel like you’re not able to talk about within your closest circle and would like to connect with others in a similar situation. It’s nothing more than bearing an untold story inside you. The fact is that our society still lacks an understanding of mental health. Therefore, I’ve decided to share my story and invite others to join me in this project and write a blog post about their experience. By working together, we can help destigmatise mental health problems and promote wellbeing.
To be featured
If you would like to join in and share your story on my blog but don’t have the experience of writing a blog post, this isn’t a problem. You can still contact me, and I’d be happy to assist you with the writing. And you can use a pseudonym if you wish to stay anonymous. You can share as much of your story as you want in a way you feel comfortable with.
The only thing I ask is that you mention ‘PTSD: My story project’ in your post and briefly state why you have chosen to take part in it. You will be allowed to approve the post before publishing it, should it be edited.Follow Journeyofsmiley on WordPress.com